Category Archives: Articles

Learning from Aikido’s Precursor, Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jujutsu

O-Sensei derived Aikido mainly from the Daito-ryu Aiki-Jujutsu which he learned from Takeda Sokaku.

Daito-ryu is characterized by ‘early neutralization of attack’ which is basically off balancing from the point of contact, a key element that is ever present in Aikido. The techniques in Aikido all have clear roots in Daito-ryu’s as can be demonstrated in the video below:

The principles are very similar and are directly applicable to Aikido as well though Daito-Ryu’s techniques are not limited to being peaceful hence the ‘harder’ style and is closer to its martial roots. It is hoped that looking through these videos, you learn the principles of the originating techniques to better understand the mechanisms of the Aikido techniques which have been modified to be less about pain but more about throwing the person off balance without too much reliance on pain.

Interesting thoughts from an Aikidoka and BJJ practitioner Roy Dean

Mokuren Dojo conducted an interview with Roy Dean an Aikido Yudansha, a 3rd dan in Seibukan Jujutsu and a 2nd degree black belt in BJJ and he had some interesting thoughts on Aikido reflecting closely to my own views of Aikido (though not necessarily of the dojo’s).

Here’s an excerpt that particularly touched the right notes with me:

Pat: What do you make of the apparently declining popularity of aikido, as seen, for instance, on Google Trends? Why is that happening and what could be done to reinvigorate aikido?

Roy: To me, it begins and ends with media exposure. Royce Gracie and the UFC put BJJ on the map as a required discipline for professional mixed martial artists. It’s effectiveness in its range is undeniable. People see that and want to learn how to do it themselves. Steven Seagal brought a huge new segment of the population to Aikido (myself included), and made it look exciting, powerful, and very direct in its application.

Today, it’s unfortunate that many people don’t have a positive impression of Aikido, but I can understand why. Demonstrations look too cooperative and rehearsed. Correlations between rank and applicable skill are not always accurate. Some segments of the Aikido community have emphasized the philosophy over martial prowess and the art has lost some teeth in dealing with realistic resistance levels. “True believers” in the art aren’t helping in this process, as they sometimes claim that Aikido can’t evolve, it’s already perfect, and relies on universal principles that are somehow higher than those utilized by other martial arts. Since it’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, defeated all comers, then some believe that’s proof enough to keep training another 10 years and effectiveness will suddenly materialize, even if evidence is scant so far.

I think the key to “saving” or reinvigorating Aikido lies in shifting perspective, not necessarily changing the art. I would recommend cross training and observing Aikido from another shore. Train Judo and see how Aikido’s emphasis on kokyu and structure affect your gripping strategies. Train BJJ and understand how Aikido’s emphasis on ukemi and rolling skills lets you use your opponent’s momentum against themselves on the ground, turning your body into a ball to deflect their attacks. Train boxing and learn to slip and parry attacks from an expert in punching, chaining together evasive manuevers off the line of attack in real time. There is ju or yielding in all of them, so the key may be in allowing Aikido students to discover the pockets of aiki that exist in other fighting forms. Training an art like Daito Ryu Aiki-jujutsu Seibukan Jujutsu, KoKoDo Jujutsu, or another traditional Japanese Jujutsu system would also allow Aikidoka to see where their techniques came from and how they’ve evolved.

The art of Aikido has already evolved since it’s inception into several styles or factions, including Tomiki, Yoshinkan, Yoseikan, Ki Society, Aikikai, Iwama, and so forth. We shouldn’t worry about what is or what is or isn’t “real” Aikido. There is a Buddhist saying I’ve heard that applies here: “The minute something is born is has already begun to die.” I’m not only thinking of Aikido here, but also BJJ. BJJ is still growing, but it will decline in time, and other arts will supplant it. Arts that are evolving right now. MMA is a good example. MMA was born from vale tudo, but is a different art now as the number of rules and rounds have fueled changes. MMA will have it’s rise and fall and transform into something else. All things do.

