The Fourth Way

Morihiro Saito Shihan blending
Morihiro Saito Shihan blending

Fight, Flight, or Freeze. The three ways humans deal with an attack or an extremely stressful situation.

Aikido training offers a fourth way–Blend. Absorb an attacker’s energy. Redirect it. Change the nature of the conflict.

The way to do this is to maintain your own posture, your own strength, your own space. Relax. Not in a loosey-goosey kind of relaxation where your muscles are useless, but rather an engaged ready-for-anything relaxation. When an attack comes, accept it and change it from conflict to something more harmonious.

In the past year, I’ve heard this from several Aikido teachers. What we are doing in our Aikido training is to teach our bodies to override the animal instincts of fight, flight, or freeze and move instead to the more discerning part of our brain. The part that can offer another solution to conflict.

This is so hard to do! When an attack comes in, even if it’s in the safe place of the dojo, with partners I know and trust, the animal reaction kicks in. When a big guy twice my size comes barreling in at me with a heavy wooden sword aimed at my head, or even just to grab my arm, my first reaction is to back away. My body screams: Flight! If he latches on, then I want to Fight. It takes a lot of work to switch gears, to concentrate on my own form and to realize that if I maintain my own ‘space’ then I can work with the attack and not fight against it.


When this works, when the discerning part of the brain kicks in and performs Aiki, or ‘joining together’, it is a nice feeling for everyone. Those of us in the dojo know it works when we get up from the mat with smiles on our faces.

It’s nice to know there is another choice. Fight, Flight, Freeze. BLEND.

What is your natural instinct? Do you fight, flee or freeze, or do you have another way?


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