“Their movements lacked the integrity and focus that are precursors to understanding the physical space control necessary to dissipate or dissolve physical conflict.”
Peter Kelly submitted this message as a response to our recent article The Martial Artist’s Dilemma: “Traditionalism vs. Innovation,” by Charles Humphrey . We found Peter’s thoughts especially interesting and are posting it as a separate blog.
When I started Aikido I came directly from my last season playing sport as a professional athlete in Europe. I had had enough of life on the road and realised that my body was taking a beating that meant I may not walk well when I turned 50. I got off the plane and within a week was in my first Aikido class.
As a now former professional athlete, I threw myself into training, easily able to complete the 12 classes a week that my chosen dojo offered. (Professional athletes train 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, and also 4 weight sessions a week, plus recovery swimming sessions on Sundays).
You could say quite rightly that my entire life has been spent learning, interpreting and processing complex body movement, assimilating changes to those movements as fast as possible and also applying those movements in a dynamic and intense environment, where the cost of failure could ultimately affect your livelihood. Pressure to succeed was very real, and adaptability was the key to longevity.
The competition that I had been exposed to and the discipline that such competition gave me created a unique training etiquette that had previously not been seen in the dojo I was training in. I created a personal training program based around previously learnt physical movements and repetitive simple drills to assimilate a new set of body movements and create muscle memory, which in turn freed me to create relaxed dynamic movements.
While I respected my seniors, I was a little perplexed that these instructors struggled to relay to me what seemed on the surface to be quite simple body mechanics. Often questions were answered with obscure references to spiritual philosophy, not much help to a keen learner attempting to internalise simple movements to create muscle memory and body mechanics.
In the professional sporting arena, you are taught from a young age to identify weakness and exploit them. In the sport I played we called people who display these weaknesses “bunnies” and they were identified by their lack of coordination and understanding of complex body movement, their movements slightly disjointed and lacking in cohesion and fluidity. These “bunnies” were then exploited to the benefit of team victory. The higher up the professional tree you go, the fewer bunnies you encounter.
After about six months I came to the realisation that I was being taught by a collective of these bunnies.
Here I was paying money to be taught what was perhaps the most complex body movement of my life by senior dan levels that struggled with hand eye coordination, and the ability to relay quite simplistic actions that their physical bodies were attempting to perform.
In truth, there was not a kinesthetic learner amongst them, a group of intellectuals that had come to aikido due to its spiritual teachings and philosophy that protected them from the competition that had so exposed their physical ineptitude in their youth. These were passive – aggressive personality types that lay claim to study and teach a martial art, yet their training and actions were completely lacking any basis for the reality that was a physical conflict situation. Their movements lacked the integrity and focus that are precursors to understanding the physical space control necessary to dissipate or dissolve physical conflict. In short, their movements did not proactively control the centreline of the aggressor.
I eventually met the Shihan that had been sent to my country as the founder’s representative, found in him a brilliant Aikidoka, and promptly left my country to train in Japan for years.
I know people believe that time is important and to some extent it is, but body movement development depends entirely on the individual. I have also heard claim that spiritual maturity can only be reached over lengthy periods of training, but that example is also unproven in history, when most of the great sages, prophets and teachers of the past reached the heights of spiritual maturity at relatively young ages.
I don’t believe that Aikido can benefit in any way from the competition that I exposed myself to in my youth, but I also believe that for Aikido to go forward and grow as a spiritual art people need to face their fears instead of using aikido’s spiritual teachings as a wall to hide behind, and elevated position due to service does not mean competence in an art that is so dependent on a deep understanding of complex movement, coordination, spacial awareness and balance.
I have watched with great interest this push towards internal power in rediscovering Aiki in Aikido. I have watched the drills posted and the body positioning and understandings filtered through the traditional Chinese martial arts. I don’t know if people realise or choose to ignore, but the majority of these movements exist in the training regimes of modern professional athletes, and this has been so for many years. You see science has also discovered the most efficient way the body develops power, and has been passing this information through to athletic coaches for years.
After all professional sport is big money, it makes sense that their training methodologies have understandings of facial spiralling, ground reactive force, and the complex, muscular facial trains that need to be developed to the benefit of relaxed physical movement. They then get these athletes to drill these movements until they are natural and devoid of the thought process needed at the start to integrate these movements. This was Ueshiba’s brilliance. He trained like a Spartan, he lifted heavy weighted objects to understand how the body acts under load, he pushed the boundaries of physical endurance to see how the body responded under duress. And he never stopped this study. Why are Aikido and farming one? Because farming requires repetitive physical endurance, working in a physical nature all day forces you to find the most relaxed way to develop continuous relaxed physical power. This is aikido.
When the founder said “Go and find your own aikido,” perhaps he wasn’t talking about technique, or even budo, but rather, “find your own enlightenment, body movement and budo was mine, but it probably won’t be yours…”
After all, the ultimate goal and the way forward to enlightenment is to “know thyself”.
I believe the way forward for aikido is for those that have allowed years of training to build up rather than destroy their egos to give competition a go, maybe not in the dojo, but somewhere. Discover what modern training methodologies have to offer your art, study what Ueshiba did in the context of physical development, then look at the modern equivalent. Those secrets aren’t really secrets anymore.
After all, being outside our comfort zone is where we come face to face with who we really are, and when there is nowhere left to hide, then maybe the ego can have a chance to truly be destroyed.