Principles of Martial Arts Training Feed

184. Aikido Draws Them All

Aikido seems to have an undefined something that initially attracts people of all sorts, backgrounds, and desires.  These potential Aikido players can include everything from people from other martial arts looking for something with no competitive venues (and a lesser chance of injury), older folks who are tired of shiai or kumite and looking for something less physically challenging but more intellectually intriguing, Aiki-Bunnies looking to hang with the big kids, those looking to engage in an activity that will allow them to self-validate whatever needs to be self-validated, to people who have watched one movie too many based on video games and are looking for fantasy/role-play (“Ooo, can I hold the big bokken?”).  While that undefined “something” may initially attract them, whether they stay once they realize that they must do the work is entirely another matter.

There are a million (well, maybe not literally) reasons as to why someone looks to Aikido to answer questions that maybe they still don’t know they have but that apparently need answers.  To many, Aikido is paradoxical in the way keiko (intense considered practice) is carried out.  Training consists of changing sides; at one moment the Aikido student is the attacker and the next the defender.  Many players look at this as being part of the mystery embedded within the art form since the training partner is more than simply being attacker (or defender) and who represents a critically important part of the training on various levels (personal, technical, physical, emotional, spiritual).

When looked at from the technical aspect, Aikido in many minds has restrictive limitations.  It is not a sogo bujutsu or full martial school encompassing everything from sword, knife, spear, naginata, swimming, archery, etc. but instead is limited to an in-depth study of hand-to-hand with a limited curriculum in the basics of tanto defense, wooden sword and bo work. 

The weapons work normally found in any style of Aikido is more designed to illustrate the relationship of the weapon to Aiki-based principles and is not necessarily designed to teach a fully functional weapons system.  Training (and comprehension) therefore is focused within a template (of Aikido study) with defined borders which limits the overall reach of Aikido, unless a formally structured and complete weapons system is included as an adjunct study.

When considered in broader terms even though Aikido is limited it forces people into a structured template of movement(s) that are necessary for the Aikido player to stay within so-as to learn the system.  Almost by definition this makes it an art form since the skill is created within a frame, much as oil painting uses colors, music uses tones, and sculpture uses rocks.  Within the boundaries of the material at-hand (colors, tones, rocks) creativity becomes possible and is no long “paint by the numbers”.  The Aikido player must however, work to understand how to exceed those arbitrary boundaries.

Aikido also contains (in addition to the physical) a psychological challenge in that one is working for conflict resolution while practicing throwing people down or locking them in painful geometric designs (some call this “folding the gi with you in it”) so it is not black and white but instead variable, within the set framework or template; this being another reason behind it being considered an art form.

Conflict resolution is a term often heard in Aikido circles but in my view, it is not the more traditional “Kumbaya, lets all get along” moment.  Instead, many long-term serious practitioners of Aikido view that idea as being extremely broad in the reality outside the dojo, and not necessarily limited to world peace. 

Yes, let’s all “get along” but conflict resolution can also mean aggressively stopping any attack be it verbal, emotional, or physical by whatever means necessary.  This would fall outside the idea of the “framework” or “template” limitation.  Since no random attack is exactly like what the art form teaches within the system (instead being a randomized event based upon previously undefined parameters and catalysts to which the Aikido player must spontaneously react).  That reaction therefore will be in the realm of an “art” based in the moment and is likely outside the strictures of the kata or frameworks set for the practice and learning (of Aikido).

Aikido offers experiencing something clean in today’s world of confusing borders; that is, learning to operate beyond (transcending has become much too trite a term) the practice of relationships that contain opposites such as insecurity/confidence, aggression/peace, taking/giving, and metaphorically, at least, cuts a line right through the barriers that delineate the opposing concepts.  Once those borders and barriers are breached and understood, navigating seemingly contradictory ideas becomes easy and may be considered one of the hallmarks of true Aikido keiko.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

March 30, 2022


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