Excerpt from the book “Mutual Mindfulness”  by Paddy Bergin, published in the BAB (British Aikido Board) Newsletter:

When O Sensei experienced the event, which he later described as being bathed in golden light, and during which he had a realisation that the martial arts had a greater purpose other than the destruction of people and that they are about harmony as in nature, and are for the benefit of all people, he then set about refining his skills to this aim and started to create the art of Aikido, the way of harmony, and travelled and taught throughout Japan. His long-term students became instructors and some of them introduced Aikido to many areas of the world where it flourishes today.

O Sensei drew on his many skills learnt over a 20-year period from the great Takeda Sensei who taught the art of Daito Ryu Aiki Jujitsu. O Sensei was a master of Kenjutsu, the art of the sword and developed and taught a brilliant and sophisticated empty handed fighting system based on the laws of nature, harmony, balance as well as Budo (fighting spirit) and encouraged people to learn these principles by studying Aikido, a physical metaphor bringing the idea of non-conflict into their lives in many other ways. In my experience Aikido practitioners do not get into fights. Experiencing doing and receiving Aikido helps us realise that there are other ways to deal with conflict.

We learn to train in such a way that we don’t give openings and we look for the openings that an opponent may give and when our balance is taken and a technique is applied correctly we let go and take the fall. Either that or we are in danger of getting injured. You can’t really cut loose in Aikido.

The most conflict you will ever have is going to be within yourself. So accept the gift of feedback and train to deal with yourself. The aim of Aikido is to blend with the strength, energy and momentum of the attacker, which is called “Awase”, and then, either redirect the force of their attack rather than opposing it head on, enter to their rear, the principle of Irimi, or go around their strength. This requires less reliance on physical strength and power comes from Awase, capturing the balance and delivering atemi, strikes to vital points.

Aikido is not a get fit system; when you train consistently you will get fitter but it is a far more sophisticated Budo and self-development system than just for fitness just as Hypnosis is much more than a set of tools for tricks. An aikidoka (aikido student) blends with and leads the attackers’ momentum as well as using entering and turning movements. This is the same as matching and leading in NLP. All of the techniques also include strikes (atemi) to vital points that can stop someone and are completed with various locks, holds and throws. The aim is to put your partner in a position whereby, as a result of your own body movement, they can’t avoid falling. The ability to do this is contained in awase and correct use of the basics that are the “set up” and facilitate the techniques, all of which require taking the other persons balance in some way.

The Aikido strategy of ‘‘getting off the line of attack’’ creates a safe space within conflict. This feeling of safety allows one to be more completely present in Aikido and by using the same principles of blending the same applies to therapy or coaching or any other human interaction. By blending with the attack and moving off line at the same time means there is nothing there to fight against and the opponent, training partner or client can be taken off-balance and led forward towards some sort of conclusion.

As O Sensei said: “I am always victorious as I contend with nothing.”

Realising that ‘‘Getting off the line’’ and experiencing the attacker moving through without hurting the practitioner can be a transformative experience for Aikidoka and NLP Coaches alike and are ways to change yourself rather than the outer world. Aikido is not a self-defence system. There is no defence and then attack. Your defence is your attack so that the first thing you do must give you the edge and even better is to anticipate the intention of attack and smother it by initiating your own attack or your own intention, and this can be demonstrated in how you present yourself so the other person, seeing and realising this, may think twice about doing anything.

Sometimes the wisest thing to do is stand your ground, take stock, move in, withdraw or not be there. If you see a group of drunken football supporters coming towards you, it will be useful to cross the road.

In any encounter, martial or otherwise, we are aiming to connect with the other person and be so engaged that you can respond to the smallest of movement. Josh Waitzkin, a chess grand master and world Tai Chi Chuan Push Hands Champion talks about when an opponent pushes he withdraws, the opponent pushes again and he withdraws so a pattern is being set up and he has sort of trained his opponent to continue the pattern and the next time he pushes Josh responds differently and takes his balance. Of course this all happens in seconds or less whereby there isn’t time for conscious thought and you depend on all that training, the 10,000 hours, so the physical skills are wired in and you can respond automatically.

“Knowledge is only rumour until it is in the muscle” – New Guinea Proverb

This is the same as when we are working or talking with someone else, we are in a communication loop, an on-going feedback system where we are connected. We see, hear and feel what the other person is saying and doing by keeping our selves present and being mindful. As long as we can build and maintain a connection and be in rapport we will have an influence on the other person and of course we will also be open to being influenced as well because we are also in the same loop. When a person is having difficulty with someone in a relationship they often blame the other person and forget about their part in the system and their expectation is for the other side to change in some way. Maybe that might work but usually it causes an impasse.

