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News from the Sensei : Articles about Aikido
Posted by JGarcia on 2011/12/7 15:30:07 (19261 reads)

Article #1
The Traditional Learning Method of Aikido

“Horikawa never showed us how to do his techniques. I had to steal his techniques.”
(Nishikido Sensei speaking of Daito ryu master, Kodo Horikawa.) (1)

It has been noted in many places that the old way the masters taught was to demonstrate the techniques rather than to explain them. It was the duty of the student to “learn” from the master. Hiroshi Kato Sensei has told us in the past, “I was not taught by the Founder (of Aikido), I learned from him”. Kato Sensei always understood that it was his job to study carefully what the Founder was doing and to imitate it and incorporate his own understanding of what he saw into his aikido. Speaking in general terms, in our western mindset, we believe that good students come from good teachers. The eastern mindset is that good students come from dedication and the careful observation of the teacher. The worthy student shows himself to be so by virtue of his dedication to learning the art. The responsibility is on the learner. That being the case then, in the old culture of budo, it was the dedication, intensity, focus and hunger that allowed some of the learners to become the best students. The current western idea that a student must be nurtured, prodded, taught and encouraged by various teaching devices, interesting lessons, and a warm and friendly atmosphere is more of an external approach to the doctrine of epistemology (the science of ‘how we know things’). It must be noted that it is in this atmosphere that we are facing a decaying modern educational system because of these external approaches. We are meeting increasing numbers of unmotivated students who show up with an entertainment mentality that says. “Teach me, educate me – if you can!”

In this kind of culture, when a parent learns that their student is failing a course, many immediately want to know what curriculum is being used, why there is so much homework and what is the teacher doing to help their child. These parents tend to be attracted to state of the art facilities, the latest technological devices, and schools that boast of the certifications of their educational associations. They rarely look at their child and say, “What kind of a student did I deliver to this school? How disciplined and dedicated is my child? How much has he or she sacrificed to achieve excellence? Have they made learning a priority? What other activities, games, trips and personal things are competing with their education?” Do the students believe that learning is their responsibility or are they looking for better methods, better institutions, special attention and shortcuts believing that these will make them what they should be?

In learning a martial art, who has the responsibility to see that the student learns? Must the teacher give long explanations, develop focused lesson plans, and work with each student individually? What is the lesson and method of teaching used by the old masters that protected the art from the unworthy and yet rewarded the diligent? Read the excerpts below and see what only a small part of the historical record shows. As both teachers and students, we must all reevaluate what it means to learn and how we can dedicate ourselves to what we want to learn. In doing so, we must take full responsibility for who we are and for what we want to become. We must come to realize that while others can attempt to teach us, the burden is on the student to learn. Our teachers can show us but it is the student who through focus, attention, and sacrifice, learns. In Japanese budo though, the learning is innate or internal. The student learns internally as he experiences the training and discipline of the art. Words, while helpful, are not the main component or catalyst of the learning process. Rather, it is the student, who deals with the issues of ego and attachment, that allows the learning to be internalized and true change to occur.

From Peter Goldsbury Sensei (President of the I.A.F.)

"The Founder of Aikido has been quoted as good-humouredly telling his deshi, "Don't expect me to teach you. You must steal the techniques for yourselves." A double transformation takes place. There is a gradual transformation in the learning process, as the deshi in fact learns how to learn by stealing (i.e. observing), and this is paralleled by the gradual transformation in the relationship between master and deshi. At the end of the process, the deshi has mastered the kata as the master has presented them, has understood the principles underlying the kata, but also gone beyond the master’s kata and created something of his own. In the case of Japanese traditional arts, the vehicle of this double transformation is regular training or practice." (2)

"Then, also, perception and awareness are also of great importance. Students nod in apparent understanding, but this understanding is not always evident from their practice of the technique. In my experience, an accomplished aikido teacher has a very clear perception of his students' situation, their strengths and weaknesses. So there is a lot more going on in a training session than simply showing techniques and having students do these techniques. The teacher is also involved in teaching the students how to learn. As I said before, progress in aikido is ultimately the student's own responsibility, not the teacher's. So the student really does have to learn how to 'steal.' " (i.e. the techniques) (3)

From Yoshio Sugino Sensei (Master Swordsman)

"Ueshiba Sensei, unlike the present Honbu instructors, taught techniques by quickly showing the movement just one time. He didn't teach by offering detailed explanations. Even when we asked him to show us the technique again he would say, "No. Next technique!" Although he showed us three or four different techniques we had the feeling we wanted to see the same technique many times. We ended up trying to "steal" his techniques (by observing carefully). Mr. Mochizuki had a very keen sense for budo. He would grasp Ueshiba Sensei's techniques by watching. Sensei never took his hand to show him a technique. However, he would imitate Sensei. In other words, imitating is the same as learning. You watch the techniques of your Sensei through your spirit and mind. This is what I mean by "stealing" techniques from your sensei. People today are very slow to learn even when teachers explain. They are too casual about this type of thing. People in the old days were really serious." (4)

From Morihiro Saito, 9th Dan (Senior Student of O'Sensei)

"The Founder's teaching method in Iwama were very different from his approach during the prewar years. In earlier years, it was his custom to merely show his techniques a few times with little or no explanations and then to have students attempt to imitate his movements.This was the traditional method of martial arts instruction and students had to do their best to "steal" their teacher's techniques. But now, Ueshiba had the luxury of being able to devote his full energies to his personal pursuit with just a few close students...In the last years, I was taught by Sensei almost privately...Serving the Founder was extremely severe even though it was just for the study of a martial art. O Sensei only opened his heart to those students who helped him from dusk to dawn in the fields, those who got dirty and massaged his back, those who served him at the risk of their lives. As I was of some use to him, O Sensei willingly taught me everything." (5)

From George Ledyard (Famous instructor from Aikido Eastside)

O-Sensei didn't teach technique, at least not after WW II. He modelled Aikido in thought, word, and deed. He put it out there for those that were interested to follow...
Chiba Sensei and Saotome Sensei don't even look like each other, despite the fact that they were in class together at the same time under the same instructors. And this is due, in my opinion, to the fact that O-Sensei, whom they considered to be their Teacher, did not teach technique but rather allowed each student to develop his own Aikido. But it is clear to me, from training and conversing with these two quite different teachers that each saw the primary inspiration for his own training to be the Aikido Founder.

