Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Plain talk about Aikido

Tristan Sutrisno working on Dave Piehota.
David Belsky observing.

While I’m clearly not an Aikido-ka, from my years training with Tristan Sutrisno I have studied his Aikido studies and observed his technique execution (far superior to my own) as well as his Shotokan and his Siliat tjijamde. The result is a far different view of those arts than most internet discussion as well as inspiration for my own studies forever.

Along the way I discovered how Sutrisno Sensei’s Aikido, based on his father’s studies in Japan in the 1930’s, related to the available Aikido literature. And Aikido is one of the most carefully documented arts in the world. The English speaking Aikido-ka in Japan long published the Aikido Journal detailing a ton of information about Aikido history, the differences between instructors, the comparison of Aikido to other arts, including hands on comparisons. Add to that I have too many books on Aikido, never met an Aikido book I didn’t like, and what I discovered was the training had received gave me the tools to work other aikido technique for study.

The Sutrisno training worked to develop the movement applied to hard focused strikes, and while the first step was very set for beginner development, it had the goal of working against random attacks. There is a lot of time between beginning study and advanced execution.

Many of the questions about Aikido can be used by taking them to their simplest form, dropping the mythology and seeing Aikido as technique period.

So let’s go.

History – Aikido developed by Usheiba Morehi based on his studies in several Japanese arts but primarily his study of Daito Ryu AikiJutsu was it’s core. Daito ryu is a very complex system with thousands of techniques that can take up to 40 years to learn. It was a private Samuari tradition and the empty hand practices derived from sword technique. Usheiba was a licensed instructor of Daito Ryu but not a full adept by any means.

While he started teaching Daito Ryu in time it turned into his Aikido practice. Pre-WWII the art was done solely for martial practice.

Aikido did not involve using the opponent’s force against themselves, that describes Judo. Instead Aikido was a methodology of using joint manipulation to become locks and projections, each using the pain induced to move the opponent. This of course often involves body shifting to create the opening for the aikido response, but it also uses the aikido response to move the opponent to the completion of the technique.

Aikido in the 30’s in Japan certainly involved training young men for military service. Atemi, IMO, became a method to compensate for less movement skill, to create an opening to allow the aikido technique time to work. Those Aikido groups coming from pre-WWII origins still retain the use of Atemi as a function al tool.

The conclusion of WWII were an epiphany for Usheiba Sensei. He realized that with atomic bombs aikido wasn’t needed for military purposes. Atemi was dropped, the smaller circular manipulations became larger circles and Aikido began to move working against focused attacks to working with a compliant uke and a general flow of an attack.

Aikido is not one thing with one correct description. Take a1,000 different Aikido schools and you’ll find a 1,000 different anwers for Aikido. Certainly different groups that hang together have similar purposes. Yes some Aikido is not done for martial purposes by design, especially as Usheiba aged he merged his own religious thoughts into his later teachings. You find a wide range of different aikido practices each coming from different era’s of Usheiba teaching from different decades.

Atemi – Atemi sounds very mysterious. The Aikido I was taught was fully integrated into Shotokan training and the term wasn’t used. As I began to read about other Aikido it took on the mysterious meaning of something special.

Actually Atemi is just striking the opponent to create an opening, and often just striking vital points like the throat to become a ‘stop hit’ to give time to enter an Aikido technique. For those practicing karate you’re just changing the name of your fist strike, period. Actually solid karate makiwara practice can yield much stronger attacking. Go train for 15 years with John Kerker and you’ll end up with a punch that will drop anyone no matter where your strike. In that case the Aikido followup is un-necessary unless you make a mistake (errors do happen).

Simply pre-WWII Aikido groups use Atemi. Post-WWII Aikido groups don’t because of Usheiba’s change for aikido’s meaning (he didn’t change the techniques just the way of practice).

A number of years ago the Aikido Journal staff in Japan translated and re-published Usheiba’s pre-WWII Aikido book ‘Budo’ and it clearly demonstrates atemi striking in Aikido practice (not that Usheiba with his superior movement technique really needed it.
When it was published I remember in Europe (where Aikido was controlled by Japanese instuctors trained in post-WWII Aikido) instructors banned their students from purchasing that book. To them it was not part of Aikido.

One of my favorite aiki strikes is a finger tip flow strike into the throat. A flow strike because I’m not using karate striking but flowing the fingertips forward and their incoming throat impales itself on my fingers. You get the most interesting results such as when they fly back 20 feet.

While Atemi has it’s uses it is not primarily the study of Aikido. I theorize that Usheiba having to train larger groups in Aikido in less time focused on Atemi as a way to make Aikido workable.

Yes Aikido is a skill art, most art are in the end. It does take years. Those who can do, those who can’t complain, period.

Aikido in use – every art has to start someplace. Aikido comes out of partner practice and the more skilled the partner the more skill you can build in yourself. It’s techniques can lock, can pin, can project, can break, can truly disrupt an opponent. Of ten the difference from basic practice to advanced practice is not the technique used but the angle it is applied, where one release point allows a skilled partner to move away, another release point for the same movement can dump them directly on the top of their head with very different results. Likewise changing the angle of a projection takes one from a standard breakfall to an unreal break fall with no logic requiring total body control to survive.

