Tag Archives: Aikido

Belief Matters More Than You Think

I came across an article in Scientific American last week that reminded me of a story of mine that I haven’t yet told. When I was a PhD candidate at Sofia University, one of the classes that we were required to take was aikido. I really enjoyed learning this martial art having had past experiences with taekwondo and karate — specifically, Gōjū-ryū. (In fact, I did some googling and even found the dojo where I spent a great deal of my youth!)

Anyway, while at Sofia University and learning  aikido, I remember one of the classes quite vividly. In this class, we were learning about the five elements, as they related to aikido. In particular, we were learning about earth. The Sensei (teacher) asked one of the smallest women in the class to come to the front and then he asked me to come to the front, too. He asked her to stand normally and then asked me to lift her off the ground from under her arms. I did it easily. Next, he asked her to imagine that she was the earth element — planting roots deep into the ground. After a few dozen seconds, he then asked me to try lifting her again (in the same way I lifted her before) — nothing. I bent my knees a bit more and put some more force behind my lift — nothing.

I was amazed.

It was quite clear from the first half of this exercise that I could lift her off of the ground, but when she was imagining that she was the earth element, I was — so it seems — helpless. I’ve written before about the importance that our words/thoughts can have on ourselves (and on each other!), but this is a tangible example of how someone’s beliefs are actually effecting reality in a very tangible way. Is there something you’re believing about yourself that may be limiting your ability to lift yourself off of the ground?


I realize that my story is anecdotal, so I thought I’d also include one of the many examples from the Scientific American article:

Psychologists Ulrich Weger and Stephen Loughnan recently asked two groups of people to answer questions. People in one group were told that before each question, the answer would be briefly flashed on their screens — too quickly to consciously perceive, but slow enough for their unconscious to take it in. The other group was told that the flashes simply signaled the next question. In fact, for both groups, a random string of letters, not the answers, was flashed. But, remarkably, the people who thought the answers were flashed did better on the test. Expecting to know the answers made people more likely to get the answers right.


Editor’s Note: As an aside, I’m in the process of moving from Washington, DC, to Ottawa, Canada (the Glebe!), so my posts may become a bit sparser over the next few weeks. I’ll still do my best, but if you don’t see anything for a couple of days, it’s probably because I’m busy with planning/arranging the move.

The Never-Ending Quest for Balance

As part of the for the PhD program I was in a few years back, I had the pleasure of learning a martial art – . I’d already done quite a bit of training in martial arts when I was younger, but Aikido is quite different from . Not to descend too far down a tangent, but, in my understanding, Aikido is much more about blending whereas karate’s primary focus, again, in my understanding, is not blending.

One of the exercises we would often do to practice this sense of blending involved our partner (or partners as it was usually in groups of three or more!) to approach us as if they were attacking us. It was our job to then move out of the way, whilst staying centered. [Note: I couldn’t find any video of this particular exercise, as I think it’s quite basic. However, I was able to find of some of the basic Aikido exercises that are similar to the one I’m describing.] The tempo of this exercise usually started out really slow (intentionally). Though, as time passed, our partners would then speed up. You can imagine how it might be challenging to stay centered in this kind of an activity.

During these times of practice, I remember having a bit of an epiphany.

As my partner would approach me and I would step out of the way, I noticed that the quicker (and the more out of balance!) I was, the more out of balance I would be when stepping out of the way for the next partner who was approaching. Think about that for a second: as I stepped out of the way of one partner and I was off-balance, I was that much more off-balance when stepping out of the way for the next partner. It’s almost akin to the .

This may seem like a small thing to notice, but we can apply this lesson to a much broader (macro!) scope. Let’s think about this in terms of our own lives. When I am faced with one problem or issue and I “lose my center,” I will be that much more out of balance when approaching the next problem that comes my way. This sense of being out of balance seems to grow exponentially (see: the Bullwhip Effect).

We can apply this to an even broader scope (communities or countries). When a community/country reacts to a problem they are faced with, and they aren’t approaching the problem from a sense of balance (and they don’t maintain a sense of balance throughout the problem-solving process), there will usually be a sense of being out of balance at the end of the solution. Furthermore, by being out of balance at the end state, when the next problem approaches, there will be even more “out of balance.”

There’s just two more things I want to mention about my experience during this Aikido exercise. First, when I noticed myself starting to get out of balance during the exercise, I would often try really hard to get myself back in balance. This only made it worst. As I would try to get back to a sense of balance, I would often swing the other way, causing more imbalance, etc. And second, eventually, by being out of balance, I would fail the exercise. That is, by being so out of balance, I might not see one of my partners who was behind me.

The consequence of being out of balance in this exercise illustrates the inherent narrow-minded focus of one who is not centered.