Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Aikido: The Non-Fighting Fighting Art

(thanks for the inspiration PH)

One of my best friends recently started studying Aikido, a journey I myself began in 1987.  He is a former top-level collegiate athlete (Varsity Tennis for one of the top US universities).  A practical man, he is not easily mystified by rumors of levitating holy men or lightning shooting from fingertips.

Today we were talking and he asked me why I felt Aikido is not a fighting art, but why I also consider it an important foundation art for deep martial arts research.

Modern Aikido as arranged by Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei) is an art derived from many traditional combat disciplines including a strong connection to Daito-Ryu.  Many of the movements draw directly from equivalent motions in traditional swordsmanship as well.  However, it is important to bear in mind that O-Sensei was also an ordained Omote-Kyo priest, and over the course of his life he continued to move away from the original Daito-Ryu influence toward the more spiritual side.  Eventually, in his later years, O-Sensei would claim that his Aikido was a "manifestation of heavenly power given by God".

In line with his ethical and spiritual beliefs, O-Sensei's Aikido is a harmonious art.  The ultimate goal is non-violence, redirecting the aggressive intent harmlessly away.  That being said, some common questions are asked by beginners in Aikido (including my friend):

  • Why are the attacks all so stylized?  People don't attack like that?
  • Does it actually "work"?  It looks like they are cooperating?
  • Why does Aikido have Ukemi?  Why give the enemy a way out of the technique?
  • What if I get attacked with a weapon? Can Aikido deal with weapons?

Again, I personally do not consider modern Aikido to be a combat art.  This does not mean to say that there are not practitioners who can fight using the techniques of Modern Aikido as a base (so can I).  I suggest that Modern Aikido is taught from a different standpoint which de-emphasizes combat training in favor of other aspects.  As such, it can be a challenge to understand the usefulness of Modern Aikido in a violent self-defense situation such as a mugging or rape.  Some styles (Yoshinkan, Iwama, Tomiki) are "harder" than others (Ki Society, Shinshintoitsu) and tend to focus on the practical more than the philosophical/spiritual side.  This is not a bad thing, since damaging people can end us up with lawsuits or prison time.  Modern Aikido is generally considered non-aggressive and safe for use.  This does not, however, make it a fighting art as it is usually taught.

Once the spiritual trappings are set aside, Aikido can be deconstructed to an art of controlling the opponents' balance/structure (head/neck/spine) through touchpoints, usually wrist/elbow/shoulder.  The end result can be projection/throw (nagewaza) or pin/control (osaewaza).

All the various techniques in the Aikido curriculum are designed to demonstrate this through a variety of attacks and responses, but the goal is ultimately the same.  Certain responses work best versus certain attacks, but overall any response should be achievable from any attack.

A strong background in Aikido teaches the following Universal Martial Skills:

Establishing/Maintaining Contact --- the skills of connecting to the opponent and staying connected so we can control.
Generating Power from the Hips --- using the hip rotation to exert force on the opponents' structure.
Breathing --- Use of Proper Breath Control to Enhance Focus and Generate Power.
Extension --- Learning to extend the lines of the techniques to "blend" with the opponent so we can control.
Atemi/Striking --- Use of pre-emptive attack to disrupt concentration so we can control.
Irimi/Entering --- Skill of getting close to opponent so we can control their head/neck/spine.
Footwork --- Moving us to a Place of Advantage for Ourselves/Disadvantage for our Opponent.
Joint Manipulation/Joint Structure --- Use of Body Structure/Physique to Disrupt Balance Via Touch points
Ukemi/Breakfall --- Learning to Safely Contact the Ground During Training

I view all of the above skills as essential tools in any combat training martial arts arsenal, and I believe Aikido teaches these skills better than just about anything else I have seen.  A strong foundation in Aikido serves well as a framework for any other martial study, and I particularly recommend Aikido training for children, especially those with learning disabilities or weak concentration.  The training develops excellent discipline, focus, and spatial awareness, all via a harmonious attitude which the world desperately needs.

In training, it can be helpful to understand the unique learning objective of each technique.  Where is the atemi, the irimi, the connection, the disruption of balance/structure?  Does the technique end with a projection or a control?  Is it unique due to the spatial relationship (standing versus kneeling)?  Does it involve a weapon (ken, jo, tanto) or multiple attackers?  Each technique should illustrate the above principles from a different point of view, leading to a broad understanding of how to use the skills/tools and a richer set of potential responses.

My only caveat is that prospective students approach this training with eyes wide open, aware of both the benefits and limitations of Aikido, just as they would be with any martial art.  We must follow a path in accord with our own personal beliefs, and no two people are at the same point of the line between "martial" and "art".  Picking the wrong art for you results in disbelief and disappointment, which usually causes the student to quit.  That is a loss not just for Aikido but for the world overall.

See you in class.    


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boxinglover9 said...
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