What Is Relational Aikido?
A Non-Violent System of Relational Self-Defense
Relational Aikido (RA) is a non-violent, win-win method of coping with relationship attack. RA might be best described as a relational martial art, whereby the practitioner is able to protect themselves from attack by deflecting and controlling the attacker’s negative energies and hurtful statements in such a way that the situation is quickly neutralized, and even the attacker is not harmed.
Typically, relational attacks are committed by individuals who are in their own negative thinking and emotional state, which presses them into attack behaviors perpetrated upon others. Most often, when people are attacked, they “react in kind,” meaning that we give back what we have just been attacked with, or something very similar.
The nature of negative attack and defensive counter-attack is that it quickly escalates in intensity, duration, and damage. This habit of defensive reactivity is based in a deeper belief-habit that is strongly competitive, and views most of life as a win-loss situation. A basic tenant of RA is for the practitioner to resist this concept in their own mind, and fully embrace a stance of win-win for all of their interactions in life.
While RA is a very effective means of non-violent self-defense from mean, bullying people, it also is a deep spiritual-philosophy of life that that can benefit the practitioner with far greater gifts than simple self-defense from difficult encounters with others. RA skills might be considered a valid embodiment of many of the world religions directives in how we treat others and get along in the world. More than a simple technique to cope with difficult people, Relational Aikido is a spiritual way of life.
While every human being certainly has some chance in life of being physically attacked by another human being, the odds of that happening for most of us is rather low in comparison to our odds of being relationally attacked. For most of us, we are relationally attacked at least once a day, if not hundreds of times from the people closest to us.
Relational attack in long-term relationship is so ubiquitous that we become numb to the attacks; coming to expect them as part and parcel to our definition of a loving relationship. Once we are numb to others attacking us, and worse yet, our own attacks on people we love, the general level of relationship satisfaction and security and serenity in life degrades considerably. People end up mystified as to why they feel so discontent and even hostile in their primary relationships, but still have an understanding that they love the other person.
When we speak of relational attack, it is difficult to list all the ways that people do this, because the list is vast. Manipulations of others, insults, lies, gossip, and prejudices are all common attacks. From demands that people close to us validate our thinking and behavior, to direct attacks on people that disagree with our point of view, to disrespectful criticisms of the way others behave, their appearance, tone of voice, or the things they have not done that we wanted them to do, the list is almost endless.
Of course, there are also mean, ignorant, inconsiderate, and bullying people in the world that attack us as well, and not just when we are school children on the playground. Over ambitious colleagues in competition for garnering points with the boss, backstabbing friends, and obnoxious, power-drunk middle managers can all add to our daily stress load of relationship attacks that wear us down mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
RA is adaptable and teachable to individuals of all ages, from the child being teased in school, to the adult couple who are bickering, to the adult victim of a harassing, personality disordered ex.
The Components of RA
The components that underpin RA are the spirit and philosophy of Aikido, the therapeutic approach of Cognitive Behavior Therapy, and the history of non-violent resistance. Each of these underpinnings have commonalities that strengthen RA and make a most peaceful and even gentle approach that is as powerful and effective as the finest, sharpest steel sword. Even practicing the basics can help an individual begin to feel far more calm, confident, and satisfied in their closest relationships, and give them a most effective tool in coping with difficult people.
Like any such method, extensive study and self-discipline, as well as relentless practice is required to become a confident, expert practitioner. As with many great skills, repetition and constant awareness of the fundamentals is a core exercise for attaining greater levels of skill. Close attention and practice of the fundamentals will give rise to the ability to personalize the system in such a way that other useful techniques will spontaneously reveal themselves to the practitioner.
No progress will be made and the novice will not be able to even use RA if the first skill set is not achieved. The skill is the ability to hold on to one’s own emotionally reactive process in such a way that negative thoughts are immediately challenged and managed so as not to translate into negative emotion and then negative, self-defeating, attacking or counter-attacking behaviors.
The primary exercise or drill to achieve this is meditation. Until the practitioner can control their mind and address negative thoughts as they arise, the lightening-fast emotional and behavioral reaction that is the demon of relational attack and counter-attack will not be vanquished.
The primary technique that demands endless practice is empathy. By holding a stance of win-win, rather than win-lose, the RA practitioner immediately takes control of the relational contest by refusing to participate in a competitive, attacking, and likely negatively escalating battle.
Holding the thought that “hurt people hurt people,” the RA practitioner is already offering compassion to what the attacker is experiencing in their thoughts and emotions. This readiness, open, non-hostile relationship stance has great power to help the attacker to calm themselves a bit, if not put them slightly out of balance in their all-to-familiar attack mode. To further the strength of the technique, the RA practitioner can reflect, in a non-aggressive tone, what the attacker is thinking and feeling, further de-escalating and unbalancing the attack.
Though the practitioner “steps in beside” the attacker, they also exercise assertiveness in doing so (taking control of the encounter even as it begins). The practitioner may choose then, to set and keep certain boundaries and limits to the interaction, perhaps by making a self-validating response, or a clear sanction or rebuttal to the attacker, or even by choosing to remove from the situation once the attacker’s aggression has been neutralized. In most cases, the attacker will be left quite mystified as to why the progression that they are used to in such interactions has been ineffective and not resulting in the predictable way.
If the practitioner has become proficient in the previous three skill sets, they will have remained highly respectful of the attacker during the entire exchange. This deep and abiding respect for the suffering of the attacker (“hurt people hurt people”) returns to the RA practitioner as a reward and proof of their mastery of Relational Aikido, and may serve to inspire the attacker inquire about how they too, might learn the discipline.
While Relational Aikido certainly is a powerful tool in the here-and-now to neutralize negative relational attacks, it also has great potential for all who embrace it to literally change their own personal relationships, families, and communities in places that genuinely walk in harmony together.