Aiki Waza: In Search of the Easier Path
March 7, 1997 · 6:33pm EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389
"Suki koso no jozu nare", says an old proverb, which loosely translated means "fondness breeds mastery". It seems to apply to everything from Nihonbuyo to the fine art of cooking tempura, but is it enough in bujutsu training? Frankly speaking: NOT AT ALL.

To build a pagoda that would resist the attacks of time, a good foundation is needed, as well as strong pillars to surround the central and most important and sacred column, or shinbashira, which is the core of the pagoda. All the adornments of the pagoda would be superfluous without its main supporting structure.

If we imagine our dedication to training In a budo or bujutsu ryu as a pagoda, and our "supporting structure" be a mere propensity for amusement, or "fondness", we would have created a very weak building that would be shaken and swayed by every change in the wind, and would eventually crumble.

On the other hand, if this structure is made out of loyalty, integrity of character and a proper spirit, the building will survive for centuries. When this is our approach to training we are not in a rush to find short cuts, or exceptionally easier ways to perform technique.

Pure enjoyment is not enough reason for training. That is the reason for eating ice cream or playing golf.

Learning the techniques at a basic level is hard. It takes pain, effort, and much sweat to even begin to grasp a minimum of the skills required to execute them, and it is normal that we feel them to be awkward, unnatural, and uncomfortable for a while.

If we want instant gratification and constant amusement, a ko-ryu bujutsu dojo is the wrong place for us. If after the 20th repetition we began to yawn, if we can't wait until the class is finish so we can either embrace the excitement at the nearest bar, feel the exhilaration of hitting high notes at our favorite karaoke bar, or if we are eager to just sit in the company of our dearest video game so we can develop the myriad of useless skills that modern technology so kindly offers us at the push of a button, with a minimum amount of sweat or discomfort, adding aiki to our techniques is certainly not the answer. If all those things are more emotionally rewarding than training, then it is time to reconsider our values.

Our first steps are arduous, and sometimes frustrating, but to approach the intial stages of training with the hopes of promptly achieving as our goal a level of expertise at which by a mere sneeze we could cleanly throw our opponent across the room, or poke a hole through his sternum without actually touching him, equates ko-ryu bujutsu with the latest ninja movie.

As I have said many times before: there are no short cuts, nor quick jumps in bujutsu.

Ko-ryu bujutsu training is a process, a life long path, not a game of hopscotch. Actually, it is more like a tall and steep slide which we are climbing upwards. Some set backs and difficult spots are part of the journey.

Are we to engage in a constant search for aiki techniques? Certainly not.

There is a marked difference between the way of executing Daito ryu jujutsu techniques and that of Daito ryu Aiki jujutsu, but both have their intrinsic value and neither is superior to the other, since they are both part of the whole.

Basic techniques change as key points are added. Skills develop that create fluidity and a better understanding of each aspect of performance, and difficulties that at first seemed insurmountable diminish or disappear.

With time, Aiki principles become real - in the practical sense - more by doing than by analysis. But this is not the product of an obsessive search for the easiest way to perform a technique. Some teachers support the idea that the concepts of sage aiki, age aiki, fure aiki, etc. are of relatively recent development. The older ways of teaching, they affirm, made no distinctions in regards to the direction of the movement, but taught reaction as a whole. What today is called azuke, in Daito ryu, which can be performed only when one is relaxed, is very close to oshikiuchi's way.

Oshikiuchi was taught using zaho[seated techniques] as its foundation, but the students were recommended not to feel bound by the position nor focus on it, for the mind and the spirit should flow freely. The aiki used in swordsmanship is not any different. From the very moment before the drawing of the sword all mechanic form must disappear. The blade should flow freely. But form was very much part of the training. This is by no means a paradox: the form is the vehicle to beget that freedom. Conscious separation of these aspects, by desiring the second one while resenting the first one, was (and of course still is) a grave error, because it nullifies proper learning and technical progress.

Many other bujutsu ryu used a similar method in the progression of their learning.

It is true that some aspects of technique are closely related to strategy and more clearly explained, like tainai-jiku and taigai-jiku (in relation to the body's axis), sabaki (in relation to footwork and positioning of the body), but not before a relatively adequate command of basic technique is achieved.

In the near future we will offer brief explanations and examples of some subtle principles that, when applied to technique, provide different ways to perform them. I do not describe them as "easier" ways, because in some cases the process of learning the principles is harder than the actual technique, or offers yet another set of difficulties, so, the proper term is "different ways", although they may, once learned, be considered an advantage. All of them, be it kata o kiru, hiji o kiru, kata no ju kaiten, hasu kaiten, or any other, are gates to aiki application, as much as the execution of a technique using tsukami-te, or the principle of azuke (which we will also explain in a future article).

But, in training, all this will come at the proper time. The shortest distance between two points is not always the most profitable route.

The best advice to those who relentlessly pursue aiki is: do not.

Just train. Train hard and train daily, and receive every single technique as the most important one you will ever learn. Do not expect an edge, nor an alternative. Consider its weaknesses and strengths, but by using only its basic points develop it to the best of your abilities, so as to minimize those weaknesses and make the best of its strength. You can be sure those weaknesses have already been considered, and solved. It is unlikely that you will discover something that others who came before you did not. Eventually, you will be taught all possibilities. In the mean time, train as if those alternatives do not exist. There is a valuable lesson to be learned in that kind of training.

There is nothing needed to be added, nothing to complement your training, nothing to balance it. What you feel you lack is, very likely, something you have not been taught yet.

Take every technique, as you should take your ryu: as an absolute. Eventually, you will add the benefit of aiki to it, and you will realize that you have taken the proper path.

When you step on the mat, do it with a full spirit, and sincerely embrace and welcome the technique. When you begin training think of NOTHING else. This separates the weak from the strong, and is the fundamental source of true learning. Any less is a waste.


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