Monthly Archives: July 2017

What is aikido?

Over the last few years I have been thinking about this again.  More and more, I have been coming to the view that aikido is a way to limit damage.  There are so many ways you can hurt an attacker, and aikido opens up many of these ways.  So ikkyo is an opening for breaking an attacker’s ribs with a reverse punch.  Kote gaeshi is an opening for breaking his ribs with a side kick or, a little later, with a round kick.  But if you see these options and can realize them, but take the less damaging one where possible, that is aikido.  Kind of like you can’t really be a pacifist unless you can kill.

This approach also has the useful aspect that you can practice aikido at close to full force.  A lot of arts you have to practice as kata where you punch and kick the air, pull your punches, or wear protective equipment.  Aikido, you can cut loose, and with enough training uke survives just fine.

I used to think of aikido as the “light side of the force”, and karate as the “dark side”.  Now this isn’t a very oriental way of looking at things.  A more oriental way might be to see the two sides as two parts of the whole.  The two are complementary.  I kind of saw this logically, but I am seeing it more these days in how I practice.  If you practice with the intent of hurting people, but not doing so, aikido works better, and there is less conflict, not more.  Now this is almost American: carry a big stick and walk softly.

Was this at all close to how O Sensei saw aikido?  Most Western aikidoka relate to O Sensei as the little old man with a grin shown in the pictures on most dojo.  However, there was a darker side to him.  He did teach the Japanese military at the Nagano spy school.  One of his most influential teachers was Sokaku Takeda.  I can quite see O Sensei as having this view of aikido.  A lot of our teachers learned aikido in post WW2 Japan, when Macarthur acted a lot like a shogun and martial arts training had to be under the radar.  In that climate, they probably were not taught the more martial aspects of aikido.

When O Sensei opened the original Hombu in Tokyo, it was common practice to visit a new dojo and check out the teacher.  If he couldn’t beat all comers, he wouldn’t last long.  So O Sensei obviously was able to kick ass.  So maybe my view isn’t so far from the one O Sensei had.

Dealing with aggression

After last night’s practice, I drove home thinking about how we respond to aggression in aikido.  If, for example, somebody pushes you, you can push back.  This is very typical in our society.  It works fine if you are bigger or more aggressive than the other person.  Doesn’t work well if you are smaller, and is not very aiki (though there is timing there also, which can be aiki).

A little more subtle, you can deflect the push.  This can work if they are just pushing with their arms.  But if they are charging forwards, they will run right over you if you are smaller.

You can just go with the push.  Much more aiki.  If they knock you down, you do ukemi, and roll back to your feet.  If you blend really well, you can use their power to move you well back out of harms way by the time you are back on your feet.  You can even add a bit of an angle so that even if they are charging, you are off their line of advance.

You can go with the push and turn.  This can get you off their line of advance, and if you stay connected you have the start of a technique like kote gaeshi or irimi nage.  You can turn either to their front or rear.

You can also slip off to the side and enter, perhaps either striking them or throwing them back the way they came.  You can do this even if you are smaller, because you are not stopping their center, but rather are doing what Musashi called “attacking the corners”.  Most people have a flinch reflex that takes them away from a strike to the head, so this results in a very nice technique if you time it right.  Too fast a strike, and you will hit them.  Too slow, and they can move their head to the side to avoid it (which can lead to another technique, such as kaiten nage).

These same methods work for strikes as well as pushes, but can be a bit harder to learn, as everything happens more quickly.  However, once you learn them the techniques can work even better, for the same reason.

They can also work for non physical aggression.  If somebody is being verbally pushy, pushing back merely raises the levels of aggression and rarely changes the other person’s mind.  “Yes but…” tends to work better than “No, you are totally wrong…”