Sunday, November 02, 2008

An aikido shibboleth

The word, shibboleth was originally a botanical term referring to a part of a plant, but it came to mean a pass-phrase or a practice that identifies a member of a group.  The word comes from the Biblical account of a battle between the Ephraimites and the Gileadites in which the Gileadites were able to use the word as a pass-phrase to identify Ephraimite enemies because the Ephraimite dialect did not contain the sound, /sh/ (so they would mispronounce it /siboleth/ (Judges 12:5-6).
All martial artists have shobboleths too.  Ways of doing things that identify us as members of a group.  I often wonder after a seminar, what are our shibboleths?  For instance, The students at Mokuren dojo have a distinctive way of performing kata as compared to the students at MSU.  But the two styles are close enough that Andy was able to do a very fine Ikkyu demo this weekend with an uke from MSU, having only practiced the material together once briefly. 
It is also frequently noted that students that learned aikido at MSU, including myself, John Kirby, James Reuster, Mike Denton, etc... All have something about their aikido that is identifiable as deriving from our teacher, John Usher.  There is just something very Usheresque about our aikido.
So, the things that we do are identifiably the same but at the same time, identifiably different.
I'd really like the folks that  were at this past ABG to answer a few questions - leave me a comment and let me know...
  • What aspects of Mokuren Dojo aikido makes us identifiable as a group? 
  • What aspects of MSU aikido makes them distinctive? 
  • What do we share?
What are our Shibboleths?


  1. Not ignoring the questions just thinking.

  2. I read the article and I'm really trying to come up with a good answer. Me and Andy were talking about it today and here are my thoughts. I'll try to answer the questions one at a time. First off, what at Mokuren makes our Aikido identifiable as a group? That's a REALLY tough question. Are we talking about Mokuren now, or Mokuren 10 years ago? Andy and Bryce both learned at Mokuren under Pat, but Pat's Aikido has changed drastically in that time. I wouldn't think Bryce and Andy trained at the same place, but it was Mokuren for both of them. However Andy, Patrick, and Kel have similair styles. Likewise Bryce, Gabe, and Pyran (the old Mokuren guys) have similar styles. I started off learning the older way, then the new way, then the old way again when I lived with Bryce, then the new way again this past week with Pat. The older group seems to have better control over applying force in key spots, but the newer groups flow sooner in their training. Which is "Mokuren"? They both are and they both learned from the same teacher, but the styles are different. The MSU guys seem a little more formalized which is cool. It looks more traditional when performing kata, but flows and ebbs just like us during practice. We all share the same history in our Aikido, the same names for the same moves, and (mostly) the same training methods. I hope that helps somewhat.

  3. a man whom i to this day consider a great friend and mentor, Patrick Waits, once told me something along the lines of: "all martial arts have the same goal-- put the other guy on the ground [so he cant hurt you]-- they just differ in the way they choose to make the guy hit the ground." I think that that is a good thing to keep in mind when considering/comparing styles.

    So here we go:

    What makes mokuren aikido what it is:
    I have often looked upon what you, Pat, have been doing in your club-- sometimes with approval, other times with apprehension, but always with great respect for you because, well, you're an awesome guy and an incredible martial artist. Disrobing mine ego i see that most of my apprehension is/was caused by my near idol worship of Usher-san, and the innate pigheaded-ness of any person caught observing a differing rendition of something that he truly loves. But onwards: I think that the single most outstanding attribute of mokuren dojo aikido is its focus on practicality in self-defense. This resonates with the focus on such things as noncommittal atemi and the brushing off feel, as well as the emphasis on flow rather than prescribed kata.

    And then we have what i consider to be the most defining aspect of the MSU club--a focus on kata, within the art of aikido. The flavor of the club is truly exemplary of Dr. Ushers upbringing within traditional japanese martial arts, though it reeks (thankfully) of an incredible focus on efficiency and effectiveness--why else would it be studied as a martial art?

    So what makes them kindred--besides the fact that Usher-san still kicks all of our asses in randori? :) To do that we have to look at each of our views/beliefs as to what makes aikido, well, aikido. Do we strive to make ourselves better through the rigor of technique? Are we attempting to save our own little piece of the world through our perfect kata and intentions? Do we just want to feel safe in a world that is as unpredictable as it is immeasurably beautiful and terrible? I guess the simple answer is that it is all and more. Each man as he awakens upon his life sees a different world, and dies whilst trying to change it to better fit his liking. So really, there is no mokuren aikido, or MSU aikido, there is a Patrick Parker aikido, a John Usher aikido, a Karl Geis aikido, a Kenji Tomiki, a Morihei Ueshiba, etc. aikido.

    And what ties us together-- the shibboleth that binds us-- is hope. Hope that what we do and practice will one day save us, whether by protecting us or protecting another. Hope that there is a shibboleth that we can cling to.

  4. wow-- that was an incredibly convoluted way of saying, "i have no $#!&ing clue."

    oh well.

  5. It is said that you will react and fight as you train. If you look at the differences in the MSU and Mokuren groups, it really points out how you train. This can be stated for any dojo. Some flow well, some don't move, some focus on strick kata, etc. I see the students at Mokuren working on the aspects of the brush off and understanding alot of broad principles. Thus, they can move and function very well in a chaotic system. At MSU, the students focus more on precision and posture, with added flow. The focus there is more to control the chaos. I think it is more a depth vs breadth issue that distinguishes the 2 clubs.

  6. absorbing... information... processing...


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