If we have to learn arts of war to enforce the Art of Peace, then so be it. That doesn’t necessarily indicate a flaw with the art or in the practitioner of the art. It’s simply what needs to be done for deeper understanding, and should be viewed as another extension of training. Embrace the evolution. You’ll be better prepared for what comes next!

And just to see how Aikido doesn’t exist in its own universe but derives many of its techniques from Jujutsu, let’s have a look at Seibukan Jujutsu and see if you can spot the similarities! You’ll be surprised:

The importance of Maai in Aikido and a little lesson from Pernell Whitaker

The following is my own understanding of ma-ai or distancing. It is a complex concept and one I’m still coming to grips with, but here are my thoughts.

Ma-ai is one of the most important concepts in any martial art but is often not emphasized in our daily training. Ma-ai although directly meaning ‘interval’ translated very roughly means ‘engagement distance’ or ‘proper distance’. Mastery of distance is essential to make any effective use of Aikido or any martial art for that matter. If you understand distance, you instinctively know how far exactly you need to be to avoid strikes/attacks and how much to move in to deliver a technique effectively. In fact with proper distancing, you can effectively control a ‘fight’ without much fighting at all since you are controlling the pace and the terms of the encounter and engage and disengage on your own terms.

In Aikido, the distance that we learn to maintain is actually “Ittsiko-itto no Maai” or “one step striking distance”. Traditionally this means you are one step away from executing a strike to your partner. However as Aikido is a more defensive and reactive art (at least traditionally), I would prefer it to mean the minimum distance in which you can be safe from an attack from your opponent. There is a difference between the two. If following the concept of Ittsiko-itto no Maai (Itto-Ma), a smaller person might already be in the striking range of his partner despite him maintaining Itto-Ma. This is not an ideal position to defend from whereby you can be hit without being able to reach your opponent.

Proper distancing therefore changes all the time. This can be influenced from a whole bunch of factors including:

  1. Physical attributes: Speed, height, size, reaction time. For e.g. If your opponent is very fast and has quick burst speed, you may need to stay further off to give you sufficient time to react. Or if your reaction time is very fast, you can be closer to your opponent since you can react quickly to an incoming strike. Also if the person is very proficient with kicks, the distance also opens up.
  2. Angle: For example, if you are behind a person, you can practically be very close to the person and yet be safe from attack. If you are off on the side, you can also be closer.
  3. The introduction of weapons: The introduction of weapons changes ma-ai drastically. Even a short weapon like the knife extends ma-ai by several inches especially when the consequences of getting cut are much higher. A longer weapon of course increases the range even further.
Note that I say the MINIMUM distance you need to be safe. Of course if we were 10 feet apart, no one can strike you but by being too far away, you are drawing him to come closer. When space is limited, this is a problem if your opponent is constantly trying to close the distance, and you don’t want to give ground without having to. If you’re too far away you cannot also hope to be in an ideal range to perform any entries or techniques. You want to be as close as you can while remaining safe so that when an opening arises, you are in the best position possible to take advantage of it. You want also to be as close as possible so that he doesn’t feel compelled to keep on closing the distance with you.
I tried searching for a video that illustrates good ma-ai in Aikido but instead found the classic Pernell Whittaker who had absolute mastery of distance. Note how he stays right out of range of his opponent while darting in and out and moving in when he wanted to. The principles are the same for all martial arts.

Atemi: Its role and types in Aikido

Atemi are blows to a body and in Aikido are delivered not to maim or destroy the person but with the main aim of breaking his attention or balance to allow you to execute an Aikido technique.

Often in Aikido practice we neglect the atemi or do a half hearted attempt at it merely ‘acting it out’. The views of atemi’s role in Aikido is quite varied. Some feel that atemi is not required in Aikido and proper body movement and timing is all that is needed in Aikido. Others feel that Aikido without atemi is ineffective in a real fight. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between in that atemi is indeed very important but should not be relied on exclusively much as one should not just rely on Aikido ‘techniques’ exclusively without the use of atemi (which can be also considered as Aikido techniques).

