Aikido-based Practice Mentors Nonviolent Responses
Raised by his grandmother in South Africa’s Cape Town, Xolelani “Bomba” Sono recalls how loud, violent arguments between his family would paralyze him with fear, later shaping his inability to build loving relationships.
“I was quiet, I wouldn’t complain. But I had so much anger and fear bottled up,” said Sono, 26. “Once it comes out, it’s very bad. I would become an aggressive person.”
Not long after his grandmother died in February 2004, Sono searched for an inner balance as he blamed himself for his family’s misfortunes.
“I had to go places I didn’t want to go,” he said. “I had to synchronize my body and my mind.”
Sono started that journey in 2009 through Leadership Embodiment, an “embodied spiritual practice” that teaches people to overcome the visceral physical response to stress and threatening situations by learning to respond in a loving manner and with loving intention. It is based on the teachings of Aikido, a nonviolent Japanese martial art.
“I believe that love and forgiveness is just present and inherent in every being,” said Wendy Palmer, who started working in South Africa in 1998 and brought Leadership Embodiment to the country in 2008. “We have to find ways of reinvigorating the capacity in people.”
With the support of the Fetzer Institute, Leadership Embodiment continues to reach underserved leaders in South Africa, including most recently Palmer’s first group of people with physical disabilities. Fetzer is studying how the program can inculcate love and compassion into business and governmental leadership.
“They have found a sense of confidence that allows them to speak up for themselves,” Palmer said of the South African group. “That feels really good. That population found a voice.”
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Sport and Embodied Spiritual Practice.