Discovering Aikido: Principles for Practical Learning  ©





The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.  Muhammad Ali


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.


(a) Takemusu

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 real world.


(b) Religion

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.


(d) Morals

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.


(e) Wisdom

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.


(f) Ideals

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.


(h) Health

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 slip.

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 doctor.

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.


(i) Sport

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 prepared?


(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

Aikidoka 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.

(l) There are plenty of other sources of philosophy.

Master Shi: Ted Talk - An interesting talk on how to find your way.

5 Hindrances to Self-Mastery
   1. Sensual desire (sight/touch/taste/smell/hearing) = Am I addicted?
   2. Ill will / aversion = Am I feeling a negative emotion?
   3. Dullness / heaviness = Am I unmotivated?
   4. Restlessness = Is my mind jumping from though to thought?
   5. Sceptical doubt = Am I indecisive?
RAIN (the solution)
    Recognise which one you're experiencing.
    Accept that's what you're experiencing.
    Investigate why you're experiencing it.
    Non-identify with that experience: 'I am not the body, I am not the mind, I am not my emotion'.



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