Aikido as a budo
by George S. Ledyard
The article below does not necessary reflect the point of view on Aikido of our club Aikikai Gent. However, we think these articles provide really ‘food’ for deeper thought on Aikido and it’s value.
This article appeared in aikiweb
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 interesting practice.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.