It is interesting to note that O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido has often been quoted to say

“My technique is 70 percent atemi (striking) and 30 percent nage (throwing).”

Gozo Shioda, the founder of the Yoshinkan Aikido school repeats this

“The founder, Ueshiba Sensei, said, In a real battle, atemi is seventy percent, technique is thirty percent. The training that we do in the dojo is designed to teach us various sorts of techniques, the correct way to move our body, effective ways of using our power, and how to create a relationship with the other person.”

“Atemi is virtually omitted in Aikido training on the ground that a preliminary blow should not become a matter of predominant concern. However, there are quite a few cases in which the meaning of a technique becomes incomprehensible if the attendant atemi is left out. I suggest therefore that study should be made as to when atemi should be delivered in the execution of a technique and cases of it’s omission.”

My own understanding is that we cannot be over-reliant on atemi as a ‘fix it’ for ineffective techniques but we should make every opportunity to practice it in our daily training. Often the most difficult part of Aikido is not the actual technique itself but the entry, blending and getting uke in an ideal position to carry out the technique.

When learning basics, to simplify matters, we often teach it without the atemi. Basic techniques are on their own ineffective and are merely stepping stones to understanding Aikido movement and techniques. However these basics form the very foundation of your Aikido and should not be neglected! However, once you are familiar with the basic technique, you should try to spot atemi opportunities and make it a habit to apply atemi where possible so that in a real situation it happens without thinking.

George S. Ledyard post an excellent an article on atemi here and I summarize and extract some portions below

He breaks down atemi into three different types:

A Strike as a Technique in Itself:

For example karate, boxing, and striking arts where the strike itself is the technique and causes the damage. This is contrary to Aikido principles since it usually involves serious injury to the opponent and is to be used as a means of last resort.

A Strike as a Means to Facilitate Another Technique

This is very common in Aikido practice where the atemi distracts the opponent and shifts his attention to the atemi rather than the technique in which you are performing. The atemi occupies his ‘mind’.

Some atemi is based out of pain of the strike which according to George, is unreliable to a determined attacker and I have to agree with my experience in boxing. People who are determined to get you expect to get hit a bit and will just ignore it and continue with their attack.

Another atemi merely changes the structure of uke to put you in a position to execute your technique, for example strikes to the back of the thigh to affect a resistant uke’s balance.

The “Not Striking of Striking”

This is perhaps the most interesting use of atemi.

The strike needs to be just fast enough that the attacker can not avoid or block it but is just slow enough that the attacker can respond to it by breaking his posture and taking a fall in order not to be hit. The emphasis on this type of interaction is unique to Aikido. It is actually a valid martial interaction in a type of coded form. An uke trained in the use of strikes as throws will be airborne the instant the strike is perceived.

This can give an onlooker the impression that the attacker is throwing him self. At that point he either decides what he is seeing is bogus and involves the cooperation of both partners or, if mystically inclined, he believes that he is seeing people being thrown energetically, without the need for actual physical contact or force. In fact on one level each of these points of view is true but not for the reasons they would think. The point is that here we are looking at a form of Aikido interaction which doesn’t normally exist outside of the dojo. If one tried to throw an untrained partner without touching him it would merely manifest itself as a strike which hit. The partner would not understand that the agreement exists that I run the strike in just such a way that there is just one “out”, to take the fall.

It is the timing and intention that differentiates the “Not Striking of Striking” and “Strike as a Technique itself”.

Fluid Ni-dan Test @ Monterey Dojo

Remember that awesome Sho-Dan test you saw the other day? Here is some more from the same ‘lineage‘.

Take a look at the fluidity at which the tachidori techniques are done here. There are visible jujitsu influences here (for e.g. the atemi with a kick) and you can see some interesting counters (kaeshi-waza) which do not form part of the official Aikikai syllabus but I still think it remains very much Aikido.

Take a look at their test requirements here. Time to really step up our training!

What does a Sho-Dan mean?

Congratulations to Zachariah to achieving his Sho-Dan rank!

