By force, hath overcome but half his foe.
John Milton – Paradise Lost, Book I, 648 – 649
What defines aikido? In my early years of training I used to define it by the kata. However, I believe that it can be aikido even if it is not recognizable as any of the kata we normally do in the keiko or at examinations. Also, I think that even if a kata clearly is being done it might still not be aikido.
I am still parted from my normal training partners and hence I am limited to do lots of training alone (shomen uchi and yokomen uchi suburi). After some time this becomes very lonely. I have now convinced someone to join me for some practice, but this training partner has no interest for aikido. However, we will practice a different martial art: Gracie jiu jitsu.
I am still trying to study aikido using the kata from a different martial art (they can actually in truth be called techniques as they will work on a resisting partner even after only a short time of practise). This training requires quite a lot more effort from me on focusing on my goals of the practice since the main idea of the program which we are following is “street readiness” (it goes without saying that this is a quite different approach to the practice than what I am used to). These techniques are very powerful due to leverage and stability in the construction of the positions. The aiki part will not be necessary for these techniques to work, whereas aikido exercises usually set the restrictions in such a way that we need the aiki in order to succeed, hence putting the focus on it. I just have to make sure my focus is on it anyway. Returning to my initial question: What is this aiki part?
So I am saying that the forms does not define aikido for me. That aikido is an idea that itself is without a physical form and, in fact, can appear in many different physical forms. Then what does define aikido? I guess every aikidoka has his/her own definition, as I have mine.
For me the feeling is what identifies something as aikido. I still remember the first time Endo sensei was throwing me. It was from a ryote dori -ish contact (without grabbing) and he did a kind of tenchi nage. I could have sworn that it was the earth moving and not me. I felt nothing before I bounced on the tatami. There was no sensation of force from him, no atemi to react to, nothing. I just fell naturally, but so incredibly powerful! I had the same experience on a kote gaeshi with Tissier sensei just after that. The world was spinning 360 degrees around me. Again, no sensation of being thrown, only the bounce (these throws were so powerful that I really did bounce) on the tatami.
These experiences are so strong for me that they define aikido for me just like that. The feeling they gave me. I was being thrown, it felt great, I came up like a rocket ready for another one, smiling from ear to ear. Aikido make people happy, if not, I would go so far as to suggest that you might not be doing it right.
Now, I am not saying that we need to be as experienced as these guys to do aikido. It is after all aiki do. The road to this is also aikido, even if we never reach this level. However, this is the goal (one of the main ones at least) for me in aikido, and if it is required of me, it is also how I would evaluate a different person’s level.
Stefan Stenudd wrote a very nice article about general relativity and aikido. It is one of the best descriptions I have heard of aikido. The idea of comparing a throw to the curvature of space time due to gravity is explaining exactly what I felt, but never were able to put into words myself.
I have often talked about aikido as a nonverbal language. I believe that we are searching for the ways that feel good. If there is any discomfort for either uke or tori it is a clear indication of something that should be improved. I would like to have a civilized form of communication with the partner, in contrary to a terrorist-like communication (move or I will break your wrist etc.). Aikido is for me not something that should work as a weapon to hurt other human beings. There is a dialogue between the partners and I would like to believe that we should try and make it a pleasant one. This is a huge challenge, of course, as it is a martial art in addition to being a language. However, this is what the keiko is for and as we are always trying to make it feel good we become happy from it.
Enjoy your keiko! Aikido make people happy!