Olivier Gaurin is a scholar of Aikido, author of several books on Aikido,, as well as fictions set in medieval Japan,,, and historical accounts,. Concerned about a drift of our art towards the sport, he reminds us about the cultural aspects that are an intrinsic part of Aikido. Having lived in Japan for over 20 years, he has immersed himself into the ancestral culture of his country of adoption and shares his thoughts on how 21st century Aikidoka should apprehend their practice.
- to survive as it is understood literally in English: to keep living after a danger, an event etc.
- to live beyond/above which indicates a superior way of living
Olivier Gaurin and Noro Masamichi Sensei
Now, as I am saying these words, those in France or in the rest of the world (except Japan) who know a few Daito-ryu techniques at a high level of mastery (not the first level: Jutsu but the advanced level: Aiki) generally raise their hand... or do they? It is precisely because of this lack of raised hands that Ueshiba Morihei became mythical. From some of what we can read about him these days, he really became nothing short of a mythological character. Why is that so? Well, it is simply because the roots of his Aikido have been voluntarily cut off by his own son Ueshiba Kisshomaru amongst others in a quite logical and pragmatic effort of vulgarization (to be read here as "in an indexed and therefore reassuring manner but lacking of its personified secrets").
The founder of Aikido was the personified link between different concepts:
- the Aiki from the Bu-jutsu, the "warrior Aiki" aiming at defeating
- the more modern (after the second world war) "pacifist Aiki" aimed at sur-viving, i.e. to live something different from the defeating or being defeated dichotomy
- the "fitness oriented Aiki" that we know today as Aikido (the "sport Aikido" regulated by the Sports Ministry that ends up repeating the structural schemes of its tutor organization!)
Olivier Gaurin and Masuda Seijuro Sensei
But one might wonder, "what about the form?" Well, it is often even worse as we try to reinvent techniques that no longer work very well since we forgot their origin and their meaning (the work on Morote-dori is striking example). Aikido has eventually become a sport where the strong ones, the self satisfied and the powerful gather against the weak while the original Aiki was precisely the art of making an Aiki feasible for anybody in front of a problematic of placement, prevention and preservation of self integrity.
This, to me is a total revision of History and reversing of values to say the least! Of course, we give ourselves good reasons and we make fancy and elaborate discourses to justify what we do. All this gives techniques the appearance of a demonstrative virulence precisely where the ancient ways to perform worked far better without necessarily being as spectacular. Besides pertinence and efficacy, economy of motion leads to physiologic concordance and therefore, preservation while you just have to look around to get alarmed by the outcomes of modern techniques: the acute and chronic pains suffered by nowadays Aikidoka.
But what do the texts and the Sensei that attempt to bring back a bit of order show? Just new techniques? New « ways »? Or even new « tricks » ? Of course they do not. They just show, with the help of powerful symbols and interpretations (that are sometimes correct, sometimes fragmented but also sometimes awkward or just false) a certain research aimed at the understanding of Aikido and its depth. They allow an enlargement of the possible visions of what is Aikido and sometimes allow themselves to say absolute marvels. It is rare but it exists. A good example is Henry Kono Sensei's article Yin and Yang in motion written by Henry Kono published on this website.
Olivier Gaurin and Sasaki Masando Sensei
It really would be a mistake to think that I am just indulging myself into intellectualism here. O Sensei, the founder of Aikido was a scholar (in the sense of "the one who has knowledge") and most of his best students (not necessarily the best known) became scholars themselves under his influence. When today we meet former students of the founder, we are sometimes surprised to see how much the depths of the art that were present at the time are still alive and intact through them. Let me tell you, Aiki under the conditions of possessing this knowledge, that's quite something! Aikido is the founding art of a cultural form of "living differently" and even of a certain "return to life". Based on the principles of this ancient Aiki, the founder provided (or should have provided) to the old warlike Aiki a modern vision of the martial arts: the vision of an art that is at last stripped from aggressiveness and violence, with a creative intention of "conversion" of aggressiveness (creation ≠ destruction). If we were to follow that intention, we would at last be able to extract ourselves from prehistory!
Olivier Gaurin uke: Guillaume Erard
But of course, that is not the case; we are made to return to this prehistory! The commonly admitted deviance consists in making our practice shift towards an activity mainly sportive (where quantity and strength come before quality and knowledge) and therefore, minimizing the technical and cultural aspect. Very damaging indeed for Aikido... and also for the world. It is high time we pay a critical attention to the stereotyped and "acculturated" discourses delivered in the teaching of current Aikido (delivered generally because of ignorance or because of a maintained naivety).
