Running, Aikido, and a Thousand Thoughts

A couple of years ago, I decided to take up distance running in addition to all the other things I do with my time (work, aikido, parenting, and so on). Initially, I started running for the simplest reason: my wife was running. More specifically, she had torn her meniscus, and I cold not understand why she was still trying to run if it caused her pain. So I strapped on a pair of running shoes and headed out, in an effort to experience what she was experiencing, and perhaps understand her mindset better. (And, one major stress fracture later, I do understand–almost too well. But that’s a story for another post…)

I ended up continuing to run because I find running long distances to be very complimentary to aikido. For example, running requires a combination of relaxation without compromising form–a state of being we often seek in our aikido practice. In addition, running long distances has allowed me to better appreciate ki breathing. I am fortunate to live in a part of the country where I can run in very open, natural environments, so I can breathe deeply and fully, knowing the air is relatively clean and pure. There is a great deal I could potentially write about regarding running and aikido–and I hope to do so. But, in this post, I want to focus on something specific: headphones. Or rather, the lack of headphones.

You see, often when I run it is either early in the morning or heading into evening. Rather than head to the gym and log hours on the treadmill (which I am actually fine with), I often will head outside and run the streets of my neighborhood. It didn’t take me long to realize that, if I was going to do this, I had to forego my headphones. There are three primary reasons for this:

  1. By running without headphones, I can pay better attention to my body. I can build a better awareness of how hard I’m working, or how a given pace feels.
  2. Without headphones, I am more aware of my surroundings. I appreciate the setting sun, or the view of the mountains.
  3. Especially at night, people like to drive up behind me as I run and honk, scaring the crap out of me.

That last one–#3–is the reason for this post. There is nothing like having someone drive up behind you when you’re running–on the sidewalk, well away from the street–and honking at you. I don’t know why they do it, but it makes me jump every time. Interestingly, though, I can feel the impact of aikido training at these moments. It’s impossible not to react to the sudden noise, but I know that, thanks to aikido, I revert to calmness much faster. The last few times someone has honked as I ran, I reacted, then immediately fell back into one point and kept running.

I then started to wonder–is it possible not to react at all? In an effort to get to this point, I tried anticipating that any car that was coming up behind me might honk their horn in an effort to startle me. As you can imagine, this was a ridiculous notion–especially when as I am often running on well-traveled streets. I have given up on anticipation, and now am trying to do something different (or at least, different for me). Now, I recognize that any car could honk, but that this is one of a thousand possibilities that could occur. I don’t dismiss any of these possibilities. Rather, I try to let them flow through my mind, like a river.

This might seem counter-productive. After all, in aikido we often value stillness. Yet, a thousand drops of water flow within a river, and a river is not chaotic. It is the river, and each drop of water within it, while potentially distinct, in the end is part of a greater whole.

I know little of meditation. But I have been wondering if, too often, I try to limit my thoughts in order to achieve a sense of calmness. Perhaps, instead, I should treat my every day thoughts much as I do when I run–let the flow through me like a river, and find my calmness in the current.

2 thoughts on “Running, Aikido, and a Thousand Thoughts

  1. haha I am somehow reminded of a saying that “”Ki is like a fountain, it flows continuously”.. I forgot from whom I heard it though.
    I agree, calmness is a state we can apply in everything. I think it is the acceptance of what is and not trying to actively get rid of the noise… But there are many schools of thought in meditation as well. I enjoyed reading this! Happy training! 🙂

  2. A thousand vehicles run within big cities and yet accidents are comparatively few in number. And why is that? It is thanks to the traffic lights and rules. But what would be the use of lights and rules if I were not aware of them or if I shut them out under the pretext that they overload me? Likewise, what would be the use of a shield if I did not see the blow coming?
    What would be the use of a weapon if I didn’t sense the threat? What would be the meaning of years of strenuous training if I was to die with a knife in my back? So it is that in fighting as well as in everyday life my safety depends upon my level of awareness. I believe the more I am aware, the more I am awake, the more I am alive, the more I can understand my environment and the more I can live in harmony with other people and nature. So, yes I do believe running in the city to be complementary to Aikido; it might become the necessary meditation in action, the necessary mental or spiritual exercise we need so badly in the overprotected environment of the Aikido dojo. Of course there are safer ways to achieve the tempering of the spirit such as trying to make a better use of the partner’s strength and moves or following strictly the instructor’s advices or again, training in a crowded dojo but I reckon it is much easier to focus when there is some danger involved (like in rock climbing or biking for instance).

    Sure enough I would be startled and jump if I was taken unaware. On the other hand, I would simply acknowledge the honking without any other reaction if I was aware of the car. To be more aware I need to be more open, which means that I need to rely on my 5 (or even 6 senses in the case I am always jogging around the same places); Therefore it stands to reason that I am not going to use headphones. It would not be far-fetched to say you can see with your ears. Even far more than with the eyes. True story: A beautiful girl had decided to guide lucky me in a tour of Yokohama but had gotten lost and could not find her way back to the railways station. So we had sat on a park bench and I was doing some talking when we heard the rumbling of a train. We listened in silence. Then she drew a schema in the sand and started to walk; still silent I followed her, who was in turn following her memory of the sound and of the schema; about one kilometer of twists and turns later, we were back at the station.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s