If we learn to flow with someone else, we also learn to flow within ourselves.

Aikido has led me to a place in my life where I have tried to make sense of energy flows. In aikido, we study the flows of physical energy and – once we become skilled in aikido – we are able to flow with our opponent’s energy rather than fighting it. This enables us to have the best possible outcome, not only for us, but for our opponent as well.

We can see many of the same parallels with karma – this is the energy flow of the universe. The way we handle our mental and emotional energy affects how easy life is for us as well as those around us. This may include practicing positive emotions, and trying to reduce negative emotions and thoughts, such as anger and frustration. Like in aikido, we want the best possible outcome for everyone involved.

In aikido, the attacker gives us an attack – there will be two types of energy coming at us. One will be physical and one will be mental (the mental energy is the intention – you can’t do most things without thinking about it first).

With the physical energy – and even the mental energy, with enough practice – we have two choices: fight it or flow with it. If we choose to fight against it, usually the stronger, faster person will have an advantage. However, if we “flow” or blend with their energy, the attacker doesn’t know where we are or what we are doing. This effectively throws him/her off balance, giving us the advantage. Have you ever leaned on a chair or a door, thinking it will stabilize you, only to have it move as you put your weight on it? Or maybe someone tossed you an object that you thought was heavy but was actually much lighter (or vice versa)?

We try to help that energy along with “maximum efficiency, minimum effort, and mutual welfare and benefit for all concerned”. Beginners in aikido find it very difficult at first to learn to blend with that energy, rather than trying to fight it. It’s challenging for new students to resist the urge to force an outcome, rather than going WITH the energy of the attack. However, once they break through that mental block and learn to flow with the energy of the attack, they find that it’s much easier to achieve the desired outcome.

Once you figure out where the attacker’s energy is going to go, you can flow with it and even extend it beyond where he/she is expecting. Because the attacker is depending on you to help absorb or deflect the energy, flowing with their energy is more than they are generally able to deal with. If someone is going to hit you, and they miss because you got out of the way, they suddenly have to deal with all of that energy themselves. Since the attacker was counting on you to stop the energy, they have to eat that energy.

Most of the time, we see an attack and instinctively want to “do something” to the attacker. This is natural, but it can help stabilize the other person (which then turns into a battle of strength). If you let them go where their energy wants to go and “blend” with them, they quickly find themselves off-balance. At this point, they must put a lot of extra energy into stabilizing themselves.

However, it’s difficult for your attacker to get back on balance unless you do something to stabilize them, by trying to fight their energy flow. Let their energy go where it will, and allow them to deal with it.

Like some of the other martial arts, aikido has a spiritual aspect as well as a physical aspect. I’ve often said that aikido is like physical karma – the energy you give out can come back to bite you. A commonly accepted definition of karma is that the energy you give out comes back around to you. Aikido practice in the physical realm can give us some excellent tools to help us with our spiritual karma as well.

If someone tries to provoke you verbally, you can take mental “evasion steps”, just like in the physical world. For example, refusing to “take the bait” and engage in a verbal conflict – which may even escalate into a physical conflict – might be an example of a spiritual evasion step. You can also do spiritual “balance breaks”, by distracting your attacker. This can be changing the subject to a more agreeable topic, or even just asking something to catch the attacker off-guard, such as “What time is it?”. This gives the other person a chance to mentally pause and (hopefully) regroup and reconsider their attack.

In aikido, we try to put as little energy as possible into defending against an attack. The same is true in the emotional/spiritual realm. When you are in a negative or tense situation, try to put as little of your energy as possible into the situation. Practice your spiritual balance breaks and evasion steps, just like you practice in the physical world. This can be difficult, but the rewards that come from the spiritual development are worth it and will make your life much more pleasant.

Remember: by learning to flow with someone else physically, you can also learn to flow within yourself spiritually.