Join Date: Feb 2008
Aikido - An analogy to the Japanese Sword (Pt1)
A while ago I had a thought that the Japanese sword makes a good analogy to Aikido, on multiple levels.
The evolution of Aikido seems to mirror the development of the Japanese sword. Early swords were straight bladed, double edged, steel, and essentially copies of Chinese blades. They were quite brittle and often would undergo brittle failure in battle. By the 10th century they had evolved to become single edged blades with a curve to aid in the use on horseback. Forging methods had also undergone a radical evolution, giving rise to what could truly be called a Nihonto. The result was a blade that was not only razer sharp but also flexible, such that brittle failure was no longer a problem. The inner core forged separately, with each piece of material used selected carefully and tempered and refined countless times. the blade itself folded and refolded to form thousands of layers. This gave the Nihonto a unique strength and importantly flexibility among bladed weapons, making the Katana the most formidable short range weapon in history (until the advent of the gun).
In respects to martial arts, this is equivalent of early fighting styles becoming more refined and sophisticated, with more complicated and effective martial techniques, locks, pins and throws. Classical Bujutsu development gives rise to jujutsu itself, 'Ju' can be translated as soft/flexible, Jujutsu uses the opponents strength against them, rather than directly conflicting against it, the forerunner to modern Aikido.
Over time and particularly during peace times the meaning and significance of the swords changed in nature and the spiritual nature of the weapons gained significance. Towards the end of the Muromachi Period (1337-1573) the famous smith Masamune produced his works, regarded as pieces of divine art. Each piece still in existence is a priceless national treasure. There is a story that another smith challenged him to see who could make a higher quality sword.
"To test the swords, each sword was held into the current of a stream. Muramasa's sword was said to have cut a leaf in half that simply touched the blade from the current alone. But the master Masamune's sword did not cut a thing, with the leaves miraculously avoiding it at the last second, as if to show it possessed a benevolent power that would not harm anything that was innocent or undeserving - even a simple leaf.."
I am sure that it was in part due to the awareness of both the sword smiths and the Samurai that used them of the great power and therefore responsibly that lead rise to the term "Katsu-jin-ken", "The sword that saves life". Katsu-jin-ken is both a philosophical ideological concept and also a style which uses non lethal parts of the weapon to down the enemy.
One of my favorite moments from "The Samurai Trilogy", the story of Samurai legend Miyamoto Musashi quite elegantly epitomizes the notion. Musashi's blade has been well used and is chipped from a previous fight. He takes it to a polisher (still with blood on it I think). The polisher looks at the weapon then looks disdainfully at Musashi and scornfully says, "I don't polish weapons of death. I only polish the souls of the Samurai".
Musashi, immediately offended snatches back his sword, wrestling within himself whether to cut the fellow down on the spot. In a fit of rage, Musashi gets up from the floor and leaves the polisher's workshop.
Later after he has come to his senses, he returns back into the polisher's store. He kneels down, and bows his head to the floor, respectfully and remorsefully, even perhaps with shame, he says, "I request that you polish my soul". The whole Musashi story is about his spiritual journey from that of an animal to a refined enlightened being.
The analogy continues that just as a Katana could be used as either "Satsu-jin-ken", "the sword that kills" or "Katsu-jin-ken", "the sword that gives life". Martial arts can be thought of in exactly the same way. From a philosophical perspective the Satsu-jin-ken ideology could be seen as increasing the subject-object duality. Increasing separation through aggressive acts of violence and competitions, which reaffirm a deluded perspective. Such things as winner and loser are naturally inherent, destruction is at the heart of such a way, the competitions themselves often serve to bolster the egos of the participants.
On the other hand the Katsu-jin-ken viewpoint decreases the dichotomies of self and other, winner-loser etc, mind-body. In Aikido we are attempting to blend with our opponents, not only physically but also spiritually using the Katsu-jin-ken.
(Mind-body connection is particularly inherent to good Aikido training, as well as other arts such as Kyudo (Japanese Archery). Other disciplines such the Alexander technique have excellent ways to increase the mind-body connection and reduce the interference of inhibiting habitual thought patterns. The fact that teaching dance to senior citizens can rapidly reduce the symptoms of dementia is testament to the importance of mind-body connectedness)
"Kiri-ri-kaku" is a term meaning to cut and open. In Aikido this means to cut away delusional attachment and open a path for spiritual development, much like that of the spiritual journey of Musashi.
The application of Aikido can in this way go far beyond a mere physical altercation. Mr Akazawa a former deshi of O'Sensei is quoted as saying "I learned to apply 'aiki' when dealing with others, to penetrate their feelings, I am especially grateful for that". A sense of profound connectedness and awareness is what O'Sensei 'had' over other normal people. There are many stories of O'Sensei's seemingly divine sense of awareness, from dodging bullets in Mongolia to sensing waterways under houses whilst asleep, O'Sensei didn't like to ride on the high voltage trains as it gave him headaches.
Just as the Katana evolved from a killing tool into a symbol and involved practices with means and methods to purify and enlighten, so too did martial arts. Aikido to me has to be the summit of that evolution. Aikido evolved out of arts which were far more brutal and came to become (although still highly lethal), far more refined and spiritual in nature.
The analogy between Nihonto and Aikido also exists on other levels. Nage and uke should be soft on the inside hard on the outside, just like a katana, not brittle, sharp as a razer but also flexible and pliable. When something is brittle, it shatters very easily. If uke is overly stiff and rigid I always get the sense that they would easily shatter into pieces. It is often said that Aikido should soften the tendons of the body and increase the flexibility of the joints, supple mind - supple body.
Japanese swords are not only revered as 'the soul of the samurai', but also objects of great aesthetic beauty. Some forms of Aikido seem to follow this path and are outwardly aesthetically very beautiful to watch, but somehow they seem to lack a sense of true purpose. There is nothing wrong with this style of practice, however part of the beauty and the spiritual intensity of the art comes from its martial effectiveness and sincerity. To choose not to strike, first you need to know how to strike. If you knew the blade was blunt it wouldn't quite have the same appeal.
There seems no reason that Aikido can not encompass all three aspects, just as a 'Sai-jo-saku' Nihonto does; beautiful and elegant, soulful and spiritual, lethally effective.
Love to hear if these makes sense to anybody else out there?