I think that many people would accept the notion that Aikido isn't "taught" so much as it is learned by doing and the teacher provides the direction ones training takes. This is why very few of the Aikido "greats" look like each other. (6)

My own teacher, Saotome Sensei, is adamant that Aikido has no "style". He has taught us in much the same way he was taught. He has steadfastly refused to spell out technical details, has only generally called our attention to various principles at work. This has resulted in much the same situation you had with the Founder. No one has "mastered" anything close to what this man knows. Only a very few have any real idea what he is doing. None of us look like each other because its been left up to each of us to develop our own understanding. (15)

From Henry Kono (Former student of O Sensei)

If he (O Sensei) was in the back of the dojo he might come out every day. If he was away, you might not see him for three weeks. If he was there, he might come out for five or ten minutes then go back in. I saw him about 300 times in four years. He never explained what he did, he just did it! This is what I mean by magician. He did it and if you couldn't discern what he did, there was no way to figure it out. He never explained anything but he left hints which were very difficult to discern because of the way he stated his ideas in very short phrases that no one could understand.

I saw a tape of Shioda Sensei being interviewed in England. He was with O-Sensei for ten years from about 1930-40, he said O-Sensei never explained once in that 10 years as to what he was doing!

He wasn't a teacher in the sense that he was teaching. The Japanese may look at that as teaching, but in the western sense it isn't. You had to intuit what he was doing and saying, read between the lines, so to speak. (7)

He (O Sensei) used to say, I don't want you to know what I'm doing." (16)

Concerning Arikawa Sensei (From Peter Goldsbury)
Actually, I believe that Arikawa Sensei was... someone trying to do what O Sensei himself did. In Hiroshima he showed waza, but did not really teach. After practice ended he was very happy to answer questions, but occasionally told us not to give students certain explanations. They should be required to find out for themselves. The shihan could guide and prevent bad waza, but should not give verbal explanations.

From Shihan Hiroshi Kato (Dojo-cho of Suginami Aikikai, Tokyo, Japan)

Interviewer: Would you tell us some memories you have of the Founder?
Kato: He did not say anything in detail about waza (technique). Rather than listening to his words, I learned by watching him.
Kato: He said, "Budo (the martial way) cannot be learned from other people. It has to be exercised by oneself." Even now, when I practice, I visualize the founder in my mind. It is not something that can be taught, but must be developed with discipline. That is why I started to understand the things he said. Things I have learned by myself are not easily forgotten, but things that have been taught by other people, without inquiry within me, and taught in the language like "it should be done only in one way, and no other way," are all forgotten.

I tell everybody to try it anyway, even if you don't understand it. Results come as you practice. People do not understand when I explain it verbally. Words are a convenient tool, but to show them how is more important. When it comes to teaching, people generally say "This should be done like this." It is easier that way. However, in this way, the amount of verbal instruction tends to increase. Seeing is much better than hearing hundreds of times. It is my great privilege to have had the chance to see the founder doing it. I really feel that I learned Aikido from seeing it.

I do not like the concept of instructing others in what to do. I am very adamant about that. For me, rather than teaching, I think practice is the place to begin by oneself.

Interviewer: Do you have any last words of advice?
Kato: If you really establish your individual style, you should practice it alone. Practicing is like that fundamentally, isn't it? While practicing, you discover your own thoughts and world's view. You train yourself. If you train yourself, do it alone. That is my ideal in my practice and words to you. (8)

From Peter Ralls, 6th dan, direct student of Hiroshi Kato, 8th dan

"As soon as I took hold of his wrist, I would feel myself lose connection to the ground. Then he would move and apply the technique and bury me. He also had a system for using the bokken and jo that used the same footwork. If I could compare it with anything I would say that it seemed almost like the Chinese martial art Bagua. But when we asked Kato Sensei, he told us he had never studied any martial art other than Aikido. He said that he had developed his aikido by trying to figure out how O Sensei did what he did. But he made a point of saying that he did not learn it from O Sensei, he developed it trying to do what O Sensei did. The same for his weapons work. He said O Sensei never taught him weapons, he developed his own forms trying to catch the feeling of what O Sensei did. And this was an important part of his own teaching philosophy. He said that you should never be a "copy" of your teacher. He thought the role of the teacher was to inspire the student to figure out stuff on their own, because that was the only way they could really get anything worthwhile. And he said that was the way O Sensei taught. He said that when O Sensei taught class, he would walk around, and if he didn't like what the student was doing, he tell them they were doing it wrong, but he wouldn't explain to them what was right. they had to figure that out for themselves." (17)

From Chogun Miyage (Founder of Go-ju Ryu Karate)

"The true essence of karate, the perfection or ideal for which we strive, cannot be expressed or passed on through the spoken or written word. It is intangible in nature. The only way to understand the true meaning of this essence is to internalize it into your being by training."(9)

From Darrell Craig Sensei (Author and a Budo master)