It is no wonder most demonstrations don’t include the high risk components, Aikido is not a art form that gives dangerous ideas to lower level students.

While there is difference in terminology between different aikido groups, one of Aikido’s simplest locks (Go Kyu) is not taught to beginners and seems to be reserved to much more advanced students. IMO the reason it’s easy to go to far with that technique and beginners not in control of themselves could easily damage each other, so wait till they advanced to learn something simple. (Note this is just my opinion, using logic to try and explain why some things appear structured a certain way. Perhaps Aikido groups teach it earlier?)

As Daito Ryu is a much larger art than Aikido, even partial study of a few Aikido concepts will provide good tools if they’re practiced sincerely.

Roy Suenaka (born in Hawaii) in his book “Complete Aikido” described how he became the first successful Aikido instructor on Okinawa. Earlier Japanese instructors met physical resistance which they couldn’t acquit and ending up leaving. Usheiba actually gave Roy a teaching license to allow him to try teaching there, and in turn when those with the wrong attitude showed up to bounce an Aikido-ka, in turn he rolled them out the door until his students own proficiency allowed the same results.

Note just because Senior karate-ka on Okinawa taught Karate was not for fighting, there are always those too dumb to understand, in Roy’s case they found out they were not as skilled as they thought. [Note Roy’s book on Aikido contains a great deal about his karate studies with Hohen Soken, too, about ½ of the book text].

IMO it’s clear the issue isn’t Aikido won’t work against certain attacks, the issue is whether the full training program properly prepares one to do so. Aikdo programs for different purposes are fine as long as everyone understands what they are studying. The Aikido Journal staff once tested their skills against a karate-ka and realized their method of training did not equip them for those attacks.

Weapons and Aikido – Some Aikido groups do include weapons training, all of which goes back to Usheiba’s own studies and especially Daito ryu where weapons techniques were the origin of the empty hand techniques.

I’m of mixed mind about those practices. Many of the uses demonstrated against tanto, jo, kintana are based on specialized attacks that truly advanced adherents would never use instead using attacks that would end the aikido-ka. In that sense they’re pretend. On the other hand working empty hand against the weapon is skill building, making you move faster and surer to become a force multiplier in one’s.

In fact my group has been able to link the Aikido skill building drills (the locks always end in taking the opponent to the ground for a pin) to the knife self defenses demonstrated in Nakasone’s “Karate Do Taiken” from 1938. The relationship is so similar especially as Sutrisno Sensei’s father studied in Japan at that time. Our techniques are using the punch instead of the tanto thrust, but the response is very similar.

Such studies with a weapon do teach how grasping the hand holding the weapon becomes a powerful force multiplier in its own right.

Then tie it to the Aikido 4 direction throw shi-ho nage being related to the Daito Ryu 4 direction cut. In fact I correlate the study of weapons, done with correct force for decades in Aikido, in Northern Eagle Claw and using Okinawan Kobudo with Karate actually strengthen the grip over the years, the harder you train the stronger your grab, all of which enhances those arts in many ways.

Aikido and Street Fighting – Actually who cares about something as minor as street fighters? On 38 years now and I’ve never been attacked. Of course I don’t hang in the streets, don’t do bars or go looking for trouble. There’s a reason the seniors always maintained these arts weren’t for fighting. That’s because they, when properly used, were to end a need for fighting, the opponent should be on the ground.

I practice many arts and will equally take a tai chi technique, an Aikido technique or a Karate technique and take your head off with it. I understand the fractals of how movement can be used.

Take irimi nage I can use the first ½ of the technique to set up the 2nd ½ of the technique, or I can use the first ½ of the technique to k.o. the attacker and let them drop. And it’s just movement from Chinto done with the same sequence, and it’s just the 3rd basic siliat tjimande technique I practice. The movement Irimi Nage

Now some arts take more time to acquire skill, and the same movement potential in another art doesn’t make the same skill easier to acquire. The time to learn something depends on the individual and the approach of the training program.

As no school of study I know of really worries about street fighting the pace of instruction matches what an instructor feels appropriate for their area of the world. More violent areas obviously suggesting different training needs, but to my best knowledge most arts don’t make those distinctions. But it depends, serious Krav Maga in Israel is build for specifically different needs, and any art can make similar modifications if needed.
Should the Aikido-ka use their training to avoid personal conflict? Sure who wants to break someone up anyway? We have moral and legal reasons not to do so, always tempered with serendipity’s requirements. If we gain confidence not to respond automatically we can hope to direct the aggressor’s mood another way.

If not they create an opening and the rest is correct practice.

As for what a particular Aikido school uses for their basis, that’s they’re responsibility.

I see Aikido as a tool, period. A technique that I can move from potential to actual use.

Aikido will not stop conflict but it can end it. You on the other hand can choose another answer if possible.


Tristan said...

Domo Arigato Smith Sensei,
It is my privileged and honor to be mention at your blog.
Very good article and well done.
Hope to see you soon,
Tristan Sutrisno

Narda said...

Another nice blog. I didn't know you studied Aikido as well. :)