If we are truly trying to embody the principles of our martial practice, we must be able to do so in all environments, even, or perhaps especially, within those environments that we perceive as hostile.
There is a lot of talk in the aikido community about cross-training in grappling and/or striking arts as a means of improving one’s aikido, but what is seldom addressed is how to do this in a way that is both reflective of and complimentary toward the principles of aikido. This is easier said than done, especially considering the antagonistic attitude that seems to exist in the martial art community at large toward aikido and in the aikido community at large toward not-aikido. However, cross-training can and should be an enjoyable and rewarding experience for all involved.
As with all things budo, successful cross-training begins and ends with ‘reigi,’ or the obligation to bow, to be courteous and respectful, and conform to the etiquette standards of the place one is in. When training with a new teacher, a new group, or at a new school, it is imperative that one does his or her best to be a student, to maintain a beginner’s mind and attitude, to be polite, and to leave one’s ego at the door, as the saying goes. This does not mean that, in order to benefit from whatever art one decides to cross-train in that one must transform oneself into something one is not. Paraphrasing Ellis Amdur, “When you goes into lion country, never try to be a lion. Be a tiger and they will learn to like your stripes.”
With so much lip-service paid to the idea of blending, fitting in, and harmony in aikido, finding and maintaining the proper reigi in potentially hostile territory is where these principles are truly put to the test. Reigi is the true art of blending, of fitting in, of finding one’s place in a foreign environment, and of allowing harmonious relationships to develop by simply not creating dissonance. Reigi is the means by which one is let in the door, welcomed, asked to sit down, and offered conversation, tea, and a meal, so to speak.
Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.
Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a founding member of the Severna Park and Baltimore Holistic Chamber of Commerce.
Wabi-sabi street art photo taken by Robert (artist unknown)
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