When you watch film clips of O Sensei they clearly show, despite offering his wrist to be grabbed, how he always took the initiative and delivered almost imperceptible atemi (strikes) either before or during techniques that momentarily surprised and stopped the opponent from delivering a proper full-hearted attack.

“The highest level of swordsmanship is said to be “swordless” technique, evading rather than striking and this is like the art that O Sensei developed whereby in a duel what was accomplished was the transformation of an enemy, via his way of fighting, into a great and loyal friend. This is part of the essential message of aikido and what O Sensei was trying to teach”– Aikido Journal

Paddy Bergin has been training in Aikido for 35 years and is a 5th Dan Yudansha and Instructor at The London Aikido Club. He works as a NLP Coach and he can be contacted at:

The book is now available at online retailers:

Mutual Mindfulness: NLP & AIKIDO, The study of the Universal Principles of Excellence

How I started Aikido

I started Aikido training in 1984 after seeing a bit of film of an elderly man dealing with continuous attacks from several people. It got my attention immediately and I was very curious about how he was moving. It looked and felt that there was no clash of strength and what he was doing was effortless.

In that moment I knew that I wanted to find out more about this Martial Art which I learned was called Aikido and the only way to do that was find somewhere to train.

I looked through Floodlight, a directory of Further Education courses and found a class once a week just off Bunhill Row and also started at the London Aikido Club the next year.

I had always been interested in learning a martial art but Karate was the only one I was aware of and it had never appealed to me. I had done some boxing at school and was OK but there were always kids who were bigger, better and stronger both inside and outside school. It was the same when playing rugby and football but at least I had ball skills, speed,  and balance and evasion techniques. I thought it was this that motivated me to start Aikido.

Many years later when I saw Aikido I realised that there was a way to acquire the skills to deal with strength and size without having to be bigger and stronger myself. I thought it was this that motivated me to start Aikido.

I remember the first time I saw Kurosawa’s film “Seven Samurai” in about 1969 and after seeing the sword fight asking myself: “How did he do that?” This was the fight where the master swordsman, Kyuzo, (played by Seiji Miayaguchi) kills his opponent with a single stroke, having reluctantly accepted the challenge to duel. I thought it was this that motivated me to start Aikido.

It took years of Aikido training to find out that what he actually did was the first Ken awase, stepping back to make the cut rather than forwards. One move.

About 5 years ago I was asked to speak to a group who were starting on a NLP Master Practitioner course, about my work. I did the usual verbal profile and whilst enlarging on this found myself talking about learning and learning how to learn.

I reminded the group that the whole field of NLP came from having a sense of curiosity and fascination about what people are doing in order to be effective.  It wasn’t that they had a god-given talent but rather that they were employing certain strategies in their thinking, their internal state and their actions to succeed. These strategies can be modelled and taught to others – the study of excellence.

I went on to explain that I thought this interest in NLP probably came from my father. He came from a poor background in rural Southern Ireland and he and his brothers learnt to be self reliant. They had to be able to build and mend things and if they didn’t have the tools they would make their own. Out of adversity came resourcefulness and many skills so there was always the curiosity in how something worked so they could learn to do it themselves.

As a kid I spent many hours in the evenings holding the lamp while my father hunched over his car engine. This was boring but later paid off when I needed my motorbike mending.

Time gives us the ability to take “the longer view”, a different perspective and looking back now I can see a whole series of cause/effects connecting back to my childhood. It was only when I was telling all of this to the group that I realised that my own sense of curiosity was modelled from my father and his quest to find out “how”  so he could do it himself. For him it was about survival, for me it was the curiosity to ask “how do you do that” and that is how I started Aikido.

Smoking & July 1st

By Paddy Bergin

I watched this year’s FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Manchester United in a pub in Stoke Newington, N.E. London. There were a lot of people who were smoking cigarettes and I was constantly blowing away clouds of smoke. This got me thinking about July 1st when a new law banning smoking in public places comes into effect. Of course this pleases me but as an ex-smoker I can also understand how it might look and feel to someone who smokes now and doesn’t know how to stop smoking yet.

Earlier this year I was in Wales where the ban has already been implemented and the locals who regularly come into the pub for a drink could be seen sitting on the wall outside, where they could smoke their cigarettes, along with groups of youngsters. During the evening there was a constant trickle of people in and out of the pub. I guess this is OK in good weather but that night it was raining and the smokers sat out there regardless.

