White Collar, Black Belt: Some first-step exercises for putting Aikido tactics into practice

Aikido teaches you not to resist force, but to harness it — a technique that can prove invaluable in dealing with change, maintaining a positive attitude, and connecting with other people. “Aikido helps people refocus and regain their balance,” says Richard Strozzi Heckler, a fifth-degree black belt. Heckler, cofounder of Tamilpias Aikido and Rancho Strozzi Institute in Petaluma, California, has initiated managers at AT&T , Cargill , American Express , and Bankers Trust in the way of Aikido. “By working with your body as well as your mind, you can learn how to better manage your reactions to stress and conflict.”

Here, then, are some first-step exercises for putting Aikido tactics into practice:

The Challenge: Overcoming anxiety

The Solution: Go with the flow

The Exercise: You and a partner face each other. Your partner moves to strike you in the face or stomach. (Go slow.) Concentrate on staying calm, exhale, and step aside at the last possible moment, placing your body at a right angle to your partner’s. Now you’re in a better position to defend yourself.

“People who haven’t done this before tense up or try to grab the other person’s arm,” says Brad Barbeau, director of the Leadership Exploration and Development Institute at the University of Chicago School of Business . “Learning how to step aside and let the attack pass is the first step toward confronting fear and staying calm.”

Coordinates: Barbeau brad.barbeau@gsb.uchicago.edu , an organizational development consultant, held a conflict-resolution workshop using Aikido techniques at First Chicago Bank.

The Challenge: Dealing with the office bully

The Solution: “Blend” but don’t break

The Exercise:Facing a partner, stand about two feet apart. Your partner reaches toward you like he’s going to shake hands. He grabs your right wrist with his right hand and pushes hard. The natural tendency is to try and push back, which sets up a battle in which the strongest person wins.

Repeat the exercise. This time, as your partner applies force, take a half-step to the right and pivot clockwise. Your partner will push by you and his force will throw him off-balance. As he stumbles past, put your left arm around his shoulder and step with him in the same direction.

“The physical act of doing the exercise is essential,” says Donald Levine, a second-degree black belt in Aikido and the Peter Bo Ritzma professor of sociology at the University of Chicago . “It helps you form habits for constructively dealing with aggressive attacks, whether verbal or physical.”

Coordinates:Levine dlok@midway.uchicago.edu teaches a course to undergraduates titled “Conflict Theory and Aikido.”

The Challenge: Staying Focused

The Solution: Get yourself centered

The Exercise: Stand next to a partner, facing in the same direction. Your partner reaches over, places his fingertips against your chest, and slowly increases pressure. As more force is applied, you’ll lose your balance.

Repeat the exercise, only this time concentrate on your “center” — the part of your body that’s two-and-a-half inches below your navel. As the force increases, visualize the pressure moving down to your abdomen. With practice, you’ll be surprised to see how much stronger and stabler you become.

“It’s all about staying centered — a psychological state that’s physically verifiable,” says Thomas Crum, a consultant who uses Aikido and meditation to help people at Georgia Pacific, Ashland Chemical , and McDonald’s improve their focus and concentration.

Coordinates:Crum (aikiworks@aol.com) is president of Aiki Works Inc. of Aspen, CO.