"The old masters of Japan intentionally designed the techniques so that their deadly aspects would not be easily discernable and thus fall into their enemies' hands. The techniques were probably also taught this way so that only the most dedicated students would learn their real secrets." (10)

From Kondo Katsuyuki, the current Headmaster of Daito ryu Aikijujutsu

"I heard many times from my teacher, Takeda Tokimune, that Takeda Sokaku sensei never taught the same technique twice. Tokimune sensei told me that at the time he was teaching as his father's Representative Instructor, Sokaku would scold him for being "foolishly soft-hearted" if he taught too kindly or showed his students something more than once. My teacher (Tokimune, Sokaku's son) often warned me, "If you teach the same technique twice, the second time your students will figure out how to defeat you with a counter-technique. Teach something different the second time....Sokaku... showed a technique and left it up to each student to "steal it as much as he was able to. Thus, Daito-ryu techniques vary according to individual interpretations of Sokaku's students.

When my teacher Tokimune was still active and in good health, many of his students from all over Japan came to Abashiri once a year to take part in the annual Headquarters meeting. Several times, when I came to participate in the headmaster direct transmission seminars (soke jikiden kai) that were always held on these occasions, the meeting was divided into two groups, one taught by Tokimune sensei himself, the other taught by me acting as his instructional representative. Naturally, the day before these my teacher would go over with me in detail about what he wanted me to teach on his behalf, and he always told me that I must not teach the true techniques that I had learned from him. Even in regard to the very first technique taught in Daito-ryu, ippondori, I was strictly prohibited from teaching the real version I had learned directly from Tokimune sensei, and was told to teach only the version of ippondori he always taught in his own Daitokan dojo.

My teacher explained his purpose in this by saying, "What will you do if you teach people the true techniques and the next day they leave the school? The oral and secret teachings of Daito-ryu will flow outside of the school." He also said, "Out of a thousand people, only one or two are genuine students. Find them out and teach them what is real; there is no need to teach such things to the rest." My teacher only taught real techniques to a person if he could ascertain, from his questions, technical and physical ability, apprehension, and diligence, that they carried a sincere and genuine attitude. He inherited this method of teaching from Sokaku sensei.

These days, with my own students, I teach the same technique many times and I always hear my teacher scolding me from the heaven. There he is looking down on me and saying, 'What a fool you are!' "(11)

From Alec Corper, an Aikido Sensei in Holland

"This is typical of a number of factors of Japanese Budo that has roots in the following:
1. Pragmatic reality - The teachers of that era didn't give away technical secrets that would enable them to overcome ther enemies in battle (or conversely, empower them)
2. Financial reality - They didn't give away secrets that would jeopardize their (or their families') financial security.
3. Ego - They never let anyone else reach their level so they could keep their power.
4. Real teaching-If the students couldn't see what they were doing then it would be logical to assume follow that they wouldn't be capable of inheriting the art anyway, but their dues would provide a dojo for the "real" students, and the ordinary students would have received some benefits without knowing that they were missing anything." (12)

From Yukiyoshi Sagawa from the book, "Clear Power":

"See! This is why you are no good. You don't do something simply because so and so said so. If you simply go through life by simply thinking you can copy people you'll never get anywhere. The only person that can do this is you. You must create your own understanding for yourself.
Take Aiki for example. There is no way to really teach this. Even if I could point at something that is Aiki I can't put it into words. You simply think you can learn everything from me, so you don't develop the habit to think for yourself. ... In the end its about accumulating your thoughts and having them act as the foundation for other thoughts. ... others tell you so, or influence you, then it's no good. You must hold your own counsel. Decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. ...

... You must take what you learn, and then innovate it based on your own ideas. ... No matter how much you learn something, if it is simply taught to you, you will forget it. However you will never forget something you acquire for yourself. It becomes you. In other words, teaching is simply a matter of giving the right hints. You must acquire that thing for yourself. Especially in the case of Aiki, it is an internal feeling which must be grasped.
It's not simply a matter of questioning everything either. You mustn't simply think that it's enough to be taught. Everyone's body type is different, so there is no guarantee that things will work out exactly the same way.
... I don't teach everything, and I can't teach everything. What I can teach is the foundation of how the skeletal system works. How your muscles and organs work upon that frame is for you to ponder and discover on your own. (13)

From Taitetsu Unno (Writer of the preface to "The Spirit of Aikido")

"The training and discipline common to all the Ways, martial or cultural, consist of three levels of mastery: physical, psychological and spiritual. On the physical level of mastery of form (kata) is the crux of training. The teacher provides a model form, the student observes carefully and repeats it countless times until he has completely internalized the form. Words are not spoken and explanations are not given; the burden of learning is on the student. In the ultimate mastery of form the student is released from adherence to form. (p.7) …the internal psychological changes (are) taking place from the very beginning. The tedious, repetitious and monotonous learning routine tests the student’s commitment and willpower, but it reduces stubbornness, curbs willfulness, and eliminates bad habits of body and mind. In the process…real strength, character and potential begin to emerge. (p.8)
In every martial and cultural art, free expression of self is blocked by one’s own ego. (Faced with an opponent) if an opening does occur, it is created by one’s ego. One becomes vulnerable when one stops to think about winning, losing, taking advantage, impressing, or disregarding the opponent. When the mind stops, even for a single instant, the body freezes, and fluid movement is lost… (p.8). The egoless self is open, flexible, supple, fluid, and dynamic in body, mind, and spirit. Being egoless, the self identifies with all things and all people, seeing them not from its self-centered perspective, but from their own respective centers… the ability to see all existence from a non-self-centered perspective… (is)… its highest expression (and) none other than compassion. Such a way of thinking is the essence of all the martial and cultural Ways in the Japanese tradition. Aikido is a modern formulation of this essence, perfected by the genius of Master Ueshiba Morihei. Aikido, being a form of traditional martial art, realizes this universal (principle) through rigorous training of the body. Ultimately, physical, psychological, and spiritual mastery are one and the same. (p.9) (This is why a dojo is a)…place of enlightenment…the place where the ego self undergoes transformation into the egoless self." (14)

By all that has been presented, I do not mean to imply that verbal communication is wrong as an instructional method in Aikido training. I am also not meaning to imply that we should completely return to previously used methodologies. I am suggesting though that we may need to reevaluate the basis of responsibility in human learning and what the conditions are that give the student the impetus for the learning process to occur. I propose that those conditions are found in the learner himself.

