This section contains an extensive range of articles written about the practice of Aikido. Some contributions were offered by some influential teacher and some are from myself. These reflections will hopefully allow you to deepen your knowledge of the art and broaden your views. Please note that the views expressed in each article only reflect the views of their respective author, not necessarily that of the owner of this site.
In my previous article, I discussed the fact that we, as aikidoka, we spend most of our time practicing with a partner within the framework of katageiko. One could therefore be forgiven for thinking that in this context, the collective and social aspects of practice are inseparable from more technical considerations. However, if one changes his point of view for a moment, and begins to think as a footballer, one will soon classify our hobby as an "individual" sport. One can therefore wonder what is the part of the collective versus the individual in our practice of Aikido, and most importantly, whether it would be desirable to further develop a solo practice, as is the case in other disciplines such as Chinese arts or even some modern budo like karate. Of course, to answer this question, we must first investigate whether aikido actually contains elements of individual practice, decide what we seek to develop within such a practice, and finally assess whether this is the best way to acquire these qualities that we lack. To help me add substance to this article, Ellis Amdur, famous author and Shihan in two koryu, Toda-ha Buko-ryu and Araki-ryu, was kind enough allow me to include elements from some of our private conversations about budo. For clarity, his words will always be explicitly presented to differentiate them from my own interpretations.
While some martial arts emphasize the solitary development of both form and physical qualities, respectively through the practice of kata and suburi, aikido is practiced almost exclusively with a partner. What derives from this observation is that most of the learning in this discipline is therefore dependent on the willingness of a person (uke) to put his body at our disposal in order to facilitate our progression. What is even more specific to aikido is that even when one assumes the role of uke, one remains very much within a process of learning. In fact, as we shall see, it is within this role that a large part of the learning takes place. Unfortunately, this often leads to a number of misunderstandings, partly because of the antonymic notion of the opponent / partner, but also because of the fact that etiquette serves as an underlying framework within which all interactions between the two take place. In this article, I would like to discuss the nature of the relationship between uke and tori in aikido and to investigate the parameters that govern it.
When reading an article or a definition about aikido, one obviously finds a great deal of information about its founder, Ueshiba Morihei. Many of our teachers often look up to this man they never met in order to justify not only technical, but also moral choices. However, what few people know or accept is the fact that Aikido, as it is practiced today around the world, owes not only to Morihei, but also to a large extent to his son Kisshomaru. In reality, Morihei has never really systematically taught to anyone (a topic that would be worth an entire article) and it is Kisshomaru whose task became to ensure that aikido could be appreciated and understood by the general public. Without his work, it is likely that the majority of us would not know aikido today and that the art would either be practiced in a confidential manner, or disappeared entirely. Ueshiba Morihei having relocated far from Tokyo during the middle of World War II, Kisshomaru had, in the midst of a very unfavorable period to take over from a genius father, but one whose character and life choices were far from easy to follow. Today I would like to tell you a bit more about the second Doshu of aikido and to review the extend of the work he has accomplished when succeeding to his father, hoping to make you understand the reason why he is rightfully regarded, in Japan and elsewhere, as the true father of aikido as we practice it today.
I trained for a short time at the Kodokan, and then, for several years, with Tokaidai Sagami high school’s judō team. Tokai Daigaku, a huge complex of university campuses was the pre-eminent judō power in Japan, coached by some of its greatest former champions. They recruited students from all over Japan into their high schools. To give the reader an idea of the level of skill and power of these young men, we used to line up by weight to bow in. At that time, weighing about 100 kilos, I was not even in the middle of the approximately forty members of the dōjō—there were several close or equal to my two meters in height, and at least six young men, aged seventeen and eighteen, who could regularly defeat their own coach, a 36 year old sixth dan. Among my greatest achievements in martial arts training was during a workout with their star, a two meters, 150 kilos young man, expected to be the successor of Yamashita Yasuhiro. (He tragically and suddenly died of sudden-onset leukemia in his senior year.) I was an English instructor at the school, in my mid-thirties, and a relative beginner at judō, and he was surely taking it easy. I caught him off-guard in a kouchi-gari (inside reap) and managed to get him wrong-footed, up on one leg. While saying, “Nice move, Sensei!” he regained his balance, and instinctively whirled to throw me in a seionage that rattled my DNA all the way back to my long-dead grandfathers. I’m not sure if I’m prouder to have momentarily off-balanced him or of surviving the throw.
