As a young shodokan aikido kyu grade I remember a senior dan grade Sean Muhareem (Tanseikan Canada) saying ‘go with the flow, just go with it’, in his broad cockney accent! Often I recall this as one of my the penny has finally dropped moments. When I realized how to learn well.
The concept of non-resistance has always existed in martial arts, win by better knowledge, skills, resources, knowing the lay of the land etc., for those of you who know your Sun Tzu. Luckily for us we can look back in history to see what happens when these concepts aren’t taken on board, does anyone remember The Charge of the Light Brigade! Don’t make the same mistake.
Being flexible in your posture, movement, mental attitude and thoughts can help you adapt and seize opportunities. yielding to an attack isn’t cowardly, we can use it to our advantage. If someone stronger than you pushes you will be pushed back, staying balanced when you absorb their push gives you opportunities. Don’t charge in against insurmountable odds like the 600 *the charge of the light brigade!
The mental state of fighting should not exist in training! When you are training, train, don’t fight! It takes thousands of repetitions to perfect a skill and even then we still have to practice it to keep it. We aren’t training to fight our training partners, unless you are both entering the next shodokan aikido international event. It’s going to take time, 10,000 times!
The Principle of Non-Resistance (excerpt from Aikido Randori by Tetsuro Nariyama)
“This if from a defensive viewpoint of a flexible body not opposing force directly with force. Rendering an attack ineffective or reducing its effect by quick, controlled footwork and body movement.”
An excerpt from Competitive Aikido by the Japan Aikido Association Coaching Division.
Looking back at the origins of aikido, Daito-ryu Jujutsu (later called Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu) was handed down within the Aizu clan from long ago. This was revived by Sokaku Takeda (1859-1943) who learned Onoha Itto-ryu kenjutsu (swordsmanship) from a young age and also studied Jikishinkage-ryu under the guidance of the famous swordsman Kenkichi Sakakibara (1830-94) at the end of the Edo era (1603-1868). His study was not limited to kenjutsu as he also received a license from Hozoin school of sojutsu (spearmanship). The techniques of Daito-ryu Jujutsu absorbed the principles of the sword and spear and had a great technical influence on later aikido.
Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), the founder of aikido, was qualified to teach in Takeda’s absence. He also practiced diligently in judo, kenjutsu, sojutsu, jukenjutsu (bayonet), etc and spread aikido from a religious perspective. He was a very pious man so his practice was not limited to physical technique. He had a deep faith in the Omoto religion and his speech and conduct were of a divinely inspired aikido so this was one aspect in which it was seen different from other budo. Also, his techniques were very changeable depending on the situation as he would say. “When I move, it is a technique”. This led to students learning techniques in different ways at different times and is the reason for the various branches of aikido.
Kenji Tomiki (1900-1979) excelled among the many students of of Ueshiba. His achievement was to form a theory of old jujutsu, from a historical and educational viewpoint, that included aikido. Ueshiba practiced from a religious point of view particularly in the latter part of his life in contrast to Tomiki who sensed the necessity to modernize budo. Tomiki tried to clarify the position of aikido within the whole of budo regarding it as a modern physical education that includes a sport aspect.
Known as the founder of competitive aikido, Tomiki started receiving instruction in aikido (Daito-ryu Jujutsu at the time) from Ueshiba in 1926. When the dan rank system was introduced in 1940 he received the first 8th dan which was the highest rank. In later years he reminisced about those days when he was starting to find his way towards the creation of competitive aikido.
Using body movement to break balance. Idoryoku in its plainest definition is moving from one place to another. In shodokan aikido, its how effectively you move from one position to be able to apply techniques. Kuzushi is breaking balance, in aikido and judo this is essential to applying a technique.
What usually happens in training: 1) the person applying the technique is supposed to win! 2) the person receiving the technique is supposed to lose! This is how training goes, you try to build up skills through repetition of movements that are based on certain principles. How effectively this is done can vary from person to person, height, size, balance etc. What is often missed in training is an analysis of how effectively the technique has been executed.
If one does not effectively break the balance of the person receiving the technique, that person can simply just step out of the way. One step and that’s it; start again or runaway in a realistic situation.
