Is Aikido a Martial Art ? Part Two
Aikidoists are often accused of practicing " Choreographed Aikido" and to be honest I must admit that these claims are very often justified, with Uke (attacker) preparing to break fall long before he makes his attack, and most of them attack off balance , therefore making any multiples of techniques possible with the minimum of effort and of course this makes Tori (defender) look "fantastic".
What is really sad is that these people believe that this is good Aikido.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei would always say to us that "two" students are training at the same time, one is Uke who is learning and improving his attacking techniques and his
opponent Tori is also learning and improving his defensive techniques, whilst we were training with Abbe Sensei if Uke's foot or heel came off the mat as he attacked Abbe Sensei would give the offending leg a good whack with a shinai (bamboo sword) he would then say " My English is very bad but my shinai speaks fluently!".
If Uke attacks on balance then it is obvious that Tori's technique must be good and strong to throw him, and as Abbe Sensei said so many times " two students are training" .
Mark Eastman a strong young Dan grade with me went on a seminar recently where there was a 6th Dan. The 6th Dan refused to use him as Uke stating " I can not use you as you do not harmonize with me", he was not being awkward or difficult just attacking on balance.
Today all of these traditional exercises and training methods have now changed to a simple warm up routine with jumping up and down on the spot and lots of deep spiritual discussion.
Hard exercise is now considered to be aggressive and not in harmony with the true spirit of Aikido.
Abbe Sensei said that hard training developed the spirit, he also referred to Ki during those early days as he demonstrated the power of his technique, when asked to explain the meaning of Ki, he said not to worry about Ki as that would be a part of our training and development.
He then said "Only when you reach first Dan will you be able to understand the true concept of Ki as a further extension of your Aikido."
I still believe that line of thought, and the instructors in our dojo's very rarely speak of Ki although it is taught as a important and integral part of our training and study.
Although Ki is generally recognized as the spirit and breathing during the application of technique, every teacher and student will offer a very wide and varied and sometimes bizarre interpretation of the meaning of this much abused word.
The main problems arise and are created by the teachers themselves, who very often mislead their students to the extent that they almost believe that Ki is a form of magic. The following is one prime example from a very prominent Aikido magazines letters section.
Title: The Spirit of Protection
I am a carpenter and 2nd kyu in Aikido. I was working in a large new home doing repair work, I had finished my job and was heading for a long staircase when I noticed the owners two year old son was heading for the same stairs from the opposite direction.
As he approached the top of the stair he was watching me and not where he was going. I was too far away to grab him, so I shot to him (irimi) and stuck my arm straight out to him, my "Ki" went through the little boys' face and out the back of his head, he fell backwards and started crying.
His mother heard the crying and came up the stairs, when I told her what had happened, she thanked me,
I said "Don't thank me, Thank Aikido".
That poor child may well now be as disturbed as the writer.
Harry Potter Ryu
There are many such misguided examples which I will refer to in future articles, it is this kind of nonsense that brings Aikidos credibility into doubt I am fully aware that every martial art has its own version of " Harry Potter" in their ranks, what I fail to understand is that there are more of them in Aikido than all the other martial arts combined.
The reason that I am so critical and vociferous about Aikido is that every day I see these people watering down this great martial art that I have spent most of my life studying, teaching and promoting for the past 46 years. I am often asked "Sensei, which do you think is the best and worst martial art".
I always make the same reply " All the martial arts are good, if there is a problem with any martial art, then it can only be the people who represent that particular art who misrepresent their art
In articles parts one and two I have covered the introduction of Aikido to the West, and the impact on other Martial Artists, Aikido progressed and developed in the UK by visiting existing dojos of all the various Martial Arts and offering to demonstrate and teach for free in the hope of starting a small class in the more receptive dojos, as one can imagine this was no easy task as more often than not our efforts were not an open invitation to most dojos.
In the end the positive style of the early Aikido won through, and this is a very important point to make in the early development of Western Aikido was that most of the new students of Aikido were from other Martial Arts. I do not believe that we could have converted other Martial Artists to Aikido had it not been so strong and effective.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei - 8th Dan Judo, 6th Dan Karate, 6th Dan Kendo, 6th Dan Aikido.
I have referred to the many changes in Aikido over the past 46 years from its history to training and choreography and Ki Aikido and also the many Harry Potters of the Aikido world, as a direct result of these articles I was contacted by a Aikido student in the UK to tell me that she had now stopped training in Aikido because her teacher stated that he was now going to teach the students "To breath through their toes".
