Dojo: Aozora Dojo
Location: Birmingham, AL
Join Date: Feb 2006
There's a lot of discussion lately about the book "Transparent Power," by Tatsuo Kimura, concerning the late, great Yukiyoshi Sagawa and his unique type of aiki.
And while there are a number of threads already available on "the book," I would like here to discuss Sagawa's use of the term and the power of "aiki" and how it differs from any aiki definition I have encountered since beginning aikido training in 1974 and including my time with Mochizuki Sensei from 1990 to 1995.
First, Sagawa clearly presented aiki as a "power" or a "force" that he could direct into the other person and not as anything depending on a "relationship" between two people. He did stress the importance of clean tai sabaki and being able to avoid being hit by the opponent. But he stressed that that skill, in itself, is not aiki.
Like kiai, Sagawa's aiki was something within himself that he could direct at, to and into another person to neutralize their strength and make them unable to apply their strength against him. He did this not by tai sabaki, but by applying aiki power to them.
Sagawa's aiki had several very distinct functions:
first, it entered the opponent's body imperceptibly and disrupted their sense of gravitation, making their nervous system unable to respond to his physical movement
he emphasized that the opponent must never be able to sense his physical efforts or the opponent would be able to respond and resist
This would be consistent with Ueshiba's statement that "there is no resistance in aikido"
But that should not be understood to mean that neither party should resist or that resisting is "wrong"
It means that when real aiki is applied, the opponent is unable to resist and that is a far cry from the type of training where the teacher gets angry if he feels any resistance from a student.
I have always said that if one can feel the aiki technique being applied, the aiki technique is being applied incorrectly and that the partner must resist that kind of improper technique so that the one applying the technique will know that he has made a mistake. Without a partner who resists when he feels anything to resist, one would never understand that his aiki is in fact wrong and thus could not improve it.
This is the very meaning of the term "Transparent Power." It cannot be perceived by the opponent.
By applying aiki, Sagawa did not simply "avoid" his attacker's power. He disabled the opponent's ability to apply it, whether the opponent was in front of him, behind him, pushing him or picking him up, or merely touching him. Sagawa could apply aiki even through a piece of paper to throw people, or through the collar of a loose sweater. So let's be clear that this is not the same kind of aiki found in common aikido practice and it is not tai sabaki based.
So what is it and how can we develop it?
First thing, I think, is the practice of aiki age, which is lifting one's hands straight up when grabbed from the front, two-hands-on-two. This is not the typical kokyu dosa practiced in most aikido dojos. It does not involve twisting of the hands or arms as they are raised. It is letting the partner grab both your hands with both his hands, then simply raising both your hands straight up between you to the level of the opponent's throat or chin. It was the first thing students at Sagawa's dojo had to practice and learn.
Done properly (as I experienced when I grabbed Rob John's wrist), the opponent is unable to resist this straight-up lift. He cannot feel it beginning and he gets no signal, cue or opportunity either to tighten his grip or to release it. But the lift is so powerful that it drives the opponent strongly up and back. From there, the aiki man can softly bring his hands down and the opponent, unable, still, to release his grip, will be brought down sharply with a whiplash effect. At any point in this up-down movement, the aiki man can split the direction of his hands or change the angle and lead the opponent off balance for a throw. But without being able to transparently input this kind of power through aiki age, all technique will be based in "stuffy" or "unclean" power, as Sagawa described it. Timing and movement based technique can in the best cases approximate or appear superficially the same as transparent power, but anything less than perfect timing and movement will give the opponent the opportunity to fix his strength on you and cause your technique to break down.
Sagawa did claim that he was the only person remaining in the world who could do real aiki and very strong and experienced martial artists frequently found themselves powerfully thrown even though they could never feel Sagawa applying any strength to them. However, at the yoseikan hombu, at least one person, Kyoichi Murai, was able to throw me by my own grip and he clearly had a similar kind of ability. He just never explicitly showed me how it was done and the yoseikan in those days did not teach in such a way as to develop it.
So this is not a "book" discussion but a discussion of a very unique approach to aiki and how to develop and use it.