I would just like to quickly share my thoughts on this. Many students, after reaching the level of sho-dan, decide that it’s the end of a journey from there and they are now experts in Aikido. At least in our dojo and under Shihan Yamada, this is not the case, it merely indicates an understanding of the basic techniques and movements of Aikido. In other words, the pure physical aspect, which is why under the Aikikai Hombu grading system, there is only limited randoori (free-style) for the sho-dan test.

When I got my sho-dan in 1999, I was told by Shihan that this was just the beginning. It means you are now a beginner and this is where your real journey starts in Aikido and I couldn’t agree more. My Aikido has a long way to go before I see myself as truly proficient but only after I achieved my sho-dan was I able to start exploring what Aikido was to me beyond just going through the techniques. In fact, I had to relearn much of my Aikido.

After sho-dan, you explore balance, how techniques flow into one another and each technique’s use and place. One of the pinnacles of Aikido is to achieve a level where you no longer think of doing a technique but it just flows out according to the circumstances without thought but merely out of a body reflex developed from many years of training. I think all of us at Seishinkan are still learning and striving for this goal.

Of course there are dojos in the West that see Sho-dan as an expert level belt which is what the common perception of a black belt is. Therefore some of these dojos have testing requirements are a lot more stringent with their 3rd kyu tests being similar to Aikikai Hombu’s Sho-dan test. The gap decreases between the two as the dan ranks go up but the sho-dan disparity is probably where it is the greatest mostly due to the perception of what a black belt is in the west. There is nothing wrong with either approach either but it’s worth making the distinction between the grading system adopted by Aikikai Hombu and others.

At the end of the day, we reiterate that at Seishinkan, we are not too concerned with belt ranks hence why we adopt an only two color belt system (white, black)( which has the added benefit of saving money in buying a belt after every upgrading and reducing the risk that the belts leak funny colors out on your gi! :P) The upgrading system is there as a benchmark and for those who wish to achieve recognition but it’s by no means the only indication of true understanding of Aikido. For example, I feel Desmond’s understanding of Aikido is better than mine, and my new rank of san-dan does not change any of that. Even now, I’m constantly learning new things even from my ‘juniors’ and I think it’s important to realize that everyone can teach you something regardless of rank.

This doesn’t detract from the achievement Zachariah has achieved today and we all wish him a big congratulations. We look forward to seeing you on the mats :P…or else…we’ll implement a ‘rite of passage’ just for you!

PS: This doesn’t mean we should stop bugging Desmond to go for a long overdue upgrading.

 

The Entry to Kote-Gaeshi from Tsuki

Several months ago, I posted an article on kote-gaeshi mainly focusing on the effectiveness of the wrist turn. Through experimentation and training, we found that kote-gaeshi alone does not work on a resisting opponent. You are required to break the balance first and in that state of imbalance apply the kote-gaeshi. So kote-gaeshi does work, provided you break the balance. Now the next more difficult question is, so how do you do this against a good punch?

This is often easier said than done and is a major reason why we don’t see kote-gaeshi being used in a combat sports environment where they are dealing with trained fighters who can attack while staying in balance despite kote-gaeshi’s wide use in harder arts such as jujitsu or even karate.

One of the most common attacks in which we apply kote-gaeshi from is tsuki. Tsuki directly translated means thrust and is often likened to a punch. I do think there is a difference between a thrust and a real life punch. A punch does not stay extended long enough for you to redirect the forward momentum unless you are extremely skilled and have anticipated the punch. Herein lies the limitation of the traditional version of tsuki kote-gaeshi as commonly practiced in Aikido and which I have tested myself while messing around.

An interesting post from Dan Djurdjevic states the following:

“[Leading forward momentum] is only possible if you enter closely to your opponent and, essentially, meet him/her body to body. To redirect an oncoming force you need to work like a spinning top, moving into the centre – where the speed is slow enough to give you the opportunity of catching the momentum and “going with it”…

[A]ttempting to catch and continue/redirect the extremity of a limb (eg. a hand or foot) is, in my experience, practically impossible given the usual speed at which an attacking limb is travelling at the point of interception, the speed of typical human reaction and the fact that you are not entering into, and utilising, the centre of his/her “circle”.”

