“Almost aikido or good enough aikido!” by Dennis Hooker

Sometimes I wonder at what I see and read regarding aikido. So many people willing to say this is, or is not, aikido. Or that seems to be magic-based aikido and that is street-effective aikido and that is combat aikido and this is small-circle aikido, or this aikido teacher is this or that. It seems to see it just about everywhere in the aikido community. Even within a dojo there are often differing opinions as to what constitutes aikido. I have my opinion based on my training and life’s experiences just as each of you do. What makes the activity we are engaging in aikido and not something else? Is it the rather pitiful little number of techniques in the syllabus? Is it our ability to use these techniques to throw or cause pain and/or injury to others that makes it aikido?

Let me offer an observation from my position. I go to dojo after dojo and find people involved with controlled violence who call what they do “aikido.” I see make-believe, life-and-death seniors, pretend winners and pretend losers. Nage using just enough power to cause uke pain or to throw uke and uke offering just enough resistance to receive the pain or get thrown. I think of this as “almost aikido” or “good-enough aikido” because people do it for years and seem happy continuing it. Nage never uses full power for fear of injury or death to uke. Thus nage’s technique is never really true and uke seldom follows nage’s lead without offering some resistance to help nage feel powerful and empowered with technique so uke’s ukemi is never true.

This may be fine for beginning aikido when the student is in the reactionary stage and reacts to nage’s physical stimuli of an attack. At this stage, uke and nage are building form. This is all they should think about. Correct posture, appropriate distance and a strong and physical interaction resulting in correctly formed and executed technique. This should be done for however many years it takes to be able to apply the form of technique without thinking (in the development of an aikido student this stage is “shu”). Shu is the stage where a student keeps repeating the physical act of technique or kata for however long it takes for the act to become innate, sometimes years depending on the student. However we should then move on to the next stage of development which is “interaction.” In this stage, we begin to understand the function of the forms and how they relate to us and our partners. Uke and nage should be in a position to interact spontaneously and seamlessly implementing supreme form with function. It is here we actually start to do aikido with people as opposed to performing techniques on them.

The function will be one thing at the beginning of the years of training, but something else at the end. Unfortunately, from my viewpoint, some people get stuck at the front end of this learning process because they have power over others with technical form and dominance over others with technical function. Some even become very high ranking but never leave this area because this is what they see as aikido and it fits their needs. I am not saying they are not doing aikido. What I am saying is what they are doing is not what I consider aikido which is something quite different.

I believe aikido is big enough to incorporate many views. I believe one should move on with training and work with the function of the interaction until it has a greater personal meaning than victory over others. With some degree of mastery over the forms and function of aikido, one should start to become compassionate toward others. The desire for physical dominance over others should start to fall away. The ability will remain of course. During the interaction years the function of the aikido has changed from powerful martial artist to a skilled confidant and compassionate human being. We have now mastered the forms and internalized the functions so they are as much a part of us as walking and breathing and not compartmentalized as martial. In training this would be the “ha” phase. Ha is the work of analysis of the forms and function of (in this case) aikido.

Now is the time to begin “breaking apart” the form and function to reveal the content of the activity and its effect upon my life and evaluate what it means to me and how it is integrated into who I am. Aikido becomes mine in the truest since possible as I have gone from reactionary aikido to interactive aikido and now I am ready for proactive aikido.

Many would call this stage of aikido development “ri,” I suppose I will too. Ri is the stage of making the aikido ours. At this stage, we should be ready to explore beyond the bounds of what we have learned. Ri is the time to spread our wings and fly. With proactive aikido both uke and nage can practice with 100% honesty. Confident in each other’s abilities, true aikido can happen. By not doing aikido to each other but with each other, most of the element of danger is greatly reduced.

Uke can commit to an honest attack with 100% power and offer no help whatsoever to nage and nage can redirect all that power without holding back or helping uke. With uke being sensitive to nage’s intent and nage sensitive to uke’s intent (the intent will change for both during the aikido action), aikido can happen.

Now sometimes people take this to extremes by not coming even remotely close to physical contact. But if uke is being 100% uke and nage is being 100% nage and both are using supreme form and function, then who is to say the content is not aikido? Although not my cup of meat, I can see the truth in this training. Going to the dojo everyday to give and receive pain is not my idea of aikido training either.

My tough guy give-an-getter broke a long time ago. I’m into getting along now and using what I believe to be aikido as the means to do it. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say my partner throws a half-hearted punch my way. I redirect what energy is the punch toward the ground using whatever form is at hand. There is not enough energy in the punch to take my partner to the ground and the function of the form has been achieved by dispersing the energy so now I just let go. The function of the form has restored harmony and the content of the act is aikido. Now, if I feel it necessary to continue the form to throw or knock my partner down, I have stopped doing aikido with my partner and started doing technique to my partner. To me there is a very big and significant difference here.

Dennis Hooker

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One Response to “Almost aikido or good enough aikido!” by Dennis Hooker

  1. shino says:

    i agree with this guy^^. i imagine shu, ha ri, can probably be interpreted within different contexts depending on how you see aikido, but i like how he`s interpreted it.particularly culminating in the point where he says aikido is correlated with life. i think just as life exists, and different people understand and experience it each in their own unique ways -some with resistance, limitations, friction; others with openness, flexibility, love and compassion – which results in different results and further experiences, aikido is like a micro version of life. the parameters of the experience is limited to the form of a martial art; that is all. in terms of the practice itself, yeah, i also agree that both nage and uke should be able to give 100% each by the end; but im not sure if he mentions this: id say that to be able to do this would require not only the training from shu, ha and ri, but an unconditional loving soul. this is because any element of fear or ignorance would close the heart to some degree, preventing total sharing. said another way, you need to approach aikido with whatever is left when you have taken away fear, ignorance etc…i think actually this doesnt necessarily have to be love- you can totally open yourself up though rage i think too – but in terms of training, and in terms of the most desirable development, i think love, rather than rage, is the best state to cultivate… as for contact or non-contact, all spectrums of aikido training styles are totally harmonious if they work with this as an underlying idea…so i agree again, that aikido in its highest expression, is neutralisation of energy imbalance – when you replace the idea that you are responding to one or more forces (which is what i feel is how most people get ready to do a technique), merely with awareness of energy displacement, there remains only harmony – both in the soul and in the technique.cheers^^

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