10 Things You Can Do to Randori through an Election Cycle

As a martial artist, people will always ask you, “Have you ever used it in real life?” Well, here’s a good example of how you can use your training in real life. Randori is an excellent martial arts drill that you can use in any rough and tumble situation with multiple players—such as intense election cycles—to ensure that you, and those around you, come out the other side relatively unscathed.

Randori (a.k.a. freestyle) is a practice in aikido where you train to manage multiple opponents, each with different attacks, at the same time. The word literally means “grasping chaos.” The last 30 days before an election can feel like chaos for many. This list offers 10 principles from randori practice, and aikido generally, that you can use to get through to election day. It’s important to note: These principles complement and build progressively on one another.

  1. Relax and breathe
  2. Stay centered and balanced
  3. Maintain equanimity and courtesy
  4. Remain aware of the larger situation
  5. Focus and release
  6. Be proactive, not reactive
  7. Give it your best; it is enough
  8. Roll with the punches
  9. Train with joy and connection
  10. Care for yourself and others

1.     Relax and Breathe

In aikido, by relaxed we don’t mean go limp. We’re talking about not being tense. Think “supple.” In an ideal randori practice, you still have energy and mobility, but your mind is calm and your body is not seized up with tension. Also, by practicing deep breathing, you can preserve your physical vitality and endurance as well as your mental stability. In an election cycle, remaining calm, stable, and yet responsive is key to handling the rapid changes and developments politics bring.

2.     Stay Centered and Balanced

A founding principle in aikido is using an opponent’s own energy to diffuse their attack. To do this in randori, you must maintain your own center and balance so you can move with your opponents in any direction at any time. In an election cycle, this means centering your activity around your core values (this is not the same as being self-righteous or becoming a single-issue voter), while maintaining a balanced response to others who may not share your views.

3.     Maintain Equanimity and Courtesy

You hear this all the time in aikido: “The martial way begins and ends with courtesy” and “Do not fight.” But how can you not fight in randori practice? Aikido is a system of self-defense, and even offense, that does not come at the expense of your opponent. It is about conflict resolution. In an election cycle, this means you can assert your position, go for what you want, but not to the point of disrespect and scorching the earth. Look for ways to diffuse your opponent’s attack, or even better, find common ground—that point where you can turn opposition into agreement.

4.     Remain Aware of the Whole Situation

In randori practice you must at all times be aware of each opponent and their spatial and intentional relationship to you. In an election cycle, this translates into understanding the biases of broadcast news (TV, radio, and browser) and the persuasive tactics of ads, soundbites, and memes. To build awareness of a bigger picture than any of these will be offering, seek as many unbiased resources as you can find and return to thinking critically and independently for yourself. To learn more about what cognitive biases and logical fallacies are, check out the posters in the Critical Thinking Shop at www.schoolofthought.org.

5.     Focus and Release

In randori practice you cannot spend time “finishing off” a single opponent because the next one will be on you. It’s all about timing and effort. Similarly, as things become fast and furious as we near election day, you must 1) focus on one opponent, one issue, one candidate at a time; 2) timebox the time you spend on them; and 3) learn to deal with them effectively, not endlessly. Recognize that you may only be able to push them off momentarily, just keep moving and keep them moving.

6.     Be Proactive, not Reactive

Moving toward your opponent seems counter-intuitive but it’s effective in randori practice. In this way, you lead them into committing to an attack you are already prepared to deal with. In an election cycle, working with trusted, not strictly partisan, groups can help you call out important issues and nip budding attacks as they arise. These groups can also help you stay generally informed, connected, and engaged so that you’re constantly moving with focus and direction.


7.     Give It Your Best; It Is Enough

The goal in randori is to live to train another day. So, while you give 100% effort, it’s not about sacrificing yourself. And because you don’t know how long the practice will last until your opponents are exhausted and no longer a threat, you must carefully measure out your effort. In an election cycle, this means timeboxing your volunteering activities (so you get your day job work done and don’t ignore your family). Remember, you are only one cog in the machine, you are not the machine. Do your part, then encourage (and let) someone else do theirs.

8.     Roll with the Punches

In randori practice, you can’t worry about taking a few hits or not successfully stopping your opponent. You can’t dwell on the hit or failure; other opponents are already coming for you. Let the experience train you, not defeat you, and then move on to the next. In any election cycle, you’re going to experience frustration and setbacks…some of them grievous. Grieve them, analyze them, create a better approach, and then get back out into the ring.

9.     Train with Joy and Connection

It seems odd to say that randori practice is fun, but it’s true. Everyone on the mat is there to help you improve—even your opponents. In an election cycle, connect socially with friends whose critical and independent opinions you value. Volunteer for both partisan and non-partisan groups. By staying connected with one another, even if the stakes are high, we can still enjoy the ups and downs of civic engagement. And finally, don’t forget to stay connected to your spiritual practice. You can use all the help you can get sometimes because elections can be quite brutal and contentious.

10. Care for Yourself and Others

In randori practice caring for yourself and others means knowing and respecting your limits and the limits of your training partners who are acting as your “opponents.” You may want to go hard and fast, but you never know how long it will take to resolve a conflict or settle an issue. By managing and measuring your responses appropriately, everyone can train another day. Likewise, some of the best things you can do in any election cycle to manage your limits for the duration are to get enough sleep, eat healthfully, and stay physically active—especially by getting outside. And finally, remember that elections are not horse races or popularity contests. Turn off the news on election day (if not sooner) and go to bed. The results will be ready when you’re ready to take them on…in the morning.

© 2018 M. Faunette Johnston