who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his
War has been manís
eternal task and he rationalises it unto himself with philosophy. Some
philosophy is created by leaders to encourage men to fight. More philosophy is
created by men to make sense of the chaos they find themselves in. Other
philosophy is created by those who have survived to make sense of what happened.
The type of philosophy that appeals to man is likely determined by where he is
in time and his proximity to death.
To move on from the technical we first need to develop a
good sense of imagination. To take that imagination and make it into something
real we need belief. That is, belief in the fact that it can be done, which can
only come through repeated training while keeping the idea in mind.
The ideal where one's
training has reached a level such that martial techniques appear, or are 'born'
spontaneously when attacked, is known as takemusu. This term literally
means 'birth of martial' and is commonly seen written in scrolls hanging in
Aikido dojos. With these scrolls, Aikidoka like to remind
themselves that they are training to develop a sense of martial awareness. Since
we have stopped stealing caves from bears and sabre-tooth tigers to live in we
have slowly forgotten what every other wild animal on the planet knows - life is
a ceaseless struggle for survival. Animals have various capabilities: Speed,
strength, stealth, cunning, poison, claws, and teeth. Each animal has its place
and lives according to its own strengths and weaknesses. In any garden, below
the level of grass is nothing less than a ceaseless anarchic struggle. It is the
same in the trees. The squirrel, for example, is either still, or fast moving;
it does not have the peace of day to walk. When still, it is alert, ceaselessly
on the lookout for predators. If there are none, it darts a short distance then
checks again - the squirrel that fails to maintain this state is eaten. By
comparison, having no predators dictate man is asleep. Outside of our cosy
homes, alertness for us is more occasional; it means taking care when crossing a
road or anticipating hazards when driving. Inside it may be apparent when
gauging the mood of one's parent, teacher, boss, husband or wife. More
personally it is reflected in what is chosen to eat and drink and the way one
takes care of oneís health. It goes without saying that some are better
practised than others. But in ordinary daily life there is often little to raise
the adrenaline in the martial sense. And while training in a martial art may
bring us a little closer to that level of 'animal awareness', we could never
truly reach it - nor would a sane person want to. That we should look for
trouble in order to come to terms with it is not a sensible choice - seeking
danger to test yourself is likely to see one soon removed from the gene pool.
The point to make is that is that Aikido is a martial art whose purpose is
survival Ė let the battle begin!
So what do we have in Aikido? We
start with basic exercises. Then we move onto kata. Then we have to
escape the kata and be able to produce techniques in a random but
'Aikido-principled' manner. We are still doing the techniques as learned in
kata, but, with a slight variation according to the need of the moment (a
different sized uke, more or less power in the attack, an uke who
changes his attack midstream, and so on). So, we need to practice in such a way
as to move on from basic stepping-stone kata and into survival in the
O Sensei was a
religious man but never required such from his students. Many people are lost,
looking for a way to go - let them find their own way. If a teacher regards
themself as some enlightened guru, every aspect of their life will naturally be
scrutinised by their students who will, no doubt, find many faults. There have
been many wise men in human history and wise is he who reads them all, stupid is
he who follows but one.
In the past, one's
religion dictated the way one lived. Nothing could be questioned because nothing
else was known; the unruly ones had to bend their will to fit the teachings.
Now, the world has become a cultural soup; people shop for religion until they
find what meets their needs, and if it later proves disagreeable it is discarded
for a more suitable one - then they try to force it upon others. Most students
approach Aikido to learn self-defence, not many are interested in their
teacher's personal philosophy, less are interested in adopting it for
themselves. Teacherís that demand such adherence are heading towards the
beginnings of a cult Ė beware!
(c) World peace
The communists stated
that they desired world peace and many were taken along for the ride. If they
had read the small print, however, they would have realised that their quest for
world peace was dependent upon conquering the world at the point of a gun. I
have heard and read about Aikido and Daito-ryu teachers waffling on about love
and peace. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but where are they coming from?
Does anyone seriously think that such ideas had anything to do with approaching
the skill of say, Takeda Sokaku?
