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You can map out a fight plan or a life plan, but when the action starts, it may not go the way you planned, and you're down to your reflexes - that means your preparation. That's where your roadwork shows. If you cheated on that in the dark of the morning, well, you're going to get found out now, under the bright lights.
I have nothing against sports; they train the body and develop stamina and endurance. But the spirit of competition and power that presides over them is not good. It reflects a distorted vision of life.
Taisen Deshimaru, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts
To fight yourself is the toughest fight. To overcome yourself is the greatest victory.
I never met anybody who wanted to win as badly as I did. I'd do anything I had to do to increase my advantage. Anybody who tried to block the pursuit of that advantage, I'd just push 'em out of the way. Didn't matter who they were, or what they were doing.
A gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you're not enough without one, you'll never be enough with one.
from Cool Runnings
This week Yuki Saito, the number one draft pick in Japanese professional baseball, started his first training camp. There were 200 reporters there. He's a very talented and promising young pitcher. He became famous at Koshien - the high school summer baseball tournament - in 2006 when he kept wiping his face with a blue handkerchief. He was given the nickname the handkerchief prince.
Teenage players can't play with the same speed and power as professional players and can't make the same kind of breathtaking plays. But they have something else - an innocence and a purity. So people who would never watch professional baseball watch Koshien. After the games the teams bow and shake hands and the losing players collect souvenir earth from the infield.
Sports can be wonderful. They can be a mirror of life with all its drama, nobility, humanity and sadness. Recreation means to create again. To become fresh by making again.
But Japanese martial arts - budo and bujutsu - are completely different. For hundreds of years people have studied budo and bujutsu without matches and competition. They are learned by studying basic movements and kata - stylized forms.
Some modern Japanese martial arts - gendai budo - like kendo and judo and karate do have a competition and sporting dimension. O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba the founder of aikido deliberately kept it free of contests and competition. He used a phrase, Masakatsu agatsu 正勝吾勝 winning over yourself, to emphasize this. There is another phrase in Japanese martial arts, kokkishin 克己心, that also means winning over yourself. The most difficult opponent is yourself. You have to overcome your own weak points, to cut them away until what is left is pure and real.
So in aikido we keep to that traditional way. Occasionally there has been external pressure to make aikido more competitive - for example from the Japanese education ministry - but the second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei said he wanted to keep aikido pure.
There is one minor style of aikido developed by Kenji Tomiki Sensei that includes some judo concepts. Tomiki Sensei was a judoka and his perception of aikido was always through the eyes of a judoka. In his book Judo and Aikido he even used the word judo to include aikido techniques. So he included things like judo matches and judo kata in his aikido. His logic was that everyone needed to test themselves against other people and the best way was through what he knew - judo-style competition. It is a rather minority viewpoint in aikido. Most aikido practitioners have a more traditional and purist vision of aikido.
Tomiki Sensei was right in one way. Competition does allow you to compare your level and it does show you your weaknesses. And participating in matches and competitions allows you to experience the adrenalin and tension of competition when it is not a matter of life or death. But in the end shiai - matches - are just artificial games.
The rejection of competition is one of aikido's strongest points. But it's a weak point too. It's a strong point only if you are strong enough yourself to train sincerely. Nobody will tell you if you are not training hard enough. You have to do it yourself.