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What is Aikido, really?

posted 14 Aug 2011, 16:29 by Unknown user
what is aikido
After class last week we had a nice discussion about what is aikido?, how it is practice, what is its relationship to the founders aikido and how to find out more about what aikido is! It proved to be an interesting discussion and probably the only conclusion was its important to keep seeking. 

The old adage 'seek not the master but what the master sought' came out during the discussion is is a great guide in itself. The various styles of aikido we see today represent waypoints in the founders understanding, from his Daito Ryu students through the more martial styles to the more ki oriented styles that emerged later in life, each give a clue to his foot steps and where he was heading. It begs the question, can you jump straight to what he was doing near the end of his life or is it necessary to make a similar (but not the same progression) that he made. My personal feeling and using a music analogy, if you want to play something like Vivaldi's four seasons then you need to learn to read music and practice scales, the kihon or basics of music. We are fortunate that in our school of Aikido Yuishinkai Maruyama sensei understands the importance of progression and thus begins with the foundations of Kotai level technique and works through 5 levels of understanding and this is true in many other aikido schools as well.

The real problem for modern aikido though is that as a martial art it attracts a certain 'demographic' of student and usually the endpoint is what attracts them. The temptation then is for dojo, schools and entire organisations in an effort to attract students  is to try and shortcut to this level of practice, and freed from the reality of combat can do so. And so aikido can tend to become a kind of ritualised dance of what it could be, a copying of what the founder could do near the end of his life but without the substance behind it (see Are we doing "Cargo Cult" Aikido?) and a kind of feeling that those that are practicing it as a martial art are somehow on the wrong path. For those at the other end of the spectrum, martial can sometimes be equated with bruises, sore muscles and fighting it out on the mat rather than seeking  to understand Aiki.

Somewhere between these extremes exists Aiki though in can be hard to see in the daily training environment as a top down dissemination of knowledge. In any hierarchal structure, particularly in eastern martial arts there is a tendency not to question but just to do and within this its easy to not quite get to the real aikido. So instead years are spent going through the Kata as a blockheaded competitive practice or a dance to be enjoyed with partners, along the way are regular rewards in the form of certificates that assure that real progress is being made.

Today, with only a handful of the founders students still alive, the memory of what aikido was, is now a second hand, third hand or completely unfounded opinion, potentially diluted by incomplete transmission and the efforts of us well meaning hobbyists. Into this mix come talented individuals of the new generation, be they Japanese or the growing percentage of Westerners who have done the Shugyo(intense training) and are redefining and developing the art. From these people come a chance to look at the art anew and ask of ourselves, what is Aikido?

brisbane aikido republicDaniel James, Brisbane Aikido Republic

1593 Logan Rd. Mt. Gravatt, Brisbane, Australia Qld
+61 (0)7 3735 5036 | +61 (0)7 3735 5384(f) | +61 (0)401 683 592 (m) 
“If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster”, Stephen R. Covey 

Here are some contributors that I think can help understand aikido, together with resources that I have found helpful.  I've left out the more technical manuals like Saito's books and Westbrokk and ratti's Dynamic Sphere, although in the small corners of these books are some quite poignant koans to discover.

George Leonard. In his book "Mastery" George defines and identifies the process of mastery together with  pitfalls along the path, nothing technical here but a great guide book for those that want to follow the way. Its an easy and enjoyable read and quite challenging too. 

Stanley Pranin, the most well known and probably active researcher of aikido has interviewed more people who knew the founder than anyone else alive. His Aikido Journal is rich with his personal research and articles from the internet community. Whilst he has a slight Saito bent. All of the articles are free to read and there is a daily news that can be subscribed to. Some of the articles you need to be a subscriber to read in its entirety, though the dojo has print copies of the archives from the very first issue if you want to look up a specific article.
Ellis Amdur is a one time Aikidoka but today is a lineage holder in two Koryu (ancient martial) schools. He has written 2 books about aikido, "Duelling with O'Sensei" and "Hidden in Plain Sight" both of which look at aikido without being afraid to ask the hard questions. Whilst the books get opinionated at times they are refreshing reads

Meik and Dianne Skoss founded Koryu books and deal not surprisingly with the ancient warrior traditions of Japan. Their books are well researched and often chapters are written by individuals with particular expertise

Dave Lowry, Dave has documented his career in a Koryu sword school through the printed media and offers some tremendous insights into his practice, the cultural interface between east and west and why we do the things we do. A personal favourite is 'Persimmon wind' where he visits and seeks old Japan

Aikiweb is the creation of Jun Akiyama, it has its roots in the aikido-l listserver and today is home for thousands of aikidoka in a free for all randori web forum. Along with the newbies and trolls are people that have been practicing for well over thirty years…all mixing it up. Its a favourite of people that don't do aikido but do similar enough arts that are drawn to the lively discourse. Wether as a fly on the wall, mixing it up or posing interesting questions there is lots to be learnt here if you have the time.


Some of the books mentioned (and more) are reviewed here, though I'm aiming to expand beyond the  amazon character limit.