I am not entirely sure if this is 100% correct but it does illustrate a valid point. It definitely is not easy to do this what more in the heat of the moment. The only times where I could do this in a ‘sparring’ scenario were when the punches were pulled back a bit slower than it should be. There were times that I could capture it as it was extending which was also very effective but required a high degree of anticipation and may not be as practical in a situation where you don’t know which attack is coming next. More commonly, I made contact at the point of full extension at which point uke was already withdrawing his punch and to try to lead it outward would be resisting that momentum and be not only ineffective, but against Aikido principles.

Having trained in an MMA system for about 2 years, I have had the opportunity of experiencing a wide variety of skill levels of strikers. Some like to make quick strikes while others make heavy pushing punches. Ideally, the heavy pushing punches should have a quick pull back as well but it is very often for newer students who strike with these pushing punches to leave their punch out for a fraction of a second longer than they should. Against these punches, I can definitely see the classic kote-gaeshi turn working.

But what about a balanced normal strike that a regular Joe can pull off with a little bit of knowledge? I think Dan’s solution is simple and practical in that he’s using the reverse momentum of the pull back of the punch to effect a quick kote-gaeshi. His video does a good explanation of this:

This does not mean we abandon the classic style of irimi nage which still retains its usefulness in training proper leading and extension or against a slower but heavier punch but it is something we must be aware of when we think about Aikido in its self defense aspect.

Conversely, Roy Y. Suenaka Sensei who was a student of O’Sensei in this article advocates a more traditional approach in using atemi to off balance the opponent before utilizing the forward momentum to go into your traditional irimi nage. That article illustrates many very good points including the proper way to apply a kote-gaeshi lock but with due respect, I have my doubts on using atemi to enter into a traditional irimi nage. Think of it this way: when you get smacked in the face, what is your reaction? To withdraw/retreat or to cover up! Sensei Suenaka mentions utilizing the forward momentum to continue over extending uke but this assumes two things which may not be applicable in a self defense scenario:

  1. The punch has a large forward momentum which is still present after the application of atemi
  2. The hand is not being retracted when uke gets hit by atemi

I suppose there might be someone who attacks like that or someone who continues to charge forward despite being whacked (I know some people who do) but I would think that they fall in the minority of attacks and it would be difficult to rely on this on all types of straight punches.

Last but not least, Sensei Suenaka in that post has an excellent illustration on the proper kote-gaeshi application which we will definitely give it a good try over the next coming weeks!

Source: FightingArts.com

Incorrect Kote-Gaeshi Hand Position
(Photo A)

The attacker’s hand is forced unnaturally outwards. Lack of lead forces the defender to rely on strength and the pain of the outside lock to effect the throw.

Correct Kote-Gaeshi Hand Position
(Photo B)

The attacker’s hand is locked and bent backwards along the natural arc described by the fingers. With proper lead, this lock is always effective

Thoughts on Kote-gaeshi

Some of you during my classes would have noticed that I have been figuring out ways in improving my kote-gaeshi as often people with sturdy wrists can resist the technique unless it’s applied while the person is off-balance. I have often wondered whether it was a deficiency in technique on my part and have asked many people as to the proper way of applying kote-gaeshi or was it solely a matter of timing and generating the necessary off-balance position.

I decided to do a bit of research on my own which gels with my findings in the dojo that you cannot hope to rely on kote-gaeshi alone but more on body movement and keeping the opponent unbalanced at the point of the throw.

From Wikipedia:

Supinating wristlock

The supinating wristlock (in budō referred to as kote gaeshi, 小手返, “forearm return”) is a rotational wristlock, and arguably the most common wristlock. It involves rotating the hand so that it becomes maximally supinated, often referred to as ‘externally rotating’ the wrist, and hence putting a joint lock on the wrist and radioulnar joint. This can be done by grabbing the opponent’s hand with one or both hands, and twisting the hand so that the opponent’s thumb points away from the opponent. A supinating wristlock performed from a stand-up position can be used to force the opponent to the ground on his or her back. Straightening the arm does not alleviate the pressure, since the shoulder joint does not allow further supination of the hand.

