I think I've figured out something extremely important; whether it applies to aikido or just to my
aikido I don't know.
I've been wanting to write this for a bit and have found it incredibly difficult to put into words; so to help me explain my point I'm going to explain the journey (as it were) I've taken so far to come to my current view. It's gonna be pretty long; but please bear with me.
Barring the MA's I took as a kid; my exploration of the fighting skills began about 18 years ago when I joined the Army right out of high school. Now; basic Infantry U/C isn't that involved; at the low level of the beginning line soldier it's little more than training in a few basic techniques; with heavy emphasis on agression and the explosive release of energy. This is vital; since like me most of us were brainless wet-nosed kids just out of school; that sort of behaviour was by and large utterly alien to us. Mind; I'm talking real aggression here, not the schoolyard bullying type most had experienced up until that point.
But I progressed fairly quickly; I found I had a knack for the Army so I constantly volunteered (and on occasion was volun-told) to take extra courses in combat skills; one of which was U/C. Loved it - I was a shy kid; quickly turning into a brash smartass tween and U/C helped that along. It wasn't until I recieved my first promotion and was posted to the Assault Pioneers (and thence up the heirarchy of combat specialists) that I started really learning the ways of close combat. What an eye-opener - training was brutally tough; efficient, cold and impersonal as a machine. I learned to do things even then I prayed I'd never have to - regrettably; eventually I did. But beyond the technical training; U/C training taught things more important for a soldier. It taught us to be able to raise our aggression to insane levels; to be able to go totally and completely berzerk when required - while still retaining the rational faculties. Technique wasn't as important as the goal - the fastest possible death of the opponent.
Now; many who read that will say 'that's terrible' or 'that's morally corrupt' or 'they turned you into a monster' - I've heard all three and more. You must understand that for all the good and noble work Infantrymen do around the world; we are first and foremost weapons - our primary role is to kill the enemy. It used to be the Infantry was the lowest common denominator - the dummies who couldn't drive tanks or sail ships. The cannon fodder sent en masse into the wire. It's a different story today; soldiers are keen, educated, efficient specialists in the art of warfare. Don't let the buzzcut and the foul mouth fool you; the average infantryman knows one hell of a lot more about his job than the average college graduate does about his.
Keep this in mind as well: if your instinct is to react in horror to the close combat training we recieve (which includes live weapons - on average between 10 and 30 per cent of a course is injured in training; though to be fair most injuries are minor); be aware that if I didn't have this training; I would now be dead. Would've been 11 years ago, the first time someone tried to kill me.
Not including a certain sniper we never saw; the first one was a man with a machete. Not a soldier; a civilian driven to suicidal desperation. Obviously; I survived - so did he. Because of my training I was able to make the decision not to shoot and took him down to be arrested.
There were others - a bayonet strike by a checkpoint guard blitzed on Slivovitz; a point-blank pistol shot during a houseclearing operation. I (as one member of the platoon) was sniped at about a dozen times, been in 9 seperate firefights; including 2 running battles of at least two hours and one defensive action which lasted 18. I've been attacked by a baseball bat, a couple of clubs, several bottles, one taser, pepper spray and found myself the target of a gang-stomp - they picked a Canadian Soldier to stomp - most definitely the wrong target.
Anyone who says peacekeeping is easy needs a major freakin' reality check.
(Not SD related; but I've also been set on fire twice, electrocuted once, had a parachute collapse - that's the one that got me - hypothermia I don't know how many times; had a rope break on a cliff, one road accident, one mine strike; been mortared a whole bitchload of times, had a tree fall on me ( a small one; but still heavy.
) and been chased by Rottweilers. Who said life isn't fun?)
So anyway; you might say I've got a certain level of familiarity with the shittier side of the human psyche; and certain experience in surviving it. All during those years; I continued to train and teach others.
I'm no expert; never that - just someone who was good at his job.
Anyway; after injury forced me back into civilian life; (actually as a reserve instructor - same thing in my book) I started looking around for schools to continue my training; this time in the easy comfort and tradition of the martial arts. Karate and striking arts were out; due to the massive injuries to my lower body. The 'Self Defence' schools were laughably pathetic - those instructors are totally clueless what real violence looks like.
It took the better part of eight years to find aikido - eight years I spent in constant pain; walking like Frankenstien; living the life of a semi-cripple.
Right from the beginning I was hooked. I recognized right off the bat that the Sensei and his sempai had no knowledge of real-life violence; but I could also see the enormous tactical advantage of aikido. It was a fun place to be too - they listened when I talked about the 'real world'. So I started with them; and immediately ran into trouble - everything I was learning went totally against my experience in self-defence. But the way I see it; if there wasn't value, it wouldn't still exisit; so I stuck with it. On the way; I formed a lot of wrong notions about the techniques and training. These wrong notions eventually bit me at my 4th kyu test. I passed it; but I never should have.
