The following is a transcript of an interview with one of the greatest European Aikido teachers of all time, Giorgio Veneri, taped after his seminar in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland in 1998. In this interview Veneri Sensei airs his disdain towards those who claim to be the true keepers of the Founder’s Aikido, claiming instead that Aikido is a living body, and therefore changeable, as Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba theorised
by SIMONE CHIERCHINI
Born in 1937 in Mantova (Italy), Giorgio Veneri began his career in Martial Arts studying Judo and was promoted Shodan by Koike Sensei. In 1963 he received a degree in Mathematics. The following year he met Mr. Kawamukai, Aikido 3rd Dan Instructor and decided to start Aikido practice. In 1965 he met Hiroshi Tada Sensei and fell in love with his vision of Aikido. Veneri became one of the first students of Tada Sensei in Italy and shared with his teacher the pioneers’ era of Italian Aikido.
In 1967 Veneri organised Tada Sensei’s first European Seminar and he continued to do so until 1995. Promoted to Aikido Nidan in 1970, Sandan in 1974, Yondan in 1979 and Godan in 1986, Giorgio Veneri was appointed Rokudan in 1994 by Aikido Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, first Italian ever.
Veneri has been a founding member of Italian Aikikai (1965), European Aikido Federation (1976) and International Aikido Federation (1977). Former Chairman of EAF (1979-1984), he has been IAF Chairman from 1984 to 1996. He was a member of the IAF’s Superior Council, the body tasked with maintaining Aikido in its true spiritual way, as taught by Morihei Ueshiba. In 184 he was appointed by EAF to spread Aikido in Eastern Europe and he committed himself to teaching in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, USSR (now Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, etc), South Africa, Ireland and Jordan. He passed away in March 2005.
Two words, Traditional Aikido. Words that have been misused and abused by both the ignorant and the initiated. What is your point of view?
If you use the word traditional, you want to stimulate reverence to a way of thinking in which the past is always better than the present. In regards to Aikido, I don’t really know what traditional Aikido means. I could repeat the words of Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, “Aikido is a living organism and for this reason it transforms and improves”. There are only a few direct students of O’Sensei left and they all have their own interpretation of his teaching. None of them, however, can claim to practice the ‘true’ Aikido, since it would be impossible to copy another man’s feats. If I had to choose someone to follow, it would be Doshu, since he’s a direct descendant of O’Sensei, but even his Aikido is different from that of his father. What I’m about to say now might create a bit of a scandal, but if you look at the videos recorded in the 1930s and compare what you see to present day Aikido, you can easily see the changes brought over the years. I have to say Aikido has changed for the better.
It seems to me that it is nonsensical to use the term “traditional” in an environment where nothing is ‘fixed’. In Aikido there are no kata and O’Sensei himself refused to see his techniques as finished, constantly improving on himself. I understand that it was O’Sensei’s idea that Aikido would have to continue on being developed, to keep it ‘modern’ and prevent it from going ‘stale’ or ‘rigid’.
Most “Masters” didn’t put their teachings in writing. Their teaching was put down mainly by their disciples for subsequent scrutiny or to exact reverence. Jesus Christ, for example, didn’t produce anything in writing, what we know about him and his teachings derives from the New Testament and has been written years after his death. These written words have been interpreted and edited by various religions, distorting Jesus’ message and teachings to the level that it is hard to know what he was really like.
If the art of Aikido is to stay vital, it has to change. I have the impression that Aikido techniques practiced today have gained in sophistication, elegance and gracefulness. I do not use the word effectiveness, since to me that is of little importance. Aikido is nonetheless more effective nowadays than when I started my practice.
Summarising, we could say that Aikido as presently practiced is rooted in O’Sensei’s teachings, but has evolved over three generations of hard-working Aikido practitioners.
That is true. There have already been three generations of aikidoka, the first being the students of the pre-war era, most of whom are now gone. The second generation is the post war one and it is composed of students that are sixty to seventy years old. When we talk about the third generation, we have to make a distinction between the Japanese sensei, who are in their late forties, and the foreign instructors, like myself, who are in their late sixties. This generation will be crucial for Aikido in the coming years.
Are those who talk about traditional Aikido making a fundamental mistake in believing Aikido to be finished? The concepts of harmony and peace were actually not initially developed by O’Sensei and have been advanced by Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba.
Actually, the main developer of Aikido has been Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, just like the originator of Christianity wasn’t Jesus, but Saint Paul the Apostle. Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba has been the organiser, the one who canonised the forms and gave Aikido meaning and direction.
It should also be pointed out that Doshu Kisshomaru was responsible for spreading Aikido around the world. We probably wouldn’t be here talking about Aikido if it wasn’t for him.
To truly understand the teachings of the founder, we would’ve had to move to Japan, which wouldn’t have served us much, because in his days most dojo were very strict on the admittance of Japanese students. For foreign students to enter any martial art dojo was close to impossible.
In most discussions concerning Aikido and its development, O’Sensei is always referred to as being principal in its evolution, while Doshu is constantly depicted as a secondary mover, some kind of an obscure figure. Some even badmouth Kisshomaru for not being equal to his father’s stature. How do you relate to this?
O’Sensei created Aikido and as the originator, he left us an idea. He didn’t explain much and, while he left writings on the spiritual part, he didn’t put down much about the technical aspects of Aikido. Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba’s task was to expound on the founder’s idea. To do so, he devoted his entire life to the work of his father, thus becoming unable to step out of the shade of that giant. He also was the recipient of criticisms on Aikido that people wouldn’t have dared utter to his father.
Going back to tradition, in about ten years there won’t be any direct students of O’Sensei left in the world. I’m talking about his real pupils, not the ones who followed three or four classes with him. When they all are gone, anybody will be able to pretend to instruct ‘traditional’ Aikido, since there will be no one left to put a disclaimer on such an outrageous claim.
Source: Irish Aikido Journal, No. 4, Apr-Jul 1998, Aikido Organisation of Ireland
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