Here we look back at a compendium of guidance produced by Sensei Lewis Bernaldo de Quiros to support students new to Aikido. This is part 1 of a 4 part series and is reproduced from the Takemusu Aikido Motril website (https://aikidotradicional.eu/recursos-alumnos/).
Welcome to the dojo! You have inadvertently just joined a world-wide fellowship of Aikido practitioners. One of the many gifts Aikido bestows, is this wide network where you are welcome, both on and off the mat, in all parts of the world where Aikido is practiced.
At first this Aikido practice looks confusing. The Japanese terminology, the rolling, the techniques which all look similar but different at the same time, the unexpected problem of figuring out which side is right and left!
But Aikido is actually quite simple (that doesn’t mean easy!) so this introductory guide is meant to give some orientation and hopefully help with the initially somewhat confusing period before one finds one’s bearings and starts to see the simplicity embedded within all the apparent complexity of Aikido practice.
Please read on and also see the following parts 2 to 4.
Morihiro Saito Sensei 9th Dan
The style or line of Aikido that is taught in Traditional Akido Europe (TAE) is known as Takemusu Aikido and is a traditional form of Aikido that was passed on from O-Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba, 1883-1969, the Founder of Aikido) to the late Morihiro Saito Sensei (1928-2002). Saito Sensei was a personal disciple of O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido, for over 23 years and took over his dojo in Iwama Japan after his death, considering it his duty to preserve and pass on the Founders original source techniques in as pure a form as possible.
Takemusu Aikido can be characterised and differentiated from other schools and styles of Aikido by its clear emphasis on the following three areas:
Emphasis on basic training and a clear distinction between basic and more advanced levels of technique and practice.
The integration of empty-handed practice and weapons training into a single system.
Aikido as a martial art (Budo).
The Japanese word ai-ki-do can be translated roughly as ‘harmonizing - energy - way’, or ‘way of harmonizing with the energy’ of another or of the universe in general. Each of these terms emphasizes aspects of a certain fundamental perspective:
Ai. Harmonizing, understood as overcoming a situation of conflict. Aikido goes beyond winning or losing and seeks resolution.
Ki. Energy: That our real nature is fundamentally open, energetic, and fluid and that whatever we do or say (form) is an outcome of this level (no-form).
Do. Way: That the practice is more than learning a new set of choreographed movements, but involves a new understanding about conflict and by extension, to life itself.
Takemusu was a term the founder of Aikido used often to characterize his Aikido and can approximately be translated as ‘source of divine technique’.
A key word here is ‘source’. In training we practice pre-arranged techniques (waza), but eventually the point is to have access to their source of inspiration and execute them spontaneously and creatively without thinking.
The ‘way’ (do) is to ‘harmonize’ with the formlessness of circumstances (energy) and allow our actions to be lovingly commensurate with that reality, and not separate from it. Our actions will then be spontaneous and appropriate. To attain this ability under all conditions and particularly under conditions of stress (combat) is the ideal and goal of Aikido. In regular practice we learn ‘known technique’, but the mature application of technique will be unknown, unique and spontaneously appropriate. This is my understanding of the meaning of Takemusu Aiki.
What does the term ‘Budo’ mean? Roughly it can be translated as ‘martial way’ and is a term for the modern descendants of the traditional martial arts of Japan.
The first character ‘Bu’ (martial) is composed in Japanese of two sub characters: ‘to stop’ and ‘halberd’ (or spear). Thus, the ideal of a martial art or Budo, is that it stops fighting. This does not mean that we cannot fight, but that in practicing Aikido as a Budo, the ethical choice is to contain conflict and resolve it through reconciliation where at all possible. Physical confrontation where the techniques are used is always an absolute last resort.
Here is a traditional story from the Japanese martial traditions that illustrates this important point:
Among Bokuden Tsukahara’s students (a famous 16th century sword master) there was a man of extraordinary technical skill. While walking down the street, this disciple passed a skittish horse that suddenly kicked at him, but he deftly turned his body to avoid the kick and escaped injury. Bystanders who witnessed the event said, “ He well deserves being called one of Bokuden’s top disciples. Bokuden will surely pass his secrets on to him, if to no one else”.
But when Bokuden heard of the incident he was disappointed and said, “I've misjudged him”, he then expelled the student from the school.
People could not understand Bokuden’s reasoning and decided that nothing could be done but observe how Bokuden himself would behave in similar circumstances.
In order to do this, they hitched an exceedingly ill-tempered horse to a wagon on a road which they knew Bokuden would pass. Secretly watching him from a distance, they were surprised to see Bokuden give the horse a wide birth by crossing to the far side of the road.
They were caught off guard at this unexpected outcome, and later, confessing their ruse, they asked the reason for Bokuden’s dismissal of the disciple.
Bokuden replied, “A person with a mental attitude that allows him to walk carelessly by a horse without considering that it may rear up is a lost cause no matter how much he may study technique. I thought he was a person of better judgement, but I was mistaken”.
(Quoted from: The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate. Gichin Funakoshi).
While I was training in karate under the late Keinosuke Enoeda Sensei (9th Dan Shotokan) he once remarked (fully in line with the above traditional story) that as far as self-defence and Karate was concerned, 90% of self defence was zanshin.
Zanshin can be translated as ’remaining mind or awareness’ and is the open and ongoing awareness that we retain while going about our business in the world. It is the awarenss that Bokuden demonstrated so beautifully as he walked down the street and avoided the horse.
In training while engaging our partner we should cultivate this broader awareness by remaining aware of the space around us. In training with our partners, we train with everyone around us as well.
The paradox of training in a Budo such as Aikido, is that the deeper our understanding and skill in the techniques of the art, the less likely we will ever have to use them outside of the dojo.