I have been coaching for over 30 years in the Japanese martial art of Aikido and its sister art Iaido, a Japanese sword art. In that time you get to see how people learn, develop and hopefully progress in their training. Much is made of the benefits of training in martial arts as in other physical activities. Something that is a recurring theme in martial arts, however, is the emphasis on the mental focus and discipline and not just the physical exercise. This is not true as sport and particularly modern sport has strong development in that area as well. Sport psychology and coaching has become prevalent in high level and professional football, rugby and athletics. Good tennis is as much in the head as it is in the body. Yet there is something that is unique in Aikido that the relationship between mind, body and spirit is definitive of the system of training. The idea that one can bring all these aspects of human potential into an activity, to integrate them, is both a challenge and liberating. It is also a journey as there is no goal in the long term other than the doing of it and getting on with it. There are of course shorter term goals, to learn how to safely roll after a throw in Aikido or how to execute a simple but surprisingly difficult sword cut in Iaido. Much of the pleasure and enjoyment in training lies in that journey.
Why would someone do that for a prolonged period if there is no specific objective? Quite simply the aim if any is the ongoing development that allows the individual to study, improve and learn more about themselves and what they can and can’t do. There are the usual benefits of physical fitness, flexibility and skill development. Some useful martial techniques can be learned that can be helpful if ever needed. This however is not the sole aim and so there is so much more to consider.
Many of my students speak of the immense benefits that have come with the training that resonate in their work and in their lives. Some have high level professional positions that are hugely demanding and it is the increased capacity to deal with these stresses that many have found more important than “combative” skills for the streets per se. “Stay calm, stay centred or don’t let it stress you.” Easy to say when the going is good but what do you do when the markets are seemingly chaotic? Your clients money rests on your ability and resolve to produce the results they expect and presumably you offered in the contracts? Now I am no expert or amateur in the area of finance or IT startup industries but I do understand how the mind under duress and in due course the body and emotions react to these stresses and demands. Even highly successful people can pay a toll in the midst of the uncertainties and pressures of their professions.
So how does Aikido help people in these challenging positions and other demanding work and situations? The short answer is that it doesn’t. That is to say it’s not the immediate aim or purpose of training. Training is training and to be effective it has to remain as such. If you start training in Aikido and Iaido it should be for its own merits. I say “should be” cautiously, as people invariably may have their own and differing reasons as well. It must appeal on some level and/or with sufficient and genuine curiosity to allow the new student willing to invest their time and energies to learn it. If it “grabs you” as it may in any other activity then you are onto a good start as the drive to learn and explore the training will be there. In time and with guidance you will learn to handle your body in quite sophisticated ways, the mind will be stretched as much as the body and hopefully ones spirit will be calmed in time. More immediately the physical and technical requirements will be the most important challenge and how a student copes with those. It should be challenging, enough to stimulate and motivate although self motivation is preferred. So fitness and exercise and technical skills develop. Also focus and intelligence, a different kind from academia or the sciences. You learn of course martial skills and technique which within the framework of training are already of considerable benefit to ones health, both physical and mental and even spiritual.
So what about the business world or in education or academia? As already mentioned that is not the immediate aim but by focusing on the training there are the unexpected and unplanned benefits which also differ with each individual. It is essential to not seek those benefits in such a calculated and targeted way. They will prove to be elusive and will not take place. By sticking to the training for its own values and by carrying some faith in it, the benefits will come of their own volition and may, likely, not be what you expect. They may be better, different and altogether deeper in their influence than you may have thought, if you thought about it at all. We are all individual and differ in how we deal and cope with things and so it’s natural that the influence of high quality training will bring about differing processes in each and everyone of us. In this respect Aikido and Iaido can be seen as high level skills and cultural attainment but also can be regarded as services to society at large.