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 2 of a 4 part series and is reproduced from the Takemusu Aikido Motril website (https://aikidotradicional.eu/recursos-alumnos/).
The etiquette in Aikido is at first quite alien for westerners. Some of us feel awkward at first with all the bowing, but what is the meaning and intention behind the rituals of the dojo?
On the mat we take turns attacking our partner allowing them to practice the techniques against us and in turn they attack us and we practice the same techniques. In effect we practice taking turns putting each other under pressure so that we can practice non-resistance and harmonization. The techniques are martial techniques whose intent is to neutralize rather than damage an attacker. However, these same techniques, if done with aggressive intent or carelessly, can cause much serious pain or injury. Therefore, it is of primary importance that the training be carried out in an atmosphere of attention, trust and respect for each other.
There are three bows:
To the shomen (traditionally a photo of the founder at the head of the Dojo) at the beginning and end of the class where we acknowledge the tradition, lineage and teachers who have come before us. Teacher and students together bow to and acknowledge the lineage.
Teacher and students bow to each other.
Students bow to each other.
Two expressions (in Japanese) mark the bows:
At the opening of practice: ONEGAEI SHIMASU (I ask a favour)
At the close of practice: DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMASHITA (Thank you very much - for the practice).
The essence of etiquette is about respectfully paying attention to what you are doing and this attitude both informs the training and supports it. A dojo without this element cannot be called a dojo as such.
'Dojo' translates as ‘way - place’ or ‘place where the way is practiced’. The Japanese understanding is that a dojo is a sacred space, hence before and after class the space is swept and at all times is treated with attention and care. The etiquette and attention we extend to the training and our partners is further extended to the place we train in.
Falling practice (ukemi)
Ukemi is the art of receiving (not just falling). When receiving an attack, we receive it and redirect it’s power into our technique, and as attacker when receiving the technique, we yield and follow responsively as we seek to maintain our balance and integrity. Ukemi is thus much more than just falling practice, it forms the basis for being able to blend and harmonize beyond resistance with any destabilizing force.
In practice we begin developing this ability to receive with falling and rolling practice. Here we encounter resistance to gravity with our tendency to stiffen up as we lose our balance. This implies that as we lose our balance, we also lose our ability to respond flexibly to a situation. In martial arts under stress or attack, it is essentially our centre and sense of balance that is assaulted, but to be able to execute an Aikido technique, it is at this moment that responsiveness instead of reactivity is critical. The reaction of holding on and trying to stay where we are needs to become the response to flow and change our position without struggling. Confronting our reactivity through conscious practice is the only way to effect this change from reactivity to responsiveness. So, there is much more to ‘falling’ practice in Aikido than meets the eye!
Formalized technical practice (kata) and free style practice (jiyu waza)
We begin learning aikido through the formalized agreement of set techniques (kata) where the roles of attacker and defender are decided beforehand. This is an agreement where the attacker (uke) provides pressure in a controlled way allowing for the defender (nage) to practice harmonization through the execution of technique.
We learn Aikido through developing technical ability but Aikido itself is not limited by these techniques (i.e., Takemusu Aikido). Aikido is bigger than its techniques.
Another aspect of this way of training is that it is a collaborative effort between uke and nage to help each other learn. There is no competition in Aikido. It should not practiced in the spirit of defeating or being better than the other.
When I as uke, attack nage, the power and speed of my attack should be measured to nage’s ability to receive and execute a technique. Too little and he is not challenged to stretch himself or his ability, too much and he is overwhelmed. Hence it is understood in Aikido that the role of uke is actually the more difficult one and traditionally the senior takes that role in leading the tempo and level of the practice.
Fee style practice is where both the attack and the technical response are free and undecided beforehand. This is advanced practice.
Between these two levels: fixed decided practice and free undecided practice there exist various gradations of accessability. The issues here are of progressively ‘letting go’ of what we know so as to be free and uncontrolled by it. We learn skill and then in order to be able to use it freely we must ‘forget’ it.
Weapon training (buki waza)
In this style of Aikido weapon training is essential. The basic footwork, hipwork and handwork of empty-handed techniques are rooted in sword work. The underlying principles for both training with weapons and without, are the same and mutually reinforce each other. Weapons and empty-handed technique are one system, not two.
Weapon training offers the following primary benefits:
Solo training without a partner where we can focus on all the basic body-use principles separate from the principles of relating with a partner.
Expanded sense of extension from joining with and amplifying one’s sense of reach through the weapon.
A strong focus on self-control and precision (armour is not used in weapon partner pactice in Aikido).
Clearer and more acute sensitivity to issues around timing and distance (ma-ai).
Weapon training in general gives a greater understanding of the dynamics and basis of empty-handed techniques, while at the same time allowing for a ‘sharpening’ in terms of precision and intent of those same techniques.