Thursday, June 21, 2012

Putting the aiki in aikijo

So, I've been contemplating for a while - what is it that makes aikijo aiki?  For instance, if an aikido guy does a karate bo kata, is it aikijo just by virtue of the fact that it's an aikido guy doing it?  If not, why not?  Can one get better at aikijo by studying medieval quarterstaff manuals?
Seems to me there is a pretty distinct difference between aikijo and pretty much all other ways of weilding the stick that I've seen.  But even though it is distinctly its own thing, it's kinda hard to put your finger right on what is different.  I think it has to do with the body management and strategies that the practitioner is implementing with the stick.
Morihei Ueshiba did not teach aikijo - he did aiki, sometimes involving a stick.  He was doing aiki and then uke picked up a stick and Ueshiba was still doing aiki and he took the stick away from uke and swung it and he was still doing aiki, and uke grabbed the stick and Ueshiba was still just doing aiki as uke sailed off into the sunset.
Ueshiba, when asked, "What is aikido?" replied, "When I move around, that is aikido."  In other words, "You want to see aikido, look at what I'm doing right now - how I'm moving around."  - he was just saying something like, "My motion incorporates and serves as an example of those principles of aiki.
I guess all this stream of consciousness boils down to this - Our jo work must necessarily adhere to the same principles as our taijutsu in order to be aiki-jo.  The same principles must govern our stick work as govern our taijutsu (and our knife work, and our sword, and our pistol training...)
Ueshiba didn't seem to have a bulleted list of the ten (or however many) principles that make moving around into aiki, but here is a list that I came up with some time back that seems to serve pretty well...

  • relaxation
  • shizentai (posture)
  • metsuke (eye control)
  • ashi sabaki (footwork)
  • ki-musubi (synchronization with the opponent)
  • ma-ai (personal space and timing)
  • move offline (the aiki-brushoff)
  • orenaite (unbendable arm) and kite (ki-hands)
  • kuzushi (off-balancing the opponent)
  • atemi (striking the opponent down)
  • osaekomi (suppressing the opponent)
  • zanshin (remaining aware)
...and here is a much more extensive list compiled by someone much smarter and more skilled than me.
How much time do we spend going through the motions of the aikijo material or the Sankata jo material or the Rokukata jo material, blocking in the moves, trying to get the hang of the techniques (thinking technique instead of principle) and how much time do we work on trying to figure out how these principles of aiki govern the use of the stick?
The aiki appears to lie largely in the strategy, but when we work with sticks (or knives) we tend to get stuck thinking tactically.
Patrick Parker
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