by Gordon Jones Sensei, 6th Dan so Hombu, UKA Shidoin and Principal
Published in UKA Newsletter,
March/April 2004 Issue.
From the moment we are born we start to learn all our life skills by example, but as we grow older we learn in a more individual way. We can take information on board through three different mediums, verbal instruction, visual example or physical experience‑simply feeling, looking and listening As aikido instructors we must be aware of the different combinations of these tools that we can use to help students progress, but by the same token we all teach with varying emphasis on these three forms of communication, some the silent type who teach only by example, some who simply talk it to death! But whatever forms our teaching takes there can be no substitute for the physical and repeated practice of aikido.
Over the last few years we have been fortunate to be instructed by several Japanese Shihan at our summer school, while the teaching has been excellent the verbal instruction, for me, added very little to the experience. I found myself almost ignoring the translation and immersing myself in the spirit of what was been taught. Over the last decade we all have had the opportunity to relive through A/V technology, the instruction of senior teachers. But reliving or reminding ourselves what transpired is all that it can be, aikido cannot be learnt through books or videos, it is like window shopping, only viewing through one perspective The only true way to learn aikido is to touch it, feel it, experience the spirit and the energy in both being tori or uke, for I believe that progression is made through understanding and developing both in equal parts. For many years I kept a scribbled notebook of what was taught by Chiba Sensei, but what I could not write down was this feeling of energy, the electricity and the spirit! If I were to watch a film of those courses now I would have only a small part of the experience.
There are some films in circulation of the' good old days' which prove to illustrate how aikido has developed and matured, a few have made the journey, through the years, from strutting egos, crunched joints, bloody noses, stiff arms and strong shoulders to a mature sophisticated flexible art that is rewarding as it is elusive.
The most fundamental principles we can learn from our visiting Japanese masters are relaxation, contact and response, the energy comes from flexible, relaxed, dynamic body movements, and the resulting unbalancing of the uke is a consequence of this. The focus is on the completion of tequnique with the ukemi of the partner an inevitable but secondary result. This nonattachment separates the real masters.
If we consider a reversal of this and we put the result of the technique as a higher priority than the movement itself then our aikido becomes dysfunctional and superficial, the stiffness and inflexibility becoming apparent.
Put simply, is the action of dumping your partner on the mat more important than how they got there.
Watch a good golfer or tennis player, the whole body is flexible, no tension in the shoulders, all the energy coming from the unification of the body, the consequence of this movement is the ball is projected A novice player will simply hit the ball with all their shoulder strength, and it will go nowhere. So when we practice ask' am I hitting the bail'. Is the result more important than the method?
The perception of true aikido can span a chasm of understanding, it can be said between the Martial and the abstract, but what do we perceive as martial? Brute force, confrontation, loose body parts, do or die? Not at all, Doshu states in his book the spirit of aikido ' it is the avoidance of trickery, deception or brute force to defeat an opponent'.
Those of us that have been lucky enough to take ukemi for Doshu, Senseis Tamura, Endo, Chiba, Yamada, Shibata, Masuda and Kobayashi will attest to the martial element of their teachings! And no sign of tension, stiffness.... or brute force! How can we define then, what is abstract aikido.
Ukemi is not just the act of rolling, it is responding, sticking to tori, absorbing with posture and flexibility tori's technique until the balance is involuntarily and irretrievably lost and only then is the break fall taken as an act of recovery not surrender. This should not be confused though with being obstructive or awkward this will create confrontation and has the effect of contracting the technique rather than expanding it. An active and dynamic response draws out tori's technical ability, it has to or uke will remain unmoved by the experience! Abstract aikido looks for and relies on the pre-emptive response that will result in the uke flying away, creating then, a situation where the uke has a choice of whether to 'go' or not.
So somewhere between the two extremities we find an individual aikido that we can pursue, strive for but never achieve, struggle with but never to feel complacent about. Aikido is an ever‑changing art almost a living thing that matures and grows. Like many of the senior instructors my aikido bears little resemblance to what I was doing 10 years ago. The basic precept of ikkyo etc. hasn't changed but the understanding of how and why has. With this understanding comes the realisation of how little I know and how far there is to go. Just maybe in another 34 years I will be able to put my hand on my heart and say I can' Do Aikido'.
Gordon Jones, Ren Shin Kan