A blog with some news, reports and articles from the Aikido community around the world.
Edited by Lawrence Warry & Ze'ev Erlich

Friday, May 6, 2016

May 2016

Why Aiki?

First of all I'd like to apologize for being away for so long. The last post was indeed the end of last year. It has taken a few months of change in my personal life before I could collect myself and get back into blogging. My personal change process has brought me to look at this blog also in a new light. Rather than making a deadline for the next issue, I will blog as I feel and you will get posts from me more or less real-time according to moments of inspiration that I gain throughout the year.
Such an inspiration arose now after reflecting on starting a new Aikido group in Amsterdam and the development of the Aikido group I started up in the Hague 2 years ago.
My inspiring moment came up when I realized that beginner students tend to grasp quickly the notion of "Ki" (the concept of universal energy, such as prana in Yoga and chi in Thai Chi) but not "Aiki". Aiki is the idea of joining energies/connecting/being one with others.
So, it lead me to the question: "Why Aiki?". Why should we put so much emphasis in joining Ki in particular. What is the benefit of doing this and how do we project that learning to the beginner?
If the "Ai" part was not so important, O-Sensei would have just invented the art as "Ki-Do" (the way of Ki or universal energy)?
After all this is what yoga is in some way. It is the way of "prana" (prana being the sanskrit equivalent of Ki). In a similar way, Tai Chi and Chi Gung are ways of cultivating Chi (the Chinese for Ki). And, without under-estimating the intricacies that go with a deep learning of the yoga traditions and Chinese martial traditions, the question lies nevertheless therein, what does the "Ai" bring further to Aikido than mere Ki development?
Ultimately, the "Ai" is the linking factor in the mystery and mastery of Aikido. The founder of Aikido, O-Sensei explained Aiki as that which impels any attacker not further to think about attacking and thereby harmony being generated in one's environment.
Literal quote from O-Sensei: "At the energetic and spiritual levels there is no separation between the tori and the uke in Aikido. Aikido takes us out of the illusion of separation/ attack".
This is probably the most difficult aspect of Aikido to grasp for a beginner. How can you imagine a real attack and Aikido's answer being "it's just an illusion"? So it takes some patience of the teacher (and students) before the student's mind transforms into another way of thinking and before we can really practice Aiki. What is the use of practicing such a thing when the rest of the world is talking about the attack in another way (even if it is an illusion of an attack)? Well, that leads to the title of this article! Why Aiki?
Practicing the "Aiki" aspect of Aikido has many different forms. One can practice it with aligning weapons (for example bokken practice, wherein attacking movements are fused and blended). One also practices Aiki in the connection exercises for both uke and tori. After some time of practicing Aikido, the beginner transforms into an intermediate. The turning point is the moment when the student not only practices technique but also tries to put Aiki into what they practice.
When Aiki is added, the practice gains a new dynamic. Movements are less rigid. The breathing of uke and tori are unified. The responses are smoother and better carried out due to the partner's impulses being felt and acknowledged. The uke and tori deepen their awareness of their centers, of their limitations, of their focus, of themselves, and, of one another. They essentially become more engaged and the whole movement becomes one body instead of two bodies moving.
So, Aiki becomes the essence of what is Aikido. It is what makes it stand out from just being a martial art or just developing Ki. When there is Aiki there is the attainment of enlightenment and the doing away with any winner or any loser. It's the ideal, of course, and we all have a long way to go. The higher one goes up in rank the more humble one should be to this realization and, there, we have the spiritual message of Aikido. It's not obvious in the beginning why Aikido should be a spiritual practice. In the same way it's not obvious how music could be spiritual for the beginner guitarist or pianist. When we make a practice of anything and we embody it in our lives that practice becomes, in all its glory, a spiritual product of our actions.
The fact that the beginner has not practiced much is the very reason, therefore, why Aiki and it's spiritual realization is so very difficult to grasp. Despite the road being a long one the Aiki concept is important to know from the beginning and it's important that we try each time to realize it even if we fail time and time again for it to be realized. But, do not despair beginners! Yes, the journey is long. Remember the old Zen saying, the path is more important (and if I could add, more fun and more educational) than the goal and you'll have a great time of fun and learning on this beautiful journey.

Lawrence Warry