Before World War II
Japan was the leading military power in the East and its methods were brutal.
Incredibly, when the Emperor declared an end to the War his soldiers put down
their guns and went home meek as kittens. Thus the Japanese age of peace began;
they even adopted an anti-war constitution. General McArthur, that last Shogun
of Japan, outlawed all martial arts and from this time on, surprise-surprise,
martial artists began to emphasise peace talk. The almost immediate shift from
war and death to peace and life throughout the nation is highly commendable but
in terms of martial arts and martial training it is difficult to equate the two.
All the great post-War masters had their origins in pre-War training regimens.
The over indulgence in peace chatter in modern martial arts appears as more of
an excuse for practising what are obviously deadly arts. Accordingly, people
need to be more honest as to the origins of what they are doing.
Although each country
has its laws, not all people are in agreement. While each religion has its
faith, not all adherents follow. Most have their morals yet none have the same.
Law, faith, and morals combine to make the societal man, at their worst they
confuse and result in conflict. What is right for me is wrong for you; we all
stand at some point along a very broad continuum. Some compete, others are
quiet. Who is to say which way is best? All too often, those who are strong
persuade and lead, those who are meek listen and follow. The only way forward is
to find one's own path out of the mire.
Wisdom can be apparent
in many forms. The ancient Greeks would say that knowledge is a kind of wisdom.
With correct knowledge, one can determine the right decision. Courage is a kind
of wisdom and is often required to make that right decision. Perseverance is a
kind of wisdom and is often required to carry out that decision to completion.
What is apparent here is that wisdom is more than just knowledge; it is a more
total life experience. It is not possible to pass such from one man to the next;
it comes from within.
Ideals need to be set
and maintained by conscious effort to allow humans to rise above the level of
animal. Roman civilisation was built on ideals such as the state, city, society,
and the citizen. Itís decline was a result of a decay in the belief of their own
ideals and their ultimate destruction was orchestrated by those who had none;
mankind plunged into the Dark Ages. Today, we live within the standards set by
society yet such cultural norms are not visible, thus, rarely considered. To
reach a higher level, one needs to become aware of ideals to live by. If one
cannot recognise and live up to a standard set by the self, it will be
impossible to conform to those set by others in society.
(g) Martial culture
Meeting of cultures
All martial arts have
their own particular cultures that broadly represent the values and mores of the
particular society at large. Strip away the human element and all you have left
is fighting, and if what remains is different to that of another culture then
there may be a problem with that fighting system. Give all men clubs, knives,
and swords, and send them off to battle; the survivors will develop much the
same methods and stratagems. Avoid strike, poke sharp end into heart, whack man
on head with club, enemy is dead. If a particular culture dictated that one bow
before battle, then one of another culture would take the opportunity to lop off
their head. If another offered a hand to be shook, it would likewise be chopped
off. In this sense, culture, the very thing that makes us social beings, is
martial weakness. What one needs to bear in mind is that the essence of fighting
is just that, and nothing else. Train for the essence, yes, but develop the mind
so as to never need to use it.
It is not easy to
prevent the wanton destruction of our living environment. As an individual the
most one can do is not to add to it; by living healthily and wisely, one will
not become a burden on society. These days many people get to middle age
drinking, smoking, and overeating all the while having barely lifted a finger in
physical exercise their whole lives. The closest they will ever get to flowing
is if they drown in a river; the closest they will ever get to harmonising with
nature is when they are six feet under - and then they turn up at the dojo
door. Starting a martial art in such a condition is likely to add to their
destruction; it could be better to send them elsewhere.
Regular training in
Aikido develops and maintains flexibility and stamina. The body strengthens
naturally and becomes somewhat resistant to injury and pain. The stronger the
body the better it survives the shock and trauma of physical training. While
injuries threaten, good heath ensures that they heal faster, yet discipline and
a keen sense of attention serve to keep them at bay. One thing to beware of is
that the fitness one develops over several years can disappear within a
relatively short period of inactivity.
