Oct 282010

Does “Aikido” Even Exist?
What is Aikido? One could simply say that all Aikido, regardless of style, has a certain basic set of techniques and movement principles which make the art “Aikido” as distinct from aikijutsu or jiujutsu or any other martial art. But, as any person who has trained widely in the Aikido community can tell you, there is such a wide range of interpretation with regard to how these techniques are practiced and executed that the surface similarities get outweighed by these inherent differences.

In Japan there is the traditional faction that believes that the art is the sole creation of Morihei Ueshiba and that Aikido is essentially the property of the Ueshiba family. Whereas, this might be the attitude of certain members of the Aikikai Honbu Dojo in Tokyo, I don’t think one can effectively maintain this as a point of view. Unlike the koryu, or classical martial styles of Japan, Aikido has had no set curriculum or any narrowly defined standards for the certification of its teachers. Even before the term “Aikido” came into common usage in the 1940’s, a wide gulf existed between the interpretations taken by various early instructors. The Yoseikan, Yoshinkan, Shudokan, Aikibudo (later Shin’ei Taido) systems emerged as distinct styles of what was just becoming known generally as “Aikido”.

The family claim to “Aikido” stems from its origin with the Founder whom we refer to as O-Sensei. Yet, even before the death of the Founder in 1969, his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, had secularized the philosophical underpinnings of the art and begun the process of simplifying its techniques, de-emphasizing the use of weapons and the more martially oriented techniques of the system. The Uchi Deshi who took Aikido abroad after WWII took varying elements from the Founder, the Nidai Doshu, and the Honbu Dojo Cho (Chief Instructor), Koichi Tohei Sensei, not to mention varying influences of the other senior instructors at the Honbu dojo. Saito Sensei, the caretaker of the shrine at Iwama, also had a degree of influence over the teachers sent overseas as virtually all of them had spent considerable time accompanying the Founder on his lengthy visits to the shrine and dojo.

By the time we reach the late 1970’s, this process had largely completed itself with Japanese Shihan presiding over the growth of Aikido all over the world. Yet even amongst these teachers, all considered “Aikikai” instructors, there was a wide range of interpretation as to what Aikido actually was. Some maintained a strong emphasis on weapons work; some even developed their own unique weapons training systems. Others put little or no emphasis on weapons training. Some ignored the trend towards a less martially oriented Aikido coming out of the home dojo and kept a strong emphasis on atemi and the more martial techniques which were dropping out of the Honbu Dojo repertoire. Even in Japan, apart from a small number of teachers like Abe Sensei, Hikitsuchi Sensei, Sunadomari Sensei and a few others, the spiritual orientation of the art had completely shifted away from the traditional, religious, Shinto based outlook which was fundamental to the way in which the Founder conceived and taught his art.

Where some sense of spirituality was maintained, its emphasis was more on the ethical / philosophical elements of the Founder’s teachings than on the mystical religious elements which didn’t travel well overseas and were even considered obscure by most modern Japanese practitioners themselves. Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the Nidai Doshu, wrote a number of books on Aikido and this orientation was quite evident in his works. In many, if not most cases, the practice of Aikido became almost entirely secularized with almost no emphasis by the teachers on the spiritual side of the art in favor of almost total focus on the technical side. This was in stark contrast to the Founder’s emphasis which was to talk about the spiritual underpinnings of Aikido and only rarely deal with the technical aspects of training.

When Tohei Sensei left the Aikikai after the death of the Founder he created his own style of Aikido which focused heavily on ki development as well as waza (technique). His ideas on this were derived from the work done by Tempu Nakamura rather than anything he had learned directly from O-Sensei and despite a painful rift with the Aikikai, many prominent teachers both in Japan and abroad left the organization to do the new style called Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido. Over the decades that followed, the majority of these teachers have struck out on their own, setting up their own organizations and adding further to the wide mix of interpretations that exist in contemporary Aikido.

So by the time the new millennium rolls around we find an Aikido that is variously defined by styles, organizations and individual teachers. In addition to the previously mentioned recognized “styles”, some teachers like Saito Sensei, in an attempt to distinguish their very traditional Aikido from the variants that followed came very close to developing new “styles”. “Iwama Style” came into common usage although it was never declared to be such by Saito Sensei nor recognized as such by the Aikikai Headquarters.

Some individual teachers, like Mitsugi Saotome, went off on their own (in his case the USA), started their own organizations, and then subsequently were reunited with the Aikikai Honbu Dojo. The “organization”, led by a talented and charismatic senior teacher soon became the new vehicle for promoting the growth of Aikido. It became possible to actually have one’s own organization which promoted a very specific interpretation of Aikido while simultaneously maintaining membership in the Aikiaki organization. K. Chiba Sensei’s creation of the Birankai is an example of this approach. Thus, re-absorption of previously estranged groups coupled with this toleration of organizations functioning within the larger headquarters organization has slowed down the creation of recognized separate “styles” of Aikido but serves to only thinly veil the fact that there continues to be very wide variation in approach and technique, even amongst students who trained with the Founder at precisely the same time.

With the spread of Aikido around the world we find the tendency towards entropy magnified even more. Most countries now have senior instructors at what would once have been considered “Shihan” grade who have their own ideas, not always in concert with the Japanese viewpoints, on what should happen with their art in their own country. Further, the development of non-Japanese teachers has also diminished the Japanese mystique which used to surround the senior teachers, all of whom had trained with the Founder. Now, students of the students of these teachers are instructing in their own schools. The pure numbers of practitioners, especially in France and the United States has made it virtually impossible for the Uchi Deshi of the Founder to remain as the dominant influences in the countries in which they have settled. Aikido has begun to take on aspects of the national character of the various countries it has spread to with increasing variation amongst a growing number of high level instructors.

