By Mary Tesoro
According to Paul Linden, International Somatic Educator, author and 6th degree Black Belt Aikido Instructor, “Peacemaking is not an intellectual insight or commitment. It is an embodied process of responding to challenges in a physically peaceful manner.”
For many people, it is a new or surprising idea that learning to respond to conflict peacefully has a physical component. Yet, working with the human body’s physical reflexes is what allows us to gain control and shift “fight-or-flight /aggression-or-fear” reactions to a state in which the body is more calm and peaceful–yet aware and ready for action if needed.
Linden and others have developed trainings that use principles from a nonviolent martial art to help people do this. The art is Aikido. Aikido is called The Art of Peace because it is an embodied practice of reconciliation, compassion, and nonviolence. Rather than go against the flow/movement/power (direction, speed, timing) of an attack, Aikido teaches us to sidestep it, join into its flow (often called “blending”), unbalance the attacker, and control the attacker’s ability to continue attacking–in the most harmonious way possible!
Aikido’s principles can be learned and used by anyone—whether or not they ever learn the pins and throws of Aikido’s physical defense techniques. For example, how do we center ourselves amidst intense, hostile, or combative verbal disputes – such as the kind that have become the norm for many during this pre-election time? How do we handle the vehemence with which some of those around us express their opinions? How useful is it to attack back? Aikido would have us apply the same principles used in response to physical attacks: Just as in physical neutralizations, our first step is to “blend” (move from being directly in front of the attacker to a position alongside him/her where you can see from his/her point of view). This allows us to take in more information – including a better sense of understanding from which to offer the “other” an opportunity to view additional perspectives. Even if the other is unwilling or unable to do so, we most certainly have practiced changing our own reactions.
Aiki is not a magic panacea, it is an embodied practice of peace, an ongoing process of improving the self. “Aiki” refers to a state of self-awareness, calm alertness, and compassionate power, a soft and full awareness of the environment, and a respectful, compassionate attitude. Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido’s Founder, stated that “Aikido is not a technique to fight with or defeat the enemy. It is the way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.” From this perspective, Aikido is a philosophy of peace practiced through the body.