I started aikido in 1973 at the New Haven Aikikai. The head instructor was Bob Barrett, and Terry Dobson and Harvey Koenigsberg were once-a-week instructors.
- The doctrine of the day was Ueshiba Morihei had magic powers. As best as I can recall, this was attributed to his enlightenment experience, which opened up a mysterious world of power beyond that of most mortal men.
- Takeda Sokaku was Ueshiba's teacher -- the man he transcended. Said to be not a nice man. Everybody I knew who cared (not that many) believed that Daito-ryu was still in existence. But it was "old-fashioned" and "crude" and "hard." There was confusion about what hard meant: meant to maim or kill, violent, or without what Ueshiba Morihei had. For example, I recall Saito Morihiro stating in an interview that Daito-ryu "lacked kokyu."
- Tohei Koichi split around that time, and I remember that everyone in his organization was issued a "little black book" of aphorisms, which, at least at the dojos I attended, were read at the beginning of each class, a rather uncomfortable parallel to Mao's "Little Red Book." One had the sense that if one joined with Tohei, you had to drink a little Koolade. "Aikido with KI" sounded oxymoronic, and the mainstream/Aikikai line was that talking about "ki" didn't teach you ki. Better to practice hard and an understanding would emerge as a product of training.
- Aikido was described as a "soft" martial art, and this term associated the art with t'ai chi, bagua and xingyi, though nobody really explained how. It was a statement so obvious that it didn't need explanation.
There was a man training at the New Haven Aikikai, very intense, with a close-cropped head, a long goatee and piercing pale blue eyes - sort of a cross between a hippy-biker-carpenter. He studied t'ai chi with Cheng Man Ching. He'd try to stop the teachers' techniques, and proved himself to be not very skilled, but he was superlatively obsessive. One night after practice, he got into a rant about how disappointed he was with aikido, because "you guys talk about tantien -- you call it hara or something -- but you don't train it at all. Not in any way that makes sense. Cheng Man Ching. . ." (followed by ten minutes of explanation which included the appearance of the "ball," his stomach swelling as a mark, he said, of internal training). Anyway, Terry Dobson replied a little and defended aikido as a "soft martial art," because it was about the resolution of conflict and deflecting forces. The heavy-metal t'ai chi man didn't buy it. My first experience of the aiki-chi wars.
So here we are in 2009. I can claim a little of the credit -- not most, by any stretch of the imagination, but a little -- for reigniting an interest in internal training in aikido, suggesting that it does not have to have been merely the possession of the Magic Ueshiba. People are actually retrofitting aikido to truly be an internal martial art. Others are stepping forward and claiming that, in their faction at least, they have maintained at least some of O-sensei's actual training methods for internal power.
Of those "retrofitting," some hearken to Daito-ryu, a fraught subject, because the public demos of most of the factions are stiff, muscular kata, showing little evidence of internal training. A few others appear to be
"soft," but contingent on dive-bunny uke, that appear to be
reacting in utterly unrealistic ways. (Is that enough caveats for the protective and the defensive?)
Other people hearken to Chinese martial training methods, this, too, being a fraught subject. Some assert that by mixing Chinese internal training methods with aikido will result in a bastardized martial art, and others asserting that whatever the Chinese are doing, it isn't what "aiki" is.
Of those claiming to have had "aiki" type training all along, some are members of closed organizations that state that they only present said skills among their initiated. Other folks, students of one or another aikido teacher, claim such abilities for their teacher, but not for themselves.
As Heraclitus said several millennia ago, "War is the father of all things." But war is also hell. And a little bit of that hell occasionally seeps into AikiWeb.
Let me say at this point that this piece is a result of some discussions Jun and I have recently had -- but everything here is my opinion, not necessarily Jun's. What is clear to me is that AikiWeb, Jun's creation, was intended to be an Aikido
oriented website. But this leads to a number of questions:
- It makes no more sense to discuss Aikido without reference to Daito-ryu than it would to discuss Christianity or Islam without discussing Judaism.
- Aikido is far more than internal training skills -- even though it is clear that Ueshiba made them central to his own practice. Just taking Ueshiba's perspective, - equally important are his spiritual preoccupations, the techniques themselves, his method of teaching and practice, and his personal mission of assisting in setting in harmony the relationship between heaven, earth and man. There is no doubt that the techniques were, to Ueshiba, a kind of sketching out, in embodied form, both the proper resolution of conflict, and the workings of the cosmos, as well as building the "aiki body." This was his aikido even if it's not yours.
