View Full Version : They're All the Only One Doing It Right

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Stefan Stenudd
05-18-2012, 02:50 PM
I've been reading the wonderful Ellis Amdur columns It Had To Be Felt, where he tells in detail about his experiences with several of the most renowned aikido teachers. A must read. I've not felt nearly as many teachers as he has, but I started wondering what my impression is of those I have met on the tatami, so far.

The most advanced ones -- especially, in my experience, the old Osensei students -- have one thing in common: They're doing it exactly right, so convincingly that when I practice for them I can't imagine it being right in any other way.

But they all do it differently, often so far apart that one wonders if they really practice the same martial art. Actually, at least on a superficial level their solutions contradict one another flagrantly. What one of them teaches as necessary, another insists should be avoided, and so on.

Some of their students make the mistake of dismissing other teachers because of that. But when you try it as uke, you find that it all works just fine. Not only that. When anyone of these teachers performs the aikido technique, it's so convincing that you can't imagine any other way of doing it. They're all the only one doing it right.

This paradox is not so mysterious. Like they said in the past: All roads lead to Rome. To one problem, there are several solutions, maybe countless. Also, for each individual, some of those possibilities fit better than others. You make choices along the way, and at length these choices become so natural to you, any alternative seems more and more out of the question.

Time and diligent practice create miracles together. Whatever odd roundabout an aikido student chooses -- for one or other reason, usually quite instinctively -- can lead to perfection, which has its very own natural laws. What seemed at first to be wrong becomes right by persistence. That's at the core of any art.

I love that diversity. We're all different, although we also have so much in common. That's why we develop differently and can still appreciate all those variations. There's not just one way, nor just one right. Coming to think of it, maybe there are as many rights as there are wrongs. Or in other words: Maybe every wrong is right in some case, just as every right can be wrong in some particular situation.

Anyway, after becoming aware of the above, I've made my choices, whether they be right or not. I'll have to see what they lead to at length. Maybe I find myself on a dead-end street and have to start over. But there's no alternative to this process.

It's not possible to find the most perfect example and just copy it meticulously. A copy is flawed, far from perfect. That's unavoidable. The original fits perfectly only on the originator.

Some of my choices so far, maybe most of them, have been unconscious. I realize that I made them, when coming across possible alternatives. Before that, they were invisible to me. Still, I can see that I'm made up of bits and pieces of not just one, but several teachers' choices and characteristics.

In each of the aikido techniques, I find traces from many teachers. My entrance step, my grip, the angles of movement, the details of the end pinning -- all through the technique there are traces from all kinds of solutions. I bet that's true for most of us.

Does that mean aikido is moving towards an ever increased complexity? Are we adding more and more components, like we do through our genes carry more and more life-supporting information from previous generations?

Well, if we look at the total spectrum of aikido today in the world, there are indeed many more variations than before. No wonder, since more people have done it for long.

But I can also see that aikido sort of sneaks into styles, within which conformity is demanded and sought. I believe that to be a mistake, because it just isn't possible. Anyone will at length develop his or her own type of aikido, no matter how rigorously they stick to a predefined form. Either that, or they reach a dead-end.

Nishio sensei, whom it was impossible not to admire and try to copy, said it repeatedly: Practice elsewhere, try other things. It's the only way to develop continuously. Of course, he said it with the confidence that wherever and however we practiced, we would continue to be impressed by his skills and eager to study them. He was not mistaken.

Frankly, I often had the impression that he was also sure that we would always come to the conclusion that his choices were the best ones and his right was more right than that of other teachers.

Well, we were certainly sure of it in his presence on the tatami. But I have to say that when another equally experienced teacher throws me around, I'm all but oblivious of Nishio sensei's way. It's in between those experiences they are present simultaneously, the choices of all these teachers, and equally right.

Stefan Stenudd
Stefan Stenudd is a 6 dan Aikikai aikido instructor, member of the International Aikido Federation Directing Committee, the Swedish Aikikai Grading Committee, and the Swedish Budo Federation Board. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at his dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden, and at seminars in Sweden and abroad. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido and aikibatto, also a guide to the lifeforce qi, and a Life Energy Encyclopedia. He has written a Swedish interpretation of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and of the Japanese samurai classic Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido

05-18-2012, 07:34 PM
Nice column Stefan. That's a nice description of the process of learning from different teachers. Great title too. I thought you meant all the people on aikiweb at first...


05-20-2012, 09:47 AM

My name is Marvin but everyone calls me Duffy. I just finished your book THE PEACEFUL MARTIAL ART. I was first introduced to Aikido at 16 years old in high school. That was in 1964 living in Southern California. After Viet Nam in 69 and 70, I left the Army in Jan. 72. and really couldn't find a good find a Aikido Do I sort of let the practice go by the wayside.
But a funny thing happens when you have Aikido in your soul. It never REALLY lets go of you.
Well. I am now 64 years old had many life changing things happen in my life and am waiting now for lower back surgery. I live in Warrenton Virginia, and have talkes to the Sensei here and will join as soon as I recover.


Stefan Stenudd
06-07-2012, 02:51 AM
Hello Duffy,

Great to hear that you're picking aikido up again, after so many years. Indeed, once introduced, aikido is an aquaintance that never leaves for good. I've noticed the same with many friends, who stopped long ago. They keep thinking about it, keep longing back, many of them also coming back.

Actually, I have the impression that in a way they keep on practicing aikido, although outside the dojo. So, when they reappear on the tatami, they quickly show a level higher than they had before taking that long break. Maybe you have the same experience?


Stefan Stenudd
06-07-2012, 02:54 AM
I thought you meant all the people on aikiweb at first...
I wouldn't dare ;)

Susan Dalton
06-10-2012, 05:29 PM
Oh I love this column, Stefan. I remember visiting another dojo when I was a white belt. They didn't do anything like we did it! How could what they were doing be aikido? Years later I visited again and I couldn't see what was so different. In fact, the students there helped me prepare for my nidan test, and I was grateful for their help.

Stefan Stenudd
06-11-2012, 04:28 AM
Years later I visited again and I couldn't see what was so different.
Susan, I know the feeling. I find that the more skilled the practitioner is, the more it looks just like aikido - no matter what martial art is practiced. All roads lead to Rome, I guess.

Tom Verhoeven
06-17-2012, 12:53 PM
Reading this column was a relieve! It is a wonderful description of the growing process through experiencing different teachers. I enjoy the differentiation in Aikido, much like I enjoy different kinds of music.
Thank you,

James Sawers
06-17-2012, 07:30 PM
I went through a similar experience (though much smaller in scale) when I tried to answer an Aikido question for a newbie. After I was finished, he said that another sempai had answered it differently. When queried on this other answer, I saw that that answer was also correct. Anyway, I tried explaining the elephant and the blind men story to this kohai. I could see he wasn't having any of this, but I think after a few years he began to see that there was more than one way of seeing things. Good column.

Stefan Stenudd
06-22-2012, 03:19 AM
I tried explaining the elephant and the blind men story to this kohai.
I know the feeling. Who can imagine such an animal?
Many beginners are eager to get an idea of what aikido should be like. Doing so, they're unable to discover what they couldn't imagine beforehand.

By the way, I love your motto. "Nothing works." Indeed. And everything.