Aikido as a de-colonizing practice:
During the Occupy Oakland movement eight years ago, one group of people within the movement asked for the name to be changed to Decolonize Oakland. Their proposal was pushed aside in the General Assembly process of the Occupy movement. “Decolonize Oakland” sounded too awkward, too far out for a movement that used “occupy” as the unifying catchphrase for a diverse protest movement. But "occupy" is a colonizer-word. It is not coincidental that the first Anglo map of Oakland is called the "Squatters Map," through which whites gained legal claim over land as property in the city.
What does it mean to decolonize?
We could attempt to answer this question with a list of fixed goals. But the problem with an end-goal approach is that there is no ethical way to determine the “we” who would compile that list. A totally different way of answering this question is to challenge colonial practices: racism, exploitation, marginalization of anyone who is a misfit. However, challenging these practices—in ourselves and in people we care about—requires some difficult confrontations. These confrontations are ethically necessary, but how can we engage in conflict in healthy ways?
O-Sensei believed that confrontation is inevitable, and that we must engage in it in a positive way. From the outside, Aikido seems to be a “martial” art because it starts with the most apparent form of confrontation: engaging with physical violence. The physical techniques are difficult to learn because the intent is to prevent harm to both yourself and your attacker. Creativity is always more difficult than destruction; but creativity is how we live.
Through Aikido we begin to face internal opponents that are far more difficult than external foes. When we practice mindfulness, we begin to listen much more to ourselves and to others. We listen to words, but also what is unsaid. Here we can see more clearly the microaggressions and subtle disparagements of racism and other prejudices. This is a hard struggle, but it is the work we must do in order to be fully alive.
Since 2003 I have worked on several projects for the government of Afghanistan. In Kabul, colonization is obvious every time an American military convoy would rumble through the streets without asking any permission from the locals. But it also taught me a lot about the subtler ways that colonialism works every day in the East Bay: house foreclosures, unfair work conditions, patterns of air pollution, and denials of credit. We need to train to fight this. But it is not a fight in the outward sense: the battlefield is our souls. For this kind of struggle, we need a very different kind of training; a different path to follow. Aikido was designed specifically to challenge violence through engagement, not through withdrawal or false politeness.
Just like Japan after 1945, America today is struggling with a moment in which we must face ourselves: what we take for granted; what we think of as ‘normal;’ what is embedded in our language and in our assumptions. Each misconception and presumption adds up to a widespread denial of rights and respect.
We have been poisoned by racism. It is an outgrowth of a colonial mindset. How do we fight it? How do we de-toxify? One breath at a time, yes. But also through active engagement in our community, as a community. This is no promise of a quick fix. We cannot even imagine what a de-colonized world will look like. But we can see injustices and challenge them. Aikido is a way to make us ready to engage this struggle with compassion.