This probably could have been placed in the Baseline thread, but I'm hoping for a new tone/direction. Warning, this thing is LONG.
Let's begin with a short discussion of what exactly we mean by internal vs. external martial arts, concepts common within Chinese martial arts circles. All of the books in my martial arts library that deal with Chinese arts introduce this concept within the preface or opening chapter, but I don't think a single one of my Japanese budo books even mentions the concept (save one specifically comparing Aikido to Chinese Arts). At this point, I'll spare the reader the suspense by just stating that the real point of this piece is that despite frequently being referred to as an internal art, Aikido exists today as an external art. I'll go further (for the sake of argument) and state that I don't believe that internal arts (the way they are understood in Chinese arts) exist within traditional Japanese budo. Now before I get blown across the internet with your mighty e-fa jing, let's examine what it is I'm specifically *not* saying. To be clear, I'm not saying that no budoka have ever developed powerful internal skills, that internal skills have no place in Japanese budo or that we can't all learn a lot from exploring exercises and arts designed to teach these things. Second, let's look at what I actually mean by internal and external arts. I believe that what really separates an internal art from an external art is the *teaching paradigm* itself. I think Aikido is often misunderstood as an internal art due to its complicated nature and emphasis on softness/relaxation. I feel this is an error. Hard/soft are not good indicators of internal and external arts. Hsing Yi is universally accepted as one of the major three internal styles, yet is known for its powerful and (relatively) linear movements. My experience with internal arts has been very limited, and I owe a great deal of thanks to Rob John and Akuzawa for the wealth of information that they've given me in the extremely short amount of time that I've actually gotten to spend with them. So with that said, here is my overly-simplistic take on what makes internal and external arts different, forgive me for stating what must be for many, extremely obvious. An internal art forces the practitioner to become extremely introspective about what is happening within their own body. The kihon of the art exists to help reshape internal structures of the body (often developing support muscles) and teach the disciple how to really feel. This is often done at the expense of any kind of practical application. It is often considered far more important for the Tai Chi novice to learn what their body is really doing than to understand how the movements of their form would translate to an actual confrontation. Speed is often discouraged, and if what you're doing is comfortable and natural feeling, you're probably doing it wrong. On the flip side, an external art will focus on the outside shape of the body. To offer an analogy, an internal art is like a sculptor using clay to gradually build up a form from the core outwards, and external arts create a mold to be cast, the assumption being that the external form will eventually lead to a correct internal state.
It's my belief that the Japanese education system is decidedly external. The idea is that understanding comes from repetition and mimicry. This is the same whether you are learning calligraphy or kenjutsu. Almost without fail, whenever someone brings up a budoka who has (or had) great internal skills, they had a few very simple suburi that they did a nearly inhuman number of times, daily, for their whole life. We're all familiar with stories of OSensei doing thousands of spear thrusts, or misogi no jo in the woods for hours by himself. I've heard other stories of Daito Ryu sensei who would perform hundreds or thousands of shiko (sumo stomp exercises) every day. I would assert that while these things certainly have the potential to develop amazing internal power, they still exist as exercises within the external teaching paradigm. Over time, the shape and repetition of the external shape of the exercise gradually educates internal awareness. To be perfectly clear, what we are talking about is an external paradigm attempting to teach internal skills. This is, I believe, what Tohei was doing with the ki no kenyukai. He was attempting to teach internal skills, but was still trapped in an external teaching paradigm (or more correctly, testing paradigm, if you will).
Baseline skill sets and clues through language
We can learn a lot about an art by the language used to describe it, certainly not as much as feeling it in the flesh, but it can be a valuable tool. Ellis Amdur has written some excellent pieces on Aikido, and one that has resonated with a lot of people was, "Hidden in Plain Sight." Think about that for a moment. That phrase basically sums up the external teaching paradigm. A shell or form is taught which gradually leads one to a deeper *hidden* understanding, namely the internal aspect of the art. I'd also like to go back briefly to the interview quoted a number of times in the Baseline thread (http://www.aikidofaq.com/interviews.html)
. Specifically, let's look at this phrase (again…), "Finally, we ended up pitting our strength against each other. I sat down and said to Tenryu, "Please try to push me over. Push hard, there's no need to hold back." Since I knew the secret of Aikido, I could not be moved an inch." I don't have the Japanese text, so if someone felt like offering what word he was using for "secret" that would be great. Using the translation as a guide however, I'll point out that OSensei does not say that since he understands the basics or kihon of Aikido he could not be moved. Rather he was unmovable because he knew the "secrets of Aikido." Again, we are talking about an external teaching paradigm, one where the external form eventually develops internal skills. In clearer terms, the techniques of aikido had led to his being able to be unmovable (external paradigm) rather than his skill of being unmovable leading to his ability to do aikido techniques (internal paradigm).