The first few months of
Aikido training are often accompanied by muscle aches and pains in places one
never knew existed. Bruising is common, more so in the unfit. Occasional
injuries are knocks, twists, and sprains. Despite the number of joint related
techniques in Aikido, far less frequent are torn ligaments, fractures,
dislocations, or broken bones. The most common causes of injury are bad
break-falls, or crashing into and falling on top of each other. Sudden movement
as the result of shock or surprise can cause muscle or tendon injury. A badly
lain tatami can trap the toes. Training near the edge of the tatami,
uke might hit the wall, or stepping over the edge of the tatami
might sprain an ankle. Too much sweat on the tatami can cause people to
A particular trait in
Aikido is that injured persons tend to continue training, albeit more carefully.
A sprained ankle or twisted shoulder, for example, lends opportunity to refine
oneís break-fall to a greater degree of perfection. Others, injured, often turn
up to training to watch. Sometimes, it is the case that careful training when
injured actually aids the healing process, albeit under the careful advice of a
A martial arts teacher
has a lot of influence. By not smoking, drinking, being unfit, or being grossly
overweight they send an obvious message to the students who may respond likewise
without a word being spoken. That being said, there is nothing wrong with
speaking one's mind. If the government can tell us smoking, drinking, and being
overweight are bad for the health, then a teacher can say so too. The craft is
in not being outright rude in front of others. Accordingly, if your teacher
tells you something that you do not like to hear Ė get used to it, respond to
it, overcome it.
For O Sensei, Aikido
was a martial art, not a sport. And then came Tomiki Kenji who created sport
Aikido. The former school of thought dictates that I must be better today than
yesterday, the latter states that I should be better than my peers. As in any
debate, where you sit is where you stand but simple observation will show that
the greatest athletes of today are the greatest they have ever been in history
and the reason is because of competitive sport. Certain individual key sports
such as archery, discus, and javelin reflect the fact that sport has long been
the means through which warriors of old were trained. Further, the Olympics
themselves have for a century provided the means through which states have
competed, at times almost as though at war, yet thankfully instead of it. In a
martial art the problem sport poses is restrictive rules. Most rules are for
safety, and what is effective is often not allowed. Strange then, that Tomikiís
rules contrast those of Judo quite exactly since what is allowed in one, is not
allowed in the other. Here, it seems the rules are defining styles, not danger.
Another interesting point is that traditional Aikido extends its
non-competitiveness to the personality suggesting that it is wrong to have a
competitive nature. I wonder, were there any generals in military history that
did not wish their soldiers to be competitive? The fact is that traditional
Aikido has no competition and evangelises non-competitive ideals, but to
disregard it outright just because we are told to do so makes no sense. When you
walk out of the dojo you enter into a world of competition Ė are you
(j) Making money
There is nothing wrong
with making money teaching martial arts. Where the problem, if apparent, usually
lies is in the way the dojo is run. Simply, some teachers get lazy, stop
teaching regularly, and pass on their duties to senior students. Often, the
teacher might make a special appearance teaching secret techniques and in the
worst case will demand extra course fees. As the situation worsens, such will
proclaim enlightenment, begin wearing strange clothes, teach yoga, prescribe
healing remedies, offer courses on massage and meditation, and preach anything
exotic - all in the attempt to extract more money. This is the surest way to
nowhere. Students feel they are not getting what they are paying for and
invariably, leave. However, some find such 'gurus' extremely attractive,
following their self-made masters about wherever, being at their constant beck
and call, eager to please in the vain hope of receiving scant recognition, yet
likely receiving none at all. Dodgy dojos develop cult like
characteristics with money as their sole, yet denied, raison d'Ítre.
Avoid them like the plague.
If a professional
dojo is the chosen route and one cannot teach all the time then paying the
instructor is a decent stipend will make the school more professional in nature.
Making a clear timetable of who is teaching what and when will give the students
the idea that the dojo is indeed being run professionally.
(k) Social aspects
are generally quite sociable. From the laying of the tatami through
after-training tea or going out together socially, Aikido offers its
practitioners multiple opportunities to talk and reflect on training. It is
often here, in discussion, that one learns far more about Aikido and aiki.