Another principle we talk about is projection. We talk about projecting not just our bodies, but our energy. In Aikido we call it CHIKARA NO DASHIKATA. We demonstrate this with the 'unbending arm' and 'unbreakable grip' drills, as well as when we do KOKYUHO exercises. We practice this when we do throws as well, and talk about projecting UKE away from us. We can also project our presence and our attention. We can imagine our personal bubble, and advertise our presence and attention to those around us, not letting that bubble collapse as we are surrounded by all those people we run into on a daily basis.

The last principle we want to emphasize is that of MA-AI, or “proper space”. In the dojo, this is the distance between UKE and NAGE. As NAGE, if we are too far away, we overextend, lose connection, lose our center and are ineffective at best, vulnerable at worst. As UKE, our attacks are simply ineffective and do not give NAGE a reason to engage, or sufficient energy to effectively let NAGE practice the technique, entirely subverting our role as UKE. If we are too close, there is no room (or time) to move, connect and blend with UKE’s attacks; we are again ineffective and vulnerable. When we are in that happy middle ground and have MA-AI, we can maintain our center, have time and space to harmonize with UKE and perform good technique. 

Let's take those three principles and add them to the three steps of every Aikido technique: connect & blend, redirect & off-balance, release & resume. This sequence is central to Aikido. Think about every technique we do. We address UKE with ZANSHIN, we project our energy and attention through our bodies towards UKE and we establish MA-AI. Now, when UKE directs an attack, we do it again: because we have ZANSHIN, we can sense his attack being projected towards us, we establish a connection with that energy, blend with it to maintain our MA-AI, redirect and project it in a manner that places UKE off-balance and then we release UKE in a place that ensures our safety before resume what we were doing. Let's expand this to outside the dojo, and apply these principles to the story we began with and do Aikido of the mind...

As you leave the store, flustered and irritated, trying to listen to your boss as you fumble for your keys, you notice someone walking the same direction. With a slight turn of the head and shift of your eyes, you glance at him. You notice he is not carrying anything and is getting closer. Who leaves a store with nothing? Maybe they didn't have what he wanted, or maybe he is following you. You stop working on your keys, turn between two cars and deliberately look at him, projecting your attention toward him while you continue talking with your boss and walking toward the next aisle in the parking lot, as if you were parked over there. He looks back at you, and keeps walking. As you enter the next lane, you turn towards where you are parked, see that he has wandered off, and resume the search for your keys and your car.

Your ZANSHIN allowed you to notice a person, and the subtle out-of-the-ordinary.  So you turned down the wrong row so you could establish a connection, project your attention towards him and maintain MA-AI. The simple act of ensuring that he notices you noticing him off-balances any potential surprise attack. In this case, he chose to disengage; if he had not, your MA-AI would have allowed you obstacles, space and time to maneuver and attract attention. But even after he chose to disengage (or keep walking, we'll never know which) you maintain connection and ZANSHIN, noticing him wandering off away from you before you go back to finding your keys and your car.

It is this way that the principles of Aikido can help us defend ourselves. We can learn all of the techniques of Aikido in any one of numerous martial arts, but it is the principles and philosophy that make it different from everything else. I submit that if we practice the "hidden" techniques of Aikido of the mind every day, we will never find ourselves in a position where we are forced to use Aikido of the body.
groceries and your burning desire to just get home and relax. Well, at least until the kids go to bed, then you have to make the currently increasing list of changes to the business presentation that was fine an hour ago…

That's when it happens. In less time than it takes to talk about it, your head explodes, and blackness crashes down around you. You realize you are dropping your phone and bags, and are falling... like in a dream... and like in a dream you can't do anything about it. You feel the hands... roughly and quickly checking your pockets and removing what they find. As you finally will your eyes to WORK you realize that you are looking at the sky and see nothing but the back of a dark-colored hoodie walking away from your prostrate body that is STILL NOT WORKING. Your mind is screaming out commands, but you aren't moving, your body just refusing to respond... As the cobwebs clear, you become aware of the sound of your boss's voice accompanying the ringing in your ears, and realize that your phone is still on… he is asking if you are there. It sounds like you dropped your phone. Are you still there? Hello? HELLO?

What you failed to notice was the young man who was shadowing you since you hit the parking lot in your obvious state of oblivion. He walked up right behind you as you were reaching for the door, blasted you in the side of the head, robbed you and walked away. Just like that, and just that fast. To the casual passer-by there was nothing so far out of the ordinary that it would attract attention. The security cameras will undoubtedly have captured what little bit of the attack was visible, but with too low a resolution or too poor an angle to be able to ID the person who did this with any certainty. You ask yourself how you have spent all that time and money going to Aikido class to learn to defend yourself, and you still get jumped by a petty thug in broad daylight in a busy parking lot?

You chose to be a target when you chose to tune out your surroundings. Don't feel bad, this is how most victims earn that title, and more importantly, how most of us live most of our lives. People just don't pay much attention to what is going on around them. For the vast majority of us, other people are just furniture we have to avoid bumping into as we carry on our daily business. We are buried in our own little world, consumed by our own issues, reacting to only the most pressing and intrusive events. Most of the time we get away with it because most other people are doing the same thing. We spend little time with our heads up; not just looking around, but seeing what is happening around us and being AWARE of our surroundings. The other significant factor is being desensitized to being in close proximity to other people most of the time. Having someone leave the store and walking through the parking lot in the same general direction during the evening rush is just not far enough out of the ordinary to trigger our desensitized radar. We feel safe in broad daylight, surrounded by a hundred strangers, and most of the time our indiscretion doesn't matter. It is that one time in ten thousand that someone with nefarious purpose capitalizes on our inattention when it suddenly does. 

What about all those things we learned in Aikido class, those things you didn't get a chance to use? There are three principles we talk about all the time, but we generally restrict their meaning to the dojo. Let's revisit them with a broader perspective, and reveal the "hidden" techniques of Aikido of the mind.

Our first principle is ZANSHIN, or “martial awareness”. Usually we are talking about after we have executed a technique, and thrown or pinned UKE, we, as NAGE, are to maintain ZANSHIN. So we keep our body focus directed toward UKE, and step away in a direction that is advantageous. But when should we start having ZANSHIN? When we face UKE, and indicate that we are ready to receive the attack? Or when we begin class, like why we don’t completely drop our heads when we bow so we can still see our immediate area, but still show respect and trust to one another? Or earlier still, like when we wake up in the morning? Being that aware all the time might be a little excessive for most of us most of the time – not to mention, it's exhausting! Try it sometime for fun. The point is we need to be aware of what is going on around us to a much higher degree than we usually are.

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You are on the way home from work. It has been a busy day, and it shows no signs of slowing down. You are finally out of the grocery store after a text-a-thon with your spouse about which kind of macaroni and cheese is both on sale and the kind the kids will eat. Then your boss calls. You fumble for your keys as you walk to your car, juggling the phone, the 

Pay Attention!  Save Your Life!

by Castle Rock AIKIDO Student, Michael D VanSickle