Ueshiba sensei said, “Aikido is 95% perspiration and 5% philosophy.” By saying that, I have said everything.” (A. NOCQUET)
It has happened to the art that I love. I suppose that it has happened for quite a while now, but it took a lot of time to actually understand how this came about. I was raised in a strict Pentecostal household, attending church 7 times a week, I have seen first hand the transformative and zealous fervour created by attachment to dogma. I have unfortunately also seen the negative effects that such zealots can have on those that don’t share the same values and ideals proposed by the self imposed leader of such cults. Passive aggressive inference means that non compliance leads to ostracisation, ridicule and bullying. Love is replaced by revenge, peace by psychological violence, harmony with discord and so on.
The art of Aikido has been overtaken by the zealots, and the Experience of Aikido has been replaced by intellect.
Dogma and ideology appeal because it is easier to attach to the philosophy than it is to do the work to become the philosophy. The art was supposed to be about the self, about understanding that self by experience, by working through breaking down the ego self during the experience.
When the art becomes more than the action,
Aikido becomes the institution that the training was supposed to destroy.
“Aikido isn’t a religion, it completes all religions” (O’Sensei) because the experience of aiki replaces dogma and ideology.
True experience rejects all forms of dogma.
Dogma provides a shield for the weaknesses of the ego to thrive – fear, ignorance, arrogance and deception are the actual virtues propagated by such an approach, though those propagating will tell you exactly the opposite of this.
In this paradigm, charisma and intellect define mastery rather than actual ability. We only need to look back 80 years or so to see how devastating an effect a good orator can have on the collective minds of a nation for evidence.
In history those with actual ability have existed on the fringes of society, the face they put forward to the world doesn’t possess the mask that the dogmatic hide behind.
The dogmatic approach creates acolytes that pay homage to the dogma rather than having an environment where the experience can instill in the student their own realisation.
The method becomes the training, and words replace actions. Intellectualising what Aikido is without experiencing what aikido could be is a sickness of the mind.
Dualistic rationality becomes par for the course.
Analogy and metaphors infer a state of subjective understanding that, within their very nature, promote a segmented detached reality of understanding.
“ I can relate to that”…. but the “that” that is relatable isn’t the experience it relates to, which is only truly comprehended by the one that has had the experience.
What “isn’t” is superimposed over what “is” and taken for fact, but the experience can never be separated from the one experiencing, it is a formed symbiosis, a type of communion or agreement that isn’t shareable in any measurable way with someone that hasn’t had the experience for themselves.
I can describe water to someone that has never seen it, but to truly understand the “wetness” of water, one has to experience that for themselves.
Those that don’t understand the experience defend with extraordinary passive aggressiveness their right to institutionalisation. They claim, through references to obscure passages – written or spoken, then taken out of context – to be passing on the one truth of Aikido – their truth.
They claim without any evidence that training in Aikido can create such absurdities as world peace(never happened in the known history of the planet), harmonious society, harmonious relationships, great business relationships, love of all beings, reconciliation of man and many more ideological socially acceptable current trends. Aikido in business, Aikido principles for life, Aiki philosophy for de escalation of violence usually having never truly experienced violence, these are the catchphrases and pitfalls that now exist to detract the trainee on their journey through the Aikido world.
They start society’s, groups and fan clubs, positioning themselves to prove they can enhance current acceptable social values such as emotional intelligence or mindfulness, using catch phrases like collaboration, integration, exploration and harmonisation to lure new acolytes to the path of their perceived wisdom. they can nearly always validate their dogma by making sure that many speaking on important subjects have the intellectual equivalent of a Shihan level, a PHD.
This PHD adds strength to the positions that they take on their interpretation of how Aikido is to be done. I would argue anyone that has dedicated their lives to the experience of Aikido to the level of mastery hasn’t had time in their life to get a PHD on any other subject, because mastery of the art of Aiki through experience takes great time and great sacrifice.
They claim a traditional martial art yet reject as outdated the very training methods traditions and social environments that created the great teachers of the past whose pictures hang on their walls, and whose quotes they throw around to justify their standing. Just as religious zealots justify violence in opposition to dogma, they are the very hypocrites that use such things as a shield to hide behind their lack of actual experience.
They reject the experience that these people had and replace it with the knowledge these people gleaned from the experience as the actual experience.
The Confucian ideology that all Japanese were grounded in had absolutely nothing to do with harmony of all fellow humans (what size ego do we have to have to believe that such a concept, unrealised by any great spiritual master in history, can actually be accomplished through the art of Aikido), but rather the change of oneself.
The change in oneself, the family, the city, the region, then the country was what the aim was supposed to be. Aikido is about harmony for sure, but of the self, the first step, learnt in the experience of Aiki, in the experience of the true role of uke and how that role then leads to the accumulation of the wisdom of how to do Aiki.
Your dogma will not change the world, just as the dogma of Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and any other religious practice you care to name hasnt managed to bring peace to the world. Instead of helping create a better world, you have done the opposite by creating another dogmatic attachment then bolstering your position by inviting others of mediocre understanding to validate a position that should never have existed separate from the experience.
On the mat, in teaching and in training talking has replaced hard work. Great orators love the sound of their own voice, love to share their wisdom, and gladly tell you how long they have trained in the art to assure their place at the top of the pile.
How can anyone argue with such a font of wisdom accumulated over many years of training?
Fortunately those in the know realise in no human endeavour ever – does time equate to ability – except, extraordinarily and uniquely, they will insure you, in the art of Aikido.
No one needs to have their training in Aikido justified by adding philosophical/religious/spiritual connections.
The act is, and of itself alone, enough to justify the doing.
When experienced the way the founder intended, through Misogi(ukemi), through tanren(heat and pressure), through Shugyo(arduous repeated training and diligent effort) aikido doesn’t need dogma and institutionalisation, it frees itself totally from the need for such base human attachments. At one time or another all practitioners will be given this choice, given an invitation to join the zealots or be ostracised, to make do with the experience, or to give up on it entirely.
In the current world the internet has become the platform from which these zealots ply their trade, a pulpit from which they reach out to a global audience with beautifully edited videos, workshops and group expert panel discussions on any dogma deemed appropriate in current social circles.
As human beings with any moral virtues, love, peace, understanding, goodness, meekness, righteousness and gratitude should occupy space in our lives. These are not what Aikido brings to the world, but what it hopes to enhance in you. In rejecting the current trend towards a more philosophical pseudo-intellectual, dogmatic Aikido the art can be preserved for future generations to have and live in the experience. Supporting current trends means the art morphs to become an anti- art, and I propose the opposite of what the founder intended when he himself proposed the experience.
Stand strong in the face of increasing opposition, resolute in commitment to define the self through the experience of the art, and not fall before the false Gods on the way to your promised land….
I have been away with the kids up the north east and have had far too much time on my hands walking on beaches thinking about Aikido, and more importantly, thinking about my role and the future of the art.
Now inevitably, thinking about the future of the art brings us to a point where we start to contemplate the history of the art.
You have the founder, a giant in the martial arts world, and a group of prewar students that also were considered martial arts giants. These men were famously told by the founder to “turn away no challenger”, these were the times of hell dojo, times when feats of martial prowess were matched by feats of physical strength and endurance.
Saito Shihan was famously told by the founder that he was too weak and needed to build up some muscle to improve his Aikido training…….build up some muscle to improve your Aikido.
I wondered to myself how often those words were whispered away from Iwama after the war, or if anyone ever heard them echo through the halls of the head dojo in Tokyo.
There are many stories of the legendary strength of the founders physical body, yet there are just as many stories of the founders students physical abilities as well. For reference you should read Stanley Pranins “prewar students of Aikido”, a famous quote from which is made by Shirata Shihan,
“I think young people had better train hard while they are young, especially those who
intend to become instructors. Then they can become soft gradually. Being soft from the beginning is also worthwhile because, if you cause young people to train hard, some may give up aikido. In this respect, soft training has some merit.
However, those who want to become instructors cannot reach that level unless they train hard.
