Me, Aikido and 700kg of Man Meat

Note the white belt. 'Pure of knowledge'. That's me.

Note the white belt. 'Pure of knowledge'. That's me.

At 180cm and 90 plus kilos, it’s not often I’m the smallest in the group. But that was exactly who I was the day I was surrounded by a group of gigantic, irritated scaffolders and slightly less gigantic, downright annoyed builders. Let’s make it perfectly clear here – the collective 700-odd kilos of man meat was irritated with and annoyed at yours truly. Although, it must be said, there was a strong urge to curl up in the foetal position under my bed, sometimes you just have to dig your heels in and fight the good fight.  

It’s a good thing I had Aikido on my side.

A disclaimer: for those of you that are looking to hear an exciting tale of little ol’ me in an underdog, completely outnumbered, Steven Seagal–esque chucking baddies on their heads and stiff arming them across the throat – you’re about to be disappointed. Sorry about that.

As far as the martial arts are concerned, I’m not a complete novice, but there was a decades wide gap between training sessions and my rapidly greying bearded self is not exactly as spry as I used to be. As far as Aikido goes, with just two years on the mat, I am a beginner. But here’s the revelation – while I struggle with mastering techniques training session after frustrating training session, it seems the intention behind them has, unbeknownst to me, permeated my psyche.

The situation went thusly: there’s this very, very unwelcome building site next door. On the day in question, they needed to erect a scaffold between the building next door and ours to protect our home from the one they were about to reduce to rubble. The gap is not wide. When they arrived in the morning, being the amiable sort of chap that I am, I bid them welcome onto our side of the fence should it assist with reaching their enormous Meccano set. We were all friends and I got called ‘brother’ a lot. Then I disappeared into a set of noise reduction headphones to listen to some Gregorian chanting (don’t judge).

About 1:30 or so I ventured out for a little look see and… this is where it all gets a little pear shaped… they’ve deemed it totally acceptable to span the fence with the scaffold. My offer was a kind one of access – I wasn’t inviting them to move in! By putting the scaffold where they did, they reduced access to my backyard and laundry to little more than 50cm.

They were trespassing, right? Yes, yes they were. When I informed them of the fact, they retorted with things like, “Just a subcontractor doing my job, Brother,” as they literally walked around me to gain access through the gate I was trying to block with my body.  

So, here’s the bit where I totally wig out and start screaming and throwing things and threatening violence and all the wrath and flying flippery my fledgling Aikido skills can muster.

No. Didn’t happen like that at all. Made that bit up.

I wonder if the pre-Aikido Tony might have done those things, or maybe he would have just worked up a nervous ulcer from the self-loathing associated with not taking any action at all.  

So, what did I do, I hear you ask. This is the interesting bit – I engaged. Whether it was a conscious decision or not is debatable. In Aikido terms, I ‘entered’. There are many who believe Aikido is a passive art – it’s anything but. The trick is to enter the conflict and take control of it somewhere between your opponent intending to act and actually doing so.

As you can well imagine, this takes a little practice.    

I’m not talking engaging as in engaging in combat. I doubted any violence would ensue, but when you’re telling a large group of moose-sized gents who get paid by the square metre to undo their entire day’s work and head on home with no coin to show for it, I’ll admit the thought did sneak across my mind.

The first thing I did was get centred as best I could. As I’ve said, I make no claims to having expansive Aikido nouse but I know that nothing good can come until I get my energy down where it belongs. Once a semblance of balance was established, I was in a good place, despite the plethora of agitated giants barking at me, telling me how unreasonable I was being. My Sensei has frequently told me during technique and ki training, that once I’ve found balance, do not give it up for anything. I’m paraphrasing, but in this situation, I know exactly what he means. If I take a single backward step, or even a little shuffle, they’ve got me.

For two hours this went on, during which all manner of intimidation technique was thrown at me. From invading ‘maai’ (personal space), to passive-aggressive insults, to raised voices informing me of my unreasonableness, to pleading. That last one was a bit pathetic and came from the boss, not the afore mentioned man meat. One look at them and you know – they do not plead.  

Anyway, I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t rattled by the end of it all, and there was one nanosecond there they almost convinced me I was being an irrational clod, but in the end, the scaffold came down. The entire altercation depended on me remaining calm, never letting my energy rise, blending with each assault, and redirecting – putting me back in the centre. Once again, I hear my Sensei telling me during technique training, “You are the centre of your universe – they move around you.” OK, I’m paraphrasing again. Sorry if I buggered that up, Sensei.

Every day, we face conflict. Be it at work, driving (oh my goodness – driving), at work, within casual relationships and not so casual relationships with loved ones.

There is much debate over whether Aikido is an efficient martial art - it is. The true beauty of Aikido, as I understand through my very limited experience, conflict can and bloody well should be resolved through blending and harmony. If you allow it all to come to blows, or even an angry yelling match or a little hissy fit for that matter, you have already lost.

Don’t take my word for it. If you want to know more about Aikido, I’d suggest speaking to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about. Alternatively, you can hang around for a few years (quite a few, more than likely) waiting for me to get enough experience to speak from a place that goes beyond jabbering about man meat and watching me wrestle with the conflict caused by seeking harmony with a would-be assailant and the desire to kick someone who desperately deserves it right in the plums. I make no apologies. As I said… I’m still a beginner.


And now for the shameless plug (Oh, come on – you knew it was coming): I’ve been studying at Sydney Aikido Dojo in Artarmon under Jamie Terley Sensei’s instruction. Check it out – it’s worth it.

Anthony VercoeComment