Where do myths begin? Do they start with the truth, inflated beyond its origins? Jungian psychologists assert that myths reflect primordial patterns within the unconscious — our minds can only perceive the world and ourselves within it in a certain way. Myths, therefore, impose a kind of order on chaos. This order is based in both reality and illusion, like the stars in the sky, subject to both the science of astronomy and the illusion of astrology. Myths are the constellations of the human mind.
André Nocquet was a man of both sword and pen. A former resistance fighter and a pioneer of martial arts, he was one of the first foreign students of Morihei Ueshiba and the very first to have lived under the roof of the founder of Aikido. With this unequaled experience, he has greatly contributed to the development of Aikido, both in Japan and Europe. I translated some previously unpublished articles of Master Nocquet, edited some videos from his personal archives filmed during his stay in Japan, and recovered works for the promotion of Aikido and Budo in France. All of it is published on this website and therefore, it seemed necessary to supplement these documents with a full biography of the man, especially given the fact that his life before Japan is at least as extraordinary as his pioneering journey in the world of Aikido. Unfortunately, the sources documenting his early life are scarce and sometimes contradictory. This article introduces the elements that I thought were the most accurate. I would like to sincerely thank Mr. Michel Nocquet, the son of André Nocquet Sensei, who kindly accepted to review this article in order to prevent inconsistencies and inaccuracies.
I have expressed several times the fact that I believe that Budo have less to do with warmongering and personal defense than with physical and mental education, and that those who mainly seek martial efficacy in training are in my eyes wasting their time developing useless kills, and probably living in irrational fear. Today I would like to substantiate these claims with hard facts and ask the question: "What is the point of training to achieve martial efficacy in a peaceful world?". Violence in human societies is on decline and it has been so for hundreds of years. As a consequence, we are currently living in the most peaceful and harmonious time that our specie has ever known. This phenomenon has been put forward in its most elegant and persuasive form by Harvard Professor Steven Pinker in his book "The Better Angels of our Nature". I propose to share some of his ideas and evidence, and to discuss how this affects martial arts practice. In a nutshell, I could sum it up as : "No, the world is not becoming a dangerous place, so chill out and enjoy martial art training for what it is: a healthy habit, albeit a slightly silly, and mostly obsolete one".
I have recently become aware of an ensemble of pictures that were published in Shin Budo magazine along with some technical directions. What is truly remarkable about this set is that it presents a rare occurrence of Ueshiba Sensei and his uke wearing Western clothes. Therefore, in the aim of both presenting rare images, and for the valuable insight that this document gives us on the practice of O Sensei during this key transitory period, I have decided to translate these instructions and present them here.
Aikido is more of an art than a sport: it solicits the mind more than the body. Those who want to teach this art have two ways at their disposal to do so: through words and through demonstration. But Aikido originally comes from Japan, and thus, its teaching here in the West is hindered by the language barrier. However, this issue, although significant, is not insurmountable. Indeed, words are actually not the best tools to use in this situation. Why is that? Because the "Master" has to convey his way of thinking to his "disciple." This transmission requires two intermediate between master and disciple: words and reason. If we examine closely the mechanism of transmission of thought through speech, we find that it requires a double operation. As a first step, it is for the teacher to choose the words that he considers most suitable to suggest the ideas that he wants to convey, and as a second step, he must organize these words into sentences so that their meaning can be deciphered by the disciple’s reasoning.
This sensation that we call pain in Aikido is something that has always been a source of intellectual interest to me. Indeed, why are putting ourselves through that suffering? Why do we spend hours falling, rolling, getting our wrists twisted in all directions, and receiving shocks from a partner who is supposedly a "friend"? We assume that pain is necessary to progress in the Way. This pain is our limit, it is what allows us to know and to understand. Without it we are nothing. The real difficulty is not if we should sustain it but how far can we go in the acceptance of pain. More importantly perhaps, is to assess when does it become just plain stupidity?