Stop playing games in order to really have fun: Aikido beyond conventions

Playing games and having fun are two pillars of the common experience of human being. Almost sixty years after the publication of “Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships”, we believe it is important to reflect again on the affinities between the practice of Aikido and transactional analysis.

The theories originated by Eric Berne’s book focus on social interactions -transactions, in fact. In particular, Berne’s work describes different classifications of relationships’ states: procedures, rituals, pastimes and, finally, games.

Social interactions are analyzed in an ongoing comparison with the states of the ego, or rather the components that our personal history and the environment in which we live, coexist simultaneously in us: a parental, an adult and a child dimension.

Learning to perform a technical program in a proper way is, for instance, a procedure. In Berne’s perspective, the procedure is efficient if, regardless of the individual’s flaws, he/she makes the best use of the information he/she receives. The procedure becomes effective on the basis of the results it produces.

The world we live in is sick of efficiency and the world of Martial Arts is hallucinated by effectiveness. Berne’s thoughts could be used to bring reflection back onto tracks that are more functional to practice.

There is a subjective dimension, that of efficiency, in which the individual can reach a relative maximum thanks to practice. For example, the practitioner can become a perfect replica under the technical execution (efficiency) point of view, without however grasping anything of that transformation on a personal and social level that living a discipline requires (effectiveness). Many misunderstandings take root on this dichotomy, in both directions. On the one hand those hard and pure who say “we’re not philosophers” and on the other the philosophy experts who know nothing about technique. Rather than asking whether Aikido is effective on the streets, it would probably be appropriate to balance these two extremes with a correctly understood practice.

A formulaic set of efficient procedures creates the tradition – in Berne’s language: the ritual. So it is necessary to understand the value – and at the same time the limit- of tradition. Cultural forms of a world distant in time and in habits such as those of the Japanese society which originated the Budo practiced today in our Dojos, obeyed extremely logical criteria at the time in which they were codified. To what extent and why does it make sense today to dress according to those rules and behave according to that etiquette?

It is evident that following certain rituals can give satisfactions that the simple and spontaneous social interaction between the same people sometimes does not produce. It is the case of the individual who has subordinate roles in society but in a Dojo has some task or responsibility. It is in the Dojo that the ritual generates for this guy a series of acknowledgments and social interactions which constitute real “candies” to his/her inner self.

In a practice environment -as in any other kind of human environment – the interval of time shared with other people can then be filled by what Berne calls pastime. In pastimes, everyone plays a certain role, more or less consciously and everyone generates those selection processes such that friendships and sympathy are born- and also their opposites.

Consequently, through the sharing of the technique (procedure) in the framework of a martial tradition (ritual), the keiko time is the perimeter in which a group interacts for a limited time and dynamically finds its balance. For instance, all social interactions reside in this dynamic in which typically one person is recognized as a leader and another is not, regardless of role and rank. Each group lives this experience and gets to know its various facets.

Finally, for Berne, in a world in which a real relationship of intimacy between people is increasingly complex and denied, people tend to relate according to preordained schemes of non-disinterested interactions, defined as games.

Games are those in which each participant in the interaction plays a role -we could also define it as a social mask and where, from a psychological point of view, there is a payment, a stake.

The characteristic of the game, for Berne, is that it has no winner. Rather, at the end of the game, everyone loses.

For example, a certain idea of omnipotence that winds its way between teachers and senpai is well described by Berne when he talks about the game called “I’m only trying to help you”, in which under the guise of a sincere disposition to help on the one hand and, on the other hand, behind a malleable trust in being guided, the roles of victim and savior are hidden, which require to be nourished by continuing to “play”.

Like all psychodynamic disciplines, Aikido can help anyone to stop playing games.

That is, to recognize that, although very often – but not always unknowingly, what takes place on the stage of our lives is nothing more than a stratification of masks placed there to feed those parts of us that do not like to come to light.

And it is quite natural that the most authentic part of us, not really recognizing ourselves with the masks with which it is presented in public, is attracted to disciplines such as Aikido. In other words, whoever gets on the tatami is basically attracted by its rebalancing and revealing potential.

Then a backwards journey becomes possible: one or more games tire us to such an extent that we accept the pastime of keiko because through something extremely ritualized we learn increasingly complex procedures which ultimately give us back the ability to return to that level of intimacy with ourselves and the others that the purest part of us continues to seek.

The hunger for caresses that Berne describes is what a discipline can help satiate.

Is it then possible to change course to one’s monotony, so that the individual can get fun?
Yes, if one gradually wants to stop playing stale games, participate in hackneyed pastimes; stop perpetrating rituals that are not understood or no longer applicable, just because they make us feel sheltered from our responsibility and stop mechanically repeating the same procedures without ever internalizing them.

Only then a genuine fun can arise.

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