View Full Version : Rei and Controlled Violence

Please visit our sponsor:

AikiWeb Sponsored Links - Place your Aikido link here for only $10!

06-02-2013, 06:43 AM
A couple of instances at the dojo got me thinking about the overall concept of rei and its importance in Aikido training. The most common forms of bowing in and out are there but in a few instances, what I would consider lines, were crossed. No I am not screaming foul - just that it got me thinking.

I do remember writing on Aikiweb about the topic once before but all I could find was a statement on how martial arts was controlled violence. Somehow rei was not involved - perhaps it never was.

I did find http://shodokanaikido.es/?p=526 where Nariyama Shihan is quoted as saying
Etiquette is the foundation and premise of martial arts. A fighting spirit is important, but it is mere violence if there is no etiquette.


Mark Mueller
06-02-2013, 08:26 AM
I seem to remember Ellis Amdur menitioning that Araki Ryu had several techniques that originate from the initial "formal" bow...I found this to be a very interesting paradox.

06-02-2013, 08:46 AM
I seem to remember Ellis Amdur menitioning that Araki Ryu had several techniques that originate from the initial "formal" bow...I found this to be a very interesting paradox.
I see what you mean by paradox and perhaps Ellis can shed light on the meaning within Araki Ryu, but I don't see a particular contradiction. Even within the act of a "formal" bow you should still maintain zanshin including an awareness of all that is happening and has the potential to happen.

To expand on my original post I am not really talking about the more omote forms of rei - which never seem to be discarded and in fact are often overdone (more Japanese than the Japanese) but more subtle things like attitude toward sensei and perhaps more important fellow students.

oisin bourke
06-02-2013, 12:56 PM
Something that has always struck me (and is rarely remarked on) is that Japan is one of the safest countries in the world, so perhaps this is partially a result of how they train in budo?

Basically, this seems to me to be: train to be able to look after yourself in an extreme situation, but generally, train to control yourself/emotions and modify your behaviour when interacting with others. Equally, Korea and China seem to me to be reasonably stable and peaceful places (taking into account formidable social problems and population pressures), so perhaps Asians have developed very sophisticated systems in which to channel and express aggression/conflict? Perhaps this is Rei? And perhaps this is what we should be taking from our training?

Janet Rosen
06-02-2013, 01:00 PM
The late Kanai Sensei, IIRC, had an excellent essay on the role of rei. I'll look for it.

Janet Rosen
06-02-2013, 01:01 PM

Ellis Amdur
06-02-2013, 03:15 PM
Martial arts in Japan were created, in large part, as means of social control and control of social interaction. They were created, in large part, to occupy warriors so that they wouldn't kill each other.
The Araki-ryu techniques referred, descending from an older period, were created as means of survival. There, social rules were manipulated in the service of survival of the group that enacts them (whether the cause is good-or-bad is not in question at this point).
Reigi, in the larger sense, was a means by which potential enemies - or at least "unknowns" - would know how to behave to get along. And reigi has been in existence as long as there are humans.
This was quite naturally transmitted into bugei, the original purpose of which was to train a social class - the warriors - how to lead (using older methodologies on how to fight and to kill). The first purpose of reigi within the dojo was so that people could get along as training partners while potentially - and sometimes actually - hurting, even injuring each other. Reigi functions as a ritual "container." This training was transmitted - implicitly and explicitly - outside the dojo into the larger society.
The rules of engagement in modern military are reigi. If warfighters are not well trained - and if the rules of engagement are not rational and support survival - then chaos ensues.
Reigi lets people know where they stand, so to speak.

Rob Watson
06-03-2013, 01:15 PM
Perhaps I cherry pick too much but one thing I recall is"we are trying to kill each other but we must not hurt each other" ... tough to do without a solid understanding of rules, limits and control overlayed on the expressions of violence.

Maybe a twist for aikido would be "you are trying to kill me but I cannot allow us to hurt each other". At least in the ideal... a difficult task to develop the ability to switch mindset from killer to loving protection without some kind of mental "fragmentation". Clearly, I'm not psych guy but such things tend to trouble me sometimes.

06-03-2013, 01:48 PM
Yes, the concept of Rei can be nicely described and explained. It will stay only word on paper or sound, if it is not truly understood and applied in daily practice. In aikido world, we can make an easy generalization, it is mostly empty concept. Ppl preserve some kind of external form, but inside doesn’t exist. I like to think it is due to lack of danger of the practice. There is some kind ‘overprotecting’ philosophy in western society backed up with existing law mixed with some spiritual aikido concepts taken out of context.. Because of that, many ppl dare to behave badly, they know well there will be no nasty consequences to them.

