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Aikido, where there is no mercy

  • August 23, 2021
  • Ferenc Nemeth

Master Shoji Nishio once said that AIKIDO is nothing but a method that can be applied in any martial art. It is undeniable that practicing AIKIDO almost always means practicing martial arts. If AIKIDO is a method, are you sure you are limited to martial arts?

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A friend of mine, who has been my training partner for more than 10 years, told me that his daughter loved riding, and he regularly took her to the horse riding school. One day, as he was waiting for her to finish her riding lesson, he decided to try horseback riding himself. He enthusiastically recounted that riding, "working" with the horse was actually AIKIDO. It was the same feeling as performing an exercise in just the optimal rhythm, position and timing. He had never ridden a horse before, but he knew this feeling, and he tried to find it in riding, as he did in training. But what is this feeling?

I am writing this during my summer holiday at Lake Balaton. I love this place, I love the water and water sports. I learned to windsurf as a child, before I became acquainted with AIKIDO. Very pleasant sport and great challenge as well. It’s hard to describe the power of a strong wind blowing into a 6-square-foot sail. This AIKIDO is much more “cruel” than training. There is no grace here, no slight or missed hit :-) So many things must be aligned to get on the board in wavy conditions, stand upright and use the power of high winds. Balance, gradation, direction, position and rhythm are all important. If we are skillful we can dominate the situation, but it may change from moment to moment and we can easily become "uke" from "tori". If we fail to create the ideal conditions, we have no chance to work with the wind. After practicing AIKIDO for many years, I think surfing is very sophisticated AIKIDO.

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I could give countless more examples from different areas of life, where we can meet a similar feeling and find that this feeling is related to AIKIDO. I gave the above examples to see, it’s true that we start practicing AIKIDO through a form of movement, but it’s important to see, it’s not just martial arts or self-defense. It's just a way to practice. By learning about AIKIDO, we can gain skills that can be used well in other areas of our lives. Practice teaches cooperation, develops a sense of connecting to another movement almost unnoticed, cooperating with it, and even taking control of it if necessary.

The second example clearly shows that if we rely on our mere strength we stand no chance against much stronger "opponents" such as high winds. It is important to understand that training is not about fighting. What true Martial Art teaches us is to avoid fighting. Not to run away or to be a coward but pure technical solutions. During practising we observe where tensions arise in our bodies, “blockages” in our movements or breaks in our contacts with our partners. Be ahead of the "attacker" by a quarter or half a pace, make sure your position prevents him from completing his attack without taking away his hope. Our practice needn't be spectacular, large throws and falls are often based on a pre-planned scenario and intended to dazzle the audience. Inner feelings are the most important to control your partner and yourself as well. This control is not violent for the partner, it rather feels like riding a horse. I might as well have written that riding together with a horse, but I believe it is clear for the reader anyway. In AIKIDO, unfortunately, this is not always that clear.

We all have a choice in what we want to practice and in what direction we would like to improve.