Look at this word by Ellis Amdur. In this statement, he may have the best summary of these concepts for modern thinkers," The jury is still out for me whether open teaching produces a greater number of high-level students. To be sure, "basic training," whether in the military or civilian situations, requires meticulous instruction, for such information must be for anyone and everyone in one's cadre. High-level training, however, requires high-level people, and high-level skills will only be acquired by an elite few -- those who are both innately talented, and obsessively, pervasively committed. I have heard from several teachers who are diligent and open, some of whom are instructors of koryu and others of internal training methodologies, who carry the attitude that they will hide nothing, that "there are no secrets." Yet, each has told me that although they have a lot of people studying, they only have one or two students. It is possible that, although the "open" teacher provides a more pleasant, psychologically supportive training environment, he or she may have, at the end, the same number of great students: one or two. "Steal the technique" is not only something one has to do with a teacher like Takeda Sokaku or Ueshiba Morihei, who allegedly shows a technique only once; it also occurs with any teacher, because explanation is not experiential. One has to breathe in the skills through the pores, not the ears." (16)

Finally, I have to say that in our time, we have seen the decline of our modern educational system. While the cry has been for standardized testing, improved facilities, the additional certification and training of teachers; test scores have dropped lower and lower, our knowledge quota has decreased and we are indeed facing a crises in our educational systems. Our approach as westerners is almost completely external.

The approach of Japanese budo is internal. The discipline of Japanese budo intends to bring the learner from the place of ego to the point of egolessness. Every learner finds himself somewhere between the two points of selfishness and selflessness. As the learner progresses from one point to another, humility of heart, openness of mind, and the steadfastness of the spirit become the launching ground for understanding, true knowledge and right practice.

Japanese budo is transmitted person to person by means of forms, strict discipline, and etiquette. The students selects the teacher and asks to be received as a student. Once accepted, he enters the dojo and begins to train following directions, learning the culture, etiquette, rules, and submitting to his Sensei and his seniors. The struggle for the student is an internal one. Day by day, the training acts as a forging and refining fire. It tests the resolve and perseverance of the student. The governing factor is in the training and the student is exhorted to continue to train daily. It is through this process that the student of a pure heart (makoto) begins to internalize the essence of the art and its benefits are applied to him. The learner then, has found the place of true knowledge and transformation within himself.

This article was written and the quotes were compiled by Jorge Garcia
Quotes slightly edited from the following sources
(1) http://www.budovideos.com/shop/customer/pages.php?pageid=29
(2) http://www.aikidojournal.com/article.php?articleID=556
(3) http://www.aikidojournal.com/article.php?articleID=473
(4) http://www.aikidojournal.com/article.php?articleID=368
(5) From the book, Takemusu Aikido, Vol.1, pp. 18-21, Aiki News Publication
(6) http://www.aikidojournal.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=1826&start=30
(7) http://www.aikidojournal.com/article.php?articleID=435
(8) http://www.shudokanaikido.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=28
(9) http://www.samuraimartialsports.com/gojuryu.htm
(10) http://www.houstonbudo.com
(11) http://www.daito-ryu.org/history4_eng.html
(12) From a personal letter from Corper Sensei
(13) From the book, "Clear Power" by Yukiyoshi Sagawa
(14) From the foreword of the book, The Spirit of Aikido, p.7-10, Kodansha publication
(15) From the Aikiweb forum. http://aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?p=196437#post196437
(16) From an article, "A Consideration of Aikido Practice within the Context of Internal Training" by Ellis Amdur, 01-15-2013
(17) A quote from Peter Ralls on Aikiweb.com commenting on the death of Hiroshi Kato.

Article #2

The Traditional Psychological-Social Transformative Method of Aikido
by Jorge Garcia

From Gozo Shioda, 9th san - Founder of Yoshinkan Aikido

Thinking that I would have given anything to make something of myself in this incredible martial art, I eagerly commuted back and forth to the dojo. But of course, I could never equal the uchideshi (live-in students) who were always serving at Sensei's side. So it was inevitable that I, too, had to be by Sensei's side to take in as much as possible. Thus, I became an uchideshi at the age of 19.

At that time I was going to Takushoku University but I was devoted to Aikido more than anything else and so I took a leave from school. I was allowed to take two years off. Once I hit the three year mark though, I would be removed from school altogether. I immersed myself whole heartedly in Aikido for two years with an absolute resolve to become a top uchideshi.

Once I became an uchideshi, I lived with Sensei and took care of all his daily needs, no matter what they were. All shugyo (spiritual purification through hard training) is like this, no matter what kind it is. It's the same as the apprenticeship programs of years gone by. You never complained to your master. You simply kept silent and did as you were told. Giving your opinion was absolutely out of the question. If you ever asked something like, "Isn't it better to do it this way?" you would catch holy hell immediately!

