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From the Mat to Your Mouth

One skill that seems essential for achieving a high level of success in anything is good communication. So it may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that the skills required to do this can be significantly enhanced through the practice of aikido. Aikido is typically seen as yet another martial art, and it is true that all students practise martial art technique, but in addition they practise a set of principles that seek to bring about a positive outcome from even the most difficult situations. Being attacked by someone certainly falls into this category. Through the practise, we learn how to deal with such situations in a calm and relaxed manner, so that both parties feel good at the end of the engagement. This is a powerful idea in all aspects of life.

Much of the study is spent in paired practise, where one person attacks and the other defends. Over the years, students learn to attack in many different ways and the more skilled the student, the more intense the attacks become. Equally, they learn how to defend. Sometimes, this involves creating space and diverting an attack. At other times, they learn to receive the attack directly or to enter the space of the partner.

On other occasions, the attack comes in a more passive form. The attacker may hold firmly and make it very hard to get away. We can call this passive aggression, because although the level of imminent threat is low, the result is that the person who is held is not at liberty to go about their business. In such situations, sometimes just outwaiting your attacker is sufficient, but often we need to adopt a more proactive approach to resolve the situation.

I often refer to these engagements as a conversation between two bodies. No words are spoken, but a lot of information is exchanged. If the wrong option is selected by the person being attacked, it often results in someone experiencing pain or discomfort, whereas the best defence leads to smiles breaking out from both parties. To engage with a problem in a harmonious manner and to resolve it positively for both parties is indeed something to celebrate. Whether the student is attacking or receiving an attack, they are learning to do two things:

1. To move in an appropriate manner

2 To take action at an appropriate time

These same skills come in very handy in our day to day dealings with other people. In business, all too often, it can feel like a battle field and a central cause of this can be poor communication. With communication, there are also two parties, one of which is sending a message and the other receiving it. The art of good communication also involves acting in an appropriate manner and doing so at an appropriate time. The conversation is still between two bodies, but with words added. It’s easy to think that this is a very significant difference, but in fact it is widely accepted that words are only a small part of the message received. The rest comes through posture, facial expressions and our tone of voice.

The fact is that the core principles that are hard-wired into aikido are equally applicable to everyday communications. In aikido we learn to stay relaxed, to stay centred, to be grounded and to be fully aware of what is going on around us, and in this state, we are far more likely to come up with a positive resolution to any problem. And the more we practise, the more often we do so. Knowing what to say, when to say it and how to say it, require a high degree of awareness and sensitivity, which is exactly what we develop in the practise of aikido.

Translating this into the work environment, it’s important to appreciate that there are many ways of dealing with a problem. Sometimes need to give people space and time to adjust to a new idea. On other occasions, we need to offer encouragement to get people through the challenges they are facing. On other occasions, we simply need to be very direct and take decisive action. All have consequences in terms of how they are received, and judging which course is going to lead to the best results in both the short and long term is what differentiates good leaders from bad.

At the Business Dojo, we teach exactly the same ideas as when practising aikido on the mat, we just find novel ways of exploring them without the use of martial technique, but still involving experiencing them through the body, as this is a very powerful way to learn.

The link between a martial art and good communication may not at first sight seem obvious, but then again, maybe it shouldn’t come as such a surprise that they are, as they have one very obvious thing in common…..people.

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