In “A life in Aikido”, Kisshomaru Ueshiba quotes O Sensei, saying “Fighting and Farming are one.” O Sensei spent a significant portion of his life farming. I believe that farming for O Sensei has particular and unique connotations regarding his being grounded with the land that he tilled and the harvest that he reaped. However, if O Sensei were an accountant, he would have probably said, “Fighting and Accounting are one.” If he was an administrator, he would have probably said “Fighting and paper shuffling are one.” The point is, his understanding was that Budo encompasses the totality of our lives. It does not happen only on the mat or on the battle fields.
After class today, I was having a brief conversation with someone new on the Aikido mat. He was talking about how he doesn’t have the chance to practice outside of class. There are, however many basic exercises we can do off the mat that will strengthen our Aikido skills. Simple irimi practices, striking practices, tenkan (or two step), basic sword work can all be done off the mat. When I started Aikido, I was blessed to have teachers that stressed basic exercises, posture, and I’m grateful that the solid foundation I was given as a beginner has aided me throughout my Aikido practice.
Aikido, being primarily a partner practice, can seem a bit difficult to practice off the mat. In actuality, it is not. Most of the fighting arts that are based more on strikes and kicks have many different kata forms that one can practice by themselves. You can also do this in Aikido. You can still offer your hand for a wrist grab and go through many different techniques, and you can still practice balance, posture, entering and finishing your technique with a strong grounded stance. As we further our practice, we can incorporate the jo and bokken into our off mat training. There is more though.
To get the most out of Aikido, we can practice the same awareness off the mat as on. When we practice presence on the mat to keep us safe from attacks from our partner, we can practice presence off the mat when we talk to our family or our coworkers. We can practice our daily tasks at work or at home, our projects around the house or our other activities as mindfully and as sincerely as we practice our techniques on the mat. When we speak to others we can speak sincerely and earnestly as we offer our sincere and earnest attacks and strikes to our partners on the mat.
This does not mean that we stand in a martial stance at a bus stop, practice our kokyu or rowing practices when in line at the deli, or start every meeting or dinner time conversation with a kiai. People would think that we are freaks. I believe that it means the exact opposite. Aikido is based on natural movement. I am inspired when I watch my Sensei demonstrate techniques. When he moves on the mat, he moves naturally. When he moves off the mat, he moves naturally. When he engages his uke he does so with presence and thoughtfulness. When he engages people at a table in a restaurant he engages people the same way. His Aikido training allows him to have the same presence in all walks of life, not just on the mat. This stems from sincere and earnest practice and a “train to live” perspective. And because Aikido is based on natural movement, if we can walk we can practice Aikido. We only have to be present, sincere and earnest.