Kokikai Basic Principles:
- Keep One Point
- Relax (progressively)
- Correct Posture
- Positive Mind
At our dojo, we look at these principles every time we step on and off the mat. When I teach, I tend to call attention to them–sometimes to a specific one, sometimes to all of them. Of these principles, perhaps the one that most often comes up in class is the second one: Relax (progressively). The idea is simple in concept, if difficult in execution: the more relaxed we are, the better we can assess a situation. We can move more correctly and more efficiently. We can prevent an opponent from applying their power because it is very difficult to use force against something that is relaxed and forgiving.
(Don’t believe me? Go lift a box spring. Pretty easy right? It’s got a solid structure. Now lift the mattress. Harder, right? It’s still got structure, but less so. Now lift a futon. You don’t have to–if you’re like me, you’re already rolling your eyes. Lifting a futon is a pain, because it has very little form to it. It flops and folds. I hate moving futons.)
(Still don’t believe me? Go lift a toddler (yours, please, or with the permission of the toddler’s parent). Now think about when you had to lift that same toddler when they did NOT want to go somewhere. They’re kind of like a futon, right?)
After nearly 20 years of studying aikido, I understand how important being relaxed is. It’s just the better way to go. And, on the mat, I tend to be pretty good at it.
It’s harder when I’m not on the mat. For example, when I’m trying to be a good husband to my wife.
See, my wife is pretty stressed. We have three kids, one of whom is on the Autism spectrum. Our oldest child has swim practice and camps and just general pre-teen angst that goes on ALL THE TIME. Our five-year-old can be sweet one minute and hitting his brother the next. Our youngest is prone to whining and antagonizing his older brother until said brother hits him (as I just mentioned). We have two dogs. They shed. EVERYWHERE. I have literally vacuumed the floor only to find that it has made almost no difference whatsoever. We have a garden. We have a house to maintain. Oh, and my wife has her own schedule and challenges. She has injuries from the past that continue to bother her, and injuries from the present that she’s trying to avoid. I just read a blog post about how many mothers are tightly wound, and I found myself thinking: that’s my wife. And you know what? I can’t blame her for being this way. In fact, I’m constantly surprised she hasn’t completely lost it.
So I come home, and I use my highly-trained aikido senses (or I just open the door to the house) to discover that my wife is very stressed out. When I sense this kind of stress, my training from the mat takes over, and I think of how I can relax my way through this, so that not only I remain calm but hopefully my wife can remain calm as well.
Good intentions. Bad idea.
Guys, our wives don’t want us to help them calm down. She IS calm. Our wives need us to do one of two things:
- Get stuff done. The dishes. The laundry. Getting the kids out of the way for 10 minutes. Whatever.
- Get out of the way. Don’t ask questions. Don’t chitchat. If you don’t have something to do, grab the kids and go somewhere else. Anywhere else. Morocco, perhaps.
In Kokikai, being relaxed is usually synonymous with being calm. But that’s not the only interpretation. An equally valid interpretation is being efficient. I am understanding, more and more, that being a good husband does not mean helping my wife remain calm under fire. My job is to be efficient. To get stuff done quickly and correctly and then get out of the way. It is just like being on the mat: our job is not to have our opponent calm down. It is to move quickly and correctly in such a way that our opponent’s desire to fight is reduced to zero. My wife is most certainly NOT my opponent, but the idea is the same. I cannot, and should not, try to “calm things down.” Instead, I should move quickly, correctly–getting the stuff done that I know needs to get done.
Some folks might resist this idea. “I have worked hard all day! I need a break.” To these people, I say: No. Actually you don’t need a break. Not only that, you don’t actually want a break. Has any husband ever “taken a break” when their wife is still dealing with all sort of chaos in the house and had it work out in his favor? No. What you want is a bit of calmness, a bit of peace. You can get some of that by finding it within yourself. You get the rest of it by getting everything done that needs doing around the house–be it parenting, making dinner, whatever. To put it in another way: I don’t get to “take a break” when someone is throwing a punch at me. I get calmness when I’ve moved correctly and deflected the punch into something else.
In short: move first and get things done calmly. Then, and only then, is there a chance for that calmness to move through the rest of the house. That’s what my wife is working towards. Time I try
harder more correctly to help.