It should be noted that a properly executed lock of this type does not apply torque to the wrist, itself. In practice, the bones of the forearm and, eventually, the shoulder are the focus of the lock. If performed correctly this technique will break the opponents wrist, elbow and dislocate the shoulder. In practice uke will turn over his own arm, in order to prevent his wrist from breaking. The goal of almost all throws executed via joint/bone manipulation, at least from the perspective of some classical (koryu) martial arts, is to break or dislocate a limb(s).

And Stefan Stenudd 6th Dan Aikikai’s write-up on this:

Kotegaeshi, “reversed wrist”, is a very popular throwing technique in aikido. It seems rather easy to learn, and applicable against a number of attacks. But I remember my first Japanese teacher, Toshikazu Ichimura, warning us that it is not at all as easy as it may seem.
Usually, the thing that aikido students focus on is the actual twisting of the attacker’s wrist. That seems to be what kotegaeshi is about. But some people have sturdy wrists, indeed, and can resist the techniqe – at least enough for it to become awkward. Also, people react differently to the wrist twist, few falling elegantly and in exactly the direction tori, the one doing the technique, intended.
Aikido is all about finding pleasant solutions, where neither tori nor uke is hurt. Finding a pleasant way of doing kotegaeshi is not easy, but to settle with anything less is rude, not to say brutal. There are many examples of it in the aikido community, even among high grade practicioners. Uke is forced to the fall, through the pain and the risk of hurting the wrist. It might work – though not as surely as it seems – but the result hardly leads to an aikido that inspires and stimulates peacefulness.
Actually, I think that no aikido technique should involve pain or the threat of harm, when it is developed to its proper form.
With kotegaeshi, I think that the trick is not in the wrist twist, but in the rhythm. The movement leading up to the actual wrist twist should be a wave, which sort of automatically leads to uke’s fall. Uke is kind of sucked into the technique. In that respect, kotegaeshi is similar to some forms of kokyunage.

I think that last paragraph answered my queries. Like most Aikido techniques, it shouldn’t be the pain of the technique that should projects your opponent but rather the movement and the creation of imbalance. I think one of the techniques that best illustrates this is the proper execution of Shiho-nage which upon a proper turn would automatically setup the throw without the need for a very deep/forceful cut to throw. Something to work towards to (including myself).

Sensei Desmond has also located this video on Youtube giving an excellent explanation:

Aikido and Weapons

Here are two interesting articles on Aikido and weapons practice that for me answered many questions as to the role of weapons practice in Aikido.

These articles explain why techniques against weapons can seem contrived and unrealistic (for e.g. why there is only straight cuts in tachi-dori practice) and the benefits of weapons practice.

Source: Eric Sotnak on AikiWeb

Some dojo hold classes which are devoted almost exclusively to training with to jo (staff), tanto (knife), and bokken (sword); the three principal weapons used in aikido. However, since the goal of aikido is not primarily to learn how to use weapons, trainees are advised to attend a minimum of two non-weapons classes per week if they plan to attend weapons classes.

There are several reasons for weapons training in aikido. First, many aikido movements are derived from classical weapons arts. There is thus a historical rationale for learning weapons movements. For example, all striking attacks in aikido are derived from sword strikes. Because of this, empty-handed striking techniques in aikido appear very inefficient and lacking in speed and power, especially if one has trained in a striking art such as karate or boxing.

Second, weapons training is helpful for learning proper ma ai, or distancing. Repeatedly moving in and out of the striking range of a weapon fosters an intuitive sense of distance and timing – something which is crucial to empty-hand training as well.

Third, many advanced aikido techniques involve defenses against weapons. In order to ensure that such techniques can be practiced safely, it is important for students to know how to attack properly with weapons, and to defend against such attacks.