- However, aikido is not just that of Ueshiba Morihei. Starting with his pre-war disciples, then his own son, and his post-war disciples -- and theirs in turn -- there are now many aikido(s). The statement, "That's not MY aikido" makes sense. "That's not aikido" often makes less.
This new-old discovery of internal strength training has led to some friction. For some, the aikido they did
is something they now consider to have been a waste of time. For others, the aikido they do
is something to defend. Although the addition of internal training does not conflict, in my view, with anything in classic aikido
, it can certainly cause conflict in a discussion on the internet. In person, you either must be able to do what you describe or you cannot. On the internet, every one can be an avatar.
Let me lead this next bit with two caveats -- First, I'm writing about what I find grating on this side of this issue. I deal with ad hominem attacks, bliss-bunnies who prefer pabulum to genuine thought, grandiose fantasists who have no idea of their (lack of) strength, hurt feelings when a faith-based, unfounded precept is questioned, and intellectualized incomprehensible tomes about things not experienced, but deducted from brain-power alone with a simple, wonderful tool -- THE IGNORE LIST. I can proudly state that my ignore list is in double digits now -- and I have the same affection for it that I do for my "spam blocker" in my email and "ad-blocker" for my internal. "La-la-la-la-lah. I can't hear you!" My second caveat? I'm deliberately going over the top in what follows, so please don't write to me, saying, "I didn't say that." Someone else did:
- If someone opens a thread on sexism in the dojo, it is not really on to post that without internal strength, sexism is impotent
- If someone wants to write about resolution of conflict through aikido, it's not really on to write that without internal strength, you will be too weak to resolve anything.
- If someone wants to ask how aikido has changed your life, it's not really on to write "you don't have a life worth changing without internal strength."
- If someone wants to rhapsodize about Ueshiba Morihei's power, it's not really on -- EVERY TIME -- to point out that all his power was from Daito-ryu -- or to claim, without any substantiation beyond anecdote, inference, or the viewing of a few moments of Ueshiba on film, that one or another of his peers in Daito-ryu was far superior. They are all dead! How do you know who was stronger? Film shows what people choose to show, not all they might have known. And as for anecdote, I remember a trip to Taiwan in which, after visiting a number of Chinese "masters," each one made a point of telling me that they had beaten Wang Shu Chin, or that his technique was no good. Which made me want to study with Wang Shu Chin -- if everyone needed to climb that mountain to prove they were tough, then that was the mountain I wanted to be.
- If someone wants to rhapsodize about Shioda Gozo's power, it's not really on to point out -- ALMOST EVERY TIME - the possible, but unsubstantiated, supposition that he got a power-up from his few sessions from Kodo Horikawa, thereby discounting all the years of Ueshiba's tuition of Shioda, particularly when Tenryu, without any axe to grind and in another context entirely, asserted that Shioda was the closest of all the deshi in skill and technique to Ueshiba. (I know this seems like a small issue, but my point is that it is an almost knee-jerk response -- as soon as someone marvels at someone's aikido, there is often a response that, "if it's marvelous, it's not from the aikido.")
- It isn't cool -- and it's wrong -- to assert that aikido is just a form of watered-down Daito-ryu. That's as insulting as to assert that Christianity is a watered-down Judaism, or Buddhism is watered-down Hinduism. Roots are important, but the branches grow in different ways.
- It truly -- truly -- isn't cool to chime in a discussion about the power one can develop within aikido practice or a question about martial efficacy of a technique with a post -- "So-and-so is the most powerful person you will ever meet. Once you feel him, you'll never go back again. He knows the real stuff and what you do is pathetic." OR -- "Aikido waza is useless. So-and-so's internal strength makes all of that to be a complete waste of time." Shilling for someone else is worse than someone doing it for himself or herself. It comes very close to "Let's you and him fight."
- It equally truly isn't cool -- and it's incorrect as well - in answer a question on technique to assert that "so-and-so can, of course, stop that technique." The technique is a manifestation of the degree of integrity of the body and is not necessarily divorced from internal strength. What if so-and-so is the one doing the technique? What if so-and-so is Ueshiba -- or Sagawa? (A friend of mine peeked in Sagawa's dojo one time and saw them practicing kaiten-nage for an hour. Akuzawa Minoru told me that they practice a lot of nikkyo at the Sagawa dojo.) All a technical discussion does is elucidate the pattern of movement -- what you put into it is another question entirely. To claim that "so-and-so" can "stop a technique" is denigrate aikido in toto. On an aikido website. Where one is a guest.
