What is Aikido?

What is Aikido? If you ask online, you will get any number of answers, simply because there are many different organisations and approaches to it. Often these answers are sprinkled with very strong opinions on what is True AikidoTM.

Looking through moving boxes from a few years ago, I came across a number of old magazines of mine. One of them is the October 2011 issue of Blackbelt Magazine. I used to read that, though only infrequently, because there was a single kiosk in one specific train station that had it. This particular issue had an article on Aikido that I quite enjoy. It’s about Aikido’s place in the modern world, and includes some insight into the views of the current Doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba. In particular, it’s about whether the martial or the philosophical aspects of Aikido are more important. Which one represents “the True Aikido”?

His view as presented in the article, based on what he said at a dojo re-dedication in Hawaii, is that both are valid, that it is up to the individual instructor. He points out that he focuses on the philosophical aspect rather than martial – and so, one presumes, does the organisation he is the head of. However different practitioners have the choice to focus on martial aspects instead, without it being any less valid or part of Aikido. I have a great deal of respect for this viewpoint.

If you know me personally, you know I’m definitely one of the people who are more focused on the martial aspect. Specifically I’m interested in how Aikido can be applied to self-defence. I’ve trained and taught with this goal in mind for a number of years now, and this blog is where I’ll put some of my thoughts on the matter in writing.

The thing I want to lead with is that not everything that we do in training is useful for every purpose. It’s not that “focusing on the philosophy of Aikido” necessarily means that the training is not martially effective, but it does mean that a lack of martial effectiveness is a possibility, and the training can still be valid for its stated goal. Assuming of course that we can acknowledge what we are and aren’t doing, and do not delude ourselves. Similarly, if we practice with martial effectiveness as our primary goal, that does not mean we necessarily ignore the philosophical aspects, but it does mean that ignoring them is a possibility.

We also need to be careful to acknowledge that martial arts training is not the same as self-defence training, even if we have great martial effectiveness. Self-defence is a very specific goal, protecting yourself from criminal violence while staying within the law. The parameters of this are different for each student, and one-size-fits-all approaches are entirely inadequate. If we want self-defence in our training, we need to work on it specifically.

So with all of that in mind, what I want to write about here is both aspects, the Harm (martial effectiveness and self-defence) and the harmony (mental and physical development). There are of course other things that are involved in Aikido, such as cultural trappings and the social aspects. As far as those are concerned though, I want to finish with something that was said to the late Alan Ruddock, founder of the Aikido organisation I am a part of. When he left Japan after training with O’Sensei for some time, Ichihashi Sensei took him aside and said to him:

“Remember, all these things we do like bowing and sitting in seiza are Japanese – not Aikido. You know better than we do how to teach foreigners. When you go back home, respect the ways of your country, remember to teach aikido your way.”

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