People today probably think that this is a bit unreasonable, but if you want to master a particular path or way, my feeling is that this kind of intensive training is necessary. For no matter how well you know the pre set forms and procedures of the techniques, this alone will not make something a martial art. This is especially true in the case of Aikido. In order to master Aiki techniques, simply drilling in sports-type training is not sufficient.

To achieve this mastery of a martial art, nothing is better than solid shugyo in which you share daily life with your teacher in absolute obedience. And yet, you won't gain anything by simply living with your teacher. The important thing is, in taking care of all his needs, to continually sense your teacher's feelings before they are made known to you. In the end, you are striving to be able to perceive his intentions.

If you are helping Sensei in the dojo, you should be able to determine what Sensei will want next and do it for him before he says anything. Watch Sensei's movements continuously; then understand the changes in his feelings.

But here's the difficult thing. If you see something and then think about it and then set to work on it, it's already too late. You can't think about it. You have to be able to discern instinctively what Sensei's feelings are right away, on the spot. This is the natural way. It's not about thinking, just sense it naturally. I always made it my goal to try to do things this way and as a result, I developed an ability to sense my opponent's intentions.

Before long, this kind of training carried over into demonstrations as well. When performing as Sensei's uke, although fundamentally it doesn't matter where you attack, the point initially is to show the audience. So, for example, Sensei might present his shoulder and say, "Grab here." The average person would then go in and grab his shoulder. My goal was to perceive his intent and go in and grab his shoulder before he could say a single word. It is an unspoken, heart to heart way of communicating. If you can't do this, then you can't move naturally. I studied this sort of thing. So now when it's time for me to do a technique I can apply what I studied and can tell where the opponent intends to attack.

It is through my life as an uchideshi that I acquired these sorts of abilities, but it's unreasonable for me to try to get today's young people to do the same thing. They probably wouldn't give absolute obedience to their master and I'm sure they couldn't even begin to think of caring for their teacher as part of Aikido training. (1)

From Morihiro Saito, 9th dan and keeper of the Iwama Dojo

Serving the Founder was extremely severe even though it was just for the study of a martial art. O Sensei only opened his heart to those students who helped him from dusk to dawn in the fields, those who got dirty and massaged his back, those who served him at the risk of their lives. As I was of some use to him, O Sensei willingly taught me everything." (2)

From Shoji Nishio, 9th dan

In the dojo community, there is a teacher, experienced disciples, and beginners. The teacher is called Sensei. The advanced pupils are called Yudansha (black belts), the beginners are called Mudansha (unranked and kyu ranks).You will not become a Yudansha only by improving your ability. It is also necessary to strengthen your mind and soul according to the way of the warrior. A Yudansha always gives more to the dojo than he takes. For him, the dojo is more than a sports center. It is a part of his life and the members are a part of his family.

Therefore, in the dojo, all the members are connected in a Sempai (Senior) and Kohei (junior) relationship. Everybody, even the teacher, is always a sempai and kohei at the same time. The sempai is the senior member despite his physical skills or the degree he might have. The kohei is the junior member. Even if he is more skilled and higher ranked than his senior, the kohei has to respect him as long as he lives. The senior takes care of his junior and always tries to be a guide to him on his way of budo. (3)

It has been for some time now that as I have been thinking about what Aikido is and what it does for the individual, that a new thought has occurred to me. The thought is that in order for Aikido to make a psychological change in an individual, there has to be a certain kind of environment and a certain kind of relationship with the teacher.

I first began to look at this old idea in a new light when I would see so many people coming to our dojo seeking something for their children. The parents seemed to have this intuitive belief that martial arts would help the particular thing that they saw their child needed a change in or help in. As I strove to help their children, I quickly realized some things. 1) You can't help someone who doesn't want to be helped. 2) You can't help someone (particularly with Aikido) who isn't trying to do their best. 3) You can't help someone who resists discipline.
In the first case, you have the problem of motivation. If the person isn't seeking change, they won't change. What seems to change them without their knowing it is when they like the art or they respect the teacher. Then they want to do well so they find the motivation to give it their all. In the second case, some people are self starters and always do their best while others are lazy, demotivated and have poor concentration and diffusion of thought. These lack the intensity to pass through the fires of real change. Any experience that processes a real change in someone is an intense one. Lastly, in most endeavors, be it school, your job, the military or a martial arts dojo, the discipline is the key. Self disciplined people do the best but institutions like the military have a form of forced discipline and that processes change as well but that change can be for the better or the worse in the person due to the enforced nature of the process.

I realized that in a traditional martial arts dojo, everything is about the discipline. The rules of etiquette are not only about the social nature of the institution but about the parameters of behavior each person is required to adhere to. How strictly that is enforced and how the student receives it is the key. There is also the factor of abuse. In many situations in western culture authority soon becomes authoritarianism. This is abuse in the sense that it comes from the top down and may not take into account the feelings of those below. Authoritarianism lacks compassion for it's followers. This happens in many cases.

Recently, I was thinking about my master teacher from Japan. By training, he follows the rules of protocol of Aikido but I have noticed that he never demands it from anyone. Everyone gives him their obedience because they respect him but I have never seen him ask anyone to do any of the things the protocol asks for. He fully expects it to come from you. He once said that "Aikido is not something to learn from others, but to learn by oneself. Ideally, the practice should be for oneself, and it should be rigorous and sternly self-disciplined, by one's own choice." This voluntary giving of oneself to Aikido and it's processes is what changes an individual. It has to come from the person though. The heart must be soft, obedient and pliable in the hands of a good and honest instructor of Japanese budo in order to see the psycho social transformative change that so many are looking for. If you think of Aikido in this way, you will realize that almost the entire training of Aikido is discipline. From the time you walk through the door, in its etiquette and rules, there are rules for almost everything. On the mat, you are subject to the discipline and instruction of the Sensei or instructor. Almost every word and action is corrective in nature thus falling under the category of discipline.
Then there is the aspect mentioned in the quotes above. In the early days of Aikido, it was considered a budo which was a particular form of austere training by which you would undergo severe training taking you from the ego self to the egoless self thus finding your true (purified) humanity. This process was not automatic and many people resisted it naturally, but some submitted themselves to it and for these, the training went to higher and higher levels. If Aikido is a training of the mind, then the relationship with the teacher in terms of authority, submission to his instruction, directions and discipline were the keys to the psycohological and social changes in the practitioners.

