Earlier this week I explored some parallels between Aikido and Surfing. That got me to wondering what other activities embody principles in common with Aikido.
Music, whether solo or ensemble, is an activity that shares many similarities and principles with Aikido. Music, like Aikido, unfolds in real-time and has an uncertain outcome, depending on the quality of the performance.
In playing music our greatest ally is our ability to listen. A good musician listens to the other musicians and to the audience. Musicians who don't cultivate listening are like aikidoka who just power through techniques, without concern for any connecteness with their partner. When musicians don't listen and just go off on their own, leaving others behind, the result is usually painful to hear; when aikido people do it the result is often another kind of physical pain, like that of a dislocated joint.
Everyone has seen musicians playing ostensibly together but not connecting. One can see their minds narrowed down to a small focus, not extending past themselves. The result may be technically brilliant, but in the end it is just a few musicians all doing their individual thing, and not performing something together that transcends them as individuals. In aikido practice, it is not hard to notice when people let their minds get trapped in the small confines of, say, a grabbed wrist. In the panic over the grab their minds shrink and they lose connection with the rest of the attacker's world. This can be dangerous. What we need is an expansive listening, like the expanded vision O-Sensei urged us to cultivate.
In Aikido we are urged to attune our senses so that we can feel beyond ourselves to what our partner is doing and where his or her energy is. This is a kind of intuitive listening. During randori practice, when we're under multiple attack, listening is important in the figurative sense of finding the connection with our current partner, and in the literal sense of listening for the footsteps of the next one.
In either music or Aikido, if we listen we can find the blend, and if we don't listen there is no blend. Once found, the blend is the threshold at which harmony can be achieved and hopefully sustained.
In music the greatest feeling is that of attaining a sustained peak of blended harmony, one that brings participants and audience together as one perfectly attuned mind, utterly free of ego-driven selfishness or conflict. To me this sounds remarkably similar to what O-Sensei wanted to achieve with Aikido.