Aikido Outside the Dojo

Recently the topic of bullying has been brought up, specifically in regards to how our junior members can and should react to bullying. Some interesting and thought provoking questions have been asked as to when and why it is appropriate for a child to use their Aikido skill/ability outside the dojo.

The following comes from our junior member Avery's mother:

Avery was at a 7-year-old's birthday party yesterday with a jumperoo that had a slide / obstacle course inside. Most of the kids were 7 years old - boys and girls. The boys decided to have a "boys against the girls" battle, which deteriorated into boys just pushing girls. Avery came out to complain, and moms intervened. I stayed near the jumperoo to watch the pushiest of the boys so they knew someone was watching. But I was wondering if this could have been an opportunity for Avery to use her aikido skills (now, or as they develop later). After all - the boys wouldn't have been hurt if they were flipped to the "floor" - they were inside a jumperoo. But it would definitely have given Avery tremendous confidence if she could have handled the situation on her own.

I suggested that Avery try using her Aikido next time, but she said she was afraid she'd get into trouble. I tried to explain that she would be using it in self defense, not as an attack - and that's OK. But she wasn't convinced, and asked me if I'd stand up for her if somebody called her out for using her Aikido. I've been giving this some thought. I think that in order for Avery's Aikido training (or any martial art training) to be effective, Avery has to learn not only the skills, but also the culture and emotional discipline to appropriately use the skills. I don't think it's enough to say "you can use it in self defense" because I don't think kids are really clear how to distinguish self defense from aggression - where to draw that line. But without this understanding, their Aikido training will be a waste of time - they won't be able to use their skills if they can't understand the emotional difference between self defense (from a place of calm) and aggression (from a place of heightened emotion or desire for a specific outcome). Do you think someone at the dojo can help clarify this, or help me clarify it with Avery?

Sara responded with the following:

Your story prompted a very interesting thought process in my head and a discussion with Crane Sensei and Kevin Sensei as well as with a few other members, and it took me a while to really get my thoughts together.

Even though aikido is promoted as "self defense," MY current take on aikido is not that in a physical sense. I feel like there are many concepts in aikido that I use in my daily life on a regular basis, such as "not resisting," "letting go of ideas and feelings," "not dwelling," "blending," "confidence," "balance," "being in tune with yourself and others," etc. I practice these skills in the protected environment of the dojo, using physical contact with others, yet I see my physical training as only a way to concretize more abstract concepts that are harder to grasp. But in reality, I apply them in more metaphorical ways.

If I were ever in a situation where I had to protect myself from physical harm, maybe I will try to make use of my aikido training. However, my wish is that I will never place myself in situations like that and to flee such a situation would be my first priority over anything else. After reading what happened to Avery over the weekend, I felt that she did exactly what I would have done and something I would consider to be a very "aikido-like" thing to do. She did not try to inflict harm or to aggravate the situation, but searched for a more peaceful solution. If she had gone back to try techniques on this boy, that would have been more like starting a fight.

With this said, there are some things I would like to make the point of conveying to the children at our dojo. The first is that they can use aikido in non-material ways. It might be hard for them to understand how such a physical activity would translate into intangible ideas, but I hope that they will gradually pick up what it means. Second is that aikido can be very powerful. It is not a toy tool that they should show off. It can seriously damage others, if used in an inappropriate way, to the wrong people, under the wrong conditions. It is a privilege.

Avery's mother replied with:

Thank you so much for taking such a considered look at my question! I'm impressed with the depth of aikido, and your commitment to it.

I welcome your teaching to both kids and parents about the proper culture and application of aikido. I think it will help integrate mind and body and spirit / emotions. I remember when Avery was little and she  started taking swim lessons. She spent a year learning to perfect her strokes, learning the tread water, but then one she day accidentally fell into the pool at swim class and didn't know what to do. She didn't know to simply spin around and face the wall, then swim over to it. She didn't know how to apply what she'd learned. I'm glad you're going to bridge that gap for the kids. I think their understanding will be much richer for it.

I'll bet the abstract concepts will help them with their technique if broken down into small enough pieces. I imagine it would be like how a student is taught abstract concepts when learning to ride a horse because the concepts change the student's relationship with the horse in a way that improves their communication / partnership. As a riding student, it took me a while to accept that an abstract concept that you hold in your head can change your physical performance, but it sure is true!

So what are your thoughts on the matter? Please feel free to discuss in the comments below.


Avery should be taught by us and by you, her mother that if she is truly in danger, with no other way out (such as a parent) that she should use Aikido and/or any other method at her disposal. This is especially important as a woman with respect to rape prevention. However, using physical (or small) aikido on the play ground or at a party in general should be discouraged. First, if she doesn't have enough adrenaline and good training behind her she might fail and that would be very bad for her future emotional sense of being able to defend herself. Second, some response might encourage others to challenge her in order to show others that they stood up to her. In this party situation, practicing big aikido would be a better course of action. Aikido teaches us to use the energy of our attackers against themselves. If someone comes toward you, get out of their way and they may just fall down. If there is not a body standing there when the attack comes, there is no attack. The same type of redirection can often be done verbally. "Boys against Girls" ...Avery could say "that doesn't sound fun lets get out of here girls". This image can be reinforced in class by teaching Tino Henko