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This is the first of six items from my own blog. I am unlingual and unable to read the original Japanese text identified as O Sensei's Rules for Practice. I also have less of a background than many of the people on this site. I would be grateful for any feedback or insights.
I had been training for several years before I bought my first copy of O Sensei's Budo. There was a one page list of called Precautions for Training that I had not seen before. Later on, I found the same list of six items in Kisshomaru Doshu's Aikido, this time called Rules for Practice. It's the term I became most familiar with, so I'll be referring to the Rules from here on even though Precautions might be the better translation. Eventually I started to think of Guidelines.
The dojo where I train now has a third version of the Rules from an Aikikai Hombu newsletter with similar items worded differently. I don't see the Rules getting much attention, and every copy I find seems to have the second Doshu's name closely associated with it. Budo itself was written very soon after the split between Morihei Ueshiba and his Daito Ryu teacher, but well before any of the fractures in Aikido itself developed, and before the name Aikido was even coined.
The Rules were of limited benefit for me to give to beginners for practice. It's not a "no chewing gum in class" kind of list. It didn't touch on any of the long list of things like who sat where, or how to wear a gi, or when to bow, or how to hold a weapon. While Budo itself makes extensive mention of swords, spears, tanto, and firearms - weapons are not discussed in the Rules.
I am unilingual and therefore divorced from the Japanese source material. I did what I do when I read the Five Rings or the Yi Jing - I put all the different translations together rather than just picking the one translation that I like the best. I like to think it gives me a chance of catching nuances and deeper understanding. For example, when comparing the translations below, some talk about killing with a "blow," something that English speakers associate with striking or atemi. Two versions explicitly say we practice lethal techniques (much more general term). With the one translation, the implication is that Aikido can be safely practiced just by omitting the strikes. When I teach an Aikido version of O Goshi, I have to make the point to the class that this isn't true as some Nage get really low to the ground as they don't want to give Uke a hard fall. This is how to break Uke's neck or skull by slamming it into the ground.
For all that I knew of the Rules for years, I had a little epiphany the other night. These aren't so much rules as a description, a definition of Aikido. I'm tentatively breaking up the six Rules into separate entries. This one deals with the first item, which discusses Aikido's lethality. As this is one of six, this is not the only reason to train nor the only defining feature of aikido. I don't just train for combat myself.
"The original intent of bujutsu was to kill an enemy with one blow; since all techniques can be lethal, observe the instructor's directions and do not engage in contests of strength." Budo
"One blow in Aikido is capable of killing an opponent. In practice, obey your instructor, and do not make the practice period a time for needless testing of strength." Aikido
"As Aikido is practice by using techniques which are capable of inflicting fatal injuries, practitioners should always heed what their instructor says, and should never participate in contests of strength." From the 1997 issue of "The Aikido" by Aikido world headquarters in Tokyo. Volume 34, #4. Really, from the walls of the men's change room at our dojo.
While not in keeping with our warm fuzzies, it is a historically valid question to ask a senior student. Do you know how to kill someone with Aikido? Or at least hurt them? Do we know at least enough about how to hurt each other, to keep each other safe in practice? There is some online talk that Aikido is not capable of inflicting injury, or that there is something special about Aikido movements like Shihonage that make them harmless but this is not what is written here.
The rule states to obey the teachers (In Aikido, Kisshomaru Doshu expounds on the first Rule with a brief dissertation on the importance of obedience and never goes further into discussing lethal options) and implies this is for safety, but do teachers automatically know how to injure or kill people with Aikido? Many groups don't teach this. I have known some teachers who are almost proudly uninformed. If the teacher is uninformed, then the safety margin created by obedience is not a guarantee. How is the Daito Ryu Shihonage different from the Aikido Shihonage and can I communicate this to a student in clear enough terms to keep the class safe? Daito Ryu presumably has no problems communicating what makes the movement safer or more dangerous as there is no hangup, no emotional baggage associated with the potential for injury.
While Steven Seagal has earned some criticism in recent years, his Aikido choreography in Above the Law, Marked for Death, and Out for Justice offer some valid insights regarding combat applications. I don't object to his Aikido - there are so many other things to object to.
Shioda sensei's Dynamic Aikido also has some great insights for combat in the one chapter - a Sankyo throw projecting someone down a stair case, Nikyo with Uke getting kneed in the face, Kotegaeshi and Ikkyo both slamming Uke into the restroom wall. Sound ideas, and a valid lesson that there is nothing different being done.
I've heard about simply avoiding violence. I get irritated by people discussing "violence in the real world" who have sustained little more than paper cuts and eye strain. Violence isn't real to such people, but it is still real. Some students that I thought were divorced from violence turned out to be ex-military. Even in health care I come across plenty of ex-military. My wife and I had to face the reality of violence in our own home from an intruder. One student works in a jail, another in law enforcement. I've become less critical of people who ask questions about violence. If I am going to be a teacher, maybe I should know some answers.
In any event, from the horse's mouth - Aikido is described as an art capable of being lethal, the implication being that martial ability is expected. Maybe this feeds into the Looking Back to Look Forward theme I find myself thinking of lately. Martial competence has become a common criticism of Aikido today, and all associations are grouped under one heading erroneously. I wonder how many people told Chiba Sensei, "Aikido doesn't work?" Lenny Sly and others are doing some modern interpretations. Kenji Tomiki was a military trainer. Gozo Shioda and Robert Koga were law enforcement trainers. Martial competence is part of our history.