It was raining, traffic was light, and the lights by the on-ramp of the freeway had been turned off after the heavy morning commute. I was driving behind a fancy sports car heading down the on-ramp and suddenly the car stops right by the traffic light in front of me leaving me no time to break. Trying to break yet sliding on fresh rain, unable to stop in time, I swerved to the right lane and quickly passed by. No red traffic light, yet the car decided to stop. Somehow my base model CRV got out of the way effortlessly, and to my surprise I was completely calm.
My training partner always shared with me that aikido should translate into all aspects of our lives, and I agree. At the time he and I had been training for several months getting ready for our 3rd degree black belt test. We trained extensively in freestyle with three attackers, and were learning that part of being effective is the concept of evasion. I was getting better at sliding by an attacker without an active confrontation. In our training this allowed time to face the next attacker and the one after that. I never thought much of it during training. Most of the time training was training and I was just trying to survive. Only in hindsight was I able to see that my training in aikido saved me from countless near accidents on the road.
Several years ago I spent five and a half weeks in Japan visiting family and training in aikido. After a whole day of training, I would ride my bike back to the apartment late at night feeling completely exhausted and unable to think straight. The side streets merging onto the main road were small and dim. The last night during my stay, friends took me out to celebrate with traditional sushi and lots of beer. As I got on my bike to head back, it was already past midnight. There was almost no traffic on the road and I was riding along the main road submerged in my own thinking. Suddenly a dark transport truck came out of the perpendicular dark alley cutting directly in front of my path. My eyes glazed and my body moved on its own. The next thing I knew I took a quick right angle turn and was traveling parallel side-by-side right next to the truck – my body touching its dusty driver side door. I told sensei what happened the next day and he laughed, “YES! That is aikido! Good Pivot!”
In the first instance the evasion training in freestyle helped me to escape a collision in the fresh rain. In the second instance the pivoting technique we use often helped me to avoid getting hit by a truck. And this natural harmony was happening more and more in my life where conflicts used to occur. I thought perhaps I was just lucky, but on later reflection I was able to see how aikido training of the body/mind/energy has made me more effective in navigating in life without “collisions”. Most other martial arts I’ve experienced or seen embraced “collisions” as a way to win or dominate in any given situation. Instead, aikido asks practitioners to re-wire our thinking from fight-or-flight to harmonious interactions in any confrontation. With so many of our teen students getting ready to drive, I can’t help but smile to myself that aikido training is producing better drivers on the road. In a small way perhaps we are making a difference.