My teacher is also very adamant about weapons training. He says that the truly highest level of practitioners got where they were by working with weapons. Yes, everyone has their own opinion about weapons in relationship to helping their aikido (or any other budo) in that it helps with maai, timing, extension of control etc etc, but it helps in another way as well. We are taught that in order to gain something, you must risk something as well. With buki, there is a step down in control, you can't literally feel with a bokken, jo etc., so there is slight risk increase. Shitei and Uke are putting themselves in each others hands. They are offering to each other their bodies so that the other can train and learn. My teacher often likens aikido toshu waza and buki waza to metaphors for life. He frequently speaks about how unique aikido is, in that we study uke just as much as shitei. Why do we pay good money to offer our hand to someone when we know what they are going to do will most likely hurt a bit? Well, things in life are going to be painful and in life we can either stand defiantly against the howling wind, yelling at it to stop and eventually be blown away (or have your writs snap!
) or we can flow with it, relax, temporarily go down on one knee and tap, then get back up
and shitei uke kotai! When life grabs you by the wrist and does a cross step, body shift, pump arm breath throw, you can either fly across a couple of mats and do a face plant, or you can take some personal initiative and train yourself to do a nice smooth breakfall, roll up to your feet and turn around in kamae, ready to go again. Weapons take this idea one step further. With aikido you rarely train full out hardcore. If you did, your dojo would be very thinly populated, they would be injured or just not like the abuse and not come back (Kushida Sensei was like this in his begging years of teaching and his dojo attendance dropped dramatically, however the ones that stayed were forged into pretty darn good aikidoka, technically and spiritually). With weapons, though, you can actually go all out and not worry about hurting each other as you don't (at least not supposed
to) actually make much contact. But it allows you to just go all out, take your knife, put it in your stomach, open yourself up, spill out your life's energy and leave everything on the mat...in that one moment, in that one chance! (ichi go, ichi ei!). Nothing else matters at that time. Train yourself to be able to turn on that mindset of a sword duel to the death, shinken shobu, whether you are doing kumitachi, jiyuwaza, or roofing your house or playing with your children...live life for each moment that it is without dwelling on the past, or fretting about the future.
Anyways...thats why I train in weapons, and thats why I do martial arts in general.
To stay in shape?:
well aikido is okay, there is some aerobic aspect to it...but I lift and run 6 times a week, which is much more efficient
To learn how to fight?:
how many fights have you been in in the last 10 minutes, last day, week, month, year...for some people lifetime? Now, how many times in the last day, week, month have you had to make a decision, deal with another human being, cope with stressful or difficult situations? What is a higher level of aikido: someone who can blend with a strike, tenkan to the outside, body shift, and take the attacker down in a shihonage and pin them without hurting them (very good level), or someone who can stop the attacker from wanting to attack, find out what is wrong with him/her, blend with that person and help them fix their problem, make their life better and in turn the person who was going to attack changes himself and positively effects other people's lives and this positive energy grows exponentially (master level...read the 'Terry Dobson on the train' story for a good example of this).
I train to make my life, and other people's lives around me better. Weapons help me do this. Aikido helps me do this. They are my chosen vessel. Other people have their own ways of pursuing this...whether you go to a zen monastery or teach middle school, if taken in the right mindset, you can still achieve shu shi (self mastery). Take initiative and train yourself to "be the change you want to see in the world."
I train in Budo to pursue my life's goal....bliss. To be completely happy for absolutely no reason at all.
P.S. About the cutting open your stomach thing I wasn't suggesting that people actually commit seppuku, but I was using that as a metaphor for putting all of yourself into something....so please put the aikuchi tanto down, and crack open a beer with your second instead! (Not suggesting that anyone would listen to me and kill themselves...I was just making a joke