At this stage, connection with the Aikikai Headquarters in Japan is more a sentimental attachment rather than something considered important to the continued development of the art in its various host countries. Pandora’s box has been opened and nothing will return it to its former state.

It is evident that, at this point in time, that the term “Aikido” which might have referred to something specific historically, is really a generic reference to a collection of martial and non-martial movement systems which share only the most surface similarities. Saying one does Aikido is like saying that one likes to eat Chinese Food. What kind of Chinese food? Sichuan, Hunan, Shanghai, Peking? What kind of Aikido? Yoseikan, Yoshinkan, Shudokan, Aikikai? Aikikai? Well, that doesn’t describe anything at this point… it’s all about the particular teacher within the organization or even which organization within the organization.

If this all seems to be impossibly confusing, it is. My intention in pointing this out is to help us all get past any remaining tendency to argue about what is the “true” Aikido, which Aikido is the most authentic. I don’t believe that there ever was anything that could be defined as “Aikido” in the sense of a “style”. Even before it officially became “Aikido” it had already morphed into several versions. The fact that the Founder spent his entire life refining and developing his art meant that what was called Aikido at any point in time represented only a temporal snapshot of what kept changing right up until the Founder died. It is almost impossible to maintain that any particular approach is more valid than any other. It’s simply a matter of finding the one that works for a particular individual. Not much more can be said.

George S. Ledyard (b. 11 May 1952). Aikido 6th Dan Aikikai, Aikido Schools of Ueshiba. Aikido & Defensive Tactics Instructor. B. in Syracuse, NY. Direct student of Mitsugi Saotome beginning in 1976 at the Washington DC Aikikai. After moving to the Seattle area in 1982, attended the Seattle School of Aikido under Mary Heiny as well as the Seattle Aikikai under Bruce Bookman. Other aikido training influences include Hiroshi Ikeda, Tom Read, Ellis Amdur, and William Gleason. In 1986, became chief instructor of the Seattle School of Aikido through 1989 when he opened Aikido Eastside where he currently teaches.
reprinted without permission

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Oct 282010

People choose Hiriki Aikido for many different reasons. Some need a safe form of exercise. Some want to learn how to defend themselves and their loved ones. And there are students that have studied different forms of martial arts a large portion of their lives and are still searching. It is a martial science first and foremost. The art form of Aikido is next in the development and challenges the student must face to gain knowledge of the art in an academic sense, to know where the martial science came from, and to be able to understand and interact with any other style of Aikido. It is practiced as a martial science, not the aerobic work out that many schools today are saying is Aikido.

But why do people choose Hiriki Aikido? From forty-four years of teaching experience, I have learned that to retain and promote the student’s confidence from the very first day techniques must work for the beginner as well as the advanced aikidoka. With that in mind an advanced program of learning has been developed to enhance the learning process.

Waza (technique) is taught initially while confronting a near-static opponent which is directly opposite to most other styles of aikido teaching. When the student is taught by handling a static attack it is done to challenge their learning ability in the higher levels of the art. Static is harder to learn because the balance and momentum of the attacker is not given to the beginning student to use as an aide in performing the technique. At the same time the beginning student is taught how to use their Ki energy and develop the body memory of Ki in all the techniques they learn.

The theories of Hiriki Aikido are instructed along with Ki and its applications in practice and daily life. The philosophy of the art of Hiriki Aikido as self-protection for the mind and body is passed on to the student. Unlike most martial arts schools Hiriki Aikido Dojos educate the students to the range of choices they have in response to aggressive behavior, physical or mental, and we train knowing there are always consequences set in motion by our actions.

The foundations, pillars and principles (waza) are taught to the student in actual levels. These levels are like the levels of the Use of Force Continuum taught to law enforcement personnel which is used to judge the correct level of response to a specific threat. This always allows the Hiriki Aikidoka a range of responses necessary to keep safe, physically and legally, giving the beginning student a solid foundation to advance their education to a higher plateau of learning in the future. Hiriki Aikido is based on the foundations of O Sensei’s Aikido (square, circle, and triangle) with added foundations of the Point and Axis; adding these foundations to O Sensei’s original foundations improves the art of Hiriki Aikido’s effectiveness and versatility.

The Hiriki Aikido dojo is a safe place to practice and learn the art of Hiriki Aikido. The dojo membership is friendly and helpful to all its members; there are no bullies or cliques allowed in the dojo. The classes are structured to allow an attitude of enjoyment in being there; the strict military discipline practiced by some dojos is not present. That is not to say there is no respect of the dojo or students; respect is always shown at all times and the students pride themselves on the seriousness of their study and the safety of the learning process of Hiriki Aikido. Class sizes are small and personalized with access to the Sensei being always available and encouraged. Because Hiriki Aikido has the potential to cause injury all students are carefully watched as they progress through the levels of training.

When a student leaves the dojo they feel relaxed, energized, and totally relieved of stress. This is just one benefit of Hiriki Aikido practice. The student looses their necessity to be who they are in the outside world. They are not parents, teachers, lawyers, doctors, or factory workers they are aikidoka and for the time in the dojo that is all they are. They are just students, each walking a different path toward the same goal. They practice an art which enhances their inner self and their physical self toward their betterment as human beings where good energy dwells and manifests as a path which dispels all negative energy; this is what Hiriki Aikido teaches them and it is what each enjoys most.

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