Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Spiritual Lessons of Aikido

by Garrett McGowan

Editor's Note: The reporter for this story is also a member of the Aikido class.

Here on the hilltop Mr. James Sisley offers a class in Aikido. The class is offered every semester. The focus of the Aikido class is to teach students how to develop a calm mindset that they can take out of the Aikido class and into the world. The way Aikido teaches this is by its philosophy of being in a state of peace and harmony. To some this may seem like a strange class to offer at a Catholic seminary. Many people have misconceptions of Aikido because it falls into the category of martial arts, and therefore it must be violent.

The philosophy of Aikido teaches the opposite. The word Aikido is Japanese translating into English as “way of life.” Aikido focuses on harmony and being at peace. It is also for this reason that Aikido does not have any tournaments. The focus is never to win a fight when under attack but rather to quickly and calmly defuse the situation peacefully.

Aikido is a defense martial art. When people who do Aikido take people down to the mat they always protect themselves while at the same time looking out for the safety of the man attacking them. By looking out for the safety of the attacker, students are focused on a peaceful mindset and not injury to the other person. Mr. Sisley tells us in class, “It is easy to hit, but it is hard not to hit.”

Aikido teaches its students how to protect themselves without fighting. Aikido does not use any punches, kicks or strikes of any kind. When students make contact with their attackers, they become one with them. When they face the same direction they can see life from their perspectives. Isadore Slade, a college-two seminarian, said that the Aikido class has helped him learn how to stay relaxed in stressful situations. He says that after class he feels more relaxed and able to concentrate more in class and while doing his homework assignments.

Mr. Sisley working with Isidore Slade

Mr. Sisley said that when we take a deeper look into Aikido and its philosophy, we see that there is nothing contrary to Catholicism. During an attack students are given many opportunities to attack those who attack them, but because Aikido emphasizes harmony, peace and love, the students never take advantage of these moments. Instead the students forgive the people who attack them and show the attacker the way down to the mat gently.

So we can see that Aikido teaches us to forgive, something that Jesus focused on. Students are taught that when they hurt someone who has attacked them what is really happening is they are becoming weak because they are no longer practicing self-control, discipline, love and forgiveness. The student is no longer able to come together the way Aikido teaches because he or she has fallen away from harmony.

As two people come together in Aikido they become one. Aikido’s philosophy teaches that when people are attacked what is really happening is the other person seeking communication. An attack is really a gift because the student can see what it is the other is looking for. This opens the door for communication between two people, leading them to an understanding that violence is never the answer to resolving a conflict. Maybe there can be a chance to become friends.

This is best expressed through a move called “Tankan,” which means, “turning the body.” An attacker can grab someone’s wrist and by turning to his side both people are now looking at the world together.

Jesus teaches Catholics to turn the other cheek, and if someone is looking for a way to learn how best to do that, I highly recommend Aikido. These teachings that we find in Aikido almost mimic the teachings of Jesus.  Aikido is love for your fellow man. Many conflicts take place in our heads; Aikido seeks to remove that. A person must be relaxed to practice Aikido; very little strength if any at all is needed. People can take these teachings off the mat and into any place or situation they may enter. I strongly recommend all seminarians join Mr. Sisley for a semester.

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