Dance me to the end of timeWhen I was a kid I was always the shortest one in my class.  Then, finally in seventh grade there was a moment when the gym teacher had us all line up along the bleachers from tallest to shortest, because the tallest kid and the shortest kids would each be team captain.  Even though I truly was the shortest, there was another boy, Peter Wolf, who was also pretty short—and he was more popular than me, so in that moment all the other kids agreed that he was the shortest, and so I was denied my golden opportunity to break free of the Janis Ian song I was trapped in.  It’s funny how things stay with you, but I guess if you are both Peter and the Wolf there’s something powerful in that.

Around that time I took up Taekwondo, riding the bus in the snow to the little dojo where my 8th degree black-belt master would have me, the only kid in the class, spar with grown-ups.  I loved jumping over bars and doing flying kicks at the bag; the discipline and rigors were bracing and good for self-esteem.  Nature makes us tall or short, gifted in this and challenged at that, but it’s on us to learn not to take crap from anybody.

I made my way through the rainbow of belts in fairly short order.  I remember being thirteen and going for my brown-belt as I sat next to a man in this thirties who, looking back I now realize, was discharging his anxiety by telling me, in way too much detail, all about his work.  He was a mortician.

The end of Taekwondo came when the next belt would be black, and the next task was to break a board with my hand.  I just knew in my bones that my bones would break, and not the board, and so I was done.  Still, it was a great experience all in all.

Later, in my twenties, I was living in New York and one of my best friends was into Aikido.  He invited me to visit his dojo and I was mesmerized and enchanted by the graceful flowing circles as practitioners flipped each other.  I loved the philosophy of Aikido which was based on the circle, and on using one’s opponent’s own energy to disarm their attacks—and to only use the minimal force needed to disarm the other, never to aggress against them.  They key was to get a good grip on the wrist and to take the attacking energy along its own momentum, guiding it into a circle that flipped the other onto his or her back.

I also knew that anything to do with spinning or flipping tending to make me violently ill.  Still, I didn’t want to be forever the timid one, so I agreed to return and try a class.  Halfway through I felt dizzy.  I had to stop and just watch the rest of the class.  Walking home I felt so dizzy that I had to stop in a park.  The vertigo would not leave and I ended up having tests with an Ear Nose Throat expert where they blew a stream of air into my ear to induce vertigo.  I don’t think they learned anything from doing this test, but I suspect that they enjoyed administering it.  The results:  vertigo, a little inner ear damage, a little hearing loss from sitting too close walls of speakers at rock concerts.  The treatment:  wait and it will go away.

The vertigo eventually did abate, leaving me with respect for my instincts not to do a lot of spinning and flipping, but it also left me with a great appreciation for Aikido, particularly for its philosophy.

A decade later I found myself working with group home kids, many of whom had been in gangs, suffered traumas of abandonment, gunfights, the juvenile justice system, etc.  These were kids that would come at you all the time emotionally, psychologically, get in your face, challenge you—and even sometimes aggress physically against you.  I found myself drawing heavily on my humbling Woody Allen (“brave men run in my family”) experiences of Aikido to inform my stance—to make use of these kids’ passion and anger to step out of the line of attack (like a bullfighter) and then compassionately redirect them to see that I intended no harm.

Being attacked, surviving and not counter-attacking, over and over, proved to be the very essence of building trust with hard-to-reach kids.  I mention this because it may place the generally much milder skirmishes that we experience in the course of so-called normal parenting in a wider perspective; but also in case you have some heavier aggression coming at you in your parenting, counseling or teaching, Aikido and its disarming circle may prove a useful image.  In the end, some sort of Bushido wisdom that hold that true power is the power to stay centered and choose non-violence as a true emblem of power may do more for us in managing power-struggles (parental and political) than any sort of “say this” or “do that” parenting advice.

So let’s dedicate today to respecting others, and ourselves, and to not-personalizing whatever attacks may come our way, striving for non-violence (physical, verbal, emotional and spiritual) in our dealings with all our collective children.

Namaste, Bruce


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2 Responses to “Aikido”

  1. Mwa Says:

    I don’t think retaliation ever feels good.

    • privilegeofparenting Says:

      Well, maybe for a minute… but never a wise strategy for good feelings that last—and nothing to strive for (but something to understand the impulse for in our children as they make their way through feeling small and not in charge of very much).

  2. andrew Says:

    I take Aikido now, and had the same experience when I started. Dizziness, vertigo. I kept going, and now the problems have gone away. But I kept going for the same reasons you mention — not the physical experience of the martial art, but for the philosophy behind it. Redirecting energy to settle differences. My teacher calls it The Art of Peace. I like that.

    Nice post, Bruce.

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