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Strange Attractors

Physicists have identified many basic forces in the universe, and in some cases, have been successful at proving an underlying unity among them. But for our everyday experience, it is useful to categorize all forces into two groups of attractive and repulsive (or radiant) powers. This is nothing new. The ancient system of yin and yang ("in" and "yo", in Japanese) describes a universe of two opposite forces in a dynamic balance, each containing elements of the other. For simplicity's sake, we use the word "ki" to label the underlying oneness that encompasses all forces, whether manifest or potential. An understanding of these basic forces allows us to manage our lives more efficiently, in much the same way as our highway system enables us to make progress. The design of the road and the signs along it tell us which ways are safe to go, and what are the restrictions which would likely cause harm if they are ignored.

We as individuals also exhibit these polar forces. We find that we are drawn to some things and seek to avoid others. This is a basic part of our instinct and is necessary to survival. We also see that we attract some things to us and push others away. Increasing our awareness of this dynamic is fundamental to our shugyo. Sometimes, for whatever reason, we may attract harmful forces our way. If an attacker identifies you as a target, then their intent to harm may manifest as a type of psychological gravity. The sooner you are able to recognize that you have become the center of a gravity well and this person is "falling" in toward you, the better you will be able to implement an effective defense strategy.

There is great utility in describing the situation in this fashion. First, we realize that even without any action on our part, ki is already flowing, our "gravity" is pulling the opponent toward us. Just as important, we see also that we are at the center of the system, we need do nothing to "get there." But if we continue to do nothing , then we stand on a collision course and should expect to receive injury. By moving ourselves we move the center, and this can change the vector of attraction in much the same way as the action between planetary or stellar bodies. Properly executed, stepping off the line (hitoashi yokete) has the almost magical effect of also altering the course of the attacker well before we have made actual tactile contact. By turning the vector into the curve of our choosing, the opponent can enter into a safe and manageable orbit, or slingshot away, rather than crashing into us.

If we remain calmly at the center (dochu no sei), we may guide the attacker toward the ground, setting our own gravity aside in favor of Earth's attractive pull, which is by far the more powerful and truer force. When we are able to function as an open conduit which freely directs uke's ki and creates a ground connection with the Earth, then balance is restored, forces are neutralized, and the system is returned to a greater alignment with basic reality (makoto).

On the other hand, if we believe ourselves to be at the center of the system while forgetting the larger context, then we will try to throw the opponent, to force them down against their will. This will almost certainly result in collision and will likely escalate the conflict. Worse, if we give our minds over to excitement and fear, then we are likely to reach out of ourselves and try to control things beyond our reach. In so doing, we have forgotten all about range of effectiveness. We have given our adversary their own gravity which pulls at us, and the complexity of the system becomes far less manageable.

Of course, not everything that comes our way is out to get us. If we see that we are on a collision course with something, we should immediately step aside and evaluate after. If the object continues on by us, staying true to its course, then we know that we were not the attractive force affecting its motion, so long as our calmness allows us to avoid interference. We can simply let it go by. On the other hand, if our movement alone causes an alteration in trajectory, then we know that we are somehow directly involved, and our actions must now be consistent with this fact.

Finally, it's worth commenting that all this applies to beneficial forces as well. No matter what the appearance, we may not know the effect or the truth of a force until we are one with it. Love, health, money, recognition, security, are all things most of us would find desirable. It is tempting to find a path which places us directly in the way of these things, expecting to catch them when they get close enough. Or, we may go chasing after them, forgetting our own center and seeking balance elsewhere. But it's important to remember to avoid collision, even with what we consider to be the good things. Much of the conflict in our lives is caused directly by our involvement with objects of desire, and we wind up hurt and often hurt those we love.

Fortunately, aikido is a universally appropriate path. That is, its ways are consistent in all circumstances. If we train with proper understanding, we should be able to apply aikido in all areas of our lives. The same principles and techniques apply whether with an armed opponent, in business affairs, recreation, or in love.

We should not find this surprising. After all, the principles of aikido are no less than the laws which govern our universe. As students of the aikido, we don't necessarily study gravity in the way that a physicist would, rather, we seek to experience it directly and explore its possibilities with our mind and body as the instrument. Our art is, in its own way, a kind of metaphysics. As we understand gravity, so do we also understand love and hate. The universe is infinite. So too, its laws... each of them. Therefore our understanding is never complete. The mission of Seidokan is to continue this exploration for the furtherance of our understanding and the betterment of the conditions of being.

And this is the force which pulls us forward toward our greater self.

November 1997