Aikido - Form and Method
I'm starting a new thread based on a comment that Dan Hardin made in another post.
The outer form of Aikido is fairly easy to recognize. I could get on the mat with Allen Beebe, who was trained under Shirata Sensei an early thirties deshi or Steven Miranda who trains in Yohinkan Aikido which was Shioda Sensei's creation and also from the thirties and we largely share the same kihon waza. I can work out with the Iwama folks, the Shingu students, the Nishio people, Chiba Sensei's students and we still share the basics to the extent that we can all do class together without anyone standing there wondering what a particular technique was.
But when it comes to methodology, there is very little in common at all. Nor is there really any agreement what is trying to be achieved via the training.
Much of Aikido is fairly devoid of actual "aiki". I can train with some groups and the experience is pretty much one of being manhandled. Someone grabs your arm and proceeds to wrench it off... it's all muscle and really requires that you b e a lot stronger than your partner to pull it off. Anyone who thinks I am exaggerating, there were some demos at the Aiki Expo which would show this just fine, and I am talking about some supposedly high level (or at least high ranked) people.
Even many of the softer styles of Aikido focus almost exclusively on what I would refer to as the aiki of movement. These folks are very good at moving their bodies in order to not conflict with the movement of an attacker. But more often than not, they have no idea whatever about what happens in the body when you receive the energy of an attack. The components of internal power discussed at length on these threads are unknown to a whole swath of the Aikido community, even the ones who most feel they are striving for an Aikido like that of the Founder.
There really isn't an agreement about the end product of the training amongst styles of Aikido. Chiba Sensei, who is very methodical about how he teaches, does a great job of transmitting exactly what he has wished to. The quality level of his senior people is very consistent and there is a great shared approach to how technique is done.
Endo Sensei, I think is really excellent about devising a training method which gets across exactly what he wants to be getting across. While his students have a bit more personal variation than Chiba Sensei's deshi, they clearly have absorbed the central elements of what he thinks is important and you can spot them in a crowd.
Yet, despite the underlying shared body of technique, it would be hard for the students of Chiba Sensei and the students of Endo Sensei to have a satisfying training experience together on the mat. I think that both teachers had a different, perhaps even opposing, idea about what the art actually is.
Our friend Bill Gleason Sensei, while sharing the same basic body of technique with the rest of the Aikido community, is once again, striving for something very different in his waza. His approach is far beyond utilitarian. Each technique represents the coming together of a whole set of principles which are inseparable from the same principles when contained in the Kototama. He might find copacetic Aikido at Shingu but elsewhere he might not even want to get on the mat.
My own teacher, Saotome Sensei, while doing some of the very best Aikido I have ever seen, trained us largely how he was trained himself. Sensei says he can remember three times on which O-Sensei actually explained how to do a technique. So he had to pick it all up intuitively. Because he had fifteen years with the Founder, did all the same exercises the Founder did, he got to a very high level. But it was never broken down conceptually. I am not sure that he was aware of what the purpose and result of each component of his training. Consequently, we did not duplicate that training as his students. The solo exercises were taught but not put forward to us as important ahead of other aspects of our training.
So most of us had to look outside for the explanations to understand what Sensei was doing all along. It has become clear that many of the exercises he did with the Founder which were characterized as Misogi, were important to his ability to do technique with aiki. The manner that he manipulates you before the physical touch occurs was something he simply didn't talk about. It took exposure to Ushiro Sensei's systematic explanation to let some of us understand.
Anyway, things are changing now. Something started with the Aiki Expo in 2000 and it can't be stopped now. I'm not saying that Aikido will come together with some uniform vision of what it should be. People develop the Aikido that fit their natures. What I see currently is that folks who do what I might call harder style Aikido will seek out Akuzawa because they can feel his work make them stronger. It's not that they want to really change the way they do technique, they just want to be stronger doing it. I'm not saying that this si what I think Akuzawa himself is doing... there's a lot more than that going on with him. But I think it is the attraction for many.
A number of my friends have been attracted to the Systema and are playing with it a bit. Most of them remain fixated on the aspect of that art which has to do with striking and receiving strikes. Actually that part of the training in Systema is only a very small part and not at all a goal in itself. But its what attracts some folks to the training. Their Aikido won't change much but you won't want to get hit by their atemi. On the other hand I know some Aikido friends who are doing the Systema training very seriously and it has transformed the very form of heir Aikido to the point at which it is really unrecognizable as having much to do with what they had done before.
So the folks in Aikido that are open minded enough to seek out teachers who can help them with the internal power side, the aiki side, etc will change but mostly they will look for what makes them better at what they already do. The soft folks will seek out teachers who can help them be softer, the hard folks will find teachers who can show them how to nuke someone. The fact that these might be the very same teachers will escape them. They'll only pick up what they looked for from the start. Because people fundamentally don't much like to change.
And most folks won't even look outside what they've been doing. There's little reward from the establishment to do so, in some cases you get penalized... so if you made it to 6th or 7th Dan you are already at the top of the food chain in your organization. You have to really be sincere about your practice to go off and hit a seminar with Dan Hardin or some such, and start changing your paradigm... especially because your teacher may very well get pissed off when he sees what's happening.
I think some of us have been working out a more targeted and systematic method for imparting what we know. As I have changed, I have been working on how to make sure that knowledge gets transmitted to my students. It's a work in progress for sure. I find that training them the way i am now gives them a tremendous head start on stuff I wasn't even aware of twenty years ago. On the other hand, by not training how I trained, they miss out on some things that were positive in that experience. I am always trying to find the right balance. I am not yet happy with how its going but its better than it has ever been so I have to just stick with the program.
Anyway, it is an interesting ride... I don't think many folks have stopped to consider what happens to the hierarchical nature of traditional transmission when a generation of future teachers shifts their paradigm to something their teachers haven't taught them. The influences coming in to Aikido fro the outside are going to shake things up...
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