Okuden, kameamea final attack!
Hiding the good stuff is also very typical for Japanese ryuha. Schools often had whole portions of their curriculum that were considered safe for outsiders to see and practice and others that were not for public consumption. The idea was that if someone was to come and study for a relatively short period of time and then leave, they would not take anything of real value (or anything that would give them an advantage over those in the ryuha who remain). In the sword ryuha that I belong to, we have a branch in Brazil that has basically been cut off from Japan since the early 20th century. In that school, a new student must study kendo up to shodan before learning the seitei (standardized, non ryuha specific) iai kata. Then they have to reach shodan in seitei iai before beginning to actually study Shinto Ryu's kata at all. Imagine if you weren't allowed to learn any aikido until you'd achieved black belt in two other arts first! Even in my line, students are not allowed to learn the uchi no kata (inside forms) until they reach shodan and are actually considered a part of the ryuha. My point is that there is a long and very real tradition in budo of hiding what you are actually doing, not only from prying eyes, but from your own students!
Is Chris really defending Aikido? Is he feeling alright?
I suppose it might seem that I'm really going on the defensive here for aikido. I suppose to some extent I am, but my intent is more to offer a better analysis of what aikido really is so that it can be fairly judged. I do not feel that it's fair to judge an external art by internal art standards any more than it's fair to judge an internal art by external art standards. Do I think that things are OK the way they are? NO. Let me put that another way, H E Double Hockey Sticks NO. I think the teaching paradigm (as I've experienced it) sucks. Most people have no idea what exactly they're doing , why what they are doing works or how to control their internal structure to correctly/efficiently move. I think a few people are really trying to change that, and I wish them all the best. It's bound to be an uphill battle. Gambatte! I would make an appeal to Mike (and to a lesser extent Dan) to judge the art for what it is. I completely believe that the stuff it sounds like you guys are showing people is going to change the way they do aikido. I think that getting an internal arts perspective on what it actually is that OSensei very well may have been doing can save literally decades of stabbing around in the dark. From my own experience, it was a revelation to learn some of Don Angier's principles. Suddenly I had a lexicon to describe what I was doing and what other people were doing. It all suddenly made sense. Then after working on some solo structure (internal) stuff and then meeting Rob and Ark it was like, "Aha! I got how the technique works on the outside, now here's what needs to be going on inside me to really make that work!" So perhaps instead of blasting everyone and their teachers for doing it all wrong, we could start anew with a different tone, say, "Hey, I think I know something that will really improve what you're doing and save you a lot of time and frustration over the years, but you'll have to trust me and try something new." It is just as unfair to criticize aikido for not being a very good internal art as it is to rag on boxers for being bad grapplers, judoka for being bad strikers and Tai Chi guys for wearing pajamas in public parks.
You guys should feel like you've made your point that what you have to offer could be a really valuable part of ones aikido training. You have, anyone who's going to get it, already has or will need to feel it firsthand.
So why is it we all suck anyway?
Almost done here, one last point to make. I believe aikido is such a long and difficult art to become a proficient martial artist with because we're literally taking the hardest road possible. It's an external art, that depends on internal skills to be successful. Man, that's rough. Also, and paraphrasing a Hsing Yi book I read recently, any martial artist is defined by a combination of their speed, power and technique. According to the writer in question, speed is the most important, followed by power, and finally by technique. I'm sure this is up for debate, so bear with me. Using his logic, if you're really fast, you'll be able to do what it is you do know, and avoid what they know. They can have all the power and technique in the world, but if they can't get a hold of you, what good is it going to do them? Then comes power. Everyone's heard stories about a martial artist getting knocked out by some meat head in a bar. Look at some of Tyson's fights when he was really on top. He just needed one good shot and it was over. If you can generate a lot of power, then it won't take a fancy technique to get the job done. Note that I'm not talking purely about strength. To steal some more Chinese concepts (please clue me in if there are comparable Japanese ones, they have never come up in my studies in as clear a terms…) power (jin) is formed by physical strength/structure (li) and qi/chi/ki. Finally, you have technique. Frankly, all the technique in the world is useless if you're too slow to use it, and can't generate enough power to make that technique work. In most styles, aikido focuses almost exclusively on technique specifically over speed or power. Man, no wonder it takes 20 years to learn iriminage…
Looking back at the early Aikido generations (the ones who were promoted so quickly) we see extensive judo backgrounds. If there's anything judo does really well, it teaches speed and power. So these guys came into aikido primed to take advantage of any technique that aikido taught them. Is it really any wonder they got so good so fast?
So for those of you who skipped to the end (and frankly, who could blame you…) Aikido, because of its teaching paradigm is actually an external art which could benefit greatly from insights gained through internal arts and practices.
Thank you, and remember to always tip your bartender…