I’ve seen many training videos of people doing countless movements and looking quite cool in some of them, thanks to loads of practice and a really good uke (fall guy). When you look at a randori match on the other hand, most times a technique doesn’t happen. There are many, almost there situations, especially because both people have free will. It’s not training anymore, the thrower winning rule isn’t applied!
Now here’s the science bit; You knee is a hinge joint, when extending and using the support of your muscles create movement. They don’t work independently. Your hips and ankles are necessary to project you forward as well, plus all the muscles around. Extending the knee, hip and ankle joints move you! Extending them efficiently before your opponent steps out of the technique helps you move that person out of posture. This is why aikido is a legs martial art not an arms martial art. If you can move more effectively into the correct throwing position, you can apply your technique!
In shodokan aikido we have the tools of unsoku, hontai no tsukuri, shoki no tsukuri and many others to help train these principles. Otherwise you need a physiotherapist, occupational therapist and a personal trainer with an understanding of sports anatomy! Yes I know he lives in Leeds…:)
Continual Professional Development. Why are we using a management/ teaching concept for martial arts. We manage our learning or someone else does and we are learning something, end of debate. As martial artist we should always aim to improve ourselves, regression is a bad habit which can be dangerous for those claiming to have skills.
In the right environment, as in most dojos, there is a grading syllabus and a sensei who facilitates your CPD. One would hope that at an association level for all martial arts groups, the same is done for instructors and organizational staff.
How do we practically do this CPD? Do we train with higher grades, attend courses, training more specific things. Do we pick up the dumbbell and crank out reps to get stronger. The truth is all of the above and then some that we cannot even think of as yet. Doing something is better than doing nothing!
I’ve personally come across the concept of CPD in a simple way. Shodokan aikido has a hombu dojo. A place for studying the way. It’s difficult to get across to Japan every week to see what shihan is teaching and pop back across for work the next morning for most of us. So we get most of our CPD at classes, courses and events organized locally/ nationally in the UK.
My main point is that we must have a hombu dojo, we must have experienced teachers we can always fall back on to aid our development. Now the western mind set of self achievement being primary in our thoughts and actions sometimes misses this. If we achieve a certain belt, grade of proficiency. We sometimes incorrectly assume that we cannot lose this, that we cannot regress in learning/ skill performance. I myself would claim that senior grades need more training than junior grades. Apologies to burst the bubble, but a black belt is only a true beginner!
So here’s some advice for the committed learner, get your syllabus out and do it. Do it one by one if you like. Always re-do what you’ve done with another learner, lower and higher grade, both will reinforce your knowledge in different ways. Train at courses, events and seminars. Now here’s the fun part, do a learning check. Ask someone more experienced, watch yourself on video and make corrections! Grading is also a learning check, remember to get feedback from an experienced source and make corrections! Am I repeating myself, yes make corrections. You aren’t the bees knees every time you put your belt on.
Now a dan grade (black belt) doesn’t mean that you are ‘hard as nails’, although some people are. Phil Newcombe Sensei, has beaten cancer more times than I’ve won tournaments. Some would say that these high ranking, long time players are naturally talented, hence where they have reached. Some would say it’s hard work and dedication over many many years.
In my opinion its a combination of both, if you want to be a super-star athlete, the likes of Usain Bolt, Lionel Messi and Roger Federer, pick the right parents. Having the right genes count, a lot! However, who trained these people? Who trained with them when they were only beginning. Who took them to class when the weather was bad? What motivated them to continue training and never stop training!
The old saying. ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ comes to mind. In my opinion there are countless untapped talented people out there. Who have just never had the opportunity to reach their full potential. Opportunity, time, good training, people to train with and to be trained by!
I have been lucky, to have a shodokan aikido dan grade (fresh from Japan) Jerome Chin Aleong as my first instructor. The level of proficiency has never left me. Then to have all of the above senior dan grades teach me, some times one on one. I still remember Scott Albright’s lecture about making a positive reaction to an aggressive attack, big hugs all around! You try and throw a punch when someone is hugging you! The method may have been awkward but the lesson was learnt.
So I teach these lessons to the next generation, the kids who’s parents have the time and want their children to have something like shodokan aikido in their lives. Personally I’m envious of them, starting at such a young age. Learning from a high grade, sports coach and teacher who tops his knowledge every year in Japan . What they will achieve in the future can be and should be amazing. All that’s left to be done is the nurturing, the engagement with aikido and training through puberty, school life and adulthood beckoning.
