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Today is a special day. 6 years ago it was a rude awakening. No longer was there someone to hold my hand, no longer was their someone to reminded me to be kind. One of my main examples and teachers died. I miss Alan Ruddock for his wit, his kindness and his firm understanding of aikido.
I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to learn from several good teachers, special teachers, direct students of O'Sensei.
They taught me so much. About aikido, about the ideas of aikido, about learning aikido. And those weren't just words, those were concepts that could be tested on the tatami.
But what did we do? And now one of the really weird things enters the playing field. We never trained with uke resisting what was happening. To a lot of people this is a weird Idea, I know. But why is that a thing we never trained?
Now years later I think I have maybe half the answer to that.
We never trained that because it is pointless. Uke doesn't have the choice to resist, it never is ukes job to resist. From the first start of intention uke is locked in what is happening. There is no resistance as resistance is futile. What should you resist? Your own movement? From the beginning uke is locked in what is happening, and (and here we enter the twilight zone of weird aikimagic, as some more down to earth, real, aikido people claim) so is nage. The movement is. It is not deflected or changed, it is accepted. Hence nage is absolutely free in what he is doing as absolute freedom
There is much to be said about ukemi, but I have observed from close that there is difference between understanding ukemi and talking about ukemi.
As a beginning one should always be aware the gift of ukemi that uke is giving you is priceless, so treat it as a precious gift, be grateful for being offered this gift and show this gratitude by training open, honest and respectful. And offer ukemi to your training partners.
Following that, one should realise that ukemi is more than 50% of your aikido, more than 50% of your techniques and more than 50% of all that you do. This is too often not clear to those that are training. This not from malice or ill will but from not being exposed to good ukemi.
It is very tempting to see how much of a technique you can resist or frustrate. Yet in the end all you were building was your own dojo superpowers and you weren't helping your partner, even though you thought you were. But worst than that, you weren't helping yourself and cheating your partner out of an opportunity to learn.
One often hear people claim Aikido is about love, about harmony. That aikido is life. Yet as uke they train without harmony. They haven't learned the difference between uke being alive and uke being dead. As uke they don't give, but expect to overtaken, to be conquered. Why is it harmony if nage gets his way?
I have been fortunate. All my teachers have told me to do ukemi. Not as an obligatory part of training, not as a necessary evil to be undergone
It has been said many times that Aikidoka cannot punch their way out of a paper bag.
So I tried that.
I put my self in a paper bag and tried.
My first attempt didn't work because I wasn't relaxed enough.
My second attempt didn't work either because the paper bag didn't offer a sincere attack
My third attempt didn't work because the bag knew what I was going to do
My fourth attempt...
My fifth ...
I have had the good fortune of experiencing nearly perfect Aikido as uke.
This was too long ago, the teachers that showed me that Aikido are no longer alive.
Now there is no-one. There are plenty of interesting things to study with a lot of teachers, but something is missing. I study. I train. But something is not there.
I want to study the techniques that beginners train. No fancy stuff, simple ikkyo, because that simple ikkyo is missing something essential. No fancy stuff, just simple irimi, because that simple irimi isn't like I felt.
Sunday I watches the shodan exam of one of my training partners. It was a nice exam and almost everything went well.
Time is a funny thing. Some things change, that is the natural way things are. I remember seeing the exams of the committee members 10 or 15 years ago and somehow I cannot escape the feeling that the standard at exams has changed. Would the same committee members have passed the current exams? Is that something that is important? And if so, who made it important?
During class I jokingly tell people that the only difference between an advanced student and a beginner is that advanced students are better in covering up their screw ups. I know this is absolutely not true and I want my fellow students to discover that this isn't true.
Persistence is what shapes the student. Just showing up, putting on your gi and stepping onto the mat is all it takes. Weird part is that for a lot of people this can be the hardest part of Aikido. Still, all the places I have trained had one thing in common: you are welcome whether your last training was yesterday or long ago.
One thing I wonder about, and I know my teachers did the same, is whether everything can be taught independently or whether a certain level experience and physical training is necessary to be able to be taught more advanced stuff. Are shortcuts possible or not. I know there isn't consensus about that among aikido teachers.
I believe that you have to learn to be fluent in your technical repertoire to be able to let go of that technical repertoire and look beyond. I look at aikido the same way I do look at language. Techniques are the aikido equivalent of words. If you don't know the words it will be nearly impossible to write a nice story. So learn the words. The words however aren't a story yet.
How come I cannot do what you do? Because you are learning words. No use being flabbergasted by my story in which the evil stepmother happily lives ever after. Learn the words and
4 new women turned up for class last night. For the strong men this is a challenge and I always am amazed who enjoys training with as many partners as possible and who just try to stick with their small circle of clunky men.
One of my earliest encounters with technique vs. force was in my second or third year of training. There was a small Japanese (although nationality is completely irrelevant here) lady (small meaning about 140 cm and compared to my 193 cm that is very small). She trained about as long as I did. Of course she didn't use brute force on me, how could she. When we were up to speed I noticed how fast I found the floor every single time. There was a very important lesson I learned that day. I decided that I wanted to study Aikido like she did, small girl's Aikido instead of big strong guy's Aikido.
Looking back I am grateful I had so many different partners to train with in my early years. All the different partners opened my eyes to what I am searching for.
I hope enough of the women will stay to have the same impact on the clunky men I now train with.