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I’ve been a trained mediator longer than a lawyer (15 years) and began aikido more than 20 years ago.  I’ve seen for myself the connection between conflict resolution in a legal context (or any other aspect of life) and aikido, but I’m far from the first.  There have been many books and articles on this topic; one of the first published in English is the true story of an encounter that a fellow named Terry Dobson had on a commuter train in Tokyo.

Terry was among the first foreigners to train in aikido (usually translated as “the way of harmony”) in Japan, and did so full time under the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba.  His tale is paraphrased (abridged) here as an introduction to a short series of blog posts about using basic aikido principles in managing the kinds of conflicts we encounter every day.  In later  posts I’ll discuss some of the principles and practice.  Enjoy.

On an afternoon train, clanking through the suburbs of Tokyo, a few passengers sat quietly.  A large, loud, drunk and disheveled man got on and began lashing out, verbally and physically, at the passengers.  He hit a young mother holding a child and nearly kicked an old woman.I was young and in shape, training full time for the last three years, and, although our teacher forbade us from fighting, I yearned for an opportunity to, righteously, prove my skills in a real fight.

I stood, and the drunk immediately fixed his attention and rage on me, “Foreigner,” he roared, “I’ll teach you a lesson in Japanese manners!”  I blew him an insolent kiss.He was gathering himself to rush at me when I heard a loud, joyful “Hey!”

An old man was sitting nearby beaming up at the drunk, “C’mere.  What’ve you been drinking?”  “Sake. What’s it to you?” demanded the drunk standing over the octogenarian; if he moved a muscle I would drop him in his socks.   “I love sake,” said the old man, “my wife and I share some every evening and watch the sunset from our garden.”  “Does your wife like sake?” “She died” blurted the drunk, the rage turning to grief.  I lost my job, my home; I’m so ashamed.”

I suddenly felt dirtier than the vomit-encrusted drunk.  What I intended to do with violence, the old man did with compassion.  As I got off the train, the drunk was sitting, weeping while the old man comforted him.  I had just witnessed the essence of Aikido; I resolved to study harder.

I invite you to read the next post in this series “Getting Off the Line”