One thing for sure, we will have the depth and knowledge amongst us, with all our new instructors, who have been to shodokan headquaters in Japan. We will also have the support of parents, mom’s who drive things forward by coming every week! Nothing bets community power!
In the martial arts of kendo and iaido one uses a shinai (bamboo sword) for general practice. In shodokan aikido we use a tanto (short dagger). As in kendo and iaido, you have to train with a measure of safety hence the use of a soft sponge rubber substitute.
The tanto is 30 cm long and made of sponge rubber enclosed in a black canvas cover. At one end it is covered with a white piece of material (usually leather), which continues down the length of the tanto. The white end represents the point and the strip represents the back of the tanto (not the sharp edge!).
Gripping the tanto for safety; hold with your little finger flush to the tanto and all your other fingers curled, i.e. none pointing forward.
Passing the tanto over; grip at both ends with your thumb and index fingers, the white strip pointing towards your partner. Your training partner will take grip as well with thumb and index finger of both hands.
Why so specific, you might ask! Firstly if you are training avoidance with someone who is only just learning the skills of timing and focus, your fingers need to be kept safe! Secondly, in all martial arts there is an element of awareness, mental focus being trained. If you can maintain your focus enough throughout training, enough to know when someone is about to hand you the sharp end of a knife, you’re training well!
I teach Shodokan Aikido, a Martial Art. One of the many types of Martial Arts around, from kicking and punching styles to grappling on the floor they exist. I’m also aware that the reasons people come to training are as varied as the number of people on the mat at any time. So I’m open to different interpretations of Martial Arts as a whole. I’m also big on health promotion, exercise, activity, social interaction for mental well-being etc.
Lately, my group has been growing. Growing in confidence, ability and that ever so intangible feeling of being part of a group. As such we’ve been moving around, visiting other clubs, groups etc. What they’ve found has somewhat put them off from training too far from home (home style). Needless to say some group dynamics don’t work for everyone. Having to know Japanese to follow the class, being physically fit enough to take part in all elements of training, it’s difficult especially in these modern times.
Now I have to apologize here; I spoil my group. I teach in Japanese, I make them do exercise, I make them sweat to the point of needing water breaks during class. We train as close as possible to the home system we study under. So when we go elsewhere and the level of activity is low, the practitioners can’t do all of what is asked of the tutor in charge. It’s difficult! Our expectations are different.
What I have to ask my students is this: Train with everyone possible to the point where you are not damaging yourself. We do but one style of Martial Art and the most modern of our type. Sorry no traditionalism here, we continually progress. Be open minded, but keep your own identity. We can always iron out the differences back at the dojo!
Sensei, I don’t know this technique. I can’t do it! How come she can do it and I can’t. I’m no good. Why must I do that, I don’t want to. It’s his fault I didn’t learn. Is anyone saying these phrases ready to change?
Acquiring a new skill is like changing a bad habit. We have to get pass the ‘I’ factor. As in I’m not ready to change. Look at your Stages of Change model; people must be ready for change. We can’t force it on them.
A parent that was bullied as a child about their weight will have difficulty when the topic of weight is brought up about their own child. Think about how racism is passed on, in some schools of thought it is listed as a mental illness, but through fear and the inability to get over this fear, racism continues to exist.
Identify what you must change. Accept that you are changing for the better. Accept that it will take time. Accept that you are not a bad person by needing to change a bad habit. Accept help from others, sometimes we can’t do it alone.
So the next time you feel the fear of falling in class; Identify that this is a bad habit, accept that you can change it, accept that you are not a bad person by failing the first time. Persevere and try and try again until you succeed in being the best ‘try’-er. Later on you will look back and see that you will be the best ‘do’-er!
Reminiscing about last years International Competition and with my new Instagram App at hand, I’ve made some artistic retouches of a few classic pics. Enjoy!
We all had a great weekend in Folkestone Kent, going over the basics of Shodokan Aikido. Endo Sensei as a former Deshi (full-time tutor) of Shodokan Hombu is as close to Nariyama Shihan as possible for understanding Shodokan Aikido. My sincerest hope is that the other groups attending have understood and will continue to improve their practice.