However, once somebody feels a real danger (to his health or life) during practice, suddenly a real understanding of Rei appears. Statistically it has more chance to happen when both of aikidoka have high physical skills in application of the techniques.
I could see many cases at that time young black belts that were very arrogant, few years later you may see their understanding of the etiquette changed.

Erick Mead
06-03-2013, 04:14 PM
I seem to remember Ellis Amdur menitioning that Araki Ryu had several techniques that originate from the initial "formal" bow...I found this to be a very interesting paradox.It is not a paradox, it is an entire grammar of conflict and etiquette.

In professional conflict (and in almost all cultures, though the forms vary immensely), it is customary among combatants-- whether figurative as in the practice of law, or physical as in the practice of war -- to treat their opponents with the respect due their mutual acknowledgment of the present ability of each being able and willing to do the other great harm, injury or inconvenience. It is a way of asking, usually implicitly, if each has realistically considered every other possibility of the resolution of the matter that has brought the conflict to bear between them.

Such respect is always liminal -- at a threshold. Even where there are rules for the conduct of the conflict -- such rules are themselves as treated as any other weapons are -- once the threshold of conflict is crossed and full engagement is begun.

This respect is called forth in the midst of conflict also -- but usually, only where there are appropriate new thresholds presented in escalation of threat -- or recognition of critical weakness -- or where pause, in the engagement, often merely logistical, sets a new boundary on the engagement. It is a conversation between species of predators. It is not conversation that occurs between predator and prey -- prey are dangerous because of the desperation of their commitment -- not their native aggression or violent nature.

It is cross-cultural, again, though forms vary, the physical aspects of a proper attitude of rei are almost universal -- and it is the quite opposite of the bluster and threat more common among the untrained, the unprofessional, or really those who are just plain common. A good western example of the practical guide to this grammar may be seen in reading George Washington's Rules of Civility, which he did not create, but equally certainly modelled and exemplified. "Courtesies," as Brookhiser noted about Washington, were originally aristocratic. "Courtesy" is behavior suited to a court -- a gathering of noblemen-- which is to say -- men forced into company who are nevertheless prepared to kill one another.

Conversely, carrying oneself and acting at all times with correct rei often forestalls most conflicts before they ever even become explicit, at least as to those that remain unnecessary. This kind of physical grammar does not usually exist between amateurs, and only rarely between amateurs and professionals.

Thus, amateurs, who do not habitually carry the attitude of rei without having to think about it may be at one and the same time both inviting targets and yet also a particular danger to the professional predator at the outset.

Americans, for instance, though being largely founded by the lesser sons of English and European nobility, and frequently led, in particular, by the scions of (often) tinpot "kings" and nobles of the Irish and Scots diaspora, have routinely used our "easy" or "rough" manners of a frontier circumstance to great effect in this regard. We have, throughout our history, typically concealed and conserved our noblesse to the end rather than the beginning of our conflicts.

Robert Cowham
06-03-2013, 05:29 PM
I see what you mean by paradox and perhaps Ellis can shed light on the meaning within Araki Ryu, but I don't see a particular contradiction. Even within the act of a "formal" bow you should still maintain zanshin including an awareness of all that is happening and has the potential to happen.

I enjoyed various things in the recent video of Ellis:


The zanshin at the start amongst the reiho is striking.

06-04-2013, 06:47 PM
Agreed. Seems obvious. Even in the most rough & tumble muay thai gyms there is etiquette, though it's unrecognizable when compared to a formal Japanese art dojo.

Training together, learning together, how to hurt/harm/maim/kill one another simply breeds mutual respect, which leads to such etiquette organically.

Just my $0.02.

06-04-2013, 07:37 PM
To most people, "etiquette" = "being polite" or "being nice". I think, though, that really it's like a networking protocol, if I can use a geek analogy. The purpose of the rules is so that each party will know what any given action signifies, and will be able to behave accordingly: you send me an ARP request, I send you an ARP response with my MAC address, because I know that's what you want. You walk up to where my friend and I are blocking the sidewalk talking and say, "Excuse me," I move aside because I know you want to get by. Reigi's a protocol, first and foremost functional. I do a kata with a partner and lose, I withdraw in a certain way to signify that I don't intend to continue my attack. And, because you understand the protocol, you let me withdraw (if you're kindly disposed) because you know that you can safely do so. Reigi is a protocol. It's not about ceremony, and it's not about going around like a live fuse imagining threats in everyday life either.