I'm a practitioner of Aikido. Aikido is a martial art comprised mainly in Japan, with a rough translation of "a way of being at one with the essence of the situation at hand." I have been doing aikido for a few months now, and a fortnight a go, my sensei posed to me an interesting question. He said,

"There is an aiki way of dealing with any situation. How, tell me, would you deal with this? Your wife, whom you love very much, comes home one evening. She is very excited, and from the ominous rustling coming from the car, you can hear she has been on a shopping expedition. When she steps out, tada! She's bought a new dress and she is ab-so-lutely in love with it. However, it is obvious to you that the dress is completely hideous and looks terrible on her. How, in an aiki way, would you deal with this situation without hurting her feelings?"

The whole premise of aikido is moving with the situation. Not obstructing, but flowing with it. So I thought about it. Racked my brain. And by the end of the two weeks, I didn't have a clue how to deal with it. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
Tonight, this is what sensei had to say.

You'll see up there a portrait. That is Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo. This man had a phrase which, I fear, is much more eloquent in Japanese. However, roughly translated it means 'Yield to Win'. That is not to say to throw down your weapons, turn tail and run away, it is exactly what we are on about with aikido. Do not be stubborn, ebb and flow with the situation. If, say, you have an idea at work. Brilliant idea. You're a civil engineer, and you've discovered a way to give this little hamlet a water supply. Your boss is the type of man to steal kudos, and that's exactly what he tries to do with your idea. Should you try and stop him? No. Yield to win. The little town has its own water supply, and that's the real victory here. Now, our little problem...

At the risk of boring my more senior colleagues who have heard it countless times, I'm going to tell you a story that has been with me for a long time, and will remain with me until the day I die. My career afforded me a scholarship to Japan about two decades ago, and while I was there, I visited many aikido dojos. In every dojo I looked for men who could move with ki, with grace, who could use the energy from themselves to redirect an opponents flow. I found none. Pretty much what I saw was thuggery. Perhaps my perceptions were a bit narrow then, but I didn't find one man. One, out of a dozen or so aikido and various other martial schools.

A friend of mine in Japan invited me to a dinner party at a man named Sensei Hiroshi. He's a master of Japanese calligraphy, painting kanji with the brush. After a few rounds of sake and sushi, and some lovely tempura, he invited us into his studio for a demonstration.

From the moment we walked in there, I could see it was a dojo. It had that feel about it, which we try to emulate here. Quiet contemplation, diligent learning, wholesomeness. He gently knelt in front of his felt and began to paint. As soon as he began, there was no doubt in my mind. This man moved with ki. He put his whole body, his whole being, into his work, and the results were very beautiful. After he had drawn 10 or so wonderful characters, he invited me to draw one.

I knelt in front of the felt, picked up my brush, and selected out of one of his books the kanji for man, pretty much an inverted Y, which I thought I knew quite well. I dipped my brush and drew what I thought was a fair representation of the character for Y. The rest of the party talked loudly in a corner of the studio, entertained by Sensei Hiroshi's wife, but at that moment while I was drawing, it was clear to me that no one else mattered, it was Hiroshi-san and me.

'I would like for you to draw,' he said, turning the page 'this one.' He selected the kanji for universe, a circle-like character. Now, ever since I was a child, I thought I had been able to draw circles very well. I picked up my brush again, and began to draw. Half way through, the brush split in two, and the circle, by the end of the drawing, was quite different from the character for 'Universe'. I tried again. As I moved my brush over the felt, a splotch of ink formed on it where it had dropped from my brush. I drew the circle, in my opinion, much better than the first.

Now, quite presumptuously, I asked Hiroshi Sensei what he thought of my work. He said without any hesitation, 'I think they are beautiful.' To this day, I know he meant it. Know.

Even more presumptuously, I asked why he thought they were beautiful. Again, with no hesitation, he looked at me and said, 'My own work is coloured with my father's kanji, with my son's kanji, and, of course my student's kanji. Your work is beautiful, quite simply, because it is pure.'


My friend from Japan tells me they kept those characters I drew that night, because of their beauty, their purity. The diverging circle is particularly considered beautiful by Hiroshi Sensei, and the blotch of ink, unique. Now, I have no doubt that when telling me my work was beautiful because it was pure, Hiroshi Sensei was telling me I was a novice, and my characters were not very accomplished. However, at the time, he made me feel like a million bucks.

The answer to the problem I posed to you is in that story. It doesn't matter that the dress looks horrible, because, if your wife is truly happy with it, it's pure. It isn't coloured by anyone else, and it's hers. That is a win, in that situation. Yielding to win. That is aikido.

What is the aikido thing to say to your wife in that hideous, hideous dress? Simple.

'You look beautiful.'