Wednesday, November 24, 2010

So What is Aikido, Anyway?

In all my gushing (and moaning) about Saturday's Aikido seminar, I realize that it may not have really been clear to some of my readers just what exactly I was doing there. Fair enough - let me give you my take.

Aikido is a very unique martial art. It bears some superficial similarity to Judo, in that it is practiced with partners and involves various throws and joint manipulations, and no karate-style strikes except as something to defend against and practice techniques.

It's also a relatively new martial art. It was founded by Ōsensei, Morihei Ueshiba, in Japan in the 1920s. Ōsensei was a student of many styles, including Judo as well as Jujitsu (the Japanese kind, which I gather is somewhat different from the Brazilian kind that's so popular now, but I am unclear in what ways they vary) and Aiki-Jujitsu.

By the early 1920s, Ōsensei had begun to develop what would, over the next nearly forty years, become Aikido, and spread around the world. It evolved throughout his adult life as he embraced

Aikido of Central New York is, I believe, similar to most other Aikido dojos in general. At least it looks to be from the photos I've seen. It has a large practice floor covered in padded tatami mats. When I used to train there in 1991 (at a different location just up the road) there was a huge sheet of canvas with some sort of padding underneath, but the idea is the same. The padding is important, because there are a lot of Aikido techniques that result in someone being hurled to - or across - the floor.

Aikido is actually a very gentle martial art in many respects. You can always tell when you're being attacked by an Aikidoist, because they begin by saying "Grab my wrist!" Don't do it - you'll be sorry! The training involves watching each technique demonstrated by the instructor - usually a Sensei (teacher) - then practicing it with a partner called an uke. You and your partner take turns performing the ukemi - the role of the attacker - alternating back and forth to practice the technique.

Many of the techniques involve taking your uke down to the mat in a pin. They may also send the uke into a shoulder roll, or a backfall, or - if they're skilled enough to do it with confidence - a breakfall where they flip completely over and land with a painful-sounding smack. It actually doesn't hurt at all if you do it properly. Perhaps because of his early training, or possibly because his great-great grandfather was a noted Samurai, Ōsensei incorporated weapons training with both the bokken (wooden samurai sword) and the jo (a short staff meant to represent either a walking staff or a spear, depending on how it's used) into his style. On Saturday, I think I heard that they've begun practicing with the bo. or long staff, as well, but we never had in the past so I don't know much about where that comes in.

A big part of what I liked about Aikido was that it's so very graceful. Executing the techniques properly always seemed almost like a dance, rather than combat. And yet you got the sense that if you really understood and mastered them, they'd be very effective at warding off not just an attacker, but multiple attackers if necessary. That was practiced, in fact. We would sometimes perform rondori, in which one nage (the person performing the techniques) would be in the center of a circle of multiple uke. Each uke would, in turn, lunge at the nage with a punch, an overhead strike (shomenuchi), a diagonal strike to the neck (yokamenuchi), a wrist or lapel grab (I don't remember the Japanese terms for those, sorry) or, if the nage was sufficiently advanced - say, around 1st kyu or above - a front snap kick. The nage would not only respond to each attacker, but part of the exercise was to ensure that whenever possible they used their uke as a shield against further attacks, or sent him rolling in the direction of the other attackers to slow them down. Rondori was enormous fun and an awesome workout.

I also liked Aikido because it's very traditional. I trained at seminars with people like Sugano Sensei, Yamada Sensei and, if I remember correctly, Chiba Sensei - all of whom trained directly under Ōsensei. As a result, Aikido uses much more Japanese terminology than you often encounter in other styles taught in America, and there's very little differentiation between dojos. I noted at all the seminars I attended that the etiquette, terminology, techniques and even the warmup exercises tended to be done almost precisely alike from instructor to instructor, because that's how they were done at Ōsensei's home dojo, Hombu.

I'm committed to Kenpo karate right now, and I don't have time (or money) for anything else, so I don't expect that I'll be regularly training in Aikido again anytime soon. Someday, though, I definitely plan to return and take up my studies of this fascinating martial art.

No comments:

Post a Comment