What Is Aikido For Today?


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Ever since I started practising martial arts, I keep hearing the same discussions about their ultimate goals, and the most bitter quarrels always happen on the subject of Aikido. I’d like to contribute some suggestions on the topic, reflecting and elaborating on a couple of distinguished and well-centred opinions

by SIMONE CHIERCHINI

Today my daughter asked me who is the strongest between a tiger and a lion. I replied to her that they both care about their own business… There are tough karateka and tough aikidoka, marble-like karateka and dancing aikidoka. Wasting one’s precious time in making up martial arts goodness rankings is a childish exercise, because that depends on the driver, not on the car! If the wine in your cellar is undrinkable, it is foolish to blame the grapes…

The above kind of approach – which appears repeatedly on social network posts and in pizzeria chit-chat – underlies a much deeper question, however, a question that concerns the ultimate goals of martial arts and especially Aikido in our contemporary society: what is the purpose of Aikido today? Because it would seem quite clear that if one doesn’t know what something is for, studying it and developing it coherently may be somewhat complicated and frustrating, if not impossible. If I have to sail on the high seas I will take a boat, if I have to climb a mountain I will get boots, ropes and grapples; but if I lowered myself into the open sea loaded with the weight of the climbing equipment, I would be sure of drowning, and then who should I blame, my boots? So what is Aikido for today?

To try and formulate a sensible answer, I am going to draw inspiration from the words of someone wiser than me. Kenji Tomiki was a respected pre-war student of Morihei Ueshiba; let’s check what he said about it in an interview that he gave to Stanley Pranin’s Aikido Journal in 1982.

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Kenji Tomiki with Morihei Ueshiba

“During the Edo Period, the rigorous demands of the preceding “Warring States Period” gave way to a time when the majority of people spent their lives sitting in seiza on tatami mats and drinking green tea. Sitting like that people began to wonder what they would do if something unexpected should occur. It became necessary to develop ways of defending themselves by means of throwing needles or methods of avoiding the thrust of a short swords. In such confined situations what was called for was the thing we know as suwariwaza (seated techniques). Generally speaking, of the techniques developed during that long period 1603-1868 more than one-third are said to be seated. Truly, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”
Then suddenly, with the Meiji period, the need for bujutsu just disappeared and the waza (technique) became shaky. This was natural and to be expected, since it was no longer necessary to fight wars. Of course, we have no wars now and we won’t have any in the future either. For these reasons, it is no longer necessary to have budo. “Why then is it necessary to encourage them?, one might well ask. The answer to this question is one that we can get at through educational psychology. Most people today have little need for walking, let alone running. They are weak at climbing mountains, poor at swimming. This is a lamentable state of affairs. They are only advancing their heads. It is necessary to match intellectual progress with physical and spiritual development.
The human heart of spirit (kokoro) is something that gets weaker if it has nothing to do, it needs some sort of stimulation. One must have physical strength and the strong will to live. This is where education comes in. The thing that has been put forth to people all over the world as a training method for building up both spiritual and physical strength at the same time through the power of harmony has always been combat, the fight. [1]

Three important points not to be missed:

  • “Necessity is the mother of invention”.
  • “With the Meiji period, the need for bujutsu just disappeared and the waza (technique) became shaky”.
  • “The human heart of spirit (kokoro) is something that gets weaker if it has nothing to do, it needs some sort of stimulation”.

Translated, in my opinion, it means that only what it is necessary has purpose, function and efficacy. It just implies that one should respect the laws of nature. It means that what is not needed becomes “shaky”, that is, lacking foundation, and as such destined to fall and ruin.

Martial arts interpreted exclusively as fighting arts, i.e. arts intended for the sole purpose of combat, have been archaeology for several decades. Those who indulge themselves in thoughts of belligerent nature while wearing a keikogi washed with the detergent designed to offer the whitest of whites live a sorry delusion – sadly fostered with other deluded people who like violent games. At the end of each tatami or cage “war”, these not so developed adults go to take a nice hot shower at the rhythm of Beyoncé from the Zumba room next door, and then rehydrate with the appropriate isotonic drink from the coin-operated machine located next to the attractive receptionist. This is not war, in war people tear each other to pieces and die!

