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Aikido embodies a paradox that is relevant to social practitioners who are thinking about power: it is a collaborative martial art. The purpose of Aikido training is to transform conflict into cooperation, even love for one’s opponent. This is an easy and elegant thing to say, and a pretty much impossible thing to do. I also argue that it’s a transformative thing to attempt. When you sincerely approach the study of combat in a collaborative way, your skills around both combat and collaboration evolve in ways that can radically affect how you perceive and wield power.

These short clips draw out some of the ways my aikido practice informs how I use power.

Example One: Ukemi—Hayato Osawa Sensei USAF Summer Camp

This is a favorite teacher demonstrating how to receive a fundamental aikido exercise, which is one of the first things you learn. You would learn how to do it, and also how to let someone else do it to you.

In aikido you always take turns. You never compete, there’s no such thing as a winner. There is only the role of doer and the role of receiver. You will be in each of these roles half the time. This makes doing and receiving equally important.

Here, the teacher shows that when you receive, you want to focus on making a strong connection with the palm of your hand, and that you want your whole body to follow your palm so that your whole body stays connected.

Maintaining this connection is a technical commitment you make to collaboration. Taking turns, and the idea that you are still doing aikido when you are receiving a technique, are both structural commitments that the art of aikido has to collaboration. You collaborate because the class is taught in a particularly equitable way.

Example Two: Aikido Seminar with Harvey Konigsberg Shihan 3

Another favorite teacher uses the same exercise to demonstrate that because this is a martial art, you can’t simply accept these structural and technical conventions and collaborate. If you’re engaged in sincere martial training, you should constantly question and compel collaboration, not just expect it.

On a technical level, the two men receiving the technique are keeping the connection between their palm and this wrist, and their whole bodies are moving to maintain that connection, just as the first video demonstrated.

This teacher wants students to question why we maintain this connection, why we don’t just let go. There are extrinsic commitments to collaboration like technique and class structure. But how do you make it an intrinsically motivated collaboration? Are you giving your partner a good, martial reason to hold on? The demonstration that follows is about how to compel your partner to collaborate. When it’s your turn, you want to do the technique so that:

  1. Your partner does not perceive an opening to hit you
  2. Your partner either maintains their connection, or risks getting smacked by you in the face

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