There goes a story of O’Sensei where at a late age he had to be carried onto the mat to teach class, but once he was on the mat he moved with the amazing speed of a whirlwind, tossing ukes like they were ragdolls. Like O’Sensei many of us can act differently on the mat as opposed to off the mat, although to a much lesser degree. There can be people who are timid off the mat, but can show a great amount of assertion while training. There are also those who can be relatively calm in daily life, but once on the mat and under attack they can get pretty wild and aggressive. The opposite of course can also be true; the flow and fluidity of Aikido can have a calming effect too. Different people can respond to the same circumstances differently. Whether it is the circumstance of Aikido training or something else entirely, when we enter a different circumstance we look into a specific mirror, one that may reveal characteristics that we previously were not conscious about.
Imagine life as a hall of mirrors, and each mirror is a different circumstance of life. Some of the mirrors show who we believe ourselves to be, but other mirrors, like fun house mirrors, distort that image. We may deny the authenticity of those distorted images, but nevertheless they contain elements of who we are. Our actions adapt to circumstances. Our response to a shomenuchi attack may vary from our response to a yokomenuchi attack. In randori, our responses become reflexive as attacks come one after another, and sometimes we may surprise ourselves at just how much we are capable of. There are sides of us that remain hidden until the right situations bring them out to the surface. An unexpected hardship can bring out resiliency that we never knew we had. Tragedy on a mass scale can also bring out kindness on a mass scale, as people rush to help their fellow human beings in need. A cutthroat competition may bring out ugliness that we never knew existed in us. We each reflect a different face depending on the current circumstances around us.
Sometimes people like to engage in hypothetical scenarios. What would you do if today was your last day to live? What if a bear chases after you when you go camping? What will you do if your iriminage doesn’t work!? What if someone comes at you with a kick!?! We may answer with what we think would likely be our response, but we would never know our true response until the situation does occur. Our reflexive response and our intellectual response can often contrast with each other. Sometimes the intensity of a situation may lead us to take illogical or irrational decisions. And sometimes doing something illogical may bring unexpectedly positive results. Each new circumstance is filled with an array of possibilities, chances to capitalize on opportunities as well as to see what we lack. My favorite quote, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, states, “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.” You can see what you lack, but learn from it, or see some greed come out as you capitalize on an opportunity.
Circumstances can bring out both the best and the worst in people. It can lead to self-discovery, or to actions resulting in self-defeat. Whenever people learn new things and improve themselves, they change the foundation that their reflexive responses are based on. Adjusting a detail in your Aikido technique can improve your reflexive response the next time that attack comes unexpectedly. Reflexive responses are also based on our characteristics and traits that form the basis of our personalities. Personalities of certain types may interact better, in certain circumstances, than others. Other people may also act as different mirrors of circumstance. I interact with my family in a different way than I interact with strangers, or acquaintances. My family interactions reflect one side of who I am, while my interactions with people I don’t know well reflect another. Even within my family my interactions with different individuals show differentiated reflections. I interact with my mom differently than I interact with my sister. If I interact with 16 different people, I will reflect 16 different sides of myself. Many of those sides will be similar since they are unified by my core personality, but there are significant differences, even if they are subtle and slight.
Every partner we have in our Aikido training is a different mirror of circumstance. How we respond to each of them, along with the other circumstances that come our way, adds up to the parts that make us who we are. We may see similarities of how we act on the mat occur in our daily lives too since all our reflections are connected to our core sense of self. Circumstances bring more of who we are to the light; it illuminates our inner selves. Our responses to the various circumstances lead to various results, both good and bad, but we learn more about ourselves either way. We can mold our reflections through learning and improvement, but many reflections are also stable and based on our personalities. Each day brings new circumstances, and with that new chances for better reflections. We are all artists striving to paint ourselves in the best way we can using the brush strokes of each day we live.
by Andrew Lee
New York Aikikai