I think that this is the point where many of my readers will take exception to my comments and part company with me. I think though that I need to direct you back to what my teacher says. He said that "Aikido is not something to learn from others, but to learn by oneself. Ideally, the practice should be for oneself, and it should be rigorous and sternly self-disciplined, by one's own choice." This is the key. It is not the instructor who forces the student to submit or follow. That always comes from the students and the students should always think for themselves and rule over their own mind and conscience. In a real budo relationship, the instructor is a guide and a mentor who leads by example and by setting the parameters of the protocol. The students set the level of their obedience. The instructor has the option to help and reward those who are following him and are obedient to his instructions (with regard to the training).

Gozo Shido Sensei understands that modern people would highly resist this kind of training lacking the background and mindsets of the past but still, he makes clear that the training of sensing your teacher's desires was one of intuition and sensitivity that would take your martial abilities to another level in terms of being able to sense your opponent's next move. Physical training alone can do that but sensing the needs of others is indeed a master level skill. To tune yourself to the teacher at that level is a relational skill that goes to the kind of human you are rather than the kind of warrior you are.

Nishio Sensei, in the third quote, goes on to describe the dojo as a place structured for the care and discipline of its members. He shows that the dojo or training hall is a place of heirarchy and order and that the purpose of that is for the care of each other.

The psycho-social transformative change that Aikido as a budo brings is a long process that works on an individual outwardly through the forms, disicpline and etiquette of the art. The inward, compassionate and relational aspects of the changes are personal in nature and come from a close and direct relationship with a mentor and guide that you truly respect and love. It is in these two poles of tension that we are stretched into change.

This kind of training is not for everyone and it may well be that its time has passed but if that is the case, then the era of Aikido as a budo will have passed and it may be then that the hopes and dreams of Morihei Ueshiba for Aikido will never be realized.

Within the limits of common sense, compassion, rationality and good judgement on the part of the teacher, I think that we still need the expressions of the budo of the past for people today. It has to be voluntary though and the teacher must never be abusive in his leadership but must always have the well being of his students in mind as a guide in transforming human character through budo.

(1) From the book, Aikido Shugyo, pp.149-152
(2) From the book, Takemusu Aikido, Vol.1, pp. 18-21
(3) From the book, Aikido Toho Iai, p. 16


Article #3 - Profile of a Master

Interview with Hiroshi Kato, Dojo-cho of Suginami Aikikai, 8th Dan

Martial arts cannot be taught

Interviewer: Sensei, please let us know why you decided to learn Aikido.

Kato: I did not have a particular interest in Aikido, but I wanted to learn martial arts. My mother knew someone who...also knew the founder of Aikido. So, without any specific intention, I started to practice around Showa 28 (1952).

Interviewer: How was the atmosphere of practice in those days?

Kato: I only remember I lost myself in practicing. There were many tough people and it was hard for me.

Interviewer: Would you tell us some memories you have of the founder?

Kato: He did not say anything in detail about Waza (technique). Rather than listening to his words, I learned by watching him. I haven’t accomplished what I saw—probably less than half of it. When he took my hand, I felt like I was being absorbed into him because of his God-like presence.

One time, Osensei gave me a chance to give him Shiatsu on his shoulder. As his muscle was bouncing back, I noticed his back muscle was extremely flexible. Whenever I had such personal time with him, Osensei used to tell me stories.

Interviewer: What kind of stories were they?

Kato: He said, "Budo (martial arts) was a gift of God, not the creation of the human mind," and "Budo cannot be learned from other people. It has to be exercised by oneself.”

Recently, at last, I am starting to understand what he said. I did not have any sense of it at all during that time. I just listened to his words and simply said, "yes" to him.

I remember one incident. During those days, at Hombu dojo, we had meetings with Osensei regularly. One day, an important guest was in the meeting and he seemed different from other days, uplifted and full of Ki energy. I was Uke and I was thrown to the degree that I saw my legs with the ceiling in the background. I could not do Ukemi at all. It was almost like Jinshin nage. I was really scared.

But such experiences became a huge part of my dedication to practicing Aikido. Even now, when I practice, I visualize the founder in my mind. It is not something that can be taught, but must be developed with discipline. That is why I started to understand the things he said. Things I have learned by myself are not easily forgotten, but things that have been taught by other people, without inquiry within me, and taught in the language like “it should be done only in one way, and no other way,” are all forgotten. Well, I was not obedient also. (smiles)

Each Aikido teacher has his own idea and way of practicing and teaching. I think it is because the founder did not really teach as if there were only one mold or pattern. Therefore, I think each individual style has developed out of his teachings.

"Extreme softness controls hardness", (a Japanese maxim) is not always true. "Extreme hardness controls hardness", he used to say. And extreme softness controls hardness. Extreme hardness controls softness and extreme softness controls softness. When I think about them, all of them are really true. Depending on the situation, each concept is important. Osensei did not really stick to only one concept, but embraced many.

Seeing is believing

Interviewer: What kinds of things do you pay attention to when you are instructing or explaining?

