The Swamp of Aikido Technicalism

Tomba O-Sensei

One thing is Aiki, another is academia. Academy-style teaching has its function, but once that has been carried out, there should be an ever-increasing space for experimenting with free-style Aiki training, otherwise, we must honestly declare that our discipline is already dead and buried



Technicalism: Excessive use of or reliance on technical terms or procedure

One thing is Aiki, a different one academia, I doubt that there can be any uncertainty about it. Academy-style teaching holds its very important function, and each school has its own ideas regarding how the school should train its students. I made my own choices and everyone is entitled to select and pick as they see fit. It is good and proper to devote time to improving personal technical skills and those of the students, and it is unquestionably recommended that part of the energy spent in studying Budo continues to be forever dedicated to finessing technique. “Part”!

Once the academy phase is over, the goal of the individual practitioner and the senior instructor who trains him/her should change. The space dedicated to free-style Aiki type of training, i.e. not fixed, should gradually become more prominent. When I refer to free-style Aiki-type of training, I mean one in which techniques arise from the spontaneous encounter of two protagonists equal in strength and intention (no tori/uke!). Without thinking of it as a competition and without needing to declare winners and losers, this should be an open encounter, not regulated by pre-established forms of attack and predetermined answers in the shape of standard techniques. In practical terms, it could look – for example – like engaging each other to try and create openings and spaces in a mutual 360° movement – bound only by continuous contact in ki-awase. A set-up where two guys stand facing each other and one has to punch the other in the stomach, inducing the second to respond with kotegaeshi (and both know in advance what the other is going to do) is not Budo, and is never (Takemusu) Aikido, because what should flow from a closed tap? This is and remains pure and simple academy.

Since Morihei Ueshiba’s time, among those who have the responsibility to spread Aikido across the world, the only one intent on proposing not just academy seems to be Seishiro Endo – even though only with him as the engine of the action, since I have never seen anyone throwing or striking him as a result of his movements. All the other senior instructors invariably present series after series of techniques. Decades of pre-printed techniques, certainly of refined execution, of infinite variety, of ingenious mechanics, but techniques. Decades of academia, never the Founder’s Aiki.

It is a bit like watching a Premiership football training session where the footballers study how to avoid the off-side trap, only without any counterpart trying to put them off-side for real. It is like Cristiano Ronaldo training to sneak the ball in between his adversary’s legs, only the opponent is standing still with his legs well spread apart to help him to get it done. It is like buying all the parts needed to build a sailboat, spending years assembling it, and once the job is done, just keeping the sailboat it in the garden – only to mount on it and stand at the helm with a sailor’s hat on the head, in the company of friends and relatives who also like to navigate between the flowerbeds and the barbecue corner…

Aikido boat

We often hear Aikido people complaining that the art is not understood and appreciated by most of the outsiders that approach it. Indeed! 99% of those who practice it do not actually practice it at all … they are still training to practice it and will continue to do so forever and ever, with the approval of those who subsist by teaching only techniques, because that’s all they know. Aikido senior instructors appear to have a mad fear of standing in front of someone and showing that their Aiki is alive and true, that their academy produces great individuals and aikidoka, and not just garden pirates.

Here’s to hope that all of us will be able to get out of the swamp of an Aikido only made of pre-printed techniques. Otherwise, our discipline is already dead and lies motionless in the grave next to its Founder.

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©2020
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