Monday, January 16, 2006

Pain and Injury in Aikido

Something in Saori's blog made me feel I needed to write this. I have watched a lot of people do a lot of Aikido over the years, and the rightful place of pain and injury in Aikido is a good subject for interpretation and debate.

Before delving in, lets' define for purposes of this post that:
* Pain refers to a sensation of physical discomfort
* Injury refers to lasting physical damage that reduces body functions

Thus, according to the definition above, pain cannot kill you, but injury can. To state it another way, pain stops once the technique stops, while injury lasts until it is treated. Both have a certain place in the ethical/practical framework of aikido.

At the extremes, I can see the manifestation of Steven Seagal-sensei's aikido, which is designed to cause maximum injury to uke (and maximum entertainment for movie viewers). By contrast, comparitively "soft"styles of aikido like shin shintoitsu (as taught by Tohei Koichi-sensei) use neither pain nor injury in their application.

Strict traditionalists could fall on one side or the other. O-Sensei would probably have argued for an ethical aikido of harmony with all life, while bearing in mind that aikido, although sometimes said to be a kind of "moving meditation" or "dialogue of motion" between shite and uke, is still a "martial art" and martial implies the use of injurious force.

In today's world, there are not only ethical, but legal implications to consider. Breaking someone's body (or using potentially lethal force) such as Daito-ryu might advocate, could lead someone to trouble with the police (or a lifetime of regret at the very least). However, there can be situations where one's life or the life of loved ones is truly threatened, and right action would be defined as injury to another as a lesser evil rather than injury to the large group of harmonious people instead.

In my personal view, pain is an integral part of the training and application of aikido techniques. Pain acts as a primary means of disrupting uke's unified power of attack (UPA), and taking away their harmful focus and intent. At the same time, the ethics of application mandate that we stop our techniques once uke's intent is disrupted, and thus the pain stops as well, with no long-lasting effects on uke. I would furthermore say that without using pain, we must injure uke to stop their attack. I am not an advocate of injury either inside or outside the dojo, and would see this as a last desperate resort. Hopefully, there will never be a case where intentionally injuring someone is the only way to resolve conflict.

Part of the training in the dojo is about harnessing our willpower. This includes an understanding and experience of pain/discomfort. A great example is the Yonkajo technique. The pressure on those nerves really hurts. After the year-end session my arms were black and blue for over a week. The first few times we did it as a new student I wanted to scream -it is very uncomfrtable indeed. Now not so bad. What's differrent? The technique is the same, but I have changed. The pain is still uncomfortable, but does not disrupt my will any more. The ability to handle the discomfort and keep focused helps in many ways in my daily life.

The power of aikido is a lot like a having a life insurance policy - you hope you never need it, but if you do, you (and other loved ones) are likely to end up being awfully glad you had it.

What do you think?

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