This type of training should include the mind. Unless the training is severe, you can’t reach that level. The reason Ueshiba Sensei reached that level was due not only to his natural talent, but also to the fact that he engaged in severe training.”……..
Severe training, body aching, mind numbing arduous physical training. How many instructors can say they have endured such? Not many I would say based on my experience. Maruyama sensei told me that when the art of Aikido began to be propagated to the west, that hard repetitive training was one aspect of the art rejected by those instructors as being ”Japanese” and not necessary for western people to grasp the essence of the art……
How many people still follow such instructors as being representative of an art that they never truly fully and wholeheartedly embraced. And how many more have been handed on the same prejudices from one generation to another. Is the art doomed for a descent into anonymity. To be relegated to an obscure form of active yoga, or moving Zen?
Thinking back on this, and giving some thought to the difference between the Iwama kihon – build an aiki body version of training to the physically aerobic but rather power flaccid version that has been propagated outside that arena. I think very early on I stuck my flag firmly in the former camp, as a former professional athlete it made total sense to me that I had to “build a foundation” of good strong basic structure upon which I could improvise and improve upon later.
I recall seminars where Saito stated that the reason for repetition of certain techniques was to build hip and leg strength and flexibility required to be able to do Aikido as the founder intended, not that this was Aikido – as in the technical version of the art, but rather that these “techniques” represented the building blocks of the very foundation that eventually the art would be built upon.
Then there was the repetition of AIKI weapons, the use and management of which had nothing to do with kenjutsu, and everything to do with being able to understand and do the art of Aikido to which these weapons techniques were linked. Even Shirata Shihan attended Saito senseis weapons classes even though he was by far the senior instructor, and part of his Tandokudosa (solo body training exercises) included the use of suburito (weighted bokken cuts) done repetitively to understand better the art that Aikido was suppose to be.
I recall a story regarding Saito sensei and a group of European instructors in Iwama where saito was asked why they didn’t have “warm ups” in Iwama Aikido. Saito paused for a while and then replied “we do, everything we do in the dojo is just a warm up so that one day you will be able to do Aikido”…. So all that Kihon, all those techniques that he so meticulously preserved in deference to his master, none of them were Aikido at all.
So that begs the question what is Aikido, or, more importantly, what is the path to Aikido.
I was then thinking about later days when my master was training at Hombu dojo. I was thinking about the stories about him saying that Tohei would drill the instructors so hard that after a session they couldn’t walk up the stairs to change out of their sweat soaked Gi.
They also were expected to attend classes taught by a variety of teachers, Saito, Yamaguchi, Tohei, Kisshamaru, Osawa, and visiting instructors like Shirata and Mochizuki.
It struck me that these teachers that we call our current masters, these instructors didn’t choose who they would learn from, didn’t carry bias, didn’t not train for petty reasons, they learnt their art through training in all styles under all instructors.
And then after all that training they would still have the founder come in and tell them quite frequently that they way they were training wasn’t Aikido at all……
I was personally trainined up in a similar vein. I studied multiple styles of Aikido, from the harder and more militant Yoshinkan and Iwama styles, to obscure prewar styles to flowing Akikai styles and to semi Ki society styles. My Aikido is an eclectic mixture of many teachers and many lessons.
I never rejected any version of training, from the severe to the almost ethereal.
I also learnt to be able to do ukemi from the rough and tumble of break falls and pins to the collusion required of more flowing styles, nothing was rejected in my mind as not Aikido, not what I was about and not what I did. Everything contributed to building understanding in the art, both through physical suffering, and constant introspection.
Unfortunately for myself as a teacher I am usually surrounded by those that were the exact opposite of this.
These people have come to training with an expectation of how they want to train, of the style of Aikido that appeals to them, to there philosophy of what martial arts should be, of what Aikido should be.
In this day and age that is usually defined by something they have seen on youtube rather than something they have experienced first hand in the dojo.
This then becomes the expectation of what they want to do in the dojo. That’s fine, but how can you discount the journey that the master took to be able to represent Aikido in the way that you find so appealing?
All of the Ki society masters that trained with the founder started their journey in the way that I described earlier in the article, as did I.
So giving thought to the future, what do I do as an instructor?
Do I teach basic kihon , basic structure to those that desperately need to build leg strength and power to be able to even get close to being able to do Aikido?
Do I ignore these trail of facts entirely and let trainees do flowing connected but martially invalid “AIKIDO” techniques, because it is more important that trainees live an illusion of doing a martial art based form of callisthenic exercises, rather than following the path to understanding Aikido prescribed by the founder –
“Everyone has a spirit that can be refined, a body that can be trained in some manner, a suitable path to follow. You are here to realize your inner divinity and manifest your innate enlightenment.”
Maruyama Sensei presented to everyone that attended the 20th anniversary of Yuishinkai the calligraphy for the character “Tanren” This is to forge.
It is descriptive of the process of heat treatment and hammering that a piece of metal goes through in a forge to transform something raw and ugly into something pure and beautiful. Its also a word that the founder used to describe Aikido training, a process of physical transformation that has spiritual effects.
The important aspect to this transformation is in Ukemi. There is no such thing as incorrect ukemi, there is just an obstinate belief that ukemi is only done in one way, and in a select range of motion and attitude. To understand this is to understand the very secret of the art……
Train the body – elevate the spirit.
Right body, right mind, right spirit – leave nothing to chance, embrace all – transcend all, this is the spirit of Aikido, my hope for the future of the art….
There are very deep philosophical principles hidden in the art of Aikido. These principles aren’t discovered by the Ancient Greek version of philosophical debate, but rather discovered in the forging of the physical body, through hard work and tenacity.
Anyone can endorse a Japanese philosophical idea, anyone can claim to have a Japanese sword master hero whose philosophical ideas they uphold.
But to understand, and I mean understand as in have these philosophies enter your very essence, you have to have walked through the fire that these masters walked.
Take Yamaoka Tesshu for example. For his students to reach the level of understanding he believed necessary, he devised an arduous training regime of one thousand matches a day, beginning at one day, then three then seven. These were designed to “test the metal and elevate the spirit” of anyone accepting the challenge. Very few did…..
You cannot know his truths without entering his gate.
In Aikido, this is done as Uke.
When I say uke, I don’t mean falling around a little on the mat, I mean actually training to a point where the line between life and death are blurred together.
What does a master see in one student that they don’t see in others when they “test” their ukes? What is the measure of a man? (or woman)
Concepts that are deeply rooted in the essence of Aikido can only be understood from the perspective of one who has sacrificed themselves entirely in the furnace of ukemi. This understanding is in their bones, it isn’t just in their soul, it becomes their soul.
Concepts like Ai-nuke, like fudoshin, like Mushin, like zanshin, these are just pretty words that have absolutely zero meaning to the person saying them if they haven’t been grasped in the physicality of arduous training.
This is tanren.
This isn’t a debate of an intellectual nature, this is being thrown in the forge, and passing through to the other side.
I will give you an example.
2006, Brisbane Australia. It’s been 40 degrees Celsius for 4 days, we are in a room with a low ceiling and there are 70 people in a room where the capacity really should have been 50.
We are four days into a 5 day seminar, training 5 hours a day. I have been the uke for sensei for virtually the entire seminar. There was no breeze coming through the windows at all, and if there were, the room has only got windows on one side.
It’s so very hot.
I am from Tasmania, the day before I go to Brisbane it is still snowing. I have no time to acclimatise to this new heat and humidity.
I am sitting in seiza next to sensei, it’s the afternoon session, and he has just finished throwing me and is discussing a point about technique.
I feel a strange sensation, my body has pins and needles all over and I start to feel my consciousness slip away, my vision tunnels and begins to go dark…. Am I fainting?
I wonder, am I dying?
Having a stroke? What is this strange sensation? I am calm, I remember thinking, if I go now, if this is the end, then there cannot have been a better end. I have given all there was to give…..
Luckily, sensei talks for a while, and this sensation slowly passes. I have no recollection of what he has said as my consciousness drifts between here and there.
He calls me again out of seiza, from my daze. I respond. He throws me again and again. I feel like vomiting, I feel heavy, I feel nothing…..
It ends and I bow to sensei. I need water.
