Aikido and the Dissolution of Touching Taboos
Aiki News #13 (June 1975)
One of the areas in which Aikido is most relevant in the life of the individual is one of the least talked about. This is the area of touching. Humans need to be touched. It is common knowledge that a child who is not sufficiently touched — particularly in his first, formative years — is likely to display various forms of neurotic behavior, which can continue into adulthood.
Boundaries surrounding touching are culturally determined and vary widely in different parts of the globe. For example, men holding hands, a taboo in the North American culture, falls within the range of normal behavior in Arab countries. Men walk comfortably arm-in-arm in Latin America. On the other hand; in the U.S., women are much freer to touch each other than are men.
In our culture, on those occasions when it is acceptable for men to touch, it is more often than not in a competitive context. “Contact sports” are what immediately come to mind. And like it or not, not withstanding the lip-service given to “sportsmanship” and “friendly competition,” many of these sports are only one step removed from warfare.
Touching among males and females when not within the context of a romantic relationship is usually of a superficial nature with clearly defined boundaries. The case of dancing, where many touching taboos are relaxed, an interesting phenomenon occurs. The touching that does take place in dancing mirrors typical societal sex roles, ie. the male leads and the female follows. Also the man chooses with whom he wishes to dance. Here, again, a rigid hierarchy exists.
Let us examine in contrast the type of touching behavior seen during Aikido training. Males touch males freely and in a non-competitive way. Males and females may also touch each other in an open manner, and just as importantly, the roles of attacker and defender are alternated regularly. The woman is not restricted to a subordinate behavioral mode. Although Aikido practice is at times vigorous, the fundamental attitude underlying the touching that occurs in that context is one of physical harmony and respect for one’s training partners. So far as I am aware, Aikido is, in this respect, unique in freedom of self-expression it affords the individual practitioner.