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I find it amusing that people who practice Aikido are expected to perform at what would, in other activities, be elite levels. Aikido practitioners are expected, by the "hardcore martial artists" to be able fight off any type of street attack, defeat mixed martial artists, and generally be as "bad-ass" as Ueshiba Kaiso was in his "pre-war" phase. Conversely, the "spiritual types" expect people in Aikido to have more patience and pacifistic temperament than Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King combined.. any use of say "atemi" or "kime" is looked upon with horror and disdain.
In effect by expecting people in Aikido to always come up to the standard of Ueshiba Kaiso (either "bad-ass" or "saint", take your pick), we are being asked to be as good in our AIkido as say, Pele is in football, or Roger Federer in tennis, or Tiger Woods in golf (yeah, I just had to get that in, didn't I), or Manny Pacquiao in boxing (gotta be nationalistic!).
Yet, we don't expect everyone in football, tennis, golf or boxing to be a Pele, Federer, Woods or Pacquiao... so why is so much demanded of people practicing Aikido?
Of course, I recognise the need for an "elite" in Aikido.. they will pass on the high standard to the next generation.. but does everybody have to be in the "elite"? (that would be an oxymoron). And do we have to denigrate the "non-elites" by saying they practice "Aikido-lite"?
"Do you play tennis?"
"Yes, I do!"
"Are you as good as Federer or Venus Williams?"
Words of the Founder: "Learning from Failure"
by Morihei Ueshiba,
[Editor's Note: This writing of O-Sensei was originally published in The Aikido, Volume 25, No. 4, 1988 and reprinted in The USAF Eastern Region Newsletter in 1989.]
The principle components of Aiki Keiko training are Ki-form exercises and the Principle of Tanren (Tanren- ho).
The most extreme type of Ki-form training is a true life-or-death duel. Budo are originally devoid of the contests that are common to most sports. This is because in Budo, a contest invariably involves risking serious injury or death. It is, moreover, a great mistake to seek out contests, as to inflict a lethal injury on anyone is the greatest crime a man can commit.
From ancient times in Japan the guiding principle of Budo has been to avoid injury or taking the life of one's opponent. True Budo is the Way of Great Harmony and the purification of body and soul (Misogi). Budo is in other words, governed by the principle that, in order for man to practice the order of heaven on earth, it is first necessary for him to correct the self and bend to the Ten Thousand Things. It is for this reason that I am particularly saddened by the teachings of those who know little of the true Budo of which I speak and who have fallen, instead, in the militaristic-forms of martial arts that developed later in our country's history.
[With apologies to Bock and Harnick, the creators of Fiddler on the Roof]
"An Aikidoka on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little Aikido Dojo, you might say every one of us is an aikidoka on the roof, trying to practice a pleasant, simple technique without breaking her neck. It isn't easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it's so dangerous? We stay because the Aikido Dojo is our home... And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you
in one word... Tradition."
"Because of our traditions, we've kept our balance for many, many years. Here in the Aikido Dojo we have traditions for everything... how to eat, how to sleep, even, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep a picture of the Founder and always wear a hakama (well at least when we reach shodan)... This shows our constant devotion to the Founder. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I'll tell you - I don't know. But it's a tradition... Because of our traditions, everyone knows who she is and what the Founder expects her to do."
The wheel turns..
I went with three of my students to Oxford for their first ever grading for 6th kyu.. back in the Philippines I have graded students myself but this would be the first time my students here would be graded by an external grading panel.
I wouldn't say things went very smoothly, but in the end, all three of them passed.
Now to get back to training..
