Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Making Aikido Martial

I've been hearing a curious phrase lately, "To make it martial..."

It seems people equate martial arts and striking of some sort, or some necessarily destructive event.  The speaker will be showing an move which may or may not be aikido, but in any event, as a codicil I will hear something along the lines of "To make it martial you strike here..." or some such.  How odd.

What makes it martial is if it is of a system that deals with mars, war, uninvited aggression.  Certainly martial arts systems universally involved striking of some sort, but only aikido is viable without any strikes.  I certainly never use atemi in practice, and cannot imagine using it in a real conflict.    I've made over a half-dozen arrests without ever using atemi.  

In fact, I never even bother to block.  One trains like crazy to just go straight at them, without any blocking, and that is necessary and sufficient. Sure, you get hit. Getting hit is rarely catastrophic, and often necessary to de-escalate.   Recently I got slapped to de-escalate a very tense situation.  A fight was shaping up between two people, fists were clenched, and by getting slapped I owned the response, by rights it was mine.  What was funny is the "good guy" who wanted to fight all of a sudden did not feel so sure (the slap was lightening fast) he would win.  The guy who slapped was astonished I was not phased, he no longer was so sure I would be any fun. I was still standing and not bothered.  Obviously his secret weapon, speed, was not impressive. He left.

Indeed striking, and aggression is indeed critical to, I believe, almost all martial arts.  All arts that have contests take points off for failure to strike.  Kendo, judo, karate, even boxing and wrestling will cost you the match of you do not try to hit or take down your opponent.    Indeed, the best defense in sparring with these various systems is to never initiate force.  I was taking some remedial aikido classes in a judo dojo in California (to work on koshi-nage) when a junior instructor contemptuously directed his favorite student to trash me.  I just held my ground, weight underside, extend ki, the Tohei Sensei secret weapon, all that.  Had I tried to throw him, I would have been sunk.  The enraged instructor broke my sternum after that.  Sigh.  Some people take it so seriously.

My first bokken lesson in aikido involved how to make chudan impregnable.  Bam! went the parry and strike.  Extend ki and the bokken returns before the attacker can get in.  If your opponent raises his bokken, his movement up invites your movement straight in.  Man is that fun!  But you'll never win a kendo match.

And that is it, who needs to win?  All fighting is pointless, so get to the point as soon as possible, which is pointlessness of the conflict.

I heard a kendo master in a seminar explain the ken has three fighting sides, the blade and the two sides.  He said that kendo should follow that, one cut for two blocks.  That is, two in three moves should be non-lethal.  This matches boxing, with its 2 jabs, one punch standard.  In all martial arts, the non-lethal actions are as much of the art as the lethal ones.   To speak in terms of "to make it martial, here is a strike" is to betray an ignorance of at least 2/3rds of the martial aspect of the art.

Why aikido is unique among martial arts and appropriate to the conscientious objector is that the two non-lethal moves are enough to effect a de-escalation and positive non-fighting.  Whereas a kendoka in six moves will have 2 lethal and 4 non-lethal moves, it is possible in aikido to have six, all non-lethal moves.  Both are martial arts, both made non-lethal moves. Both made six moves.  Just the kendo man made four and the aikido made made six non-lethal moves.  Aikido is unique in as much as it is martial and can be completely non-lethal.

And to make things weird, Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido, of which I am a life member, according to the late Tohei Sensei (although I have not been a follower of that art) actually has tournaments.  Go figure.  In my case it gets even weirder.  I happen to hold a very advanced rank in Lau Sensei's Icho Ryu aikijutsu style, a very hard style lethal martial art, for which the Chief Instructor, Neil Yamamoto, will gladly confirm to anyone who asks, that I haven't the slightest idea what is involved in that system.   Although Yamamoto Sensei and I knock back a few once in a while, I would not dare enter one of his classes.  But then, neither would...  well, never mind.  In any event, Yamamoto Sensei is the best thing that ever happened to Icho Ryu.

For me, it is enough to keep practicing the aikido eight basics, fall down, get up, fall down, get up...  just like life, as a conscientious objector.

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