The most important of all the changes that have taken place in the past 46 years have to be the changes in technique and its application, the early style of Aikido was very compact and powerful. From the day of its introduction to the UK, Aikido was always taught as a circular moving Martial Art with Tori at the centre of all movement.
As Uke (the attacker) made his attack, Tori would turn within his own circle making it possible to carry out the technique in a very small area of maybe four square feet. Today the fantasy aikidoist need a football pitch.
I have seen some so called "masters" twirling Uke around on the end of one finger and pirouetting several times before being thrown the full length of the mat.
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei always taught that Uke would only "go" if the technique was effective. I often hear and have seen some of these people who say they can throw an opponent without touching them and sometimes by breathing and projecting their "Ki".
You cannot do that if someone is attacking on balance, I have never seen anyone do that to a student of mine. Of course if you do attack on balance you will then be accused of "Not harmonizing".
Aikido for real
I have read various accounts of the first Americans to practice Aikido in the early 60's. There were Americans practicing Aikido in the UK in the late 1950's at "The Hut" The Abbe School of Budo.
The Americans were members of the USAF stationed in the UK. they were always questioning " How would that work in the street?" and we would often finish up in the car park of The Hut after class and engage in some real Aikido.
Afterwards everyone would be in good spirits and have a few beers.
Sunday mornings were always the best practice sessions with the dojo doors being locked to all but the Dan grades. It was then that the Dan grades would fight each other for real. This was the only way to truly evaluate your technique.
On one occasion I was fighting with Sensei Ken Williams (The British National Coach) he hit me hard and I went down clutching my chest and moaning loudly in agony.
It was known that I didn't go down and I never made a fuss, so now everyone was concerned for me and as Sensei Williams leaned over me asking "Harry, are you OK" I lashed out with my fist at his head, just making a glancing contact, he then stepped back and kicked me in the head putting an end to my cunning.
The smallest of all the Dan grades was Eric Dollimore, he was only about 5ft-6in in height and around 130 lbs.
I always felt that Eric was avoiding me on these Sunday morning sessions, as he was about to leave the mat I said to him "Eric, would you like to try against me" he just turned and said "Sorry Harry, I have to be at my girlfriends home for lunch". As he left the mat I smiled to myself and thought "That's what I expected" the smugness did not last long as I heard a voice behind me say
"OK then Harry, can we make it quick as I must get away".
It was Eric; for a moment I was surprised then I thought to myself if you want it quick I will accommodate you.
I moved in to take him out with the one punch and the next thing I knew I had gone through the dojo office partition wall and I was still lying stunned the office floor when I heard Eric's voice call out
"See you Monday Harry, gotta go".
That was a very important lesson to me, I have never underestimated anyone since the little guy taught me a lesson.
The Grading Lottery
If in the 1950's and 60's you saw a 5th or 6th Dan you would be in awe of him. I now see so many multi grades and to be honest they would not be graded first Dan in the old days. They make these claims knowing that if they are ever challenged and prove their mettle they know they can claim that this is against the principals of Aikido.
Another favourite of these people is to juggle around with their grades and come up with multiples of matching grades, for a prime example of this abuse check out the article "British Aikido-The Controversy" on the web-site http://www.geocities.com/BritishAikido
Mitsusuke Harada Sensei "5th Dan"
Harada Sensei was my Karate teacher in the 1960's, he was then and still is a 5th Dan at the Shotokan dojo in Tokyo. he was graded by the founder of modern day Karate Gichin Funakoshi Sensei.
He taught Karate to the USAF at the Kodokan dojo after the second world war. He was graded 5th Dan by Funakoshi Sensei in 1957 and is still 5th Dan after 45 years, stating that "Any grade above 5th Dan is totally pointless".
This is exactly the feeling of Sensei Derek Eastman and myself, although we are two of the only remaining four of the original group left of Kenshiro Abbe Sensei's group from the 1950's, we both agreed that there were too many "Harry Potter" grades around, we then decided that like Harada Sensei we would make 5th Dan the highest level in our organization.
I will take a break now that these articles are complete and do some serious "Toe breathing".
This will be my last article for CyberKwoon for a while, I would like to thank Master Fabien Sena for allowing me to air my views on a subject most would try to avoid.
I do not know what direction the Martial Arts will take when all the "Old Timers " are gone.
As one of the comments (to the Cyberkwoon site forum) said "We can still make a difference".
To the one who asked after my father, he was not a martial artist, just a hard man who started working at the age of 13 years two miles underground in the South Yorkshire coal mines.
Sensei Henry Ellis.
About the Author
Henry Ellis Co-Author new book Positive Aikido.