A short while ago, I was driving home from work. It was a Friday, and everyone seemed to be eager to get a jump on the weekend. As you might guess, traffic was horrendous; a fact made worse because many people were driving erratically and absent-mindedly.

As a drove, I kept coming across drivers that would suddenly switch lanes, who would slowly creep into my lane and then suddenly veer back into their own–in short, I kept coming across a lot of obnoxious drivers. This, in and of itself, is nothing new. Of course we identify anyone driving in a way we deem incomprehensible as obnoxious (or other words that aren’t suitable for this blog).

On this day, however, I found myself suddenly recognizing something. I wasn’t just wary of these drivers: I was actually trying to anticipate them. No, more than that, I was actively trying to control their driving. “Stay in your lane… watch where you’re going…” These were my primary thoughts as I tried to make my way home. What I recognized then, was that I was doing what I keep telling me students not to do: I was trying to anticipate and control things that were unanticipatable and, ultimately, uncontrollable. All the concentation in the world won’t stop that truck from veering into my lane, or cause the SUV to turn its signal on before it changes lanes. When I realized this, I decided upon a different tack: instead of trying to control these other vehicles and drivers, I would simply focus on controlling myself and my own car.

Of course, the combative part of my mind immediately protested. What if I got hit? Isn’t this part of defensive driving? Is this reallytaking that much of my focus? These were the thoughts going through my mind. When I looked at the situation from an aikido perspective, I understood that the answers to these questions were:

  1. If I got hit, and it was because I was not paying attention, then it is my fault. But being more concerned about other drivers than myself is most assuredly going to increase the chances of my being in an accident, not decrease it.
  2. Defensive driving is not about trying to control your surroundings. It is about controlling yourself and your vehicle despite your surroundings.
  3. Anything that detracts from my ability to focus on controlling myself is taking up too much of my concentation. The difference between success and failure, safety and danger, life and death, often is razor-thin.

During the rest of my drive home, I ceased to be concerned about other drivers and other cars. I focused on observing my constantly shifting situation on the road, and ensuring that I was focused on controlling my car as I navigated traffic. I felt, almost immediately, like I had suddenly improved my reaction times by 100%. I did not ignore other drivers, of course; but I did not attempt to anticipate or control them, either.

I think that this simple act of driving home taught me a very interesting and very practical lesson about Aikido. We focus on controlling ourselves regardless of the situation. We do not try to modify or anticipate the situation to suit ourselves. Perhaps this is not a great lesson, or even an interesting idea, but I challenge you to think about your own mindset as you drive home, and see if it has any relevance to your mindset when you are on the mat.

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