By Geoff Goodman
"Hurting people is very easy. In fact, it's so easy that you have to be careful not to do it." Saotome Sensei was addressing a group of students at summer camp. I immediately understood what he was saying. Or so I thought. Certainly I knew that a carelessly performed throw or a poorly aimed weapon strike could dislocate a joint or break a bone. A word of caution was certainly appropriate. But something about the way he phrased this caution caused me to think about it later. Why stress how easy it is to hurt people?
As I have thought about it, I see that his words have an important meaning beyond a simple admonition to be careful. For one thing, it points out that simply hurting someone requires little skill. If all that is wanted is to hurt someone, there is no point in learning a sophisticated martial art like Aikido. There are simple ways to seriously injure someone that don't require much technique. Ask any mugger.
Most of us have learned that Aikido practitioners at lower skill levels are more likely to cause injury than highly skilled Aikidoka. Who hasn't had their wrist strained by a new student who was just getting the hang of kote gaeshi or shiho nage? With increasing skill, practitioners make less and less injurious mistakes. Along with an increase in technical skill, an Aikidoka gains in maturity and discipline. He or she must learn to retain their composure, and certainly must move beyond any tendency to intentionally hurt or cause pain to their partner.
When the lessons learned from Aikido begin to reflect in aspects of your life beyond the dojo, you begin to realize the full value of your Aikido experience. When I began to apply this lesson at work, I recognized the value of Saotome Sensei's words. My workplace is like many in the respect that we have a wide range of age and experience among the people who work there. The newest people, recent high school or college graduates, are as enthusiastic and as anxious as a brand-new Aikido student wearing his gi for the first time. They are also just as likely to become confused, frustrated and upset by their early efforts. A careless put-down or deprecating remark can really hurt. Hurting people is very easy.
If hurting people is very easy, then what is very difficult? One answer to that question is - healing people. Healing people includes healing oneself, as well as others. Most of us are only too familiar with the fact that it takes only a second to get hurt, and sometimes many months to become healed. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work as a hospital volunteer, teaching physical exercises to patients undergoing rehabilitation. I try to help patients attain some degree of what Aikido practitioners normally have: good breathing, flexibility, balance, coordination and strength. My experiences at the hospital have made me very grateful for the good health and fitness that I have.
The patients are in the hospital for a variety of reasons. Some are there because of accidents or illnesses that may not have been preventable. Quite a few more are there because of a risky lifestyle, often involving drug and alcohol abuse. Some are there as a result of violence. It's a sobering experience to work with someone who will live with a lifelong spinal injury or brain injury resulting from a moment of violence. Hurting people, including ourselves, is all too easy. We must be careful not to do it.
Geoff Goodman practices and teaches aikido at Rocky Mountain Aikikai in Littleton, Colorado. As a hospital volunteer, he also teaches a class in energy flow exercises to patients at Denver Health Medical Center. Geoff works as an intelligence specialist for the Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs.