I find myself thinking about Tomyono Sensei from Padang, Indonesia. There is a picture of him carrying out a student from his dojo after the dojo fell apart during the earthquake last week.
What followed after that picture is even more compelling. He did not stop in his efforts to save his students and in the end, he ended up being killed by falling debris.
My wife and I were over at some friends house for dinner last night and another friend told us that one of their friend’s son was a US soldier who died in Afghanistan last week. This young man volunteered for military duty and made the ultimate sacrifice, just like Tomyono Sensei volunteered to save his students and made the ultimate sacrifice.
There has been so much “controversy” on the Aikiweb as to whether or not Aikido is a “real” martial art and/or whether or not the art is based upon internal energy power. The larger reality of life has a nasty habit or crashing down upon these concerns, placing them in a more realistic perspective. The origins of martial arts are well researched and pretty obvious. Equally obvious is the greater reality that for most people, their martial arts training has nothing to do about preparedness for combat. Their chances of being physically attacked are very small. Their chances of using their martial arts skills outside of the dojo are small as well. This larger reality raises the personal question for all of us as to why we really do study Aikido (or some other form of martial arts).
For some people, studying martial arts is about establishing a cultural link and carrying this important part of a heritage forward into the future. For others, they are simply interested in learning how to be good fighters without any regard for the lineage, heritage…. of what they study. Some people study martial arts to address “issues” that they have with safety, personal boundaries, interpersonal relatedness, conflict-resolution…… The list can go on forever. There can be countless reasons listed and multiple reasons chosen by one person. Most of these reasons have precious little to do with the origins of fighting arts.
I am totally open to people training in Aikido for what ever reason they choose. I do not hide my reasons for studying Aikido from my students or anybody else for that matter. I work very hard in my own training and in my teaching to try and convey the martial arts aspects of Aikido. I do not look at Aikido as “the martial arts pie”, simply a slice that is very important to me and in how I choose to live my life. I do study other “slices of the pie” and look to my budo as my most imperfect budo pie that will never be complete or perfect.
To me, one of the more compelling aspects of Aikido in my life, is in it’s potential to allow us to be more connected and caring individuals who do not seek to hide behind fantasy fortresses of invulnerability. This caring nature is part of my family “DNA” (so many of us Abrams are Dr. Abrams) and I saw Aikido as an important tool in helping me to become a more secure, connected and caring person. The capacity to remain connected and caring even during times of chaos, crisis and conflict is a wonderful thing to develop in ourselves. The two people whom I talked about at the beginning of this blog displayed this well-developed capacity and in enacting this potential, they gave up their lives. I do see Aikido as a martial art that does maintain some degree of “martial integrity,” while allowing us the potential to become better people in the “face” of discord, conflict and chaos. Tomyono Sensei life reflects this greater potential. His passing is placed in perspective of the soldier’s death. Both came from a martial tradition and both sacrificed their lives in pursuit of the goals that this tradition represents.
We can all step back and reflect upon these losses. Regardless of our reasons for studying Aikido, this reflection can hopefully propel us to a greater degree of honesty and integrity in our study of Aikido. This path can only be good for us and for Aikido as a martial art. This can be a silver lining amidst the dark clouds of our times.
Marc Abrams Sensei
(Original blog post may be found here