Mental Aikido

Mental Aikido

Activities can more than just a hobby or an interest they can be our teacher, one that stands out for me is the Martial Art of Aikido. It provides an embodied way of training our Mind and has many lessons for coping with difficult moments and relationships in life.
Aikido focuses on managing conflict well and using appropriate action through accepting, blending, or working with the energy of an attack, instead of trying to block or countering the attack. The goal is to restore harmony for all parties.


A Balance point

I spoke with Quentin Cooke one of the UK’s most senior Aikido teachers. To be skillful, Quentin encourages students to develop their awareness & mind body connection, “so if you are overly aggressive you are not going to find a great deal of harmony and if you are overly fearful you aren’t going to be able to deal with aggression, so it is all about finding a balance point and coming up with appropriate responses for any situation”. Aikido could be considered physical, verbal, and mental in how we respond to inner and outer conflict. Do you overreact, avoid or shut down during a potential conflict?

Acceptance & engagement.

In Aikido we blend instead of blocking, trying to stop something stronger can cause injury or use too much energy. This involves being close enough to feel the energy & move with it but not become entangled or fused with the idea or energy. This mirrors key skills in Mindful and Acceptance based approaches, meeting, and making space for difficult thoughts & feelings we have, whilst redirecting our attention to the present and staying connected to what truly matters in any moment. For example, I can be anxious and still do what I want to do e.g. have that conversation or give that talk.
Although we cannot always stop difficult situations from occurring, we can improve how we relate and respond both physically and mentally. Quentin adds “If someone is having a go at you, you can’t say I’m not dealing with this, it is better to hear what they have to say, you don’t have to agree with them, but once you know everything about why it is they are cross then perhaps you can do something that may reassure them. Be respectful to what is happening. You might not like it but there is a reason this is happening, see if you can get in their perspective of the other person”.
I imagine for most of us this move towards acceptance will feel uncomfortable; however, if we avoid these interactions, we never build our capacity to stay in the moment & will get overwhelmed and lose our clarity. So, start small, with mini disagreements, and see if you can remain grounded, present, and listen to the other person. Some of us may never have seen arguments role modelled in this way and only criticising, stone walling or heated exchanges ending in conflict.
Quentin adds “You might be able to resolve the situation by adding some extra information”, or recognise, accept & apologise for making a mistake”.
The goal Quentin states is to “create an ambience where both parties can be respectful of each other”. I really like Quentin’s idea of creating a space for respectful conversation even if we don’t agree with the other person. Sometimes it is our attachment to being right or being seen in a particular way, that gets in the way of really listening and staying open when in conversation.
In all other cases using appropriate action could also mean removing or defending yourself. Once you decide to apply your solution, do so with confidence.

Mental Aikido with our inner advisor/critic.

We can also practice Mental Aikido with our own self talk moving the energy from a critical monologue to an open dialogue.
We refer to the advisor as our ability to advise, predict, judge, compare, it is our self-talk and wired for survival and avoiding making mistakes. Thinking of it as a character creates distance to support us get less tangled up in the content of the mind.
Recall a conversation with your advisor. What are they saying to you? Or what kind of things have they said in the past.
My advisor often comments about my own performance e.g. level of organisation or focus or things that other people haven’t done.
Thank your advisor for their concern. You can accept and try to acknowledge their perspective, reflect to them that you have understood without agreeing with them.
Our common ground with the advisor is often safety and not making mistakes and their role in life is to keep you safe from harm, even if misguided or more critical than supportive.
Example: many thanks advisor for your feedback/ concerns. Yes, I agree it was not my finest moment, I felt disappointed, yet I learned a lot & aim to use that learning next time. What would you recommend I do differently?

Surprise your Advisor

Relate to the perspective of your advisor and speak to them as a friend instead of an enemy. I call my advisor Bob. They want to keep me safe and to not make mistakes. Sometimes this advice is good and other times it is misguided and could cause me to miss out on different experiences & learning.
Example: Bob, wow you are particularly good at spotting problems and things that I have not done so well. 
You are like my very own 1970’s Olympic coach Thank you for always trying to make me better & keep me safe. You have been by my side watching and remember all the scary & painful moments.

We are creating opportunities to find new ways of thinking & responding flexibly and breaking out of habitual ways of thinking and acting. In Physical Aikido this may cause to knock our opponent off balance as they were not expecting that response.

Move your perspective into discovery
Let us keep our mind flexible and open to new possibilities, ask yourself the following questions.
What could I do differently that might help?
What is another perspective to looking at this situation? For example, what are different ways of looking a relationship breaking up, the rain, missing out on a work promotion, failing at something?
Instead of battling with negative energy, you can work with it and transform it into something new. Turn a critical thought into a rhyming couplet, a song, a piece of Art, or take it as a lesson to transform and improve what you are doing.

When starting Mental Aikido start small, gently, and gradually train with low- hanging fruit not your biggest Mental Grizzly bears or triggers.
Start with smaller everyday judgements, negative thoughts, assumptions, or opinions, accept & see a wider perspective. This all helps raise our level of awareness.

In moments beyond my Mental Aikido training, I usually take cover, stay safe & seek support. However, during most days there is an abundance of opportunities to train and do something surprising, take least action, blend, switch direction, flip our perspective and redirect energy towards a more harmonious outcome.