With this new law coming in a lot of people will be motivated enough to stop smoking one way or another but there will also be many people who for various reasons will not be able to stop, mainly because they don’t know how to stop and may have previous experience of “failure”. We tend to remember the one time we had a cigarette and then think of that as failure and are not then motivated to stop again. We forget all our successes, all those hours, days, weeks, months and even years we never smoked. The fear of “failure” is a de-motivator but changes when thought of as feedback and information.

I smoked for over 25 years and was fascinated to learn in the early 1990s that there were people who were able to stop smoking easily and I wanted to learn how to do that as well. At that time I was training in NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) which comes from the study of excellence in any area. NLP has the tools to study or model how someone is able to do something excellent, what they are doing, what skills and beliefs they are utilising and then be able to apply those learnings to self and teach them to others.

Here’s what I learned:
Stopping smoking easily is a process and happens over and through time. There are various factors that can be employed and gets the person to a position where everything is in place to stop smoking. It is a psychological set up, a sort of time of preparation to get you to that point. Your brain has learnt to go in a particular direction and this method will help to teach and re-direct the brain to go in a different direction rather than smoking.

How does it work? NLP comes from studying excellence and it has discovered that there is a “Success Strategy” in what people are doing to be consistently excellent.

This success strategy consists of the following:

  1. Having an Outcome (goal).
  2. Being aware of the results or responses to what you are doing.
  3. Flexibility in your behaviour so if you are not getting what you want then you can change what you are doing.

Outcome, Awareness, Flexibility (OAF)

So we start with the Outcome which basically means asking ourselves

“What do I want?” so it is stated in the positive.

Henry Ford, the car manufacturer said:

“Obstacles are the things we notice when we take our eyes off our goals.”

One of the difficulties with smoking is that the goal is often to be a non smoker which means that we are still thinking of smoking even when thinking of the goal.

Therefore it’s useful to ask what we will be if we are a non smoker and then set the goal like:

I want to be an even healthier person, with more energy, a person who can feel good in other ways. It’s helpful to specify what healthy means to you. What would you see, hear and feel?

An evidence procedure. How would you know you had achieved your goal? What would you see, hear, feel, smell and taste to let you know you had achieved your goal and what would others see, hear and feel?

A timeframe. When do you want to do this?

An ecology check

By having this goal would you lose anything?

Does it fit in with who you are and want to be?

Motivation: people are either motivated by moving away from problems or moving towards goals. Moving away is avoiding problems, thinking about the consequences of not taking action and when that becomes painful enough they then take action.

Alternatively we are motivated by having goals which are attractive, big and bright, and achievable. Most people use a combination of both ways.

When making a change like this it is important to think about it as changing behaviour rather than changing who we are. A lot of people think of themselves as a “smoker” and this is a statement about who they are. It is easier to change our behaviour rather than who we are. So think of smoking as behaviour, something that you do rather than who you are.

Behind everything we do there is a positive intention and therefore some benefits. Smoking has important benefits for people such as being with others, being on your own, be rebellious, naughty, glamorous, reminder to breathe, calmness, feel relaxed and more. Most people get some of these and they are too important to lose and therefore they continue to smoke or go back to smoking having already stopped.

We can find, learn or design other ways to get those benefits and you can see yourself getting those benefits other than smoking and then stopping becomes much easier.

Beliefs: Do you believe it is possible for you to stop smoking at some time in the future? You don’t need to know how you are going to stop yet, just believe that you will be a non smoker in your future. As soon as you can do this any difficulties have already gone.

Beliefs are self fulfilling and your behaviour will begin to support your growing belief.

An interesting and simple exercise you can do is to step into this belief. You can literally choose a space on the floor which represents the time where you are a definite non smoker.

How far or near in time is this from now and what’s it like for you now as a non smoker? What do you see, hear, feel, smell and taste?

Stay there and experience what that is like for you, really feel the air going down into your lungs and the extra oxygen going around your body.

By doing this your brain is getting an example of being a non smoker so the neurological pathways are already being created and research shows that a lot of learning can take place when visualising yourself succeeding.

Using these strategies will enable you to set yourself up so that you are ready to stop. Everything is in place so stopping becomes the natural thing to do and you might want to use a hypnotherapist or aids or may find yourself beginning to stop.

This material provides the “how” and as long you continue to use it then you may be surprised and delighted to discover that you are already becoming a non smoker.

To go back to our “success strategy”, remember? Outcome, awareness and flexibility.

We set an outcome to be a non smoker, to be a healthier person and to know what that looks sounds, feels, smells and tastes like.

We had awareness to notice and feel the responses we are getting.

And if it is not useful then having the flexibility to change what we are doing in some way, for instance thinking about how else you can get the benefits that smoking provided. Continue to do this.

