Aikido and the HR Professional

Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed in the first part of the 20th Century by Morihei Ueshiba, known as “O-Sensei” (Great Teacher).

Aikido means “the way of the harmonious spirit.”

Aikido departed from traditional Japanese martial arts, which can result in the person attacked injuring or killing his attacker. O-Sensei developed an approach with the goal that no one necessarily gets hurt – attacker, defender or bystanders.

I had the opportunity to spend time with Sensei Aki Fleshler, a sixth-degree black belt who studied under three of O-Sensei’s direct disciples and founded the dojo Aikido Multnomah Aikikai.

I shared with Sensei Fleshler some of the challenges HR professionals face and asked if any Aikido principles might be of value.

The principle that stood out the most was the goal is not to win or dominate; it’s to restore harmony among all parties. When the attack comes, instead of blocking it and counterstriking as in Karate, an Aikido practitioner engages, blends and flows with the attacker, maintaining her balance and conserving her energy while the attacker expends energy, struggling to keep his balance. The attacker can be directed away, or pinned to the ground, as a natural consequence of his or her aggression.

Sensei Fleshler describes the concept of “Shoshin” or “true beginner’s mind”, which Aikido masters strive for. Shoshin means having no preconceived outcome but adapting to each new challenge with a fresh, humble and flexible stance, looking ultimately to create a positive connection.

Sensei Fleshler shared an experience where he had to apply his Aikido training outside the dojo.

“I play keyboards in a band. At a concert, a highly impaired audience member jumped on the stage. He began throwing musical equipment at audience members. He then started throwing punches at a band member.

“I got up from my bench and approached him. As he turned on me, I brought him to the ground in a safe location, gently but firmly. I put him in a hold and said, ‘I am your friend. If you don’t struggle, you won’t get hurt.’

“He yelled in response, “You’re not my friend!”

“I replied, ‘Okay, I’m not your friend. And, if you don’t struggle, you won’t get hurt.’

“The man remained passive until the police arrived and took him away.

“My next priority was to restore harmony among the traumatized band members and audience. I put my energy into getting people back to enjoying the concert. Everyone seemed relieved, and we finished the gig on a high note. (Pardon the pun.)”

I hope you never have to face a situation like the one Sensei Fleshler faced. However, I suspect you have or will experience something comparable in a verbal sense.

Here’s an example: A manager walks into your office and says, “I want to fire employee X!” He adds, “Don’t get in my way HR!”

That’s an attack. You can respond with fight – “No, you can’t. The documentation is insufficient!” Or with flight – “If you insist, I’ll get out of your way.”

Or you can engage, blend and flow: “Tell me more. What makes you want to fire X? Why today? Have you thought about _____________? Have you considered _________? How about we consider the following options ______________?”

As in Aikido, you’re not trying to win or dominate. Your goal is restoring harmony.

I hope 2019 is a year of harmony for you.