I stumble to my feet and in a trancelike state make my way to the back left corner of the room. My mind is still not with me. I am suddenly awakened by the beautiful voice of Yasuko san, it’s sensei’s wife.
In Japanese, she asks me – am I ok, and tells me I look terrible.
Apparently my face is white, my complection having left my body completely. “Daijoubu”, I respond, I am ok.
I need water.
She fills my drink bottle whilst I take her seat, I drink my fill, she has a concerned look on her face for me, but sensei’s hands clap and shatter the respite.
I am up again, and heading to the front once more.
As I walk to him I glance to my right and out the door. On the balcony is a set of abou 8-10 chairs, and sitting on these chairs, in the shade with gi tops pulled open is every other senior instructor that was at the seminar, no time to digest this, I am asked to dive into the fire once again.
“Hai” – Yes, sensei, I am there…….
When we ask ourselves why we failed to grasp the essence of the teaching, (if we ever do) why one is held above others at the reckoning, it’s quite simple.
When the time of testing the metal for the blade that was to be forged was at hand, the metal hasn’t been tested, and therefore wasn’t worth the time in the masters hand.
This is the essence of Tesshu’s philosophy, understood through great sacrifice.
This is the essence of Aikido Shugyo, – of tanren.
And this is the very heart of Ai-nuke.
Words! – There essence as hollow as a cry for help shouted through an empty valley.
Let’s train to understand true Aikido, and share a coffee ….after the mat time is done…
“To become poisoned by secret teachings is something that occurs in Aikido as well. Instead of looking at their feet (“The feet reveal the secrets of the universe.”Morihei Ueshiba), people look up and imitate sophisticated movements in a pretentious, empty manner. That is called “to be poisoned by secret teachings”. This is quite rife in Aikido.”
Hiroshi Tada Shihan.
There is a huge push on the fringe of the Aikido community in regards to the founders Aiki and internal power. Now, before I go any further I want to state that I believe in many of the concepts that have been suggested, including those(especially those) relating to body connection and relaxation. I have also read with great interest in regards to those Shihan that may have inherited this “Aiki”. One that is put forward and validated by those that knew him was Koichi Tohei, 10th Dan and heir apparent to the technical Aiki of the founder.
I have no doubt that Tohei was amazingly connected as a martial artist, but I have a different theory as to what it was that gave Tohei his amazing ability, this theory has been built up through transmissions from his senior student, instructor and one time heir, Koretoshi Maruyama, who coincidentally was a student of the founder of Aikido for 13 years.
I posted the above quote for a particular reason, because hidden in plain sight secrets like Aiki have been promoted by men that have a vested interest in convincing you that what they do is what Ueshiba did(without actually knowing him by the way), and constantly accuse those that don’t possess what they have(or do) as not doing the founders Aiki.
There is much evidence to say that, over time, the founders idea of Aikido changed. Shirata Rinjiro (who by the way, is a champion of the “Aiki”/IP crowd) stated in his interview with the late Stan Pranin of Aikido Journal that the founders Aikido changed after the war, as did Michio Hikitsuchi, 10th Dan.
The founder himself left this cherry for us to chew on.
“As Ai harmony is common with Ai love, I decided to name my unique budo Aikido. Although the word Aiki is an old one. the word which was used by warriors in the past is fundamentally different to that of mine.
Aiki is not a technique to fight with or destroy an enemy. It is a way to reconcile the world and make human beings one family.”
I know this one has also been deflected by those who never actually knew the founder, but, it’s pretty clear what is being stated here. He has a new version of Aiki, one that doesn’t involve overcoming an opponent, one for not fighting, one that doesn’t destroy.
I struggled with this concept for a while, until Maruyama Sensei (and I have since found out he is not the only Shihan giving value to this concept), mentioned the highest level of shinken shobu was represented by the concept of “ai-nuke”, mutual passing through, a fight to the death, where both combatants life was spared. Slowly the threads started to fall into place.
I have stated elsewhere I am a student of history, it was my major in Uni, and has been a passion of mine my entire life. Now, the study of history is about creating, or recreating an idea by finding the common thread, looking at the evidence objectively from both, or all points of view, this if you will was my final piece of the puzzle to state my case for Aikido beyond all duality, based on the sword as the founder intended, and not on some ancient internal body function designed to defeat an opponent.
“If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth” – Spock
The concept of ai-nuke comes from Mujushin Ryu(the sword school of no abiding mind) kenjutsu, who’s founder, Sekiun Goroemon Harigaya came to understand that the study of the sword for any violent purpose opposed the order of the universe, and so developed a sword style that had as its sole purpose, discovering, or more importantly, rediscovering the truth of no man, no sword, no opponent. Kenjutsu in the Mujuu style is not at all about winning and losing, beating or being beaten, in fact is not about conflict at all: it’s a flowing movement of breath, spirit and power. (Does this concept sound at all familiar).
At its ultimate level, the study of the sword was about the study of the spirit of man, not about overcoming an adversary, but about overcoming ourselves(masakatsu agatsu, katsu hayahi…..Morihei Ueshiba).
A few hundred years into the future, and after the demise of the mujuu style of swordsmanship after just a few generations(not a practical sword style for battle hardened Japanese samurai), and we have to look at another great swordsman of peace that trained and followed the ancient ways of sword, Yamaoka Tesshu. Without going into his life story, a student of Itto Ryu(same sword school as Sokaku Takeda, O-Sensei’s teacher) came to the realisation, without ever having killed an opponent, that there existed under heaven no sword, no man, no enemy, and named his sword school muto ryu. In a way, bringing back to the world the study of the sword that gives life(katsujinken) in the same style and philosophy as Mujushin Ryu;
“the basis of true training is to forge the spirit(seishin no shugyo).
Our primary purpose is to face our opponents without the slightest openings.
Openings means: wishing to do technique on an opponent while avoiding their technique.
Such a state of mind is delusional..
When confronting an opponent, thoughts of striking or being struck indicate ignorance and illusion…
Maintain the principle of “no-mind” and you will lack nothing.
This is a natural, marvelous principle.
To not use discriminatory thought will result in absolute victory.
Swordsmanship consists of utilizing no-form within form to achieve true victory”
Few were able also to follow the severe training(Shugyo) traditions layed down by Tesshu, including many of his students, but one, wishing to continue passing on the essence of what Tesshu had rediscovered in his sword school, but realising most normal men couldn’t endure such physical hardship, founded instead an organisation that became synonymous with Aikido Shihan, the ichikukai.
Here is where this theory really starts to gather traction. Famously, 10th Dan in Aikido, and apparent exponent of Aiki didn’t study Daito Ryu secret techniques at all, but rather, forged his mind at the crucible of Tesshu Yamaoka, and apparently also found within himself something of the concept of no me, no sword and no enemy, the concept that the founder of the ichikukai so desperately wanted to hand on to his students. The problem we have here is we are not talking about physical technique that can be taught to overcome an opponent, but rather, elevation of the spirit, so that one can begin to understand the unity of all things, Kiriotoshi the most important concept in itto ryu has as its foundation exactly this principle, one is all, all is one.
Now, I know there will be those that will argue the point here, sure, no worries. But there are stories of Tesshu, who never studied Daito Ryu at all displaying easily such concepts as body of stone, or fudoshin body- immovable body, so there was some concept he gleaned from his years of arduous training that gave him such a power. I would say that no man, no sword no enemy gives one such an understanding.
During the most recent seminar, when sensei spoke of these concepts such as ai-nuke, Sensei said it’s no good just to work on the spirit side of things, but that a warrior, a true warrior had to balance equal parts technical ability, and spiritual awareness, that these things were mutually complementing, not mutually exclusive, that training the body(tanren) and training the spirit were two sides of the same coin – according to the founder;
(…) The work of the internal divinity, making the body an organ of creation will realize misogi by the body. — Takemusu Aiki, Volume II
To unite the world of light, a body of flesh is given.
— Takemusu Aiki, Volume II
Me, Ueshiba, I need to train more. (…) I can not show the way to people if I do not stand on the Floating Bridge of Heaven. I can only teach through practice.
