“Political Aikido” is not a phrase people hear very much, but in the current era of political polarization, conflict, anger, and fear – isn’t aikido exactly what we need more of?
Inspired by the “Aikido and Social Change” curriculum taught by AE Founder Professor Don Levine at the University of Chicago for more than 25 years, I’ve been blending traditional aikido training with the academic pursuits of philosophy, politics, and rhetoric each January in the form of a month-long Winter Study class at Williams College (Williamstown, MA) for more than ten years.
The course combines two hours of daily aikido practice in a rarely used but beautiful oak-paneled ballroom in one of the older campus dorms with classroom time spent discussing, in this year’s course, how to craft words and images to achieve the same kinds of persuasion in the political realm that aikido techniques allow in the physical realm.
Eighteen students trained together each morning, and split for the academic policy discussions and projects into three groups, focused on Renewable Energy, Mass Surveillance, and Immigration respectively. Each group was responsible, within their topic area, for producing a policy statement, framing analysis, aikido-based strategy analysis, legislative opposition and support survey, several lengths of speech text, a social media meme collection, a Twitter campaign plan, and a YouTube video, all in support of whatever aikido-inspired policy they chose to promote.
The aikido training each morning seeps into the policy and strategy discussions fairly quickly – you don’t have to do tai no henko too many times before you start to understand how blending and getting out of the way of incoming energy gives you a better chance to guide where that energy goes. In much the same way, starting a speech by mentioning something about which you and your opposition agree is the best way to lower their resistance to the rest of your message.
Because this blog format encourages participation, I will leave you the gentle reader with this question: What is the aikido response to the current political drama that affects you most? If you’re upset about a climate change denier in charge of and trying to dismantle the EPA, what is an “aikido” way to redirect that intention? If you’re in favor of President Trump’s policies, can you articulate a more aikido-like way to get his agenda adopted?