Aikido is a lot of things. In that list I don’t often include the word easy. Aikido requires you to always do your personal best while simultaneously helping your partner do their personal best and doing everything in your power to keep them safe. One of the more interesting and challenging ways to do this is by leading your partner into whatever position you need them to be in.
This concept of leading means that in kokyunage and iriminage as nage I may not grab my partner’s head or neck and force it into the right position, it means I hug my partners head into my shoulder or adjust his or her head into the crook of my arm by timing my tenkan and arm movement correctly. Same goes for uke who may also be the leader, I may not ram my head into the right spot lacking patience with my partner, instead I help him or her feel the right position. This version of leading seems strange to me. In American culture we value a leader who knows what they want and takes it by any means necessary. In Aikido we value a leader who knows what is best and safest for everyone and creates a kind way of developing that situation which works best for both uke and nage through fluid movement and relaxed arms and posture.
The other tool I find particularly useful is by leading with a void. This is even stranger to me than the kindness approach described above. The best way to lead it to do nothing, or create a nothing? Often times if a throw isn’t going smoothly for me as uke I can pin point the moment my body started to resist, most often it is because there is a danger present, either I think I’m getting thrown onto someone’s knee or someone is stepping forward at the end of the throw and taking up some of the space I was intending to fall in. By having a void or vacuum in place instead of a knee I have a safe and easy place to land. The same goes for the role of nage. As nage your best throws begin by breathing in the attack and creating the first vacuum for uke and allowing them a space to breathe out. When throwing you are most successful when uke feels an emptiness they can fill by falling or rolling.
These two tools enhance my ability to lead as both uke and nage when participating in Aikido. They also create the best tools for supervising my staff and leading my client’s in stabilizing their lives. Sometimes the best way to lead a staff member or a client is by giving them a safe space to figure something out on their own. There is a common joke amongst social workers that we can stand a silence longer than anyone. When dealing with an issue someone feels passionately about it is best just to ask questions and sit quietly while they figure it out. More often than not I gain the most valuable information about my staff and clients in these void filled conversations. This information allows me to understand best what motivates them and also to anticipate what they will do in difficult situations.
Understanding someone’s motivation allows you to, in a kind way, create a situation where they are personally motivated to do the right thing, instead of me motivating them. This is invaluable because you cannot force someone to work. You can make it seem like the best option by showing the results of the work, higher pay, higher self-esteem, increased productivity, decreased stress. It makes no sense to yell at someone and then expect them to do what needs to get done when you aren’t there. It makes more sense to wait and time your corrective action to a moment when it will be best received. Instead of telling someone what they’ve done wrong stay relaxed and seek to understand what is going on.
These are just two of the tools that have helped me to be recognized as someone who can work well with a wide variety of people and lead them without seeming to dominate them or be condescending to them in anyway. This recognition has led me to become a manager in my last two jobs starting from the lowest position in the agency. I know that I myself have grown and changed a lot while taking Aikido and I like the feeling of being able to apply those changes into my everyday life, to make it better. Becoming a supervisor obviously has monetary benefits but more importantly by modeling this type of leadership I am teaching it to non-Aikidoists (if there is such a thing) and allowing them to change and grow in a way that will make their lives better.
Mary Tracey 5th kyu Roshinkan Aikido Dojo