I recently returned to practicing Aikido, a martial art which originated in Japan, after not practicing for about 15 years. I had previously practiced for about 10 years (off and on depending on where I lived) and have always viewed this martial art which focuses on staying centered and redirecting the energy of an attack as part of my spiritual disciplines, a kind of "moving meditation," and a place where I could focus on something other than all the stuff swirling about in my head at the time. I still see this as true. But during a recent class there were some things that have jump started some interesting theological reflections. Let me share 4 of them with you:
1) It does not take long to fall back into really bad habits once we stop practicing a discipline; whether that discipline is a set of disciplines that include prayer and good works or the techniques of aikido. Things that I knew to be appropriate technique vanished from my physical actions with lack of use.
2) At one point my Sensei (teacher), after watching me attempt a technique, asked, "Is that the technique we demonstrated?" I had to admit it was not. I was trying to move my Uke (the person receiving the throw or technique), to muscle them into going where I wanted them to go. In the process, I risked injuring because I was forcing the technique by using too much pressure on the wrist lock involved. I had to ask myself, "How often do I take one of the teachings of Jesus and try to force it to happen rather than simply engaging my own self and my center in obedience? How often do I, without attending to, hurt someone that I am actually trying to help?" And finally, "How often do I, because I'm not getting the result I want, change from doing what Jesus taught me to do and do something that looks 'kinda like' that teaching...but really isn't?" It's a rather sobering thought. Or at least it was for me.
3) My two Sensei keep saying the same thing: "You're not trying to move your Uke; focus on doing the technique properly and your Uke will move." Now stay with me.....I believe that following Jesus will change the world. That loving our neighbor will change the world. That working for justice will change the world. But as I thought about this, reflected on it, prayed about it, I realized that I may have it a bit askew. I cannot force the world to change. When I try to force change, people can be hurt who I don't intend to hurt. HOWEVER if I "do the technique properly;" if I love my neighbor, regardless of their response; if I live and work for justice, whether Court cases are won or people appreciate my actions or not; the world cannot help but change. Now this is tricky, because part of what Jesus taught is that the world may try to kill you for doing these things. But the world will change. Slowly. Bit by bit. Or as one of the old hymns says, "Not with sword's loud clashing, or roll of stirring drums, with deeds of love and mercy the Heavenly Kingdom comes."
Now I won't claim that I have these kinds of insights every time I go to the dojo. Most nights I leave tired and with sore aching knees (did I mention it's been 15 years?) But sometimes something breaks through that I can chew on for a while. This was one of those nights and I wanted to share it with you. Whether you're an Aikido student or not, the truths are there: We have to maintain our spiritual practices to keep them alive; we need to practice what we've been shown and not change it by trying to force it; and if we're living and moving from our center (that connection we have with the Higher Power that for me is Jesus) the world will change. We've been promised that: "Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."