At class last week I was working with a relatively new member.. he actually has been training with us since last year but his attendance has been sporadic at best. We were practicing tenchi-nage and he asked what happens if uke tries to resist the technique. I said instead we flow with the resistance and apply another technique and demonstrated flowing into uchi-kaiten sankyo.. He then asked how does one counter the tenchi nage and I answered that that it also involves non-resistance and again by flowing with his intended throw, I applied uchi kaiten sankyo. The cultivation of non-resistance is done through ukemi training, and I showed this to him by taking forward ukemi from his tenchi nage several times. He then tried resisting more vigorously against the technique, but each time I flowed into a counter, not resisting at all but following the force of his movement.. He then tried forcefully resisting the technique and I used the momentum he created to torque him into a particularly tight sankyo which had him wincing and clutching his arm in pain. He remarked that he had never before experienced that kind of pain from a technique. I said that the because Aikido is non-resistance, the stronger the resistance applied the more painful the technique becomes.
All too often people in budo become rather myopic, forgetting there are many ways to train and many ways to access certain universally applicable skills. Just because one type of training provides you with a specific result doesn't mean similar skills are not achieveable by someone else thru a different pedagogy. Budo training can speak to each of us in very specific ways. Every once in a while an individual comes along with a unique set of keys to unlock skills we desire. The question is, can we be open minded enough to recognize these keys if they appear to be something we have already rejected or seem totally different than what we have come to expect?
I had the opportunity to go to the last day of Kobayashi Shihan's course in Bath. It was a good session, with Kobayashi Shihan teaching taijutsu (mostly against yokomen-uchi), jo-waza, and tachi-dori. Even at 71 years of age Kobayashi Shihan was quite spry and agile, even acting as uke when he demonstrated the techniques. He did not bring a designated uke but instead got a random participant from the tatami each time. I also met and got to practice with fellow Aikiweb member Daren Sims..
Urban Aldenklint Sensei also taught a session, showing how uke can be thrown in tenchi nage by relaxing one arm completely.
All in all it was a very enjoyable and enlightening day.
Roman and I have been having an interesting conversation, where he characterized Aikidoka who train only in Aikido as being unable to "fight". I asked if that included Morihiro Saito Sensei, and he said "yes". (cf the comments of the preceding blog entry).
How about another example, Hiroshi Isoyama Sensei, who's been used as an example lately as an Aikidoka who runs counter to the "pacifist" ways of the Aikikai (despite his being an 8th Dan Shihan in the Aikikai). From what I can glean from the available information about him, he has trained only in Aikido since he was 12 years old. Does that also mean that Isoyama Sensei "can't fight?"
I've been reading a lot lately that Martial Arts is all about fighting.
And that "Martial" means pertaining to the Military or waging war.
So Sun-Tzu's "Art of War" must be about Martial Arts, right?
Here's an oft-quoted passage from the "Art of War":
" Therefore One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Seizing the enemy without fighting is the most skillful.
War is of vital importance to the state and should not be engaged carelessly"
In Giles Translation:
Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.
He even adds in annotation:
Here again, no modern strategist but will approve the words of the old Chinese general. Moltke's greatest triumph, the capitulation of the huge French army at Sedan, was won practically without bloodshed.
As Nishio Sensei said, "The conflict should be over at the moment of contact."
But to achieve such ability takes practice, practice, practice, and more practice.
And what do we need to practice to get this ability to win without fighting? That's the eternal question..
I remember in October 1998, when I went to Japan for the first time... I was at the reception for a UNESCO sponsored seminar in Educational Technology... and I remarked to one of our Japanese hosts, "One of my favourite things about Japan is budo..."
And he replied "Oh yes, our grapes are very delicious!"
Stunned, I asked him why he said that. "Budo means grapes" he explained.
"What about martial arts?" I asked..
"Oh you mean, bugei, or bujutsu" he said...
Upon further research, I found out that the standard pronounciation for the kanji 武道 is "bu - do" but that the kanji for grape: 葡萄 is also pronounced "budo".. and since more Japanese eat grapes than practice martial arts, guess which term is more understood?
Japanese is rife with such multiple meanings.. such as hana meaning either
"flower" 華 or "nose" 鼻.
The original characters for Karate were 唐手. meahing "Tang" (a Chinese dynasty) hand. They were later changed to "空手" also pronounced Karate but meaning "empty hand".