— Takemusu Aiki, Volume III
So we work on technique to elevate and become aware of spirit. Body and spirit together as a path to understanding and fulfilling our purpose as human beings, the very definition of unconditional love.
Coming back to our concept of ai-nuke, it became a very important concept in Zen, so much so that Omori Roshi, under guidance from Daisetz SUZUKI spoke these words.
“Harigaya Sekiun created the term Ai-nuke to describe his condition attained through sword. It is the world of ABSOLUTE PEACE THAT TRANSCENDS WINNING AND LOSING.(sound familiar again……). It is a different dimension from aiuchi.
WE SHOULD CONSIDER IT A CRUCIAL TREASURE LEFT BY A MAN OF ANCIENT TIMES………………….you must transcend dualism and enter into the realm of Ai-nuke.
But there is a problem.
It is no good just to INTELLECTUALISE the concept of Ai-nuke.
This is a very important point.
If you do not have the background and strength of aiuchi, you cannot enter the realm of Ai-nuke…………if you have not mastered aiuchi, it is impossible to learn Ai-nuke”
So here comes the difficult part. Training. The founder stated:
“You have to be willing to accept 99% of the attackers force before the mysteries of AIKI can be revealed” And also “To train in the basics is to practice the very secrets of the art.”
There are also concepts that these interactions are suppose to teach us, if as trainees we are able to fulfil our roles seriously, with sunao, earnest respect, such as what kotodama represents in the concept of the founders Aikido, and why it was important,
“Kotodama is mistakenly thought to be sounds, but in Aikido, kotodama is yamabiko no michi (the way of the mountain echo), it is the resonance of ki that precedes the emergence of sound. Subtle changes in these echoes become the mysteries of all creation. When two forms of Ki combine it becomes kokyu.”
Shihan Shirata Rinjiro
Here we have mountain echo, another IP concept, reimagined by Shirata as a ki concept, so we start to get an idea of another of the founders concepts, ki-gata.
Here we go again, this quote tying a lot together in what I am saying in this post,
“The aikido which I am doing now is a path that builds people A WAY OF FORGING AND TEMPERING THE BODY AND SPIRIT (this is TANREN).
It is not a way that injures others, nor is it one that wields against them the evil sword of death.
I humbly ask that you, too, give deep thought to these considerations.
The training in Aiki concerns itself most with the practicing of KI-GATA(the forms and movement of Ki) and the method of perfecting them.
The most important element in true Ki-gata is the quality of shinken shobu(quite literally a fight to the death with real swords – it implies a certain seriousness of your attitude whilst training).”
Hard training in basic waza leads us to building an Aiki body. Study of the basic movement of the sword teaches us about our spirit, study and continuous practice of ukemi teaches us about death and rebirth, and also gives us a vehicle to misogi harai. All of these together, practiced daily, as the founder intended are tanren, the forging of the spirit through the body. And continuing these basics, such as suburi, kokyu ho and funekogi will lead you to a deep awareness of ai-nuke. Not one concept forsaken, not one moment wasted, a lifetime devoted to overcoming self.
So let’s summarise . O-Sensei, a spiritual and martial giant studied many ancient forms of fighting and came to the conclusion that Aikido was a way to achieve spiritual awareness through hard physical training, this is backed up by another martial giant, Yamaoka Tesshu who came to exactly the same realisation.
O Sensei was as deeply spiritual a person as his violent teacher sokaku Takeda was not. O Sensei and his Aikido were profoundly influenced by his spiritual practice, omoto kyo. O Sensei having studied Aiki under Takeda rejects his Aiki as just another way of fighting to defeat an opponent, and with sword in hand, hides himself away in Iwama, and discovers like Tesshu and Harigaya before him that the spirit of true budo is that of love, of oneness with the universe, of no me, no sword and no enemy. This realisation elevates his ability beyond Aiki. He chooses as his successor a man that also has been drilled in this concept, Tohei Sensei, who learnt these very concepts at the foot of the student of Yamaoka Tesshu at the ichikukai. That true Aikido is Ai-nuke, not fighting but passing through, not avoiding the conflict, but with the universe as his ally, controlling space and time, and conflict outside physical parameters.
But that coming to such a realisation takes great work and sacrifice, death even, a willingness to sacrifice all to find this way.
As I stated earlier, I do not reject the ideas that internal power brings to Aikido, the coordination of body that it takes to understand how these things work brings a strong understanding of how we function on a physiological level as efficient human beings, but I would argue that the concept of Aikido that the founder saw in his latter days had more to do with the concept of the spirit than that of an efficient body.
I leave the argument now. In my heart there is no argument, I leave with a quote from Tesshu Yamaoka’s master,
“No man can defeat another of superior virtue”
Thanks for your time
“In the past martial artists were serious, their resolution was absolutely sincere, they worked soundly on technique and where neither daunted nor lazy.
Such men believed what their instructors passed on to them, made great efforts day-and-night, tested their techniques, spoke with their friends about their doubts, mastered what they studied and awaken themselves to principles.
For this reason what they acquired penetrated deeply within them.
At first their instructors would teach them techniques but say nothing of the principles that were hidden within them.
They only waited for the students to uncover those principles by themselves.
This is called drawing the bow, but not releasing the arrow.(teaching the way to achieve their own understanding, not the actual understanding)
And it’s not that they spoke grudgingly they simply wanted this students to use their minds and to master what they were studying in the interval.
Disciples would thoroughly exert their minds and make great efforts.
If there was something they understood on their own they would still go and confront the teacher; and he would acknowledge their understanding when their minds were in accord.
If the teacher released the arrow nothing would be learned and this was not just in the martial arts. (I.e. The understanding had to come from the student, not be taught to the student)
“I am not going to go on with the fellow who does not respond my lifting up 3 corners when I have already lifted up one”(this means the teacher should only impart one quarter of the puzzle, the student then exerts themselves to discover the other three quarters)(steal the technique)
This was the teaching method of the men of old.
In this way the students were sure to be serious whether in scholarship or in martial arts.
Now a days people are shallow and their resolution is not in earnest.
They dislike the strenuous and love the easy from the time they are young.
When they see something vaguely clever they want to learn it right away; but if taught in the manner of the old ways, they think it not worth learning.
Now days, the way is revealed by the instructor, the deepest principles are taught even to beginners, the end result is set right out in front and the student is led along by the hand.
Even with methods like these students become bored and many of them quit.
In this way, talking about principles takes the high seat, the men of old are considered inadequate, mastery becomes watered down and students only make effort in things that might have them “climb to new heights”.
this is again the spirit of The Times ………….”
Issai Chonzanshi (1659-1741)
********* I would like to acknowledge a few reference materials, first and foremost the writings of Ellis Amdur, who’s rewritten copy of Hidden in plain sight constantly nagged at my subconscious,
Also the truth of the ancient ways, by Anshan Anatoliy
Omori Sogen,the art of a zen master
Aikido Masters – Prewar Students of Morihei Ueshiba, by Stanley Pranin
How my time in Ki Society helps me understand Yuishinkai
Soren’s recent Post reminded me of some things I saw, heard and was told in Japan whilst training with Tohei Sensei and the Shihans of Ki Society for 22 years. The reason for this post is that some of the information from my time with Tohei Sensei and his Shihans may be useful in understanding Aikido Yuishinkai and putting it into the correct context. I realise that some of this information may be surprising, but it is what I saw, heard, and was told.
Aikido is a transformative martial art. If you train correctly mind and body are intimately integrated and your spiritual and physical capabilities become extraordinary. I have met and trained with several direct students of Ueshiba Sensei, and I’ve seen this for myself, not had it passed on to me as a dojo/Aikido story. Enlightenment? We all know that Ueshiba Sensei had a moment of enlightenment, but I was 6 feet from Tohei Sensei, sitting on the mat, when he said “I have never had a moment of enlightenment. I changed, but through training, and more training.” Saotome Sensei also said that while he was an uchideshi, one morning after training several other students said to him “you’ve changed, something is different about you and your Aikido today”, and O Sensei took him aside and performed the prayers he performed when someone had “broken through.” This seems to have been the most common experience, not a “moment” but the emergence of profound change after years of long, hard training, guided by someone who had already made the journey. So this is almost certainly our own journey as well.
