The new owner and chief instructor at Portsmouth Aikido, Aaron Cass, gave a seminar at the dojo recently on "Internal Aikido." It was enlightening, and fun. You may say this is what I do, and to some extent you'd be correct. I help individuals and organizations use the aikido metaphor to think and act more purposefully in stressful situations, like conflict. I teach them how to incorporate aikido principles, such as blending and redirecting energy by using words to listen, acknowledge, and express a point of view.
However, Aaron was teaching something else--specifically how to carry ourselves physically so that our posture is aligned in a way that allows for efficient and effortless body dynamics. He taught us an exercise called "pulling silk" in which we imagine our ki extending in six directions at once: Up and Down, Front and Back and Side-to-Side. There was a feeling of stability, responsiveness, and non-reactivity I've never felt before. When the body is aligned this way, one can be flexible, and free to move in any direction.
Being and Doing
I learned that this internal aikido is what the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, taught and practiced. According to Aaron, Ueshiba Sensei did not name the aikido techniques he employed. He just showed them. It was years later, when his students wanted to spread the news about aikido to a larger world that they came up with names for the forms that we now use to designate specific techniques.
Like anything, these forms took on a life of their own. And today aikido practitioners are more concerned with executing the form correctly than with the internal awareness that these forms sprang from.
Of course, since I'm always thinking in metaphor, I applied this to my work off the mat. For example, I teach how to begin a difficult conversation with a noble purpose, ask questions that foster dialogue, listen with curiosity, and express concerns with postive intent. In my field, tools such as my 6-Step Checklist, the Ladder of Inference, "I messages" and Johari's Window are the forms, but if they are not based in an internal awareness, a quality of being that has peace as the goal, they are just forms and are quickly perceived that way.
So what to do? It's appropriate to learn techniques that improve our skill in conflict situations, just like we learn aikido techniques in order to perform the moves correctly. Just remember that the external forms are an outgrowth of an internal desire to live purposefully and intentionally, whether on or off the mat. As my mentor and colleague Thomas Crum likes to say: Our Quality of Being is primary. Everything else is secondary. With a centered vision and purpose, the forms will be there.