A giant once lived in that body. But Matt Brady got lost because he was looking for God too high up and too far away.
- Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond, Inherit the Wind
The library is a great place to go with a baby in a stroller. There are aisles and aisles to push her around in to put her to sleep, and everyone is quiet, so she stays asleep.
I was on just such an excursion this afternoon. I swung by the martial arts section (796.81, if you were wondering) and noticed a large book called The Original Martial Arts Encyclopedia: Tradition, History, Pioneers
Now, books like this are a dime a dozen. Every library has a couple. They're big, they're usually at least 20 years old, they're festooned from beginning to end with black-and-white photographs of martial arts action, and they're usually full of generalized information from starry-eyed Westerners who grew up on kung fu films. But for whatever reason, I opened this one, and decided to see what it said about aikido.
The first sentence in the "Aikido" entry shocked me to my core:
Aikido offers four basic advantages to its practitioners: it develops rhythmic movement and physical fitness, both integral parts of self-defense training; it encourages discipline and a nonviolent attitude; it promotes strength and suppleness in the joints and limbs through twisting, bending, and stretching--movements that also free the limbs from harmful adhesions; and it increases the practitioner's awareness of posture and good body alignment, and improves reactions, perceptions, and coordination.
What? No enlightenment? No invincible defense against weapons or multiple attackers? No harmony with all living things? No mystical powers?
This book, this book I had scoffed at and dismissed as ignorant drivel only moments before, had just spelled out what I look for in aikido better than most aikido instructors I've met. Frankly, I've never seen a better summary of the benefits of aikido training.
There are many, though, who would not be satisfied by this summary.
When I posted my entry "Ki to the Highway"
on AikiWeb this summer, I was astonished to get a few responses from aikidoists who were genuinely offended by the assertion that aikido did not give them the power to defy or transcend the laws of physics. Likewise, browse any aikido message board and you'll find several aikidoists willing to defend to the death the assertion that kata-style aikido training is every bit as practical for learning street defense as krav maga, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or mixed martial arts training, or perhaps even more so.
At the root of this kind of willful ignorance, I think, is a dissatisfaction with the mundane. To a man who grew up watching movies and reading books about martial artists who perform superhuman feats, conquer evil forces, and achieve near-clairvoyant states of mind, the prospect of simply training for health and happiness does seem a little underwhelming.
But health and happiness are not small things. And many, many people miss out on health and happiness reaching for other things they consider greater, more noble, or more important.
I, for one, do not intend to make this mistake. Physical fitness, discipline and attitude, strength and suppleness, posture and body alignment, reactions, perceptions, and coordination: I find more than enough here to spend a lifetime training for.
(You can find this post in the Young Grasshopper martial arts blog here