The International Aikido Federation Congress and international seminar in September ended with demonstrations made by more than thirty of the national aikido federations. It was an interesting smorgasbord, showing just how many ways there are to do ikkyo and iriminage. I found myself looking at feet more than hands.
Beginners in aikido tend to pay attention only to what the hands and arms do, but forget about the movement of the feet. Advanced practitioners, on the other hand, do almost the opposite. They focus on steps, positions, the movement across the tatami. The arms tend to play a less and less important part of what makes the aikido technique work and flow.
When I look at really skilled aikido practitioners, what comes across as most striking is the authority by which they walk around on the tatami. By their steps, they seem to take control of the whole dojo, not just the area in which they do their technique at the moment. They claim the whole tatami as their land, where their own laws apply, as if they had been proclaimed emperors of it.
That authority is beautiful to watch. It makes their aikido so natural it becomes self-evident, unquestionable. It's by how they take their steps -- the attitude as well as the actual mechanics of it -- that they decide the outcome already long before uke reaches them with the attack. When you see them move across the tatami, you know that their techniques are irresistible.
The importance of how the legs are used in aikido is evident already in how we dress for it. The white keikogi above the waist, and the black hakama below it. The two fundamental parts of the aikidoka, joined at tanden
, the center. It can be described as an X, where the center is where the lines cross. Above are the two arms doing the techniques we have all those Japanese names for, but below are the two legs making it possible. Like the branches of trees and the roots of them.
From the center and down, the space marked by the hakama, we get stability and mobility. Without it, the body would be no vessel and what's above it would accomplish nothing.
In my experience, those who know how to walk on the tatami with the above authority are also the ones the most competent at what takes place above the hakama. And although this walking can look very different from one aikidoka to the other, they seem to have some things in common.
As far as I've seen, they all lower their center, getting them closer to the ground, extending their steps. That's easy enough to explain as a way to increase stability and power. They also turn their body exactly in the direction they move. Exactly. That's not as easy as it may sound.
They also have a strangely soft way by which their feet sort of slide on the tatami, almost like ice skating. They don't lift the feet much, nor do they drag them heavily on the tatami. To a bystander it might almost seem as if the tatami is slippery, but still they don't ever slip. Indeed, like ice skating.
But what's even more apparent is their awareness. Each step is taken with a dedication similar to how an officer gives an order and points with the whole hand. Now there, now there, and now there. No stumbling, not the slightest unintended extra step. They walk as if following a grand plan, sort of like each position of each foot at every step had been marked beforehand on the tatami.
Yes, it's by their walking that they take control, and the rest of us just have to comply, seduced by the sheer sovereignty of it.
It makes perfect sense. Aikido is a Way, Do
, so it doesn't exist until it's walked. Before that it's just a potential. In order for the potential to become reality, we need to learn how to walk.
Stefan Stenudd is a 6 dan Aikikai aikido instructor, member of the International Aikido Federation Directing Committee, the Swedish Aikikai Grading Committee, and the Swedish Budo Federation Board. He has practiced aikido since 1972. Presently he teaches aikido and iaido at his dojo Enighet in Malmo, Sweden, and at seminars in Sweden and abroad. He is also an author, artist, and historian of ideas. He has published a number of books in Swedish and English, both fiction and non-fiction. Among the latter are books about aikido and aikibatto, also a guide to the lifeforce qi, and a Life Energy Encyclopedia. He has written a Swedish interpretation of the Chinese classic Tao Te Ching, and of the Japanese samurai classic Book of Five Rings. In the history of ideas he studies the thought patterns of creation myths, as well as Aristotle's Poetics. He has his own extensive aikido website: http://www.stenudd.com/aikido