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How an Aikido Practice Can Help You Overcome Thorny Challenges

October 24, 2018

Blending versus Resisting


What do you do when somebody or something pushes against you?


Some version of "push back” is a likely answer. When challenged, whether from a physical or psychological standpoint, our tendency is to push back. We meet our challenge head on, attempting to battle through the struggles we face. In sport we tough our way through pain and fatigue. In relationships, when confronted or criticized, we tend to put up a wall and fight back, attempting to win whatever argument we are having. Even on social media, when someone argues against our political beliefs, we all too often give into the temptation to fight back, taking both sides down a rabbit hole that is all too often devoid of logic.
The Way of the Aikido, George Leonard points out that our tendency to “push back” usually results in one of three outcomes:

  • We win (and our opponent loses and is left worse off).

  • We lose (and we feel awful).

  • We reach a stalemate (and it’s a giant waste of time).


While “winning” might feel good to us, the ultimate good achieved is minimal. We all know this from arguments we’ve had, whether with romantic partners or close friends. We may “win” the argument, but after the momentary hit of feel good neurochemicals dissipates, we’re left with an aftermath that is less appealing. In other words, on a global level, none of the options are very good. Instead of pushing back, Leonard suggests a tactic called blending:


"What's the alternative? To deal with any kind of push, whether a shove or strike or kick, the aikidoist generally moves toward the attacker and slightly off the line of attack, simultaneously making a turning maneuver that leaves him or her next to the attacker and facing in the same direction. In this position, the aikidoist is looking at the situation from the attacker's viewpoint. It's important here to add one more phrase to that statement. The aikidoist is looking at the situation from the attacker's viewpoint without giving up his or her own viewpoint.
This entering and blending maneuver immediately multiplies your options. Thousands of techniques and variations have been identified in aikido, all of which become possible once you've blended. The same thing is true when you blend verbally, when instead of meeting a verbal attack with a verbal counterattack you respond first by coming around to your attacker's point of view, seeing the situation from his or her viewpoint. This response, whether physical or verbal, is quite disarming, leaving the attacker with no target to focus on. At that point, numerous options present themselves, including, best of all, the clear possibility of a reconciliation that meets the needs of both parties."

When faced with a disagreement, argument, or struggle, human nature pushes us towards a defensive mode where we protect ourselves at all costs. We protect not only our physical body, but also our ego, and more importantly in today’s cable-news, hyperbolic world, our own viewpoint. When we enter this protective mode, we only see the possible outcomes through our own lens. “Winning” becomes the goal.
Leonard’s tactic of blending takes the focus away from “winning” and instead puts understanding at the forefront. If one can see the issue through the lens of their opponent, without sacrificing who they are, then more options arise. It no longer becomes about victory or defeat but about more deeply understanding the problem at the heart of the disagreement.
The application and importance of blending in today’s divisive climate is clear: Too often we get locked into an attack-defend mindset. The goal becomes winning instead of understanding and making progress towards an actual solution.

The application and importance in other activities, like sport, may not be as clear, but it's equally important. Always pushing through and resisting pain and fatigue tends to end up in injury or disappointment. The ability to hold pain and fatigue in awareness and look deeply at it, without judging it, almost always results in much wiser decision making. 

In sport and life, sometimes you really do need to push back. But you should make sure that's the case before you do so automatically. In that space of making sure and blending, all kinds of solutions may arise.


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