Those who promote the above for money are often responsible for spreading notions about the horror that would plague our streets and the absolute need to defend oneself from hordes of assailants who would be waiting for us around every corner… total nonsense! Never in its history has our world been more secure than in the past 70 years. Our society is doted with Law and Law Enforcement – even though they could both do better. Is someone suggesting that today we are exposed to greater risks to receive harm than any time in past human history? It might be time to read the history book again. Spreading fear and a sense of insecurity are actions unworthy of those who call themselves martial artists and live the values and honour of practising martial arts. The statistical chances of being attacked are minuscule, close to the absolute zero. Spending a couple of decades learning how to defend oneself only following this perspective simply demonstrates the presence of serious psychological problems in the subjects concerned.

The pure and simple truth, therefore, is that today nothing effective can be studied, because the conditions for using it are missing and because it is wasted time. It serves no purpose! Unless one really wants to know what sweat, blood, entrails and brains scattered around mean. The aforementioned “fighters” could go and play war in the Middle East if they really want to. There are several fundamentalist movements looking for volunteers…

Crowd
Today the real conflict we are experiencing is that of interpersonal relationships

In today’s world, the conflict we face is not an armed one, but a permanent, pervading and subtle clash, integrated within our society, and inseparable from it: it is the conflict of interpersonal relationships. We are more and more, and more and more correlated, connected, each of us standing more and more, every day, all day, on each other’s feet. It follows that today any training that has a function and that is necessary, and therefore responsive to the laws of nature, must be addressed to providing tools useful for combating the battles of the interpersonal relationships of the modern unarmed warrior.

Personally, I chose to practice and teach Aikido, many years ago, to live like a warrior, not to make war, to quote the words of French Aikido sensei Stephane Benedetti:

“Living like a warrior, not making war! (…) I’m not violently pacifist, but I don’t like war. I agree with Sun Tzu “The best general does not need to make war (…). So: living like a warrior? To begin with, a warrior is not necessarily a military man or a soldier. It is also not about masquerading as a samurai or sleeping with a sword at your side… For me, since I am not the reincarnation of Morihei Ueshiba and I can’t speak on his behalf, it is a way, a process of evolution for a man towards a higher stage of being. The way of the warrior is a dangerous way, not because you risk being killed by a volley of bullets in a heroic gesture immortalized by photographers, but simply because the spiritual defeats are numerous and the roadside dotted with those who gave up…” [2]

Since I am proceeding with this type of awareness, and since I am clear about the purpose of what I do and why I propose it to my students, I like the techniques of my Aikido, as well as the work underlying them. Personal disappointments, the state of the Aikido nation, the stupid things that many Aikido people say and do don’t change my thoughts an inch: Aikido is wonderful, its techniques effective and consistent with its purposes – although they can be improved and expanded for our new needs, like everything that is alive and in the making – its place in the world of Budo clear and defined.

That in the world of Aikido there can also be a crazy anarchy of methods and approaches – and that this is extremely useful for those who want to build their empire and manage people and money – I don’t care much. The only thing to do is to have one’s goals clear, and to strive for them, regardless of what others are doing.

Why are there still the poor and the oppressed in the world? Why is it that those who rule almost invariably turn out to be a combination of corrupt traitors and murderers? Why is scientific progress always distorted for the purposes of profit and not used for benefit of mankind? Not much I can do there. I can only do my best in my dojo/extended family, as humans of goodwill have always done. We could start by living the good things we preach; everyone is well capable of criticizing everything and everyone, it doesn’t take much of an effort. To build something is definitely not for everyone.

How are you doing in the real conflict that surrounds us everywhere every single day of the year? Because I do not care at all if you are capable of knocking down Mohammed Ali, while if you can manage your micro-community harmoniously, then your training in Aikido makes sense and you have all my respect.

Notes

[1] Pranin Stanley, Interview with Kenji Tomiki, Aikido Journal, 1982 http://members.aikidojournal.com/private/interview-with-kenji-tomiki-1/ (Retrieved on 21/07/2020)

[2] Benedetti Stephane, L’Aikido È un’Arte Marziale? Aikido Italia Network, (-)  http://aikidoitalia.com/2011/09/23/laikido-e-unarte-marziale/ (Retrieved on 21/07/2020)

The main picture of this article – the best Facebook profile photo in history – is published thanks to the the kind permission of Antonio Vassallo

Copyright Simone Chierchini ©2020
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