I’m Murray Loader, 7th Dan, I run three dojos in Canberra, Australia; as well as Aikido I also study koryu Kenjutsu. First some background – I spent 22 years within Ki Society, reaching 4th Dan in Aikido, Chuden in Ki, and was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Ki. I spent well over a month in the dojo dormitory in Ki no Sato, Tohei Sensei’s home dojo in Tochigi Prefecture, of which two weeks was private training directly with Tohei Sensei three times a day in a small Australian group, and the rest was larger group training with him. I attended several one-week seminars with Maruyama Sensei during this period also, before he left Ki Society. During the next two decades I attended annual seminars run by Tamura Sensei (9th Dan) and Kataoka Sensei (8th Dan) in Australia and trained as often as I could, 4-6 times a week from then to now. I also visited Tamura Sensei regularly in Kawasaki, where he had 40 dojos at that time and 9000 students attending them. During these two-week visits I trained at every class every day wherever there was a dojo open. This meant seven classes a day and a lot of travel. While I was very fortunate that Tamura Sensei took an interest in me and guided me with perception and kindness, and visited me in Australia, I was not important, but I was able to meet and talk to several of the Japanese shihan of the Ki Society.
Because they had seen how I trained over a period of years, both Tamura Sensei and Kataoka Sensei, a couple of years apart, took me aside and very seriously said exactly the same thing “if you want to do Aikido for self-defence you must train very hard.”
Think about that.
They were telling me that I was training properly and with the right attitude, that was why they bothered to make the comment, but they were saying that what I was training hard to do wasn’t enough in some way! I have repeatedly cursed myself over the years ever since; I wanted to ask “Sensei, you have something particular in mind when you say that; can you advise me on what to do?” Because they knew me well I am positive that they both would have shown me what they meant. But out of deference, I just bowed and said “Hai Sensei! Thank you very much.” Idiot!
I knew they were right, because I could tell that what I was doing would not lead me to their level of ability, nor to O Sensei’s. I could see the difference between myself and them, but I had no idea how to bridge the gap.
All these shihans had one thing in common. They had all trained for years with O Sensei, and then with Tohei Sensei. And Tohei Sensei learned O Sensei Aikido. He talked and thought Ki. But his body did O Sensei; his Ki started with Ueshiba Sensei, then developed in a different direction, that of his own and of Nakamura Tempu. Who was also a direct student of O Sensei.
I run film in my mind all the time of seeing Tohei performing Taiso or technique, of Tamura and Kataoka (and Maruyama Sensei of course) doing the same, performing in a way and at a level I couldn’t see how to reach. But I now do understand, mostly, although of course not to their standard. What they were doing with mind and body is what Maruyama Sensei is teaching directly to us. All of them did what they learned from O Sensei. To it they added Tohei Sensei’s ideas. Tohei Sensei added to (and sometimes replaced) Ueshiba Sensei’s teaching, it was the platform for his own studies.
Every one of them trained in Ueshiba’s training method, and there was a reason that his dojo was called “Hell Dojo” – because O Sensei was completely convinced that no other method would develop his students into the spiritually aware, whole, complete, and formidably capable people that he wanted to create. I also watched for several weeks while Tohei’s uchideshi and the live-in students of his Gakuin at Ki no Sato were trained. I was an Army Officer at the time, and it reminded me forcibly of the difficult training I had experienced in the Army. The emphasis, like the Army, was on physicality, precision, and mental and physical toughness as the vehicle for learning the higher skills. It was demanding and tough, with not much kindness. They trained and worked around the complex from early morning until very late, often to 1-2am in the morning. Tohei allowed no mistakes, nothing passed uncorrected (450 people sat and watched while Tohei Sensei corrected my Yokomenuchi Shihonage for 25 minutes, and later another 15 minutes on a different technique – he was quite annoyed by that time) and even if training or work was done well, it was always “do it again” and again and again and again and again. They weren’t the same as “Japanese” classes, but ours were three 2-hour classes a day; if anyone went to the side for a rest, or people slowed down, or were chatting it wasn’t long before an uchideshi or shihan came over get them going again. So if this is how his own students were trained, and how he himself was trained, why didn’t he train us the same way, and expect us to do the same in our own dojos? Why the difference in standards? The reason emerges below.
Tohei Sensei said, while I was sitting on the mat right in front of him, “sitting in a quiet room meditating is good for your mind and health, but it is no use in the relative world; instead you must be able to act with a meditative mind in the middle of violence;” in the same session he followed this up with “every technique must be done as if it is on the battlefield.” Not violently, he meant very vigorously, very assertively, relaxed, calm, aware, with intent, control and Aiki Body working together in the most serious way as if in the most serious of circumstances.
Later he talked about sword – “sword and jo will teach you Aikido if done correctly, and Aikido will teach you sword and jo.” He said that when he travelled he would train by doing bokken for an hour in his hotel room, ending soaked in sweat. Shirata Sensei, quoted by John Stevens, also talked about sword “the sword, too, is an instrument of purification”, and bokken is often used as such in some religious rites in Japan. For O Sensei sword and jo were essential tools for learning Aiki Body, for learning Aiki Mind, and as tools for interacting with the universe. Aikido requires bokken, jo, tanto, taijutsu, mind and body.
But I looked around after Tohei’s words, and there was great deal of discomfort on the faces of most of our small group. To them Tohei was the face of “love and harmony and ki” Aikido, and his statements were completely the opposite of what they expected and wanted to hear from him. They were unhappy, and subsequently reframed his words into their worldview, or ignored them. So why did he say it? The simple reason why is that Aikido is not what many westerners assume it to be, it’s not what their instructors may have told them it is, its not the myth of Aikido taken back to the West by many of the early Western Aikidoka who trained in Japan, which has become widely accepted as “truth”.
Certainly what Ueshiba, Tohei, Maruyama, Tamura, Kataoka and the other shihans I met wanted was peace in the world, a balance in human affairs for all. However Ueshiba and Tohei both had the same motto – “You must love and protect all creation.” What many westerners hear is “you must love all creation”, but that is not what O Sensei said, its not what Tohei Sensei said, and its not what the shihans wanted from their students. They were taught that to be righteous people, to be able to help deliver peace and harmony to human affairs, that they needed to both care and to be able to intervene, to act, to protect. Not to witness, or talk, they needed to be able to act and have the capability to be successful in that act.
From various sources, the simplified story behind all this that I was told over time is, essentially, that once word of Aikido started to spread in the West in the 60’s and early 70’s, two kinds of Westerner arrived to experience Aikido (a generalisation of course). One group was composed of people who came on the mat, opened their eyes and ears, and trained in the way their Japanese colleagues did. This group, for example Henry Kono and Walther von Krenner among others, learned what Tohei/Maruyama/Tamura/Kataoka etc had learned, or significant parts of it. At this time O Sensei was being more open than previously and knowledge about the real, hidden, Aikido was now much more available. As a result you can see in the videos and books by these Western students that they talk about and demonstrate exactly what Maruyama Sensei is teaching us.
The second group has caused Aikido great chaos and confusion. At the time much of the western world was in the throes of a cultural revolution, largely brought about by the younger generations, which has had a profound effect ever since. This group brought to Japan a strongly-held mindset and sought validation of it from Aikido, as what they had heard of it and of the sage/guru who invented it seemed to perfectly fit their worldview.
When they arrived, over various periods, but in large numbers, these people told the shihans “we don’t need to train like that, we are here to learn the love, harmony, ki and Aiki, we don’t want to do that martial training;” others said “we don’t train like that in the West and we don’t want to, we want the spiritual aikido not the budo aikido,” and “in the West we do things the modern way, and we don’t agree with these old-fashioned methods.” You might think I am making this up, but I have witnessed senior Western yudansha saying these things to senior Japanese instructors from the 1980s until the present day, and my discussions with shihans tell the same story.
