Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Re: YouTube: Golden Center Sword
What makes Aiki Sword just that and not Ken Jutsu is that the sword work should reflect the very same principles operating in the empty hand. One doesn't necessarily use kenjutsu as the standard for evaluating aiki ken. As far as I can see, this sword work reflects quite nicely the same principles operating in the empty hand being done. However, what one thinks of that is another matter entirely...
I realize that there are a million reasons why people choose to do Aikido. I know many folks who are quite good at what they do who have simply crossed the line into territory where you can't maintain that a martial art is being done... it has become something else. Perhaps that something else is valuable, fulfilling and worth doing... I can't really say. It simply wasn't the way I was taught.
I was taught that Aikido was Budo. A new new Budo to be sure, a very different way of thinking about Budo, but Budo nonetheless. There is no Budo going on here. Everything I have seen is completely and absolutely collusive. I have been working with people like Saotome Sensei, Ikeda Sensei, Howard Popkin Sensei, William Gleason Sensei, Endo Sensei, Don Angier Sensei and others. These are people who can drop you effortlessly, sometimes without seeming to move, at least visibly. I actually understand what they are doing and can do it myself, not as well as I'd like yet, but I get it, and can see when those principles are operating and when they are not.
There is nothing going on here, either in the empty hand or the sword work that is anything other than relaxation work coupled with collusive ukemi. I like the level of relaxation, actually. But the technique shows no understanding of how that relaxation could be expressed martially. For it to be a martial art, one needs to be able to express that relaxation in an encounter with someone operating on an entirely different paradigm and still have the technique work. If you took some 200 pound footballer off the street and told him to grab one of the folks in these videos, he'd have torn their arms off before they ever moved him, much less threw him. That's my take on it, It's pretty much entirely wishful thinking from the martial perspective. Now take that away and I don't have an issue with it. If folks think that Aikido isn't really a martial art, which many folks seem to believe, then fine, this is nice relaxation, movement work. But it is "faux" martial arts, and therefore not Budo in any way I understand the term.
Now, I could be wrong... I have seen people like Ushiro Sensei or Vladimir Vasiliev do things that I have no idea how they did what they did. It might as well be "magic" for all that I understand it. So, maybe I am merely not advanced enough to understand what is happening here and the teacher and the students are functioning at such a high level that I am missing it. Like I said, I have trained with folks who operate at this, at least to me, incomprehensible level. I think two or three hundred years ago, anyone doing stuff like what they can do would have been burned at the stake with a bunch of folks standing around chanting "witch, witch, witch..."
The problem is that I have been around Aikido for 35 years. I have trained, at one time or another, with many of the greats, or with folks who had trained directly with them. I have never seen that level of incomprehensible technique coming from any Aikido teacher. Some, like my own teacher, seemed magical for many years, until I had some help understanding what was really happening. Now I understand it. He's better at it by magnitudes than I am, but I get it and can explain it and do it. I just need a few decades more practice to be as good as he is (if he would only stop getting better, that is). Anyway, to the extent that I understand what is happening in Aikido, and I have not, at this point, seen any Aikido teacher that I don't at least understand what is being done. So I am either forced to concede that this Aikido group has taken its work to a level beyond the very best people I have ever trained with, taken their technique to that level of incomprehensible skills that only two or there people I have met or even heard about have attained, or I am forced to conclude that its just "faux" Aikido, an "Aikido-like" substance, with only an exterior resemblance in outer form to real Aikido.
While I am a consistent critic of Aikido with no "aiki", that physical, muscly, art that is simply application of strength against weak lines of the opponent, at least there is something there going on that's real. It won't work against someone stronger or better trained than you are and it lacks any real depth but it is "real" in what it is. I know, I trained that way for years myself.
I am on record as saying that I do not believe that the Founder intended for Aikido to be about fighting and that the from of the practice needs to be changed if that is what you wish to do with it. But I do not in any way mean that this is what happens to Aikido when you take away the idea that it is about fighting. If one really entertains the idea that Aikido can be about "conflict resolution" and contains some lessons in how to stand at the center of conflict and stay balanced and centered oneself, I absolutely fail to see how one does this when there is no "conflict" to begin with. When everything is sweetness and light, everyone is holding hands and singing "Kumbaya" together, there is no conflict and there is no practice of conflict resolution.
Getting to the point at which one really understands the idea that "there is no attacker", that we are all fundamentally connected, even when the other guy intends to take your head off, will NEVER happen the way these folks are working. Never. And if that isn't the focus of the training, it isn't Aikido in any way I understand it, and it isn't Budo.
I am sorry to be so critical... but Aikido is in trouble. The demographics have shifted and around the world numbers are down. There is too much Aikido that simply doesn't deliver the goods... Mediocre Aikido will not last another couple generations. In order for the art to survive in the face of all of the various elements in peoples' lives that pull them away from training, in the face of other martial arts that seem to offer more effectiveness for folks who want to "fight", the art will have to get back the depth and sophistication it had in the day of the Founder. It will have to reproduce the kind of art that lead skilled, experienced martial artists to turn to Aikido as a step beyond what they had been doing.
When anyone with the least experience in a martial art looks at these videos, he is going to be so turned off that he'll potentially never look at Aikido as a serious martial art again. Really great Aikido looks fake, and that's a problem for growing the art. Until you have someone dump you effortlessly on your ass and you never felt anything, you will think it's all BS. That cannot be helped I am afraid. But when its real, someone from another art can walk into your dojo and leave with a new understanding, perhaps even wish to start training.
What is going on here tarnishes the art. It's not even bad martial arts, its not martial arts at all. A junior practitioner from some local Macdojo would eat these folks alive. Any Aikido practitioner with a bokken coming from a style that does sword work, like the ASU, the Birankai, or the Iwama folks, would simply destroy these folks doing what they seem to be doing.
Because these are public forums and so many people of different levels read these and even folks who know nothing about Aikido come here to find out about the art, it is important that folks be willing to say the "Emperor has no clothes" when that is the case. I recently posted some video clips that I knew would generate some discussion along those lines. It didn't matter to me since I know I can do what was in them. I didn't mind that there were folks who thought it was fake, I was simply trying to reach those folks who would understand and appreciate what was being done and perhaps generate the kind of discussion that would open up some minds. I was happy with the result. We had some good discussion, I got to explain a bit more deeply what I was doing, to the extent that I could use words to explain it all, and perhaps the result was positive in the end. I thought so any way. The fact that there are some folks out there who still think it was "fake" is of no concern to me.
So, you've posted these clips and sent folks to your website and it's up there for all to see. Once you do that, it's basically open season. Don't expect folks to be positive and respectful of things they see as really bad. I do not think it should be personal. It should stay oriented towards a discussion of the Aikido being shown (other than the pretty correct "lose the hats" comment). These are not bad people doing this Aikido. I am sure that they are very good people doing bad Aikido. And the discussion will probably not change that view much.