Friday, March 25, 2011
My first real introduction to the martial arts and Japanese culture came through my training in the Aikido club of the University of Michigan. Due to the many times I have moved, I have studied under a variety of instructors in several styles of aikido. To date, I hold rank with four associations; no one of which has recognized my time with the others. But though Aikido is sometimes a highly insular martial art, I believe my wide exposure has benefited me. Where I lack high rank in any one association—I hold the rank of 2kyu with Birankai of North America and the Japanese Aikikai associations—I have learned much about what I look for in a good instructor… and what I look for in a great one. Most importantly, I have had the opportunity to consider what Aikido means to me, personally.
This being said, I consider myself to be always and above all others a member of the
Dojo of Grand Rapids, Michigan. My instructor is David Mata, under Keith Moore sensei, under T K Chiba Sensei.
What is Aikido?
You can research Aikido on the internet and discover much more than I could ever hope to explain here on this blog. My purpose is to tell you what the martial arts mean to me: my feelings, interpretations and reasons for training.
I believe patience is the word that best describes Aikido at this moment in my life. Patience is a powerful virtue both in and out of the dojo. It embodies control, awareness and self discipline. In an art such as Aikido, we train with a wide range of people of varying levels of skill and physical ability. When we rush into a situation, we are liable to overpower our partner or, in turn, be overpowered ourselves. Patience is required to find the “path of least resistance,” so to speak and prevent us from immediately relying upon muscle. One habit we have in the western world is our reliance on brute strength.
This does not mean that speed and force hold no place in aikido. We practice patiently now so that we understand, later, how to apply techniques with greater power. In a given class, you might learn one technique—you may even learn that technique perfectly—but what you have learned is one variation of a technique in a universe where there are a thousand incarnations of that movement; you have learned the technique in the setting of a dojo from a specific attack. Aikido requires years of practice in order that the body learn to react instinctually, from a variety of attacks and in a variety of situations. This might make it seem as though “repetition” were the most important key to developing Aikido. Repetition, however, implies a mindless series of movements. Patience, on the other hand, requires the mind’s active engagement in an activity.
The energy in Aikido can be illustrated by thinking of the movement of water. Water, when presented with an obstacle, seeks the path of least resistance. Water does not draw back, nor push outward. Rather, it maintains a constant pressure in response to that which is exuded upon itself. A wave may be gentle or highly destructive, according to the power of the circular energy which generates its movement. Similarly, Aikido depends upon circular movements to generate techniques.
This has been a brief introduction to my thoughts on an art I have studied for nearly nine years. In the future I will write about more specific aspects of Aikido or possibly revisit ideas I have mentioned here.