Fourth, there are often important principles of aikido movement and technique that may be profitably demonstrated by the use of weapons.

Fifth, training in weapons kata is a way of facilitating understanding of general principles of aikido movement.

Sixth, weapons training can add an element of intensity to aikido practice, especially in practicing defenses against weapons attacks.

Seventh, training with weapons provides aikidoka with an opportunity to develop a kind of responsiveness and sensitivity to the movements and actions of others within a format that is usually highly structured. In addition, it is often easier to discard competitive mindsets when engaged in weapons training, making it easier to focus on cognitive development.

Finally, weapons training is an excellent way to learn principles governing lines of attack and defense. All aikido techniques begin with the defender moving off the line of attack and then creating a new line (often a non-straight line) for application of an aikido technique.

Weapons in Aikido (Source: ANU Aikido Club)

People often wonder about the use of weapons without any protective armour in Aikido. Why train with archaic Samurai fighting tools such as two-handed swords and jo which nobody uses for real anymore, especially when they cannot compare in effectiveness with even the simplest gun, let alone the explosive weapons and nerve gases etc. which mark modern warfare?

Well, there are many reasons. Firstly there are certain ways of moving and using one’s body (tai-sabaki) which can only be properly learnt through practising with the Samurai sword and staff. These movements not only develop grace, fitness and power, but translate directly into movements which are of great value in unarmed self-defence.

One reason for this is that being struck even lightly by a bokken (oak training sword) or jo (oak staff) is so painful that it makes us learn to be very careful, and this translates directly into pure survival skill in an actual confrontation. Techniques which can be done sloppily when training with an unarmed partner suddenly take on a whole new meaning when that partner is wielding a lethal weapon.

And weapons are great equalisers. A big, strong man who enjoys “throwing his weight about” suddenly finds himself at a disadvantage when facing a slimmer, smaller person who is quick and sharp. It quickly becomes obvious that developing mere muscular strength has disadvantages!! Suddenly it is driven home that the habit of aggressive, bullying behaviour is a terrible disadvantage in real combat. Because the slightest carelessness, the slightest failure to credit one’s training partner with the ability to strike painfully, will result in being struck.

On this subject Mitsugi Saotome, a uchi-deshi (inner student) of O’Sensei Ueshiba the Founder of Aikido, says: “To avoid injury in weapons work you must learn concentration, alertness, precision, and decisiveness. All of these qualities are useful to develop, both for your Aikido training and for your performance as a human being. Your sense of timing, balance, intuition and of judgement all become more crucial in weapons work. You can’t get away with the degree of sloppiness and inattention that you can sometimes overlook or be unaware of in hand-to-hand technique. You also develop more respect for your partners. If you are not respectful and attentive to them, they have the potential to do you a good deal of harm even if it is unintentional.”

Saotome Sensei also points out that it is precisely because the weapons used in Aikido are archaic that they are so effective for self-development. For unlike modern weapons, they are intensely personal. An intercontinental ballistic missile is totally impersonal. The user merely presses a button, and thousands of kilometres away a million unknown and faceless men, women and children are destroyed. But to strike your training partner either accidentally or intentionally with a bokken or jo, you must first face him or her at close range, and then witness in detail the reality of pain and injury on a fellow human being. This ever-present reality helps curb aggression and develop a more controlled and peaceful consciousness.

At the psychological-philosophical-spiritual level, where all true development occurs, weapons training under a skilled teacher brings an end to conceit and self-delusion. It brings us face to face with the reality of our own vulnerability and mortality, thus breaking down egotism, that greatest of all barriers to success in Aikido and in life. In Aikido it is truly said that the only real victory is self-victory. Beating another person is only a partial victory – one person loses so that another can “win”. From the point of view of the Universe, no real progress has occurred.

But overcoming the problems within one’s own ego not only means discovering reality and true strength, it means truly attuning to the creative energy of the Universe. That is an all-win situation. There are no losers then, and the world has been made a better place.