Body structure & waza

An article by Ellis Amdur.

It is, by now, a truism, that martial arts are manifestations of culture. Encompassed within the system is a hidden structural language of the culture. For example, a long-stave fighting system holds the weapon in the middle, doing little or no sliding of the hands along the shaft. This can be because the weapon art is superimposed on an already existing pugilistic art – one is, in effect, punching with the staff. But more likely, there is no wood available that is not only tough, but also does not splinter on impact. Sliding the hands while ramming slivers of wood deep under the skin is certainly something to avoid – and many martial cultures have done just this.
The school can also reflect social rules – who is allowed to commit violence upon whom, the “etiquette” associated with the expression of violence, how one socializes (and therefore, in what context one will be attacked).

But you knew all that, didn’t you?

What is also significant is that martial arts are usually an expression of the average stature of the practitioners (altho’ it is possible that an eccentrically built person develops a fighting system, within a generation, the average take over and smooth it out to their liking). DR was an art “developed” (see the quotes? Don’t want to go back to THAT argument again!) by a short guy, and I believe that many of it’s leading pioneers were also built that way. So, too, were Ueshiba, father and son, Tohei, Osawa, etc. There were certainly differences in musculature, but I believe height was more or less constant. All things being equal, I do not believe the Dinka of the Sudan, or Vikings would have come up with shihonage. Speaking of the latter, Viking wrestling still remains in Iceland (Glima) and their throws specialize in an arched back, and considerable back strength – kuzushi is a high clean (if you know your weight lifting) rather than the low hip throws like judo’s ogoshi.

Much more than judo, which offers lovely leg techniques for normal healthy-sized (whoops – sorry – I meant tall) individuals, aikido is, for the most part structured for the vertically challenged – (look, if I can see the top of your head, you are short!!!)

Therefore, one returns to G. Ledyard’s article on surpassing one’s teachers – and part of the problem is how one can do this if one is not true to one’s own body rather than trying to shoehorn oneself into techniques not suited to one’s structure. Although musculature can be quite variable, most aikido techniques are most easily accessible for individuals in a height range of about 160 – 180 centimeters.

The dynamic tension is to master, as best as is possible, the methods and techniques as taught, and then have both the courage and the knowledge to walk away from them and make your own variations. Where aikido mastery falls short for many is that one decides to architect one’s own before mastering the skills, from the inside out, that one’s teacher offers. Rather than musical performance, think of musical composition. It is a standard exercise in music schools to compose a fugue as Bach “would have.” Innovation emerges when one truly has the art, to date, within one’s grasp.

Which leads to a final thought, amusing at least to me. I am the technical advisor to an aikido school in Pennsylvania – I have been assisting them in reworking their curriculum from an alleged “aikijutsu” art into aikido – but it’s my aikido. I am two meters, 100 kilos. It delights me that, for once, a whole dojo has to conform to the ideal body size (mine of course) rather than the usual in which I must cramp myself down to a common mean.

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