In Aikido class, I practiced kotegaeshi (wristlock) and shihonage (arm bar) for the uke (attacker) grabbing my wrist: their right hand to my right wrist; their left hand to my left wrist. Being a senior Sensei, Ishibashi Sensei tasked me to throw students. They practiced on their falls. We just trained.
As the nage, receiving the attack, I applied the technique to myself. Students, as the uke, applied the technique to themselves too, taking the fall. I hold out my hands in position so that the uke can fall properly. I invite the attack. I don’t defend against it. I enter the attack, enter the danger. I get under my fear, under the attack. That’s the safest place to be.
Sensei said, “Stand tall.” Yeah, I’m 5’ 3″. Still, I got the distinction. I stand straight and tall under the attack. Well, I stand as tall as I can. The attacker and the attack are irrelevant. I don’t look at the attacker. I look out at the world in front of me. I stand tall and apply the kotegaeshi and shihonage to myself. I’m in the center of the attack. I hold my position.
In the attack, I don’t look down to where I throw the attacker. I look up. I throw the attacker with my feelings out, my ki (inner strength) extended. The late Mizukami Sensei taught both Ishibashi Sensei and me: Throw with feelings out.
The attacker can be bigger, stronger than me, which is usually my deal. Still, I throw bigger than my attacker. I stand tall and throw. Standing tall isn’t literal rhetoric. Standing tall is the physical, mental, and spiritual distinction. I stand tall under the attack and apply the technique to myself. I’m matched with what I fear. I act in the presence of danger. I’m my authentic self. I stand tall.
In standing tall, I work on myself, on my timing, on my technique. I don’t work on others. I place the attacker in the proper position to take the fall. The attacker applies the technique to themselves too, and takes the fall. We both work on ourselves, separately and together. We make each other greater. O-Sensei Morihei Ueshiba said, “True victory is victory over oneself.” In the bigger picture, we both overcome ourselves, overcome our fear.
After Aikido practice, Sensei and I discussed the training. I told Sensei that when I stood tall and looked up, I flowed. I joked, “I think I grew an inch taller.” We both laughed.
Sensei said that standing tall is vital in training ourselves. Training is both ethical and aesthetic. Ethical, in that we only use Aikido technique when under attack, only for good. Aesthetic, in that it’s art, that it flows, that it looks good. Ethics and aesthetics are the foundations of the techniques we practice. We make it work. We make ourselves work, too.
I stand tall under the attack, in the presence of danger. I don’t aggress the aggressor. I invite the attack. I apply the technique to myself. The aggressor applies the technique to themselves too or otherwise accepts the consequences of their actions. That’s budo (martial arts). Both sides choose. I match up the attack in my attack. I do my best. I could win or lose. The attacker could win or lose, too. What happens, happens.
Outside the Dojo, there can be all kinds of attackers personified in the bullies and abusers of the world. No, not everyone has over 30 years of Aikido training like me. Not everyone trains in martial arts. In the face of the attack, in the face of the bully or abuser, I stand tall. The attacker, the bully is irrelevant. I work on myself. I look at what I fear, my fear within me. I choose whether to overcome myself or not. It’s a matter of choice. Nothing’s personal.
In my experience of bullies and arrogant abusers, they are all about knowing that they can win, about domination. They believe that they are entitled, that their victims are lesser than them. If there’s the possibility of losing, of looking bad, bullies are straight-up cowards. For the bully, losing is far worse than death itself. I’m just saying.
In the attack, in the midst of adversity, I look within myself. I dare to fail bravely. I stand tall. The safest place to be is under attack, under what I fear. There, I choose who I’m going to be. What happens, happens.
I could win or lose. When I win, I’m humble and move on. When I lose, I learn from my failure and move on, too. I choose who I become moving forward. I keep my feelings out. I stand tall. Amen.
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