Monday, October 02, 2006

Aikido and Weapons

Aikido is often seen as the martial art of peace. So how do weapons fit into the mix? By weapons I mean the staff and the wooden sword(bokken). Osensei apparently told Hikitsuchi sensei that in Aikido the sword or staff represented Takemusu Aiki, literally the seed that gives birth to limitless techniques. So, instead of destruction, in Aikido weapons somehow represent or are included in the process of creation.

To Osensei the sword or staff(which can symbolize the spear) represented something spiritual. A number of senior Americans recall Osensei’s disapproval upon his catching them playing around with weapons. Terry Dobson told of how Osensei caught him with the bokken enacting certain inflated personal fantasies and admonished him. Robert Frager recalled an instance where he was doing jo movements and suddenly realized that Osensei was watching him. Instead of scolding him, O sensei took the staff from him and did a series of magical movements, then told Bob not to play around with the staff until he could do movements like those.

My sense is that for the Founder, the sword and staff represented some sort of interior place. So for him they were something truly deep. Perhaps watching students doing outer forms that did not match this depth was in some sense troubling, even painful, to him. Hikitsuchi sensei would use the sword or staff(at the Shingu dojo the bo or long staff is taught as opposed to the shorter jo) to demonstrate certain principles. When he picked up a bokken or bo, the energy intensity would definitely jump several levels. It would be the same for Tojima sensei. Or Anno sensei. Or Yanase sensei.

Since Aikido is seen as a defensive art, movements to protect oneself against a weapons attack can probably be seen as okay. But what of the sword to sword or staff to staff training? Harv Moscowitz once made a very good point, that in regular training the attacker lived, ie was thrown or pinned. However in paired weapons practice, each exchange seemed to end with the attacker dying, ie being cut or thrusted. My sense in this is that in weapon to weapon training the attacker still lives. The purpose of the training is to show the attacker that such an intent has an opening. So the finishing cut or thrust is to educate rather than terminate. Perhaps the end result of all this is very positive notion that all aggression carries a price with it and in the end is useless. So the aikidoist trains to acquire a positive martial spirit the end result of which is to teach and be taught the ultimate futility of violence. This is probably the number one lesson we must all learn if we are to have a world of peace.

Shochikubai no kenpo(literally the sword method of triangle, circle, square) might then be seen as the harmonious interplay of 2 compimentary forces represented by attacker and defender. Both polish themselves in a martial practice where they represent harmonizing as opposed to opposing forces. More on this later.


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