Personal leadership

Personal leadership is a way of leading by first becoming conscious of one’s own values, priorities, goals and furthermore one’s own mental and emotional strengths and challenges. In taking the task on of becoming more conscious of these areas we begin the journey of leading ourselves forward, pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. As these areas become more conscious we begin to create a greater capacity for recognising how the lives of others around us can be developed by doing the same. The way we listen to others and what we listen for changes over time, such that we can begin to see pathways ahead of the people we are tasked with providing leadership to. We gain the privilege of being able to walk some of these same pathways with them and the ability to recognise when a fork in the road lies further ahead, and to plan accordingly.

The simplest form of personal leadership however is an embodied one, and yet it often speaks the loudest and carries the deepest and most abiding messages. The starting point of leading in an embodied way is to find as many ways as possible to become comfortable in our own bodies. It is also important to find a way to access a centred place where your emotions are undisturbed, whilst your mind is open to new information. For all the expanded freedoms it has created for the mind, the modern work routine is now largely a disembodied one. We take the escalator or lift rather than the stairs, drive to the shops rather than walk and very rarely, if ever, do anything that tests our body’s sense of balance or flexibility. I have found that engaging in a regular embodied practice helps to bridge the gap in our lives between the unconscious pulse that drives us and our mental world with all its tactics, strategies and goals. I don’t believe it really matters which practice you take up be it Running, Football, Yoga, Pilates, Martial Arts, Feldenkreis, Rolfing or the Alexander Technique are all great in my experience.

Personally, I chose Aikido to stick with for the long term and have found the journey to be immensely helpful in finding my centre, and thereby increasing my degree of comfort in my body, whilst challenging me to expand my comfort zone in numerous ways. Having a lifelong embodiment practice brings all kinds of tacit knowledge that is impossible to learn any other way.

  • Working with your body for any period of time where your heart rate is elevated immediately reveals that your own actions can influence your emotions. This is powerful knowledge for anyone playing the long game in any field of endeavour; taking the rough with the smooth without losing your drive or passion.
  • Working with others in an embodied practice reveals what it’s like to influence a teams’ performance and how to meaningfully change it; real time action and physical dynamics in any team game reveal a wealth of personal and interpersonal information.
  • Constant maintenance of ones’ own body in the pursuit of an embodied practice will grow a deep self-knowledge and sense of well being that lets you know that you are essentially OK, regardless of temporary upsets in your day/week.
  • Increased flexibility in the body sets a pattern that the mind will hungrily adopt in times of stress, making you more adaptive to challenging situations/interactions.
  • Specifically from long term practice in Aikido I have found that learning how to fall safely has helped me to reduce reactivity and defensiveness in pressured or confrontational situations.
  • Above all, the simple and continued act of paying more attention to your own body will leave your mind with greater freedom to handle great complexity (without the persistent multitude of distractions that arise when we are alienated from our bodies).

In summary, if you want to lead effectively start with bringing your self on-board, no other special knowledge is required, and furthermore most people need leadership from centered and grounded people. Being led from ‘how’ a leader is, rather than from ‘what’ they know sets the widest and deepest frame for whatever specific content needs to be shared. Whatever challenges may arise being grounded and centered in the body means that you will have space inside to work on the questions that present themselves in the moment. It also means that the people you are leading will feel good about being influenced by you. And it is a long-acknowledged truth that people remember less about what you said and more about how you made them feel. Therefore, feeling grounded and centered is primary to personal leadership. From there developing the space inside to meet new challenges in a balanced and flexible way will position you extremely well to be an effective leader. The learning never stops, the comfort zone never extends far enough and the space inside could always be a little bit larger. Living at the edge of these aspects of ones’ self is arguably the edge of personal development, and arguably the best place to be leading from.

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Mushin Mugamae

Mushin Mugamae can be interpreted as ‘no heart, no posture’. Mu is a negative prefix and shin is heart or kokoro when read on its own. Gamae is kamae when read on its own, meaning posture. To quote Professor Tomiki:

With a still heart one can access the wonders of nature and by suppressing action one can still the gods of change.

This short quote gives a powerful insight into the impact of bringing Mushin Mugamae into our world. With a still heart our attention opens to its fullest, with nothing to fix upon in any direction. From the state of Mushin Mugamae there is no ‘kokoro’ which therefore means that all that remains is what is aware of the Heart and the Mind and the Soul (all are meanings connected with kokoro); pure awareness. From this state there is also no posture, which means that we have not yet stimulated or caused any changes to our environment or to others in any way. The moment we adopt a posture, even if it is simply to the neutral posture of Shizentai, we have committed ourselves to the physical world and its causes and consequences.

From this place we are still very open and aware and not yet committed in any direction. We are empowered to be highly receptive to external actions, such that we are in a position of advantage should an opponent/attacker commit themselves against us. All directions of movement are available to us whilst the attacker has limited themselves to an unfolding strategy that is susceptible to being countered by a flexible, centred and responsive body-mind. The abiding sense of awareness, prior to any intention to act, of Mushin Mugamae is a powerful baseline for Aikido and life in general. From this state of mind we carry less tension in our bodies, which means we can bring more of ourselves into action in a focused way when needed.

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If we reflect on the Shodokan symbol in the light of what we know of Mushin Mugamae it reveals itself to be a kind of diagram. The Shodokan symbol could therefore be interpreted as the white background being the underlying state of Mushin Mugamae. The red centre (rise) being the energy we receive from the sun (our heart). The blue (fall) part being water (our postures in our environment). The directional points of the symbol can be seen as the directions in which our attention can be directed, and in which our bodies can be moved. Based on this analysis it is therefore possible to see Mushin Mugamae as a place from which all things arise and from where all things are possible. Professor Tomiki stated:

This symbol is composed of red representing fire, blue representing water and white representing infinite space.

We begin our Aikido sessions from Mokuso which can be seen as a way of accessing the state of Mushin Mugamae. At the beginning of all kata or competition our best results can be said to come from carrying a sense of Mushin Mugamae with us even as we move; extensive research has been carried out on the positive influence of Mushin by Manaka Unsui (2017). The effect being a kind of switching off of the smaller (identity) self and an increasing of our fullest potential self (spirit), unrestricted by fears, planning or strategizing. From here there is receptiveness, flexibility, speed and fearless engagement. This quote from Professor Tomiki beautifully sums up Aikido with Mushin Mugamae at its core:

Non-conscious action stemming from a neutral physical posture (in other words, neither aggressive nor submissive – mu gamae), executed without emotion or prejudgment (mu shin).

 

Bibliography

Allbright, Scott., Aikido and Randori: reconciliation of two opposing forces. Crowood Press Ltd (2002).

Deshimaru, Jean Taisen., The Zen way to the Martial Arts. Rider/Century Hutchinson Ltd (1988).

Lee, Dr Ah Loi., Tomiki Aikido Past and Future. Kelmscott Press Ltd (1988).

Nariyama, Tetsuro., Aikido Randori. Shodokan Publications (2010).

Nariyama, Tetsuro., Shodokan Aikido Dojo 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book. Shodokan Publications (2017).

Unsui, Manaka., Kakusei-Mushin: A research study on the ideal mental state in Martial Arts. Robert Gray Publications (2017).