The path of 'non resistance'

Aikido is a contemporary, complex system of self defense techniques, the successful application of which are based on certain principles. Morihei Ueshiba defined aikido as the path of ‘non-resistance’. The questions to which we shall attempt to answer are, What does this principle mean, and how do we apply it in aikido?

Description and explanation ofthe principle

A simple explanation of this principle is that we do not generally respond to force with force, because this blocks the attack to a point where the person who is physically stronger is most likely to win. For this reason in some techniques the first move of the defender is to avoid the straight line of the attack, as we call it. In other words, the principle of non-resistance means that our defense to attack is organised in such a way as to avoid the point being targeted by the attacker, and which is the strongest. In a second phase, the defense will outweight by transcending the attack and aligning with the force directed upon us, in order to redirect it to less dangerous points (see article on AIKI ~ The art of aligning).


The principle of non-resistance does not imply passive acceptance. The defender reacts in a flexible way, so that he takes over as it were the direction of the attack and streams it to another point, in order to neutralise it.


There are several reasons for adopting this tactic, indicating that the most effective defense is that for which the attacker has not calculated the potential responses and is therefore ill prepared. Thus, if somebody attacks vehemently and with force but the defense does not do exactly the same as a response, avoiding at the same time a blow, then the attack falls down, literally and metaphorically. The second reason is that the defense in aikido has as a target, which amounts to a non-aggressive outcome of the conflict. Therefore, in order to have a non-aggressive result, an aikidoka refrains from the use of violence, in which potentially both the attacker and the defender could be harmed. Sometimes we threaten with the use of violence, as for example with Atemi, but we do not learn how to do it. It is more likely that sometimes we employ a kind of psychological defense, using impression trick and rules of common psychology, so that the attack is redirected and neutralised.


Out of the principle of ‘non-resistance’ a number of other principles are developed, which we analyse during the lessons and in accordance to which we train. One of them states that we must protect ourselves from malicious attacks and risks, and also we have a moral obligation to do so. A second principle, however that governs relations between people is that we are not allowed to exert violence on others. So the dilemma is how to defend oneself effectively and simultaneously to avoid committing the error to use the same means used against us. Τhe answer, according to aikido, is adopting the principle of non-resistance and the principle of non-violent defense.


Application of non-resistance

Condition for success of this principle, however is that we chose to defend on a line or a point on which the force of the attacker is impaired. In order to achieve this, we move our entire body outside the imaginary (straight) line of the attack. In this way, the defense and the techniques that follow do not attempt to equalize or surpass in strength the force that is directed upon us (see also the article on the principle of AIKI ~ The art of aligning).

The path of ‘non-resistance’ is long, as we need to unlearn many automated movements in our body, called reflexes, which most of us went by for many years. Acceptance of aggression or attack is difficult at a physical and psychological level, while remaining calm and serene. For this reason, we learn at the same time to keep our composure, and this is achieved through knowledge and training, which cultivates understanding that in our defense we shall be looking for a point that is ‘empty’ or weak of energy and the strength of the opponent, while at the same time our concern and attention is neutral.


Raising the levels of perception is also among our aims at training, so that we can anticipate risks, measure the dynamics of the attack, and act accordingly, while we synchronise with the movements of the aggressor. How to achieve this in practice? The answer first of all refers to where our focus and attention is directed during attack. In particular, our focus and attention moves from the point of our KI, which is near the center of gravity, to the similar point of the aggressor and beyond him and returns to our KI the center out of which emerges every physical move and technique. Secondly, we tend not to look straight in the eyes of the attacker, so that we avoid to aggrevate the attack, but we look to a point behind him. Thus, our movement runs a lesser risk of being blocked, the upper body is relaxed and balancing firmly on the legs, while shoulders are down and released. The feet are rooted to the floor as it were, being heavy and light at the same time. Balancing on our legs is important to keep us upright, physically and psychologically. Remembering at the same time that every position is not definite, but temporary, and being prepared to move to the next.

Experienced teachers of aikido, as Sugano Sensei, taught that on the whole there are three ways to defend ourselves. The first way is to try to eliminate from the face of the earth so to speak our opponent. The second way is to attempt to damage the aggressor so much that the attack ultimately proves fruitless, rendering safe at least for us personally. The third way: the outcome of the attack is a not-violent resolution, both for the defender and if possible for the attacker too! (This information is based on a seminar I participated in the Netherlnds in the 1990s). In aikido, we follow the third way. Many solutions to the problem of attacks and difficult situations develop techniques and ways of dealing which could be classified under the first or the second way we mentioned just above, using speed as the main instrument and blows to the face and other sensitive body parts of the aggressor. In aikido we do not learn to be faster than the attacker but to synchronise and align with the attack (see article AIKI~the art of aligning).

The fact that in aikido we do not teach and do not learn how to hit, leads many to wonder if it is ultimately effective in circumstances of a real attack. The reason behind this question is that we are used to ‘see’ (in films usually) eliminations on the spot, or tragic crippling that factually immobilize the attacker or for that matter any offender or victim. I would like to avoid generalizing and simplifying a view on the phenomenon of violence, for it requires another kind of analysis. The issue I think is to understand the principles of aikido to be able to cultivate and develop these further. These principles develop and cultivate the spirit and culture while we learn to protect ourselves from malicious and dangerous attacks.

In aikido we are trying to learn and exercise a non-aggressive defense on many levels, mental, emotional, psychological and physical. It is a road (Do) that requires effort that rewards, when the time comes with knowledge, tranquility, and balance.

Athens, December 1, 2010

© V. N. Kantzara

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