The shihans were utterly baffled, for two reasons – (1) here was a group of Aikido know-nothings trying to tell teachers with decades of experience of O Sensei’s Aikido how and what to teach them, like Primary school students telling the school principal what the curriculum should be and how to teach it, and (2) when the shihans repeatedly explained that to get what they wanted so much – the love/harmony/ki/Aiki – they needed the full budo Aikido and that without it they would never achieve what they wanted, these westerners flatly rejected that view. They were so wedded to their worldview that they simply would not take the advice of the experts who had already travelled the path.
There were several outcomes from this. One was that a significant number of Japanese Aikido sensei refuse to teach westerners – “westerners can’t/won’t train, I can’t be bothered with them,” or to insist on proper training or they would be asked to leave. Another was that the entire Japanese Aikido community came to the conclusion that only Japanese had the attitude and capability to learn the real Aikido; those few westerners who trained properly were viewed with reserve and suspicion until they proved themselves, and were then welcomed but seen as aberrations. A further unfortunate reaction, perhaps the most common, was to provide the Westerners what they said they wanted and to assume all Westerners wanted that same thing; this reaction came from (1) economic reasons, (2) the view that the Westerners, although making a very serious mistake, were nonetheless sincere and often nice people, and if accommodated perhaps some of their students might later come to Japan with open minds and learn the real Aikido, and (3) kindness.
So that’s what happened in some Aikido Ryu (but not all) – Westerners arrived and were welcomed but were restricted to the Omote (open/public) Aikido, the hidden-in-plain-sight Aikido of O Sensei was not mentioned and was very difficult to access. They were given considerable insight into the mind/spiritual training of Aikido that they wanted, but with the (Japanese) expectation that the knowledge, while useful and helpful, would not take them particularly far. So that’s the story as I heard it. By the time I arrived in Japan in the 1980s the shihans had long given up explaining, as they thought no-one was listening.
The question we all need to ask ourselves is – will what we are doing lead us to the level of capability of spirit, mind and body of the Uchideshi? Or of Ueshiba Sensei? If not, we are not on the path that Ueshiba and Tohei wanted us to take. This can be because you, or your instructor, do not know how to get there, which is completely okay and completely understandable (me too until recently), and is what Aikido Yuishinkai exists to solve. Or it can be because you have chosen your own way of getting there, which implies “I know better than O Sensei”, which if you haven’t got there is self-evidently incorrect.
People often ask me about the differences I see in Ki between Tohei-style and Yuishinkai. Some of Tohei Sensei’s methods and ideas diverged from O Sensei’s over time, but the underlying platform is O Sensei in origin. Yuishinkai is based on O Sensei ki methods. Much of the confusion arises from the tradition that if you now belong to a different Aikido Ryu you shouldn’t use the intellectual property of the Ryu that you left. This means that Tohei having left Aikikai, and Maruyama having left Ki Society, have had in many cases to create different names and different explanations of their own for Principles and concepts that are actually common to all of them. For example, Extending Ki can also be Connection, or Intent etc. While Ueshiba’s ki can differ to Tohei’s, and Maruyama’s may appear to be different again, there is much in common, its just different words and explanations in many cases. Maruyama’s ki teaching is almost all Ueshiba and koryu, but again he sometimes uses different words and explanations, so look for the commonalities between the different names and the explanations. You aren’t being asked to replace your previous ki experience, instead the different methods and explanations within Yuishinkai often provide more depth and detail for things you might be familiar with under different names, and are actually more useful. There are also high-level concepts and methods for ki, based on Ueshiba and Koryu tradition, that are really fascinating and explain much about the unusual capability of the shihans. Yuishinkai is crammed full of ki training.
The story of Aikido from the shihans tells us that there is no “Aikido Lite” where you can develop the mind and spiritual component separately from the martial. The whole of O Sensei’s method was based on the complete opposite – Aikido is a profoundly transformative art where you train mind and body and ki at the same time, intensely and mindfully, and that performs the transformation.
The transformation is not an intellectual exercise, it requires the rigorous integration of mind and body, then the integration of the Ki and Mind principles with that. The Mind/Ki practices utterly depend on the mind/body Principles and movements before they work properly. It seems that those individuals who returned from Japan having been taught, at their own insistence, the Omote physical Aikido and the “spiritual” Aikido, but not the Budo, returned with something which gave them satisfaction, and gave them validation of their worldview, but which was hollow, and neither brought transformation into the spiritual being they wanted to be, nor full martial competence, because they had refused the training that develops them. Unfortunately for them as individuals, and for the hundreds of thousands of students they have taught since, they had ensured that the transformation and spirituality they sought would be in sight, but always out of reach.
Aikido Yuishinkai is a forum where one of the Shihans who taught those people is reaching out to a newer generation, offering the full experience. The instruction is offered openly, not the case in the past, but the work must be ours, and it is accessible to everyone – first get the Principles and footwork right using Kotai, then keep them right while doing Juntai, then do the same for Ryutai. Focus on how to be Uke first, Nage is not the major learning role. Each move as Uke or as Nage must be mindful, “what went wrong, how will I fix it”, and as confidence increases so must the vigour of execution of both roles.
The Japanese training model is not uniquely Japanese, correct training is universally understood and prevalent across the Western world; Western countries are full of examples of historical and present-day sports, medical teams, defence, etc etc that train and prepare themselves exactly the same way, because it works. What we get in addition from Japanese Aikido though, is the mind and spiritual training and its benefits.
In recent times there has been much debate around training style and focus within the organisation. I will share with you how we trained in the early days and why I believe every practitioner should train this way for at least some part of their learning.
It is important to explain my current situation.
I live and work in a world of violence. There is no room for error nor can I have a bad day. Not only do I live in this world of violence, it is my occupation to teach people violence. To be effective in skills, definite in decision and morally and legally correct.
It is also my occupation to inoculate from stress (Warrington 2016) those I train.
How this occurs will be discussed later in the article.
I have chosen the word violence very carefully. Not to be provocative but it highlights that what we are actually doing in training.
The physical aspect of techniques require us be violent.
I would be interested in a person’s argument that striking, throwing, causing pain through joint manipulation and hitting a person with a piece of wood are not violent actions.
I do not accept that what we are doing when executing technique is anything less than violent.
Our approach and ethos around what we are doing is certainly not violent and here lays the paradox.
How can we train for violence of action but promote peace and harmony?
This debate could be the topic of its own article and I will not go into this at this time.
My personal belief is, that to not use violence, or only use violence when necessary, is to have an intimate knowledge of violence and your ability to impart violence.
I do not believe this makes a person violent.
In fact the opposite is true.
Knowing your ability to impart force provides awareness of the harm you can do. Knowing the effect of force on a person and the level of force you actually need to impart allows you to use only what is necessary on a person.
You become more effective and resolute in your technique as you need to do less, not more. You can strip away the mysticism and confusion of great technique. You therefore have less to think about and process. This leads to having a perception of more time to act and you become less reactive.
This awareness is affected by stress.
When a person is fearful or panicked they can use disproportionate force in the situation.
How can you say, honestly, that when you are confronted by the angry man, with no experience around your own responses and abilities in that situation, you will be effective?
Fighting Mind is destroyed by having this awareness.
There is no need to slam a person into the mat or put all my weight behind a cut. A person would get hurt. You are able to dial up and down the effect on uke if you know both ends of the scale. You are able to feel that you have enough torque on uke and can back it off so they can roll.
Without knowing both ends of the scale how can you know your true ability?
Over time this can be applied to an off mat situation. You see an opening or feel the attacker off balance and modify this to use only what is required.
I am not stating you need to have first-hand experience with violence or competition.
But this leads us to question- what is your personal experience with violence?
And what is your ability to impart violence?
I will ask you to search your own experiences of violence and examine how you responded. Being placed in an actual confrontation is confronting, hence the name.
How did you manage the stress? Have you even thought about how to manage stress in a confrontation? What effect will stress have on your technique?
If you think you won’t be affected by stress, or your technique will stack up in the big bad world you can stop reading now.
Thank you for your time.
Those who have kept reading I would remind you that time on the mat does not directly correlate to proficiency of technique or the ability to manage stress.
