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Anger, Fear, Aggression
The Dark Side of the Force are They
Easily they Flow
Quick to join you in a Fight
If once you start down the Dark Path
Forever will it Dominate your Destiny
Consume you, it will

– The Empire Strikes Back

patras greace by jason blackeye

Patras in Greace. Photo by Jason Blackeye.

The question about what aikido is, and what it is not, is something which has created discord and conflicts in the aikido community many times over, both on a personal level, on the tatami, and in larger scale between federations and groups. It has split the art into several factions sometimes unwilling to practise together. When people who disagree about this question meet on the tatami we often end up with conflicts where both are certain that they are right and the other must therefore be mistaken. We have met an ENEMY!

There are countless examples of how the conflict could materialise. But in general, I believe that they all start with the disagreement regarding how the keiko should be performed, and what the purpose of the practice is.

There is a lot of ambiguity in our keiko, because it is so open. It is the strength of aikido, because there are no limitations by age, strength, sex, level of experience or size. Everybody can practise together on equal terms. The only obstacle, the single thing which stands in our way is in our own mind. We have to wish to practise with our partner. If we don’t, it will never work.

pixabaydotcom ball of fire

Picture by Pixabay.com

Our partner comes with the whole package. The body, and the mind and everything in between. We can’t change any of it. Perhaps we can change our own mind (and that is a challenge right there), but we can’t initially change the mind of the partner. After some time we might affect the partner during the keiko, of course. However, we have to be able to do the keiko in order for that to happen. And keiko is keiko. Fighting is not. And right there is a statement on which some would disagree with me, probably.

I remember some conflicts in myself actually, from the early years, of wether we should regard the bokken as sharp or not when doing throws with the blade on the arms of the partner. The same discussion was raging in me regarding wether an atemi in the form of a physical strike from tori should, by itself, be a reason for uke to move.

In one way it is a very easy answer to both questions: YES, the partner should move, to protect himself/herself from potential damage to his/her body. However, who is the attacker in this situation? And what happens if the partner just makes some counter? And there is a counter to the counter, and a counter to the counter to the counter, and so on. In most cases if I can hit, the partner can also hit, or kick, or head but, or worse.


Picture from Pixabay.com

With the sword it is even more to the point, I think. Yes, the edge of the sword is very sharp, and a touch on naked skin would cut directly. Then some would argue that we should consider that uke is wearing armour. And we could argue back and forth, but in any case, we probably know, inside ourselves what we are searching for. We just want our way to be right, because it feels good for our ego.

Of course, in the first stages of learning the movement, I would say that, yes, the uke should move on the symbolic atemi, and consider the blade as dangerous (even if we have a blunt wooden surface on our skin). This way we can understand the basic mechanics of the kata. However, after some time, if we would like to reach the deeper meaning in the movement, I believe that it is more nurturing that the partner is just standing, observing what happens, but not actively doing anything, neither helping nor resisting what happens.

pixabaydotcom birds

Photo by Pixabay.com

In this state tori is not attacking with the kata, and uke is not protecting herself/himself from the attack. There is no stress, and we have time to feel the structure of the situation. If we sense that we are starting to push against each other we have to ease up and search for a different solution. If we feel that we are stuck, we can search for the location of our block, inside ourselves.

This atemi/sword situation is just one example of a situation where conflicts could emerge. I believe that the real challenge in aikido is to deal with these conflicts as we meet them, in a good way, so that we can practise with EVERYBODY.

Of course, we should consider safety, and our own health first, but I believe that there are valuable and unique pieces of our puzzle in all the people on the tatami. To enjoy these parts we have to find a way to practise with exactly this person, or we will miss a invaluable part. Very often the most important pieces are hidden in those partners which are most difficult for us to practise with.

jim harper heaven and hell

Photo by Jim Harper.

Sometimes we feel violated by our partner, because the partner is practising in a different way from us. However, I believe that it is important to remember that this brother or sister in aikido is merely doing the keiko, in their way. Our way is only one out of many, and it is not the only way. What is better or worse is not even relevant in this situation, I think. As long as we are not hurt, we can accept almost whatever, just to have a meeting with this new friend. Then later, maybe we can exchange ideas more deeply about how to make keiko more productive.

Still, if we get emotionally affected, we do. And it usually happens when we are unaware. It is difficult to go back to the state of our initial meeting after we already have some mental scars with somebody. So I believe that it is important to try to have an open mind for a different view, every time I meet a new partner on the tatami. I believe that the only enemy in our world is conflict itself.

Enjoy your keiko! Aikido makes people happy!