Kato: I tell everybody to try it anyway even if you don’t understand it. Results come as you practice. People do not understand when I explain it verbally. Words are a convenient tool, but to show them how is more important. When it comes to teaching, people generally say “This should be done like this.” It is easier that way. However, in this way, the amount of verbal instruction tends to increase.

For example, when I tell students how to take people down without using force, I demonstrate this to help people understand the sense of it. Then, I let people try it. Then, from that, learners take it from there, sensing what it feels like. After that, if they are willing to be stronger, I tell them to do it by themselves. There are no Aikido competitions, so instructors can’t force them to do it, can they?

Seeing is much better than hearing hundreds of times. It is my great privilege to have had the chance to see the founder doing it. I really feel that I learned Aikido from seeing it.

I think it is important for instructors to show how it is done and let viewers feel how great it is. When I visited Hombu dojo for the first time, I had the chance to see the founder perform Aikido. I thought, “This is something that will take my entire life to do.”

Interviewer: What did you think about Kotodama, the spiritual principle the founder talked about?

Kato: I think vocalizing from Hara lets our Kimochi (feeling/emotion) be present out there. I won’t say that I haven’t studied it, but I am afraid studying it too much ends up in word play. And my face should have the expression of God and become enlightened to talk about it. Or else, I don’t feel my words come from a natural place. I feel awkward pretending to be a little God.

Martial artists ensure that their words and actions are congruent. When verbal experience leads, it binds you. If that happens, I tend not to be at all free.

The strength of Aikido is in embracing others

Interviewer: What do you think about strength in Aikido?

Kato: Strength is many things, isn’t it? Taking other people down is one strength. But persistence in practice, and becoming good at dealing with others, are also strengths. It is holistic, I think.

It may be easier to train the body to take people down. Showing strength in Wa (peace) and Musubi (connection) is very different from that. It is more difficult to attain and requires more strength. Unless strength is found in embracing others with a full-fledged humanitarian perspective, it is not pertaining to strength in Aikido.

It is important to ask oneself “What is Aikido?” and develop one’s own perspective. If you choose not to fight, then why don’t you do that? Searching for ultimate answers like that is a necessity in doing Aikido.

Aikido is not Kumiuchi, traditional martial techniques for fighting. If Aikido were like techniques for fighting, the way of practice itself would be totally different. But Aikido practice consists of ways to develop ourselves and each other. Of course, it is not saying that being weak is acceptable — through our experience of strength we are not tempted to fight. Aikido is not about competition. A person who has true strength does not fight.

Again, going back to the regular meetings with Osensei, on one particular day, some writers who were specializing in Japanese tales of Samurai and Shogun came to see the founder. The authors started to talk about the technique of Sen sen no sen (responding before an attack) and Ato no sen (countering an attack). And the founder started to say, there are no such things. In Aikido, people win even before their fight starts. He had a view of winning that encompassed everything, that makes it into oneness, and a value system that transcends the concept of winning and losing.

Master Kisshomaru, Osensei’s son, was like that also. He was really a tough teacher. Especially in terms of judging students, his perception and discernment of people’s integrity was very strong. Although I don’t mean he was a cold person. And above all, he acknowledged teachers who had a strong individual style. That is wonderful. It is hard to acknowledge someone who is doing a different Aikido from one’s own. In order to do that, it requires extreme generosity as a human being. That is also one of the strengths found in Aikido. It is very different from how skillfully you can perform your technique.

Train yourself alone

Interviewer: Do you have any last words of advice?

Kato: I was not a full-time disciple of Osensei and I had a job during that time. So, I could not spend much time with him. Therefore I had to train myself and practice it. There must be many ways to do it, for example using sword and jo (staff).

If you really establish your individual style, you should practice it alone. Practicing is like that fundamentally, isn’t it? If you are young, you should practice to your physical limits. While practicing, you discover your own thoughts and worldview. If you keep doing that, your experience will bring you something to tell others. You train yourself. If you train yourself, do it alone. That is my ideal in my practice and words to you.

Practicing Aikido is to keep believing in and searching for something. Aikido, in the end, is belief. It is not a religion. But while you practice it, you gain strength in that type of awareness. I believe in the founder and his words. Still now, he lives in me. If I keep practicing Aikido with that attitude, it naturally fosters spirituality in Aikido. If it weren’t there, it would end up only at the level of physical strength.

I feel it is important to practice it peacefully, without fighting each other. Also, I do not like the concept of instructing others in what to do. I am very adamant about that (smile). For me, rather than teaching, I think practice is the place to begin by oneself and with comradeship. Let us practice together.

The founder told me once, "I do not have any disciples at all. There are no disciples but many comrades to accompany me. I have companions to attain the truth of this philosophy."

I love (these) words. Let us practice together.

Interviewer: An editor from “Aikido Tankyu” magazine
Interviewee: Hiroshi Kato
(Chairman of Suginami Aikikai, Eighth Dan)

Translated by Takanari Tajiri


Article #4
The Art of Aikido in a Short Summary.

There are many misunderstandings about what Aikido is, it's training and it's form of self defense. I have written a short article in order to help make clearer the three issues for our students. Please consider the following for your own training.