Paddy Bergin is a NLP Master Practitioner and can be contacted via this website.

Unconscious Learning

By Paddy Bergin

Anyone who has trained with Judith DeLozier may have heard and seen her tell the following story about unconscious learning. A group of people were gathered at Milton Erickson’s house in Phoenix, Arizona and Erickson set them the following riddle: What overall category do the following belong to? Flys, diamond, gloves, bats, bases and players

While the group of people were busy trying to solve this riddle, Judy’s son asked to borrow some money to go to the store. Sometime later when the boy returned and entered the room he was holding two items he had bought. Eureka! The boy had unconsciously solved the riddle and demonstrated the solution by his behaviour.

It’s striking how much of our learning happens unconsciously and knowing this enables us to use other ways when we are training, teaching or coaching. We all know “We cannot not communicate and therefore we cannot not influence”. Our very presence will have an effect and by taking time out to be aware of what is right there in front of us, we can utilise those responses and pitch in ideas that we know probably won’t be noticed consciously, yet.

O’Connor & Seymour say in their book “Introducing NLP” that NLP is the Martial Art of communication. Aikido is a Japanese Martial Art, a brilliant system with central principals akin to NLP. I’ve heard it described as ‘moving meditation’ and I think of it as the physical manifestation of NLP. It is a physical activity that we get better at only by doing it over and over.

Athletes call this process ‘grooving’. It is only when we respond spontaneously, unconsciously, that we know how much we really know. Consciously we may know much more but what is physically demonstrated in the moment is a measure of how much we know, so far. Dancers talk about having learnt a piece of choreography when they have ‘got it in the muscles’.

One night in Soho I stepped between two parked vehicles to cross the street and as I went to step into the road a car whizzed by inches away from me and in the spot I would have been had I completed the step. There was no time to step back and my body instantly adjusted, sucking in the midriff and withdrawing the hips. These moves are learnt in Aikido. Very direct adjustments, no redundant body movements and I know but for that training I would surely have been hit by the car.

I knew it was a one way street but had somehow unconsciously learnt, so well, the wrong direction of the traffic and this explains how I could be so relaxed about stepping into the road without considering the possibility of a car coming from that direction. Perhaps I had earlier seen a vehicle travelling in the wrong direction.

There is a group of 16 students I teach communication skills to at a London Further Education College. The group includes 5 young men who always sit in the far corner of the room and can be lively and noisy and ask questions at what often feels like the most inappropriate moments. Diversions? They can be disruptive both for me and the rest of the group but despite this I have a good relationship with them and I remind myself that they create opportunities for learning.

In Aikido there is no defence and then a response. This takes too much time and the opportunity to lead is lost. Our defence is also our response. One move! Once when I was talking to this group of students about language, I mentioned Hypnosis and immediately someone shouted out. “Go on Patrick hypnotise me’. My unconscious came up with the ‘one move’ and responded. “How do you know I haven’t already?’

Well if someone suggested to you that when you consider the possibility that you are already hypnotised, you could wonder if you are, and as everyone has to go inside to process that question, they later discover themselves participating in the subject with a sense of curiosity.

I was coaching this group calibration of non verbal signals and demonstrated an exercise where one person stands up and decides to move to the left or the right. The other person calibrates and very quickly is able to determine the direction even before the person moves.

I set the group working in pairs and went round the room observing and facilitating where necessary. When I came to the group of five young men in the corner of the room I discovered they were playing a game amongst themselves. One of them screwed up a piece of paper, put his hands behind his back and then extended his closed fists in front of him and the others guessed whether the paper was in the left or right hand. I left them to it and went on around the room. Later I returned to them and saw that they had modified their exercise. They now asked the person if it was in the left hand, watched carefully as the person answered non verbally and then asked if it was in the right hand. They watched again, had a discussion and decided if it was left or right and checked with the person. I left them to it again as at least they were in the right ball park.

Towards the end of the session I wandered over and watched the group. After asking if it was left or right they had now calibrated each other and were able to say correctly which hand the paper was in. Left to their own devices and meeting their need to be a sub group, separate from the others and doing something different, they had devised their own exercise and had unconsciously learnt how to calibrate each others non verbal signals for yes and no. My intention had been to move on to calibrating yes/no signals next and they had bypassed the left/right calibration exercise and designed another relevant exercise, demonstrating with their behaviour an unconscious learning of the subject.

My outcome now is to invite them to teach their exercise to the larger group, confirming that what they had done was valuable. Hopefully this will build their self esteem and integrate them with the larger group. We’ll see!

Did your unconscious solve the riddle yet?

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