Of course, to say that technique will come with training is correct. Nothing can replace experimentation on the condition that we keep these two leads in mind:
- During a movement, during training, any persisting anatomic pain (the association of the three words in very important here) on Uke's joints shows a mistake in the technique or an unawareness of the obvious techniques of Aiki: kotegaeshi and shihonage are very good examples. When I say this, I also think about Tori's knees (suwari-waza) or lumbar vertebrae (practice rendered painless through the correct use of hands with for example the interactive Shisei [姿勢, attitude] between interacting partners during the movement themselves). These damaging practices of Aikido through pain, rapidity or surprise are only lame attempts to dominate, whether they are obviously displayed, hidden or only latent (same goes for their theorems: attempts towards "conditioning" or "intimidation"). Unless this has been previously established and agreed on as a theme of training (dealing with pain for example), it shows a total misunderstanding of the Aiki technique regardless of it being done with a smile or justified by "good" arguments.
- A technique that does not work naturally and without clashes or pain on somebody who never practiced Aikido (i.e. somebody not conditioned to receive harsh techniques safely) is a wrong technique at the level of Aiki, regardless of whether it usually works very well with a seasoned Aikidoka.
Olivier Gaurin uke: Guillaume Erard
Ok, so technique comes form training, that's agreed. Yet I think that to assume that Aikido will only come through training is a mistake. Aikido comes from the study of texts also. We have to search relentlessly and not give up this search because of an easy training, the "routine of a pre-digested material delivered on a silver tray". We have to dig deeper and deeper in order to understand (to "take on board"), enlarge our field of vision, action, perception, availability, awareness and finally succeed in knowing.
To sur-vive is to be reborn each day. It means going further in a new manner and discovering, new things every day even if they seem similar to what we learned the day before (precisely if they look similar) or totally inverted or opposite. Eventually, to stop paying acute attention to its own training or its own way of thinking is a way to die at training. It is a way to loose for oneself and for others the possibility to find this pertinent Aiki of Aikido, the Aiki of "Great Aikido" as it was imagined, performed and demonstrated by the founder.
This is the moral meaning of Zanshin (残心, availability, attention, vigilance), a long lost notion these days! I think that we should really always beware of a quick "I used to know", "I know" as much as of an "I will eventually know" or a "they'll eventually let me know".
Nothing of value is ever delivered like that on a plate and those who would like to make us believe this, these Sandmen, are those whose plate is usually mostly empty. Now, it is up to us, free Men of Aiki, free at last from the prehistory of the affects of illusion and free from domination to make a stand. Through the Do (道, way) of Aikido and the powerful and sensible notion of Aiki, we have to willfully fill and balance our own plate of Aiki, commonly available to the great knowledge of the world for justice, peace and serenity of all.
Kindest regards to all, may your research be successful, keep courage and train hard.
Olivier Gaurin in action (uke: Guillaume Erard)
Dojo pictures by Mégumi Fukuda
To go further:
- Introduction to Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu, an article I wrote about a Daito-ryu seminar I was invited to by Olivier Gaurin while I was in Tokyo.
- Read an exclusive interview with Olivier Gaurin
- Documentary on Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu
-  O. Gaurin. Comprendre l'aïkido, Paris, France : Budo Editions, 2002.
-  O. Gaurin and G. Muraki. L'épée reine, Tome 1, Paris, France : Eveil, 2005.
-  O. Gaurin and G. Muraki. L'épée reine, Tome 2, Paris, France : Eveil, 2005.
-  G. S. de Morant and O. Gaurin. Les 47 Ronins : Le trésor des loyaux samouraïs, Paris, France : Budo Editions, 2005.
-  G. Hergsell, H. Talhoffer and O. Gaurin. Le combat médiéval travers le duel judiciaire : Traité d'escrime 1443-1459-1467, Paris, France : Budo Editions, 2005.
-  O. Gaurin. Mon mémento d'aïkido, Paris, France : Budo Editions, 2006.
-  O. Gaurin. L'or du silence, Paris, France : Eveil, 2006.
-  O. Gaurin. Le pont du Bouddha Barbu, Paris, France : Eveil, 2007.
-  O. Gaurin. Aïkido : Les secrets du kokyuho, Paris, France : Budo Editions, 2008.