Dojo: Aikido of Fresno
Location: Fresno , CA
Join Date: Apr 2005
Defining the word "Aiki" and looking at the phenomenon it describes.
I have seen this growing interest within the internet Aikido community to define "Aiki" as a type of body skill that creates almost magical physical power. I'm very skeptical of this, and would like to attempt a discussion in order to help me develop my understanding or lack there of, in respects to the word "Aiki".
I am a professional Aikido teacher, making my living by teaching on a daily basis. Six days a week I'm in the dojo teaching, exploring and developing my understanding of Aikido. So naturally defining the word "Aiki" is important to me. Beyond an intellectual understanding of the word, it's important to me to be able to study the phenomenon that the word is describing. So I would like to explore the common definitions of the word, their social validity, and the tangible phenomenon these definitions are describing.
I have so far found three martial definitions of the word "Aiki":
A) A situation created by two people, of equal skill wherein neither can make a successful attack, locking them in a stand off.
B) The ability to understand, blend with, lead and manipulate the mind/intention of another person.
C) A body ability, that once acquired gives it's practitioner great physical power, making them seem unmovable and strangely forceful.
Definition " A" comes from somewhere between the 12th and 19th century Japan. It is used by several different martial arts systems. There is no doubt that this was, at least at one time the known and accepted definition of the word "Aiki" as it related to martial arts.
Is this how Ueshiba, and/or Takeda were using the word, questionable, but doubtful. I would love to hear any thoughts on this!
As far as it being an examinable phenomenon, yes it is. It is describing something that happens commonly, and we've all witnessed/been a part of. We can see it not only in traditional Japanese martial arts, but also in modern martial arts (when two boxers spend a whole round "feeling each other out") and in non martial situations (like in a verbal argument when both people stop and stare at each other). It is something that absolutely happens, and we can study it in many different situations.
Definition "B" comes from somewhere between the 19th and 20th century Japan. It is used mostly by Daito ryu, and Aikido, but does appear in some other modern martial arts (probably influenced by it's use in Aikido). This is basically the definition used by the Aikikai to describe Aiki.
Is this how Ueshiba and/or Takeada used the word, this is currently a hot bed of discussion, I would venture a guess that most people in the Aikido community believe it is.
As far as this being an examinable phenomenon, yes it is. We can see this type of exchange in many different sporting ventures, from Football to Sumo to Chess and Poker just about any competition the pits one against another. We can see how understanding ones mind, and their proceeding physical actions is possible, and can be studied in many different situations.
Definition "C" comes from, it's really hard to say, some proponents of the idea say that it's very old, although I don't think there isn't any historical evidence to prove such a claim. Most likely this definition comes from the late 19th or early to mid 20th century, perhaps Japan or the United States. It is used by some larger Aikido groups who put an enfaces on Ki, and several splinter Aikido and Daito ryu groups.
Is it how Ueshiba and/or Takeda used the word? Again, it's very hard to say, lot's of historical references are being made that suggest perhaps they were, but then again, neither of them were big on writing things down themselves, so it's hard (if not impossible) to say.
Can the phenomenon it describes be examined. Again it's very hard to say. There is a pretty strong belief among the proponents of this definition that very few people have IT (Aiki by this definition that is). So there is a very small pool of people that could be examined or tested. Among these people there is also lot's of discussion about who may or may not have it. Of those people, who may have it, to my knowledge none have offered themselves up for scientific study, or entered into a competitive venture where their ability gave them a clear and unusual advantage. In one since we could see if someone who claims to have this ability (Aiki by definition "C") seems to have physical power beyond what one of their size should have. However this power must involve another person. There is a necessity for this power to be used on another person, and not inanimate objects. So we can't rely on typical examples of physical power (like lifting heavy things, or moving quickly). There is also an expressed need that the power "be felt" in order to be understood, which by it's nature makes it subjective and not objective. This makes it very hard to examine. Can the phenomenon it describes be objectively examined? I'm not sure. If it can I would love to see examples.