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The point of Aikido

The Point of Aikido

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 on the forums of aikiweb

I think that there are many reasons people choose to do martial arts but perhaps the predominant one is fear of some sort. If one looks at the biographies of many of the martial geniuses of history, one finds quite a few who were sickly and weak as children or experienced some traumatic incident in the early life. I think that martial training was a way that they strove to be fearless, to lose that sense of vulnerability.

But really, there are two ways that people have chosen to go about this. The most common one is by focusing on power, the ability to defeat any enemy, bear any hardship, be stronger, tougher, better, than any enemy one might be presented with. While not an easy path I believe that it is the easier of the two. It is fundamentally based on papering over ones insecurities with the trappings of power.

One can see this in the endless discussions on-line dealing the martial arts and especially Aikido. Worries about whether Aikido is good on the street abound. Constant reference to mixed martial arts and competition showing that Aikido doesn’t “work” can be found. It’s all about conflict and competition. And it is fundamentally about “fear”.

What is this fear that by doing an art like Aikido we can be beaten by someone doing mixed martial arts? Is this a worry that you live with on a daily basis? There’ll you’ll be at the grocery store when, suddenly, you are accosted by the local gang of MMA practitioners… Really, I can’t honestly say that I know even one person who was ever in a fight with another martial artist on the street.

Constantly focusing on fighting, on beating others using ones skills is, in my opinion, symptomatic of martial power being used to hide from what makes one afraid. It ultimately fails in this as most of the things that make us afraid and make our daily lives so difficult are things which no amount of martial skill, no amount of toughness, no number of victories in competition can help us with.

So your lover tells you she’s leaving, your child becomes ill, you get laid off, your business goes broke, you get cancer, the list goes on and on. Does anyone honestly think that being the most accomplished fighter in the country helps with any of these fears? Does anyone, at the moment of being presented with what one most fears, say to themselves, “I should have done mixed martial arts instead of Aikido.” Or “Sure glad that I did my kokyu training and no one can throw me…”? This constant preoccupation with strength and power, the focus on prevailing over others is not particularly useful in regular life.

I see rough and tough martial artists who wouldn’t hesitate to get on the mat with three attackers trying to hit them with big sticks but who will let their relationship fall apart rather than go to counseling. In counseling they’d have to be vulnerable again. So no one can lock you up? Great! Explain to me how that skill helps you when your 16 year old ADD son is addicted to nicotine and caffeine and his grades are tanking… All of the fighting skill in the world won’t help you in the great crisis’s of ones life.

Martial arts exist mostly for one reason; to make one a better person. The Japanese understand this perhaps better than anyone else in that they only relatively recently transitioned from a society in which the martial arts provided the tools used by the ruling class, the Bushi. With the Meiji Restoration and the abolishment of the Samurai as a class any real need for traditional martial arts was over. The traditionalists who opposed the guns of peasant converts all died glorious but futile deaths.

So what kept the martial arts going? The leaders of this emerging modern nation realized that there was something which traditional martial arts training provided which simply didn’t come with acquisition of the most efficient means of killing ones enemies. Budo training offered something deeper. It developed character, it taught powers of concentration, it developed a warrior spirit, not for the purpose of winning over ones enemies but for winning over ones life.

That is the true purpose of training in the martial arts. Kano Sensei saw this clearly when he created Judo. Shiai, or competition wasn’t for the purpose of winning over others but for winning over oneself. Competition was done for mutual benefit so that both practitioners could grow. Awa Kenzo understood this when he promoted what has become modern Kyudo. Morihei Ueshiba clearly intended this to be the purpose of the art which came to be named Aikido.

People seem to understand this when the training is in something clearly archaic like archery or the sword. When did you ever hear any discussion about whether a student of Katori Shinto Ryu could take on someone from BJJ? Or hear a serious suggestion that he might try himself against an attacker with a semi-auto? But when it comes to empty hand, people go right back to fighting. An art like Aikido, which is absolutely one of the most graceful and beautiful martial arts in the world gets compared to mixed martial arts competition which is certainly neither.

The essence of Aikido can be summed up in the term “masakatsu agatsu” or “true victory is self victory”.
Physical technique is a means by which we elevate our soul. In common, everyday thinking, the word tenkamuteki (which the Founder used when speaking with me privately during my teens) refers to being “invincible” or being of such incredible strength that you have no contenders. However, (I interpret) the Founder’s use of this word “tenkamuteki” to mean that we have no enemies under heaven. If you harbor animosity toward someone, he or she can feel it. By constantly training the techniques of Aikido in the spirit of harmonizing with your partner and extinguishing the animosity in your heart, you will eventually reach a point that you are able to feel within yourself that “enemies” do not exist. The Founder was a person of unparalleled physical strength, yet he became enlightened to this truth. The fact that a person who possessed such tremendous strength as the Founder came to spread such a teaching is really quite magnificent.

Sunadomari Sensei
Aikido Journal Interview Pt 3
O-Sensei said one should go past the whole idea of even having an external enemy… in the words of Pogo , “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Budo training is not about papering over ones fears with skills and power, using ones ability to defeat others to hide from what one doesn’t wish to deal with. It is about losing ones fear entirely, healing what causes the fear, converting the energy of that fear to something other than destruction. This is what Aikido is all about.

Someone recently said that Aikido was really just Daito Ryu. They said it with great conviction and authority. But they are wrong, definitively wrong, and maintaining so ignores almost forty years of work done by the Founder after he stopped teaching Daito Ryu. It is true that the principles at work behind Aikido waza are the same as in Daito Ryu. But the techniques themselves are done differently, with different intent. They are not just badly executed Daito Ryu, they were created the way they were for a reason. Just as Kyudo isn’t combat archery; Iaido isn’t combat sword drawing; Aikido isn’t combat empty hand…

Does anyone think that Aikido has spread all over the world because it was a great new fighting style? It would still only exist in obscurity in Japan if that were the point. People have responded to the message, more overseas even than in Japan itself. In spreading so far so fast, it lost some of its Budo aspect and its technique became watered down through lack of understanding on the part of many of the teachers of the art. I have no quarrel with looking outside the art for what it has lost in terms of the technical aspect of the waza. But we do not have to look outside the art for its essence; that is right in front of us.

But so may people seem to be so caught up in who can beat whom, which martial arts are superior, etc that I see a movement to devolve the art into something it was never intended to be. If one is so concerned with fighting, do a fighting style. One cannot have the mind of conflict, the intention to win, the fear of loss, the desire to prevail over another and do Aikido. It simply becomes something else at that point and a not very good version of whatever that would be.

Some form of martial skill is a by product of good Aikido training. But the entire structure of the art is about something different. It doesn’t even reflect that concern. Attempts to get it back to some more effective past by changing the essential structure of the way we train will destroy Aikido. The people who propose that we do so simply do not understand what or why we do what we do. I would say that they probably do not have the temperament to even want to do what we do and look at us as folks doing something incomprehensible. To them the question is “Why would anyone want to do that?” To the folks who do understand, the question is “How do we do what we do better.” These are not the same at all.