Aikido as a Budo
Aikido is a Japanese budo (martial way) which Morihei Ueshiba conceived as a way to "find harmony with the universe". This meant to him that the training and customs of the art would work to change the character of the practitioner. The techniques teach a certain way of "Ki". This is to say a way of using Ki or the body's life energy as the techniques are being performed. The movements can be soft or hard but they have an ethical component as well which is peace and not injuring the opponent unnecessarily. If an attack is particularly violent, the attacker could injure himself though but even in that, he would be brought back into a state of non attack with the defender. The real question of Aikido though is this - "Is there attack in me?" Do I want to hurt and injure? This is what our training is for. To deal with our own lack of harmony. In the dojo, we practice this training of mind - body - Ki coordination to stand in this harmony. In a sense, the techniques are the training tools. The Budo (or "the way of war") means that we use martial or ancient Japanese war techniques to train ourselves with an ethic of peace. That is what we try to manifest in the dojo. That is what we are training. That is why we try to take care of our classmates and train together.
Aikido then is a complete practice of Misogi. It is a purification of mind, body and heart. It is something to be done with dedication, intensity and pure heart. it was made to be an art that would purge you of spiritual impurities and that is why he reasoned that the end of Aiki was love.

Here is a summary of what I am trying to say from the homepage of the Aikikai Foundation.

"A pure budo comes with the unification of technique, body and heart. The budo, which will manifest itself, does not depend upon the technique, but rather upon the heart of the practitioner.
The aim of Aikido is a kindness of heart expressed through this spirit of budo.
Budo is the path of the warrior. Combined with the spirit of heaven and earth in your heart, you can fulfill your life's destiny with unconditional love for everything.
Aiki seeks to skillfully strike down the ego and inherent insincerity in battling an enemy. Aiki is the path of forgiveness and enlightenment. The martial techniques provide discipline for the journey of uniting the spirit and the body through the laws of heaven.
The goal of Aikido training is not perfection of a step or skill, but rather improving one's character according to the rules of nature. One becomes "resilient" inside yet this strength is expressed softly. Movements found in nature are efficient, rational, and soft,while the center is immovable, firm, and stable. This principal of a firm center is universally consistent -- and must be true for each person. The culmination of Aikido is expressed by aligning one's center with the center expressed throughout nature.
Aikido movement maintains this firm and stable center with an emphasis on spherical rotation characterized by flowing, circular, dance-like motions. These pivoting, entering and circling motions are used to control and overcome the opponent. The principle of spherical rotation makes it possible to defend one self from an opponent of superior size, strength, and experience.
Although Aikido movements are soft, rational, and smooth as in nature, by applying a bit of force,these can become devastatingly effective. The gentle quality of Aikido makes it appealing to men and women and children regardless of age. It not only offers spiritual development but also provides exercise and teaches proper etiquette and behavior."

The Training in Aikido
In our training, it is a very physical training. Aikido is considered a soft art because we don't emphasize using force or direct strength. It is also soft because it is an art where you are working with yourself internally as much as you are externally. In other words, it is as much about using the consciousness or mind as much as the body. Of course though, anyone can tell you who has done Aikido that soft doesn't mean non-physical or easy. Aikido can be every physical and powerful as well.
Understanding that, everyone in Aikido should train at their own pace and physical ability. The training should not be forced according to O Sensei. Having said that though, we also need those students who have great ukemi or are a little tougher because that way, we can all see the ultimate in the technique. So with their permission, we can also go a little harder and train more realistically sometimes, with less fear of causing an injury. That is what I try to show as the Sensei. I try to show how the techniques should look in a realistic application. As the students though, you should not always copy me because I am doing the job of a Sensei. You should train normally, safely and in harmony with your partner . If you are training with a brown or black belt, you can ask permission to go harder and I am sure they will oblige but beginners (anything below brown) should not go too hard with other beginners. You can pick an advanced person to go harder with but always ask their permission first. We shouldn't surprise anyone with a hard technique when they aren't expecting it. Only the Sensei can do that because he has the ultimate responsibility for the students safety. I appreciate people who can take very good ukemi or others who are very tough because I know I can apply the techniques in a way so that the others can see the power but I am also fairly certain they won't be injured when I do it. To apply a technique strongly is a serious responsibility. That is one of the reasons why we don't have competitions in Aikido. The techniques applied in the heat of competition could most seriously hurt someone and if you didn't go all out in a competition, you wouldn't win so it would become a very serious completion indeed. The main reason we have no competition though is because the Ueshiba family believes that would promote the ego which it is the aim of Aikido to suppress. Please read the book, The Spirit of Aikido, for a more complete explanation.

Aikido as Self Defense
Aikido is a series of principles more than it is a series of techniques.
It has the principles of:
1) Keeping the correct martial distance. (ma-ai)
2) Moving to your opponents blind spot. (shikaku)
3) Proper foot movement. (ashi sabaki) Swordsman foot movement.
4) Evasive body movement. (tai sabaki)
5) Using your whole body to move the opponent's whole body.
6) Keeping your center. (tanden)
7) Using circular movement. (maroyaka shintai)
8) Blending with the attack. (awase)
9) Extending your energy. (chikara)
10) Concentrating your energy. ( kiai)
11) Keeping the connection with the attacker. (musubi)
12) Capturing the person in your motion.
13) Proper breathing. (kokyu nage, kokyu ho)
14) Having a proper mental attitude during the encounter. (zanshin,mushin,fudoshin)
15) Strong spirit or heart. (kokoro)
16) The principle of the spontaneous creation of techniques. This is the highest Aikido of "no set form". (takemusu aiki)

So, in a self defense situation, we might use Aikido techniques, we might also use a part of a technique or something could manifest itself that doesn't necessarily look like an Aikido technique. Our training though is in Aikido principles and if you train properly, it is the principles that will manifest themselves in self defense situations.

This is our art in summary. It has the aspect of ethics and philosophy. It has a specific kind of training and it's emphasis is on harmony (ai), peace (wa) and internal change (makoto no kokoro - a sincere heart). I hope you can consider these things as we all continue in our training.

Best always,

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