Mr. Ledyard below is responding in this
thread in the AikiWeb Forums wherein someone asked about the
supposed quote from the founder which stated that "Aikido is 99%
atemi." Some people responded in the thread that atemi is, basically,
unnecessary in aikido. The below is Mr. Ledyard's response. Please
be sure to read the original
thread for the full context.
We can clearly see that there is a wide gap of understanding which I
do not see closing as Aikido goes forward in its development.
People do Aikido for a variety of reasons. There are many people who
are not in this lifetime going to be martial artists. They are not
interested in that side of the art. Rather they are interested in
pursuing the movement side, the energy side, the side which serves as
a model for conflict resolution. In some cases they simply like to
have a community of like minded people with whom they can do an
I have no problem whatever with that. Your practice must be a
reflection of who you are and who you'd like to be. When people are
straight with themselves and others and state that they simply aren't
interested in the martial side of Aikido they are free to proceed
without any criticism from me.
But there are people who have spent many years attempting to maintain
the side of the art which manifests the principles of Budo. The art as
it was presented to me was both a vital spiritual practice and a
martial art. It is a matter of importance to me that people not
misunderstand the nature of what they are doing.
There are many of us who look at what passes for Aikido as nothing
more than an art of "wishful thinking". I have seen people fly into
the air when the nage was ten feet away. I have done techniques on an
uke that sent them flying across the room with a flick of my wrist
fully knowing that that same technique would have had no effect
whatever on one of my own students. I regularly get on the mat with
people whose strikes are designed to do anything except hit the
defender. I watched once as Ikeda Sensei refused to move until the uke
really struck him. That uke could not get himself to do the
strike. Repeatedly he diverted the strike at the last second.
All of these people had the notion that they were doing a martial
art. But what was going on had nothing to do with Budo. The Founders
of the modern martial arts wanted to preserve those aspects of the
martial arts which they could see developed by deep training in the
martial arts. They recognized that the primary purpose of training was
not combat any more, modern technology made that irrelevant. Yet they
did see that there were lessons which Budo training did provide and
they did not wish to see those disappear.
Aikido is precisely one of those arts. The Founder was quite specific
about not wanting Aikido to be sportified. The training he gave his
students was of the most strenuous kind. He certainly did not view his
art as a form of non-martial dance that had no application.
When the art is toned down to the point where there is no longer any
reality in the training the lessons of Budo are absent. So when there
are discussions in which it is apparent that well intentioned people
make statements about Aikido that are quite simply not accurate it
does bring out a response.
This is not just a matter of opinion. Spirituality, philosophy,
technical variation, are largely matters of personal
preference. Martial application is not. You can either do it or you
can't. In the old days in Japan, if you set yourself up as a teacher
you could expect that someone would show up on your doorstep to see if
you could walk your talk. If you couldn't, your students were apt to
go down the street.
Those days are gone. So all that is left is the application of common
sense, the desire to gain as much knowledge as possible, and a
commitment to truth in your own training. You have to ask for the
partners who will strike you if they can, the ones who will stop your
technique when you make an error, ones who can reverse you when they
get the opening.
I have trained with every Aikido teacher I have encountered over the
years. There is a huge range of focus and ability amongst these
people. Some can do their technique in a martial context and others
can not. Some are martially ferocious but not useful as models of the
values I am espousing in my life. A small number can do both and those
are the teachers with whom I now go out of my way to train. Barring
going around the country challenging other martial artists to fights
that is the best I can do. When teachers who have more ability and
experience than I am likely to ever have tell me something I tend to
believe them. When I see people with a fraction of their experience or
even a fraction of my own experience ignoring their teachings and
maintaining that things are possible which I know not to be, it rather
makes me despair of the state of training and what it means for the
art in the future.
There are people who are highly skilled at technique and teaching. It
is a shame that so many students can not tell the difference between
what is real on a fundamental level and what is simply a case of the
Emperor's New Clothes. Many of the finest Aikido practitioners I know
have a hard time surviving because there simply aren't very many
people who seem to have the desire to take their art up to the level
it could be. Instead they avoid challenges to their preconceptions,
join with people with whom they can be mutually affirming, and make
their practice fun. That is precisely the thing to do if you want to
remove those elements of personal transformation which exist in the
practice of a true Budo.
O-Sensei challenged all of us to see that there was a radical shift in
looking at his art. It didn't in any sense mean to him that the art
was going to be watered down, made to be an entertaining pastime for
well meaning Seekers. And that is one part of what Aikido has
become. And I don't know that anything will change that. For people
for whom that has appeal, training in Aikido as Budo will not be their
path. If people do not want to know something, no one can make them
see it. So Aikido will continue to develop in such a way that merely
saying you do Aikido will have no meaning. Instead you will need to
specify what type of Aikido you do, what is the approach you take, who
your teacher is, etc. Then people might have some idea what you are
doing. There are people out there doing Aikido which has nothing but a
superficial resemblance to what I am doing. Yet we both call it
Aikido. That will continue as long as there are people training who do
not wish to know what they can and cannot really do but simply wish to
be validated for their efforts.
George S. Ledyard