Joys and Sorrows of Asobi in Aikido

Ueshiba Morihei - Shioda Gozo

We all enjoy having fun, there is no discussion about it. We all enjoy practicing Aikido in a friendly atmosphere – that does not need to be discussed either. Which is, however, the true place of asobi in Aikido? Having fun is a great means to an end, but be careful: where is the threshold crossed which the means becomes the end?


Asobi – Japanese Noun (hiragana あそび) – playing, game, fun

The purpose of Aikido is to train mind and body, and to form honest and sincere people
(Morihei Ueshiba)

In a 1991 interview to “Aikido”, a magazine published by the Italian Aikikai, Yoji Fujimoto explained: “Doshu (Kisshomaru) said that Aikido has to be accessible for everyone“.  He then added that this was the result of a natural process: “Doshu himself said it: I’m not the one who wanted these changes, everything has changed”. The world has changed, needs, mentality, behavior have changed, therefore Aikido has changed as well: the way to practice it and to teach it has changed“.

This change in the world outside of Aikido would have caused the change within it, with the consequence that the way to interpret the nature of Aikido would have also changed. Hence the need to conduct Aikido lessons in a pleasant, fun atmosphere: this is what the Japanese call asobi, a positive feeling towards what one is doing that has much in common with the practice of any sport, but also with the feelings provided by making music, or painting,  for example.

Morihei Ueshiba

Teaching and practising with the concept of asobi in mind is a greatly removed approach from the severity of the teaching system typical of the schools of classic martial arts in Japan and the rest of the world.

Asobi style of teaching fits perfectly with a new type of mankind, whose need for entertainment should be always satisfied. Pressures deriving from the current modern lifestyle, stress at work, family issues, lack of quality time, all the above have changed the average basic needs. Today’s norm is ill-adapted to a strict model of teaching and learning martial arts. A severe style of teaching causes most students to walk away: it certainly does not fill the halls with students eager to improve. Hence the necessity of gradually eliminating most of the connective tissue with the arts of the Budo of the past from which Aikido derives and that constitutes its essence.

It could be argued that the globalization process undertaken by the Aikido World HQ – to which we all owe the joy of being part of our Aikido community and the opportunity  to acquire the knowledge that today makes us talk – already contained the germ of the denial of Aikido’s basic principle as stated by its Founder: Aikido must be taught and practised in order to improve human society.

According to the policy implemented from the Aikido World HQ to date, however, as human society changes, leaving less space and time for studying, and less desire to achieve personal improvement, Aikido would also have to adapt accordingly. It would therefore have to continue on this downward path in search of a consensus that leaves us perplexed and quite indifferent.

We have seen this happening with the world of culture and arts in the broadest sense. It is enough to turn on the TV to become aware of the decline in the general culture level. When someone questions the leaders about it, the classic answer that one gets is that TV channels broadcast what people want. It happens quite naturally, once you replace quality with quantity, and when knowledge, studying and reinterpretation of one’s tradition are abandoned in order to seek consensus.

Returning to the concept of asobi in Aikido, nobody here is arguing that Aikido classes should be a massacre and the teacher a Nazi. I am simply inviting to reconsider what we instructors propose and how we propose it to our class. This is because the potentially revolutionary message contained in Aikido will never come across, if passed in between a few laughs and a couple of drops of sweat on the mat.  Transformation of Aikido in another kind of sport exercise – functional with the plan of not altering people and society’s unfair structures – needs exactly that.

Source: Aikido Dojo Katharsis newsletter – 1992

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©1992
All rights are reserved


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