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Old 06-04-2005, 10:19 AM   #1
Mike Sigman
Location: Durango, CO
Join Date: Feb 2005
Posts: 4,123
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Highest Level Martial Arts and Aikido

There's a saying about "all paths lead to the top of the mountain" that always grates on the nerves. It defies common sense and smacks of that false pseudo-sage relativism which tries to say that there is no wrong way to do anything. Obviously there are right and wrong ways to do things and while a lot of paths lead to the top of the mountain, there are also paths that don't go to the top of the mountain and paths that go to other mountains.

Broadly speaking, not all martial arts is the same, either. In fact, in a deliberately too-simplistic way we can separate martial arts into 2 categories... technique-oriented martial arts and "highest level" martial arts. It turns out that not all martial arts can be or are "highest level" (not a great term, but let's just use it for simplicity) because they don't train certain things. On the other hand, there are more arts that aim for (among certain segments of practitioners; not everyone) being "highest level" than a lot of people suppose.

The best way to approach the discussion is to avoid techniques and look at the basic premises in Aikido. Essentially, the basic strategy of Aikido is to avoid a direct engagement, take the opponent's balance, execute a technique. Even though different wordings are used, this same strategy is common in a number of other martial arts... yet they all have different "techniques".

There is another famous martial art comment which may be in Aikido, but I've never seen it published (that I can remember... someone correct me if I'm wrong, please): movement approaches stillness. What this means is that first you practice with large movements, but as you get better and better your actual movement approaches the ideal of appearing to be no movement. If you think about it, whether it's voiced or not, this is also an unavoidable development in Aikido and many of the higher-level practitioners exhibit this "movements become smaller" development of technique.

The ideal high level of a martial art is to touch an opponent and with no real movement avoid his attack, take his balance, and execute a technique (some of which are devastating). Of course, you can take this ideal level one step further (if you want to play one-upmanship, which many of the Asians have done) and sense the engagement before you touch, take his balance through a gesture, and do a "technique" (make him fall, for example), all without touching. But let's ignore this ideal "control of an opponent without touching" and stick with the substantive idea of touch, evade, control, execute.

The point of levels becomes generally:

Low level: doing "techniques" and not doing them too well.

Higher level: doing "techniques" and doing them very well.

Highest level: going beyond "techniques" in many cases, but having the ability to do techniques extremely well when circumstances call for it.

Notice that there is no implication that someone goes beyond "techniques" at a certain level and never has to use them again... that's simply unrealistic.

Another unrealistic idea to avoid is the idea that "no strength" is used. The idea is that no "brute force" is used; however, the power used in the highest-level martial arts is unusually high... that's what "ki" and the supplemental physical training is about. All of the highest level martial arts use "ki" and have varying degrees of control of ki, side-aspects of ki, and they use "ki" to effect that moment of engagement, avoid opponent's application of power, mesh with opponent's power in such a way as to take his power/balance away, effect the finishing technique.

It would be arguing needlessly to engage in a lengthy discussion about "no strength" versus "correct strength", but it's worth pointing out that hours of training produce strength, standing practice produces strength, and O-Sensei was quite proud of his strength... even having super-heavy garden implements made for him so he could maintain his strength. Strength is necessary, but it's a special kind of strength involving directing power from the middle, as opposed to using "normal strength". "Ki" is a part of, or an adjunct to, the strength from the middle (it's all considered to be "ki) and none of the "highest level" martial arts can effect the very-small-movement (sometimes "no movement") techniques without being able to manipulate "ki".

Anyway, watching some of the discussions within western Aikido that are heading off toward grappling, Systema, "my teacher", pecking-order, and so on, it seems like a clearer idea of what "highest level" means might have some effect on the practice and discussions within the segment of the Aikido community that is serious in taking the path toward the "highest level" via Aikido. The comment is not meant to be offensive to those who are in Aikido for other reasons.

FWIW

Mike Sigman
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