I can sum this up easily. I visit a friend's house. I meet his wife. I'm not going to say to him:
- "You know, it puzzles me that you are still married to her. She really is a lousy cook."
- "Maybe you haven't heard, but I've seen some pictures of your wife en flagrante with the Caltech slide-rule club. Which not only is kind of sad for you, but it also makes her a lot older than you thought. Nobody does slide-rule anymore."
Lest some of my readers are feeling under attack, let me put my cards on the table -- I'm carrying an inside straight, but not a full house. I have very little interest in aikido technique and do not enjoy discussions on the resolution of conflict in aikido. I really do not enjoy discussions on the spiritual merits of aikido. I read AikiWeb for the history - Hi Peter - and for discussions about internal training.
BUT -- how can AikiWeb function best as an aikido site
, while including both the new/newly-made-available information regarding internal training, without the latter taking over too many threads -- so that we guests who are not aikidoka, as well as those who have radically changed their aikido practice due to their introduction of such training methods can fit in smoothly in this aikido house? Continuing the "wife, metaphor," my friend may have incredibly cogent reasons for continuing his marriage, despite her previous history with the Caltech slide-rule team, including a shortened hakama and duct tape and pancakes, as well as the mysterious Bengalese belly buster, which I believe I mentioned in another thread some time ago.
Jun tried to manage things with a "Non-Aikido Martial Traditions" section. This solved part of the problem, but not all. Truly, that is the best place to introduce a discussion on what people are doing in Indonesian silat or Persian zhoor khane, even if that includes information relating to that in aikido.
But Daito-ryu is more than a "Non-aikido Martial Tradition." It's too close. And although internal strength discussions should not dominate every discussion, it should be
a central question in aikido. You can't escape it! Honestly, were not many of you drawn to aikido because of Ueshiba Morihei? I was. Did not many of you see the film or photo of the jo trick, or some other manifestation of power and you wanted to be able to do the same? Ueshiba Morihei's power was the advertisement.
How strange that we have been so satisfied so long, believing it is beyond our reach?
So I would propose the addition of two sections.
- "The History of Aikido" -- which could include discussions on Daito-ryu as well as early days of aiki-budo, etc.
- "Aikido and Internal Strength" - which, by necessity, would include discussions of Daito-ryu and internal strength training as well. Even for those who assert that there is something fundamentally different about aikido's "aiki" from that of Daito-ryu. However, if the question veered off into a central discussion of Chinese martial arts, for example, it should be moved or directed to the Non-aikido Martial Tradition."
I would further suggest that there is the following understanding among us all. Let us say that there is a discussion in the General Section, or the Technique section, in which one or another poster feels would be better addressed by introducing a discussion about internal strength training. Of course, such discussion, in brief, might be absolutely appropriate to said section. But when the focus on the internal training would lead to "thread takeover," move it!
For example, a poster asks about how one best to effect shihonage. And gets thirteen various posts on angle of execution, straight or curved arm, foot placement, etc. And in post #14, someone wants to write: "Shihonage is a manifestation of using the ground to effect aikiage and aikisage in one circle. You transfer power in spirals up the legs through the hara, using windings of ground force, etc." (I just made that up -- and I don't know what it means). What I suggest is that the writer starts a NEW thread in the Internal Strength section, with a preface, "In a recent discussion on shihonage (link) in the Technical section, etc., etc. It is a manifestation of using the ground . . . . ."
The point is that those who are not interested in internal power discussions, those who truly are asking about aspects of aikido apart from internal training (as most do), those who find such discussion to be incomprehensible gibberish, and those who find themselves squeezed out as soon as the subject is introduced do not have drop out of the thread or even decide to drop out of the forum. Now, all too frequently, a few familiar posters post post after post, rehashing the same arguments with each other. This is due, in part, to the push and pull that naturally occurs in trying to steer a discussion in one direction or another, while it's going in two or more directions at the same time.
It is my belief that introducing these two new sections will go a long way to allow discussion to proceed in a more collegial and informative way.
Ellis Amdur is a licensed instructor (shihan) in two koryu: Araki-ryu Torite Kogusoku and Toda-ha Buko-ryu Naginatajutsu. His martial arts career is approximately forty years -- in addition to koryu, he has trained in a number of other combative arts, including muay thai, judo, xingyi and aikido.
A recognized expert in classical and modern Japanese martial traditions, he has authored three books and one instructional DVD on this subject. The most recent is his just released Hidden in Plain Sight: Tracing the Roots of Ueshiba Morihei's Power.
Information regarding his publications on martial arts, as well as other books on crisis intervention can be accessed at his website: www.edgework.info