I resolved therefore to stop looking forward to the next level and start looking back - back to the basics. The basics of movement, centering, etc. I asked myself: 'Are these really
the basics?" The answer, I found, was 'no'. I delved further; and began to explore the basic concepts; looking for their roots.
During this; the one overriding problem was reconciling aikido with what I knew to be the reality of violence. On the advice of my Sensei; I began exploring this problem; trying to turn ki-aikido into a viable defensive tool.
I started by altering the techniques to fit the needs of self-defence. It was a disaster - it not only didn't work; it was pitiful in its lack of effect. The reason is, of course, that these techniques were developed by practicioners of vastly more experience and wisdom than I; there are reasons for them - reasons I didn't understand.
I then tried separating the techniques into two classes - 'Conceptual' techniques (which don't work in real-life but teach the concepts of aikido) and 'realistic' techniques; which would
work. Now we were getting somewhere - with the 'doesn't work' problem safely compartmented; I could research the techniques in precise detail.
Ultimately; I abandoned this as well; though to be fair I still use it to organize my study.
It's the oldest cliche out there - embarrassing really. I had a dream. A very powerful, potent one. (I put it up here - this is the URL: http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?t=4032
) While thinking about the dream; I think I learned what my subconcious was trying to tell me - the importance of the spititual side of aikido. In the dream; the harder I tried to jump; the harder and quicker I came down. The softer, easier I did it; the more relaxed I was; the easier it went. I finally started looking at the spiritual side, and realized what I'd been doing wrong the whole time.
The techniques; I realized, cannot work without those things we call the 'spiritual' side - the relaxation, the centering, etc. I threw myself into that study; increasing my daily study time to a minimum of 2 hrs; up to over 6 on the weekends. Instead of altering aikido to fit defence; I began to alter defence - not the realities of course; but the actions - to fit aikido; and it worked so much better.
But still the ever-nagging problem of reconciling the techniques - aiki-driven or not - with real-life defence.
I went back to the basics again
and asked "Are these really and truly the basics?"
Then I realized I hadn't answered the most basic question of all: "What is aikido?"
I don't know where the final step came from - the final step so far that is. There was no sudden flash of realization; no 'Eureka!' Just a growing awareness and understanding; and that's where I come now - finally to the point of this post.
I look at my left hand - it represents the spiritual side of aikido. I look at the right - the defensive side. How to bring them together? My answer - you can't.
Because they're the same thing.
They're not different aspects of aikido; they're not even different sides of the same coin. They are one and the same.
The defensive side is
the spiritual side; and vice-versa. I was thinking of the old analogy of three blind men touching an elephant - one feeling the trunk says "it's a snake". One feeling the ear says "no, it's a fan." One feeling the side says "No, it's a wall".
But that analogy is wrong for my purpose; a better one is this: two people are arguing over a pencil. One says "It's yellow." One says "No, it's straight." One thing; viewed with two parameters - that's what aikido is.
And finally I understand what the techniques are all about. They are there to teach, yes; but also to use; because unlike training on the mat; where proper performance of technique is critical for grading; the techniques are not
the goal - the safe resolution of the conflict is. The techniques are merely tools to achieve that goal. No - that's wrong; the techniques are there to just happen
when you accept your attacker's energy.
Because now; aikido not only makes sense to me; it fits and indeed supports self defence and defensive theory. The two go hand in hand like old friends. Now; while I still train in ki-aikido; I also train in my own way. Literally weeks ago; I struggled with a resistant uke during ikkyo - now I send him flying just by turning my hand over. I don't try any techniques; I don't look for moves that'll bring a particular technique happening; I just accept uke's energy; let it go where it will and turn it to a place of my choosing. I try to move like a water-wave; giving uke no resistance; nor force. I just get out of the way and let him move into a position where he falls.
No; I'm not all of a sudden one of the 'instant masters' we all despise; I've just reorganized my thinking so it works for me. I still struggle with the techniques; though they're coming far, far easier now. This is because (I think) the single main drawback of any technique-based system is that in a real confrontation technnique is the first thing that goes out of your head; my REACT!! instinct is so strong it short-circuts the techniques; or tries to. But now at least I really think I know the "Why's" I've been searching for - upon which I can build the rest.
Anyway; didn't mean to write a novel; I've got to get to bed, got practice in the morning. Thanks for reading this; hope you didn't drink too much coffee getting through it.