We never know what we give until it’s been given . . .
and then we may be the last to know if it did arrive in the way we thought it should.
We can only do our best.
The essentials of weapons – footwork.
Over the years of seminars, I have explained that the weapons have a slightly different footwork; in weapons, the feet are in a smaller stance. A top student of Saito Sensei once told me in 1983, that when working with weapons one should think they are walking on the hand rail of a bridge, keeping one’s balance while zanshin is maintained. To have this in mind one needs to keep feet very small and body weight balanced, but if the mind is disturbed so will the feet be. Many students forget that a calm mind will bring natural depth in one’s body, thus grounding the whole. Saito Sensei once on a seminar, talked about weapons and how one should think of the foot work. He said, ‘think of how the Japanese work in the rice fields, they have to walk in between the rows of rice hoeing out the weeds - without stepping on the rice. This would become natural to them, the same must be for the dedicated Aikidoka’.
For over 45 years I have trained with weapons as fifty percent of my practice. O-Sensei clearly trained with weapons, yet over my years of aikido training I have had to listen to the diverse arguments over the need or not to train with them.
Now, I have reached a point in my training, where I no longer need them to aid my own practise – they have already done their job.
I realise that concentrating on body movements does not develop the footwork as well as training with weapons. Nage often struggles to find correct footwork in taijutsu but had they taken up weapons training, their footwork would have become automatic and allowed a deeper understanding of the art to be reached.
I do not think O-Sensei used weapons ‘just because he liked them.’
Over the years many students have requested a Jo class, because they find the freedom of expression and variance of use with the Jo much more interesting than the ken.
I realise from this that we have let our students down by not clearly stating the purpose behind weapons training. We owe it to our teachers, masters like Saito Sensei to honour the founder’s teaching, just as he did. Saito Sensei asked us to keep the art alive and safe – and this meant the weapons legacy too.
If you really have an interest in following O-Sensei but your own style does not train in weapons, there are clips on youtube to watch and after that it is up to you to find time and space. It will be worth it.
Apart from the essential footwork emphasised and instilled by weapons, there are other gifts too.
Receiving an all out attack from a weapon allows you to come to terms with panic and fear and guide you to correct positioning with an adversary. Without pressurised training such as this you will never know if your version of the art will work in the street. It may be too late by then.
The attached photo shows a completed move but the power, stability of hips and feet, allow mind and body to become one with the attacker.
It is not seen by outside observers but it is felt by both –
to me this is O-Sensei’s gift and why weapons should be part of your training.
Why is it that two masters who can both claim to be loyal to the teachings of the founder,
look so different?
This was a question that bothered me for a long time until I reached a level where I was able to form an understanding that made sense to me. This is what I saw, it is not so easy to explain but here is my take on it.
Students will often look different from their teachers and masters often naturally look different from O-Sensei, this is because they are different . . . they are different people with various body shapes and mannerisms that set them apart. However, if you took a series of say 100 photographs of each of the two masters carrying out the same technique and examined them carefully you would find that a few of the frames are clearly identical postures. The rest may be quite different but those few frames or postures will be the same. They will be the same as what you will recognise in yourself as being correct. These few frames are the same as O-Sensei’s aikido, it is this which carries the power of Aikido and not all the differences which are so easily clear to casual observers of the art. The masters know that they are at some point touching this, the essence of aikido and rightly say that they are demonstrating what the founder taught. Don’t mix this up with all the things that are different because the people are different.
Each person needs to be different; they cannot copy in entirety the exact make up of their teacher and be free at the same time. You need to be free. You need to be free but during your movements need to touch on those few special frames or postures which will be the exact same as your teacher’s and O-Sensei’s.
The strength of Aikido exists in those few frames and not in any particular natural flow of a person’s body, which is the thing that causes us to say “look, how different they are from each other, which one is doing O-Sensei’s aikido?”
The frames are what I would call the triangle’s that O-Sensei explained was from the stance to the whole understanding of what makes Aikido techniques so strong and powerful. Each of us has our inherited differences, in mannerisms and habits, but once we learn correct Aikido triangular movements we start to understand when and where we are strong. The frames will show the triangle and the rest of the time, if we think of what others see and comment on being the difference, is that triangle spinning. When a triangle is spinning fast it looks like a circle, then all you see is the person who they are from birth, but they are themselves and free to move with the universe, this is how it should be. The person performing aikido knows the triangle is in there, the observer cannot see it due to the movement, a freeze frame photo will show the triangle and it will be as O-Sensei’s.
We are all individual, but can also all touch O-Sensei’s art if we can install the triangles (frames) where and when they are required.
Inspired by the teachers and intentions of the organiser Quentin Cooke, at Burwell July 4th, 5th and 6th of 2014 I have joined Aiki Extensions in order to offer my support for their good work.