In the "Aikido as a way of being" post I said I have doubts about how well physical Aikido skills actually train us to move more effectively in the off-the-mat world of speaking and listening in which we spend most of our time.
These doubts have persisted even though many authors of Aikido-in-real-life type books seem to suggest that physical Aikido skills transfer readily into new actions in, say, verbal conflicts at work.
What we are really talking about is the question: does Aikido practice enable me to move into action with more and better choices in stressful situations than I had before I began training Aikido?
Certainly, if through Aikido (or any martial art practice) I have learned to direct my mind to find my physical center and to relax, breathing into it before moving into action, then this is dramatic progress. From a relaxed, balanced, alert physical position I think anyone would have command of more choices for action than had they simply reacted reflexively. And I agree that in many situations Aikido practice will build in physical habits of rexlation and centering deeply enough to make a difference in the way we present ourselves to some level of increased difficulty.
But I also think that our default action programming -- learned over a lifetime -- to win and not lose, to control the field of play, to always appear rational, to hide negative feelings, (to name a few), is a powerful force that embodies and directs our actions when we feel truly threatened. If martial arts practices like Aikido can help us to raise the bar of situational difficulty so that it takes more conflict to make us panic and fall back into our default routines, then great. I believe this happens and it's obvious progress. But I think we are better off having an idea of the scope of what we are up against: our years of previous practice just powering through things and people with strength and aggression. These are deeply rooted habits of reflexive action, and they will not just leave our bodies like exorcized spirits. They are a part of us, now and always.
If we are to have a chance of really making lasting and significant progress in translating Aikido principles such as "blend or merge with the other's power," or "develop power without strength," or even simply "move out of the way of an incoming attack," into effective new actions, then I think we will succeed better in the long run by designing additional real-life situational practices to reprogram our bodies to act in new ways in precisely those real-life situations. These practices would be everyday life responses to everyday troubles, but they would be informed by Aikido principles instead of default principles such as "win at all costs."
My theory in this, to sum up, is that Aikido training is good but it's beneficial impact on our everyday actions will only give us modest, though non-trivial, success. For a truly dramatic, increasing, and lasting ability to shift into new ways of moving, speaking, and listening additional practice is required off the mat, practice geared to the actual kinds of situations we find ourselves panicing in out in the world.
I'd like to explore here what kinds of practices those new, off-the-mat, varieties might be, what principles they would embody, and how we might conduct such practices in a way that facilitates deep learning and at the same time preserves the dignity of eveyone involved.