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I'm not doing much training right now. The new house is taking a lot of time. Still, I'm finding that a lot of what I learn in aikido is applicable to periods of great stress. Staying flexible and trying to blend with perceived "threats" or "attacks" (i.e., unexpected complications) really helps me stay more centered and get more done.
The title of this journal entry is a reflection on some interesting threads I've seen lately on Aikiweb and Aikido Journal's web site. It seems that there's a spectrum into non-Japanese people who train in aikido fit. On the one side, you get guys like Don Dreager, Terry Dobson, John Stevens, Ellis Amdur, and Miek and Dianne Skoss. These are people who have lived in Japan, learned the language, and studied koryu arts and/or aikido. At the other end of the spectrum are those who are clamoring for "making aikido into a Western martial art," or trying to start "a new tradition" -- to name the titles of two recent forum threads advocating changes in aikido.
In the case of those martial arts in this country, if we trace their presence here back far enough, we can see that the problem has been that there just weren't all that many hills, green or otherwise, around. In the Fifties, judo was utterly exotic. Outside of some Japanese-American enclaves, it was little known and less practiced and taught. And even in such ethnic communities, karate was so rare that when it was publicly demonstrated in Hawaii in 1927, the event occasioned an article in a Honolulu newspaper.
Within a decade, that changed. In the Sixties, karate became commonplace. By the latter half of that decade most cities had several dojo or "studios" or YMCAs that were offering instruction in the art. In the Seventies, the green meadows available for grazing in the martial arts became even more numerous and varied. Kung-fu was added as were several other combative arts from various parts of Asia. Most of them were more attractive (because they were "newer" and more exotic, primarily) alternatives to karate and judo that had become, by then, pedestrian.
Maybe aikido has become too pedestrian compared to mixed martial arts (MMA) for some. These people admire aikido, and somehow wish to retain its techniques (and maybe its philosophies) while at the same time stretching it to fit into the sport-fighting mentality. They want to do away with the "anachronistic," traditional training regimen and replace it with more sparring, non-traditional attacks, and cross-training/defense against other arts.
The desire to constantly evaluate one's own training and look for ways to improve is a good one. It is also natural to look at ways of changing or being different. I found an essay on the Internet called "The Kendo Reader" by Noma Hiroshi. It addresses this process of evaluation and improvement:
In Zen Buddhism, there is the teaching of Shu, Ha, Ri. If we take for example the game of chess, Shu - to obey or adhere corresponds to the first stage of practice when one studies and adheres to the basic moves that have been set down by others. When a certain amount of progress has been made through ones own efforts and ability one begins to break away from this mould, and this is the stage of Ha, to break. If further progress is made with the training then eventually a natural breaking free from the conscious attempt to be different will occur, and finally without being aware of it one will part entirely from all such intentions and establish ones own individual path, though remaining within the bounds of the original principles and rules. This last stage is known as Ri, to separate. In the beginning however on must not fail to be obedient to the instructions given by the sensei.
I think this is a cycle that can repeat several times in the course of one's training. Maybe those who are seeking to "reform" aikido are in the "Ha" stage of the cycle. Maybe that's not at all what's happening and there will be no "Ri" to follow the break(s) that may occur from the influence of MMA on aikido. Still, the codification of the concept of wanting to break from the traditional training practices is as old as the training itself. More recently, Kisshomaru Ueshiba addressed the common concerns about aikido (non-realistic attacks, lack of sparring, lack of competition, etc.) in The Spirit of Aikido (first published in 1984). Yet the same questions and concerns keep popping up.
Noma Hiroshi wrote his Kendo Reader sometime before his very untimely death in (at the age of 29) in 1939. His experience with Kendo training has many similarities to my experience with aikido training due to the shared cultural background of the arts. The so-called antiquated training practices are, at least, have help preserve the Japanese heritage of the art. A little bit of research shows that heritage to be big enough to accommodate doubts, questions, frustration, and innovation. It would be a shame to disregard that heritage in an effort to find something newer and better.