Those who believe they can overlook stress are dangerous. Also very dangerous and misguided is the notion that because I’ve study an art for long time you are therefore more skilful.
This is driven more by ego than reality.
There are some people who are more skilful and engaged in the art after 12 months than some practitioners who have studied 12 years.
My experiences of violence are varied. From working in the security industry, law enforcement and on the mat. Having applied my art off the mat in a variety of situations, I can say that if I had not had the experience of the early days of training I would not have fared so well.
It was in those times that we trained and trained and trained. These were long and hard days that left as gasping for breath and near to true exhaustion.
So what did we do in the early days?
We were is a great position that can’t be denied.
Being able to devote around 5-6 hours a day on the physical aspects alone is not a position many people have the opportunity to do nor the desire to experience. Being students with access to a great facility for really no cost did make things easier. To be honest, in the early days I was a sceptic. I was not convinced what I was seeing could work. I am no longer a sceptic.
Most of the training was around the physical execution of techniques. Nothing was off the table.
There was a real sense that we were in some ways trying to defeat the techniques and find fault with them.
Nothing was sacred. It couldn’t be. We trained with a variety of other people. All of whom were and are very accomplished in their own arts.(ie, other great martial artists NOT from an Aikido background)
We never shied away from them and in some cases made them converts.
Another long-time friend of mine who was world class karate practitioner often commented on what we were doing and could easily draw comparison with his own art. He saw first-hand what happened in the dojo translated to the ‘angry man’. He took some techniques and used them in his own world with great success.
Techniques were unpacked and rebuilt constantly. This was done at a low level to ensure we had what we needed. Once we believed we had a workable technique we set about setting it as a conditioned response. Please don’t ever say the words muscle memory to me.
We were and still are not afraid to completely relearn and unpack a technique in the pursuit of effectiveness.
I recall cutting with a bokken thousands of times. Getting the technique aspects perfect. Really focusing on what is means to have correct form and how that relates to power. Did I mentioned we were all previously highly competitive sports people? We understood the need to have perfect form and how that related to power generation. The greatest sports icons generate power effortlessly. Why? Form and repetition! Jordan didn’t pick up a basketball suddenly become the greatest player in the world. Schwarzenegger didn’t walk into a gym and suddenly look the way he did. Hours, week, months, years, decades of relentless improvement. Seeking perfect form.
Never settling for mediocrity.
I will suggest you all read a book called Relentless by Tim S Grover.
Once this was correct we needed to see if we could take that isolated skill and apply it in the dynamic situation. The use of Shinai allowed us to test each other in a way that was safe and came as close to reality as we could get. I lost more than I won.
What existed, and still does, is the acceptance of failure.
No one was fearful of failure.
We actually sought it out.
We wanted to test our ability to the point where we could say “I failed” rather than ‘I don’t think I can go on?” There was no shame in failure, only knowledge. Can we do this technique this way? No we can’t because……..
This happened constantly. Why didn’t things work? What do I need to fix?
Ah, I need to be strong here, soft here, cut here not there. We also worked with immediate feedback.
Meaning, if you were open you got punched, off balance you got thrown, no rotation in ukemi your thigh was bruised from hip to knee.
This level of physical execution could only occur after we could all take Ukemi to a high level.
We didn’t talk about the need to break fall. Nage made us break fall.
Yes, nage is responsible for the break fall not uke.
I will also mentioned that those who trained in the early day were physically fit. We all played representative sport at some level. Not only did this give us the physical ability to train the way we did, it also bought with it the mental toughness to keep going and an understanding of the biomechanics of the human body.
Apart from bumps and bruises our group sustained no major injuries when training together. Preparing for the first seminar in Byron Bay was difficult and rewarding. Pushing our bodies to the point of exhaustion taught me a lot about myself. To get through the training I needed to make movements as economical as possible. This included techniques and ukemi. Remaining stable during techniques at hour 5 meant that when I wasn’t fatigued in hour 1 tomorrow I could perceive and analysis my techniques and improve.
It is my belief you need to be physically strong to practice any art. There are varying degrees of fitness but this is something that anyone can improve. Age, gender, current situation and work and time restrictions are weak excuses.
The stronger and more stable you are the easier it is to learn and train.
This is the process of Tanren.
Not flitting about the mat for 2 hours not breaking a sweat and engaging in Talkido.
This brings me to the title of the article.
What would O’Sensei say if he walked into the dojo and saw you training?
Would he see the real spirit of Budo that we are all trying to find? Or would he simply walk away? Would he smile and say they are searching?
What I see on a lot of classes and demonstrations is a mockery of the art. Dancing, paired movements with no sense of budo other than they take place in a dojo.
This is not Budo and this is not Aikido.
Demonstration have become more about dojo promotion than the promotion of the true essence of the art.
So where is the proof that this type of training is effective and in my opinion essential to your art? Simple.
I look at technique of all those who trained in a similar fashion and evidence is overwhelming.
What this has meant for me is that I have been able to strip away a lot of complexity. Learning new techniques or more importantly rebuilding a technique I don’t have to worry so much about balance, stability or fatiguing before I can condition the technique.
Those who are forged are always stable, always effective and unyielding.
I look at photo and videos of O’Sensei and the masters and they certainly are. There is no need for them to be aggressive as they can use less force and less complex techniques to be effective.
Are you confronted by the effectiveness of their ability or are you confronted by yours in relation to what you see?
As part of by occupation I need to deal with people using 100% effort. There is no margin for error. I must protect myself which allows me to protect them. I get hurt I can lose my livelihood. They get hurt I can lose my livelihood.
This is truth, and truth can either cut you to the core, or set you free. Does the face staring back at you from the mirror rest easy in the knowledge that it has done all it possible can to understand all aspects of violence, training and the art you represent? Or does the face turn away in the knowledge that words and deeds are not the same thing? That talking a good fight has no relation to fighting the good fight? I know what my mirror says to me…..
I came to Aikido after 4 seasons of professional sport, I had decided I wanted to be an athlete at the age of 14. I was lucky in that I had grown up getting used to hard work as my family had a small hobby farm, and being the eldest boy, my non school hours were spent doing all manner of farm work from hand cutting fresh plantation beds to carrying loads of dirt and manure. From a young age I became proficient with garden tools, especially shovels and the mattock.
What I am trying to say is that my development years held me in good stead when it came to body strength and endurance as well as a strong work ethic.
When I started Aikido I was strong, able to press 150kg and squat 200kg(I am 6’4” and 115kg), due to a rigorous training regime. All of these things contributed to a person that started Aikido that already had a different background to those stereotypically found in Aikido.
I trained diligently my first year, attending every class on offer, which at my first Dojo was luckily ten a week.
I was lucky enough to meet the Shihan that had been sent to my country to disseminate Aikido, and, after receiving ukemi for him, realised there was a quality and feel to his technique and structure that I had not experienced from anyone else before. It occurred to me that some of those around me had been doing Aikido for almost thirty years, and were nowhere near what I had just experienced in technical ability, but more importantly in body feeling.
I was in Japan three months later to begin training. I did not believe it was possible that what he had was the exclusive right of those born in Japan alone. After all, humans are humans. Being an athlete had taught me one thing, that anything is possible as a human being if one works hard enough, keeps an open mind to change, and looks for ways to constantly elevate their technical ability.
I still believe this, it has almost become a life mantra, that anything is possible as long as you just believe it is.
One of the first things that was obvious to me was the difference in training, in intensity, in repetition of basic movements and in zero tolerance for mistakes. Also there was a much greater emphasis on the ukemi component, and I was tutored by seniors outside regular class hours as to how to improve my skill and understanding in this vital area.
I remember failing to do basic footwork correctly , then being made to stand in the corner like a bad child writing lines, and repeat the movement for the duration of the class.(I didn’t realise at the time that these basic movements, that I practiced everyday, and where quite unique to my Sensei, would later lead me to understanding some internal aspects of Aikido movement)
I vividly(painfully?) remember being struck when I was standing in an exposed position during technique, or knocked on my ass if I was unbalanced.
