Location: Portland, OR
Join Date: Mar 2007
Re: Aiki Ken and Ken justu
Those are some good questions some of which I ask myself. To this day I don't understand the point of some of the "aiki weapons" training I see being done around, with a few notable exceptions: Some teachers like to demonstrate a technique, say katatedori ikkyo or shihonage, while holding a bokken to illustrate the clean "cutting" lines of a technique. I think this is a nice visual teaching aid that helps "clean up" techniques. I've also seen shinai drills and such used to train mental aspects (sanshin, musubi, etc.). Then again I don't know if these are examples of "aiki weapons" or whether there are underlying aiki principles across these practices. Various shihan complemented their aikido training with various iai and ken training. Their philosophies and technique vary a lot, so perhaps it's my limited exposure but I honestly don't know of a common thread that links these practices to "aiki", i.e. what makes them "aiki".
Ueshiba purportedly trained in some classical forms and made things his own, "in aiki we do it this way…" So he infused some actual weapon techniques with aiki (that he already had?). Unless this was a practice for him alone, I would expect any weapons practice in aikido to actually help me train and develop aiki (among other martial aspects, if possible). Even though the applied principles might be the same I would expect aiki weapons training not to be redundant efforts of empty-hand training (weapons should pose an extra challenge, after all weapons are dangerous / great equalizers; and manifesting power through elbow, hand, ken, jo, spear… imo should start to get increasingly more challenging, not to mention weapon movements can get more complicated than empty-handed ones).
I tend to agree with Mary's and Cliff's view that the aiki ken/jo kata should be martially sound in order to adequately inform the taijutsu efforts. I would not limit martial efficacy to partner interaction (ma-ai, metsuke, etc.) but extend it to how the weapon is wielded (transfer power to the hands and out to the contact area), the role of waist vs. hips, weighting, etc., as all this translates to body arts. That said, my main issue with some of the aiki weapons I see is that the way they wield the weapons, move, cut, etc., is in direct opposition to how I understand aiki should be manifested or trained, not to mention being martially unsound (based on my experience). I can entertain the idea that "this [aiki ken/jo] is not supposed to be sword fighting", OK, but then I wonder, how is doing weapons like that going to help me get aiki?
Interestingly enough, in my brief experience with classical weapons, I find that the performance requirements of these "fighting arts" are a lot more congruent with the idea of moving from the center, balance / in-yo, and efficiency associated with aiki (I'm not saying there's "aiki" inherent in any school I'm familiar with, only that its teachings on weapons handling and movement are not in direct opposition with aiki as I understand it, in fact they bond and aiki complements it quite nicely).
Thank you for your sincere post. Yes I agree there is great diversity. In fact I find no universally defined definition of "Aiki" among "Aikido" Shihan. How can be begin to talk about Aiki Ken and Jo and/or other weapons and how they illustrate Aiki Principles when we can't even seem to settle on a definition and understanding of what "Aiki" is precisely? I further agree that, failing in that, how can we possibly know that we are training Aiki or its principles in our weapons work without a working definition? In fact, we might BE training Aiki and not recognize it because we don't know what Aiki is! This being the case, it isn't surprising to find individuals, some Shihan, some not, training in this or that (Koryu Weaposn, Western Weapons, etc.) and thinking, "Well this works really well, it must be Aiki." But is this true? One can't say definitely whether "what works really well" in a Koryu, for example, is in fact the Aiki that we are supposed to be developing and the principles that apply, without a well understood meaning of what Aiki is in the first place.
In another teaching model one might have one do any number of things not really knowing what one is doing and then hopefully on some lucky day one might just happen to manifest Aiki while their teacher is in view and in the mood to point out that, "That right then and there, was Aiki." Of course that wouldn't help for group discussion much.
Thanks again. Hang in there and keep thinking, and training,