What does it mean that aikido is an art of nonresistance? It means that aikido teaches not to respond to aggression by direct opposition, i.e., resistance, to the attacker’s force. However, this does not mean that one should be passive in the face of aggression.
One of the first thing that I learned in aikido class was if pushed, turn; if pulled, enter.
Most people respond in kind to an attack, that is, if pushed, they push back; if pulled, they pull back. In other words, they try to avoid injury or defeat, or perhaps loss of face, by directly resisting the attacker’s strength. Resisting the attacker’s strength in this way is not likely to be successful because the attacker is probably bigger and stronger than the victim and also has the tactical advantage of having chosen the situation and timing for the attack.
This aphorism prescribes a different strategy for responding to an aggressor. On the physical level, the aphorism recommends that, if someone tries to push you, turn out of the way, or step aside, so as to allow the attack to pass by you harmlessly. Then, use to your advantage the fact that you are momentarily out of the direct line of attack; either continue to move away to safety, or, if necessary, apply a technique intended to control the attacker physically.
If someone tries to pull you, allow yourself to be pulled in, but add some of your own power to the entry, so that the attacker pulls in more than he or she can handle effectively. Of course, for either of these responses to be effective, you must acquire the skills to recognize the nature of an attack and to respond appropriately in the moment.
The aphorism can be understood also as a strategic recommendation for responding to any sort of aggression. For example, instead of responding in kind to a verbal jab, neutralize the thrust by refusing to allow it to “strike” you, while, at the same time, diverting the discussion onto a less harmful path. Again, this is easier said than done; to be successful, one must acquire certain skills, some of which can be learned on the aikido mat.