I remember being taught to cut showmen with a bokken and tsuki-jodan with a jo, and being told that if I mastered these movements I would not need to learn fancy kata. I made a decision at that time to complete 1,000,000 sword cuts, which I completed about ten years ago, most against a tanrenuchi in my backyard or in my Dojo.
Training over there was very different in every way. I asked questions and received answers on many topics that seemed to contradict ideas and teachings in Aikido books in English, as well as what I had been originally told regarding Aikido philosophy and spirituality, in short my budo eyes were being opened, and I never wanted them closed again.
On returning to Australia, I floated between Dojo and even organisations trying to find what I had in Japan. I eventually decided to move and opened my own Dojo to return to or even go beyond the intensity in training I had experienced in Japan, and so I did, for the next 5 years average about 40 hours a week on the mat, exploring the techniques and principles that had been drilled into me in Japan. It was during these years I met Maruyama Sensei and dedicated myself to him and his teachings.
My personal Dojo offered 10 + 2 hour classes a week as well as personal classes and weekend weapons classes in soft sand at the beach. I surrounded myself with like minded individuals that wanted to discover Ueshiba’s Aikido, and weren’t afraid of how hard it may be to find it. By this time I had totally rejected what I had seen in my country and in the west in general as a way to discover the secrets of budo, and created misogi through tanren in a hope to rediscover the ancient ways and transcend the body.
This was my journey to Aikido. I never worked full time as I trained too often. I sacrificed that side of my life, when many young people are working hard thinking of purchasing a home and getting married and having a family, I was obsessed with getting something I hoped was more lasting. Lucky I had a partner that was supportive of this, and eventually got married and had children, and though the training slowed, it still remained a DAILY study.
In my training life there have been many truths I have lived by.
Firstly in learning reject nothing due to prejudices or fears. You can’t look at others Aikido and say that isn’t Aikido, it’s too violent, to martial(I have been accused of this many times), it’s too extreme, it’s not harmonious, it’s too hard. Every aspect of Aikido needs to be studied to be understood, not just one.
Don’t reject ukemi styles either. Actually truly learning ukemi is the secret to learn to absorb and redirect force through the body. Break falling, done correctly strengthens the joints, and helps build an immovable body. Don’t hold onto the simple kata of Aikido rolling and falling as correct for these connections, it is at the beginning, but at the end, when working on the principles, it has to be thrown out, as connection increases, attachment to form decreases. Ki musubi isn’t an action, ki musubi is a feeling. I have been very lucky in my life to have taken ukemi for about 14 different Shihan, so I say this from experience, not prejudice. Ukemi, real unattached ukemi is the secret to elevation in Aikido.
Look at videos of the founder, of the senior Shihan he left to dissipate Aikido to the world and find the common thread. Look for the common thread. Tohei, Saito, Shirata, Shioda, Hikitsuchi, Sunadamaru and Yamaguchi are my favourites, and I have watched literally all that I could find on their Aikido and tested nearly all of it at one time or another.
Read all that has been written by these giants on Aikido, all that they have had to say about the founders teachings. Read the founders teachings, his life history, but question everything you read, study Japanese history, it’s and the founders religions, both Shinto and shingon. Have a look at sumo, the founders first budo. Have a dabble in kenjutsu, especially itto ryu concepts and especially Kiriotoshi. Read about and look at the movements of other martial arts, especially Chinese internal arts, and try to see the connections between their movements and Aikido basic movements.
Learn to see Aikido basics as just that basics, not techniques as much as teachings or lessons in specific hidden principles, especially those techniques from Ikkyo through Gokyo, which are not techniques but lessons in body movements and building connections through the structure and softening the joints. ( prewar the techniques were called Kajo, or lessons, not techniques for example Ikkyo was called Ikkajo, literally first lesson. Yoshinkan Aikido still uses this naming method)
Allow yourself and your Aikido to be challenged, to be pressure tested in a more realistic situation. Yes, you may get hit, it’s ok, Aikido is a martial art. Take these lessons and workshop them, find out why you failed, then try again but with a better understanding. Never reject challenges by hiding behind dogma. To change someone, first earn their respect by rising to that challenge instead of running from it.
Stay fit and strong. When you read about the founders students, they were all very strong, powerful individuals. Tohei and ki Aikido may have been soft in nature, but he was a powerfully built man with thick legs and trunk. Maruyama Sensei still does weight training and physical exercise daily, and he is 82 years old. Don’t reject such lessons, they are more important than breathing if you want to do what they can do, you need to do what they did. There are no shortcuts to this, it’s not the Japanese mind versus the western mind, or the Japanese way versus the western way, it’s just quite simply the budo way, and rejection of this way leads to a hollow shell of form devoid of any function.
As an Aikido teacher it is my job to help those that would study the way to understand the way. To elevate all those below me in grade, I must be honest in my experience and share these truths. If I say technique or training methods can’t be done a certain way, it’s not out of arrogance, or ego, but what I am actually saying to you is “don’t make the same mistakes I made, don’t fail where I have failed”, my experience wasn’t debating the merits of such aspects, my experience came painfully, and I have chosen not to teach in such a way, but in the real world the lesson would be much more severe than it is on the mat, so indulge this crazy fool and just listen..
Respect the time and effort those above you have put into making such mistakes. Aikido isn’t a competition, it is a journey to the top of a mountain that never ends.
A journey to where you can discover glimpses of important concepts through experience and hard work, not through dialogue and dogma.
Tanren, mushin, zanshin, misogi, ki musubi, yamabikko no michi, aiki o kakeriru, fudoshin and misogi harai are not just concepts to be spoken, but rather states of awareness to be experienced and understood.
Anyone telling you they can articulate these concepts to help you to understand is just kidding themselves and misleading you. They are the essence of what will come when the ego self is overcome in the process of training free from personal agenda. The words sound fancy, and their meanings and concepts truly are, but the journey to them is not any easy path.
Don’t hold any human being above another. There is no such thing as a master of men, only those that can master themselves.
This can be your Aikido journey if you choose, I know it has been mine, and the juice has been worth the squeeze.
Important Update on the next Australian annual seminar with Maruyama Sensei.
After a lot of discussion about the alternatives and their pros and cons Sensei has agreed that the seminar will be in Tokyo rather than Hobart. Whether it is the third week of January 2019 or the April 2019 school holidays will be decided in the next week based on the availability of venues.
All Yuishinkai adults, regardless of grade, and all those senior AikiKids who have attended a seminar with Peter Kelly are eligible to attend (parents are welcome to travel with us and we are also happy to fully supervise in loco parentis). We will probably aim for a group on the mat of 15-20 all up.
It will run for 2 weeks for those who stay for the full period, with 2 classes a day. The mat fee is fixed/set and will need to be paid by August 2018.The venues will rotate amongst 3 different dojos depending on the day and time of day.
We recommend accommodation in Ikebukoro district, and will arrange a group booking for accommodation for those who want to take advantage of that. Ikebukoro has good links to the rest of Tokyo and is itself interesting. It will also make it easier for us to guide/take you to the dojos.
There will be plenty of free time for sightseeing and there is a great deal to see and do in Tokyo. We will take groups to different places of Aikido/Budo, historical, entertainment and retail interest (whole suburbs specialise in different shops…), and we’ll show you how to get around on your own.
Its a safe and comfortable place, and once we’ve shown you how to work the train system you will find it very easy to get around by yourself and do your own thing.
For those who are thinking “Tokyo? That’s expensive compared to Hobart” the answer is “not really.” We will look at a group airfare booking to reduce costs, so it is likely to be anywhere from $900-$1200 return. Accommodation will be around $100 per night. Day-to-day expenses are lower than Hobart – food choices range from cheap but good to ridiculous, but we usually eat really well at the cheap end; train travel is by a prepaid card that you top up and is very reasonable. The mat fee is likely to be around $650-$700, but that is for 10-12+ training days rather than 4 days for the same amount in Hobart.
This is your chance to see or return to Japan, to experience one of the world’s great cultures, and to experience Aikido the Japanese way with a direct student of the Founder.
So get excited! Start planning! Let Peter or Murray know if you are interested.