“Many of you practice as though you are doing it , the application, the technique, the training. You are not. Too late, too little, wrong place, wrong time, wrong teacher to be doing that kind of training.” Quite a shattering statement to anyone listening. Coming from Chiba Sensei who represented as martial a man as you could get added to the impact. Startled faces and even more confused ones were staring and thinking “am I wasting my time, so what have we been doing then and what does he mean? Following this he then stated “So now we have got that out of the way lets get on with it?”
“It goes to the heart of the matter, the question of what is martial in todays world”
If we accept this statement and look closer it gives us an inkling of where to go. It forces us to look at the Aikido on display. It also goes to the heart of the matter, the question of what is Aikido and what is martial in todays world. It reminds us that these martial traditions came from martial cultures. Unlike our societies of today few or probably none of us were born in an environment where being martial is part of that culture in the daily life. A place where a person already has a sense of it even before they can walk. They are surrounded by it and have been raised in it. For us this is rarely the case. So if our societies are not martial then how do we interpret these systems of training? We have to first establish the fact that a “martial” sense is innate in all of us. It is there regardless of the circumstances we are born in. It is a fact of life.
“Someone new, a complete beginner – what is their idea of martial?”
In regards to this I have only known Aikido as a martial art. My choice of teacher Chiba Sensei reflected this. He lived and breathed “martial culture”. His life was devoted to it from childhood to adult. The last of the Samurai spirit so to speak. How does this experience with him , the training and the transmission from teacher to student continue in some shape today? This background is part of my understanding of martial arts but what would a beginner think of when looking for martial arts and Aikido? What is their idea of martial? Why train, what is it they are looking for? Is it the exercise, the movement, the discipline , self defence? All of these or none of these? I would add to this and flip it around. What does a student bring to the training?
What do you bring to the training?
When considering what students want it is worth taking a look at how Aikido has evolved over the years. As Aikido became more popular the broader its remit became. Its “non-competitive” outlook, its emphasis on mutual respect and growth was and is a brilliant premise but also a weakness as it tends to push Aikido to something “safe and comfortable”. This way has its benefits but it also presents a problem. It generally lacks an edge. In order to accommodate the broader public remit Aikido as a martial art is lost. Where are the martial artists in Aikido but equally where is the martial in those who want to train? I am not suggesting a dojo of hard nosed ruthless warriors. Not at all. Get conditioned, get fit, gain a healthier mind and body, gain skills but also bring that fighter or spirit to the class. “Get rid of the slack and stiffen the spine.” said the founder. Aikido needs to retain its spine, it’s vigour, its “Ki or spirit “ and so do we as student and teacher alike.