Actually, I could have given this article the title: Aikido IS a Martial Art.
Both statements carry little significance for me.
It sounds to me like saying that Ford, Mercedes, Peugeot and Renault are Automobiles. It is a tautology. Denying that Lada, Mazda, Dacia, Toyota are Automobiles does not make any sense either. They are obviously cars, they have four wheels, a steering wheel, a driver’s seat, and you can drive around in them. By definition they are Automobiles.
At most you could make it into a personal statement; “I like a Ford car more than a Toyota”. But from that it does not follow that Toyota is not an Automobile. Or you could say based on your physique that this particular car suits you better. So if you are small, you might choose a Mini or if you are tall you might look for a model that gives a lot of space for your legs. That is a personal choice, it does not follow that all other cars therefore are NOT Automobiles. One could also look at it from a practical point of view. I live in the mountains and the roads are not always that good, some roads may be covered with gravel and small stones, others are muddy. A four wheel drive would be a sensible choice. A sports car would be useless and even dangerous. But again, from that it does not follow that sports cars are NOT Automobiles.
Aikido is a Martial Art is a tautology.
Of course you can make it into a personal statement; I like this particular style of Aikido. But from that it does not follow that all other styles are NOT a Martial Art. You could choose a style based on your physique; some Aikido styles base their techniques on very little movement, this might suit a heavy build person, other Aikido styles emphasise lots of movement, this might suit a lighter built person more. From that it does not follow that the Aikido styles that you did not choose are NOT a Martial Art. Or you could choose from a practical point of view, say you want to learn self defence. Then you may come to the conclusion that one particular Aikido style will teach you the needed skills quicker or more effective in a short term. But from that it does not follow that all other Aikido styles are NOT a Martial Art.
Stating that one Aikido style or another is NOT a Martial Art is not only ignorant, it is usually meant as a derogatory comment. That in itself shows an attitude that is not befitting a true warrior or a sincere practitioner of Aikido.
Does this mean that all Aikido dojo and all Aikido instructors are of excellent quality ? No of course not. If you need to bring your car to a repairshop you will find that some mechanics are really dedicated to their profession and have a genuine love for automobiles, but that there are also those that are into it only for the money.
I know of a few dojo that are being lead by instructors with very limited experience in Aikido. Someone has given them, probably on their request, a sandan and they feel more than comfortable to teach. For someone who is unfamiliar with Aikido it will look like proper Aikido, it is only the experienced practitioner that can see that the Aikido techniques that are being taught are riddled with “suki” (openings, weak spots). The students of that particular dojo will never realise this, unless they visit a seminar of another sensei or go to another dojo with a more experienced instructor. But these visits are often discouraged by the instructor, so the students will never experience the difference between a genuinely effective technique and what they are practicing.
It is regrettable that Aikido is misrepresented like this, but on the other hand it does not seem to prevent the students to having fun with it in their once a week or once a month training sessions. It is the downside of our consumer society, of our fallacy that all people are equal and the same, it is our culture of entitlement and of deskilling people.
In our society a successful person is someone who has influence and money. There is no real appreciation for requiring a skill, for achieving a high level of proficiency through dedication and years of hard work, people no longer believe in mastery of an Art.
It is not so strange that we have a generation that think it is normal to buy a degree. Dan grades can be bought. Or gotten through political or personal manipulations. The value of Dan grades has been deflated since the start of Aikido and in no way represents the actual skills of the practitioner. We all know that. And yet everyone flaunts his degree as if it is of any importance. In reality it is nothing but marketing. Aikido has become part of that consumer society.
Whenever someone states that; “Aikido must be practiced as a martial art”, I cannot help but wonder if this is some kind of personal frustration or that it is a form of marketing. In other words; his Aikido style is a real martial art and the other styles are not.
Suppose that there is some validity in the statement; than what does it mean? Is this person training himself or others to go to war ? It could not be a modern war, the skills of Aikido are based on 17th century samurai techniques and they are quite useless on the modern battlefields. Is he talking about Martial art as a sport? Well, except for the hidden competition among instructors and their organisations, and with the exception of Tomiki Aikido, there are no contests in Aikido. In MMA fights we never see an Aikido practitioner in the ring. The simple reason is that no Aikido practitioner in his weekly training sessions knows how to prepare himself for such an event, he lacks the skills, the attitude, the method. Or is with the statement only meant that one should be able to defend himself in case one is attacked on the streets? First of all; how often do you get attacked on the streets? Probably never or not very often. Second; it takes no longer than three – four months of training in basic techniques to be able to effectively defend yourself. Compare this to the time that one needs to learn the basics of Aikido; a minimum of five years.
Statements as Aikido is a martial art or Aikido should be practiced as a martial art are utterly meaningless.
In order to understand what our genuine aim is when we practice Aikido, we need to study some of the history of the way of the warrior.
What we in modern day society see as a collection of techniques that can be bought or can be learned from watching Youtube was in historical times a way of Life. Learning how to fight had only in a very basic way anything to do with techniques. The real skills had more to do with courage, with reasoning, with sensing the intent of the other, with becoming a complete person. And that meant requiring skills that at first sight have little to do with “martial art”.
Socrates is in modern times considered as the most important philosopher of his time, the influence of his thinking continues to this very day. In his time he was considered a wise man, a master of skills – not only because of the depth of his thinking, or his extraordinary way of teaching, and his broad knowledge of many subjects but also because of his skills as a sculptor and as a fierce warrior.
We see the same in other cultures, the warrior is someone who develops into a whole person with all kinds of skills that benefit himself and his community. He is not someone who is only a “martial artist” (whatever that might mean).
One of the most well-known Japanese examples is Miyamoto Musashi, samurai, skilled swordsman, experienced warrior, philosopher, writer, painter, Buddhist.
But for the Aikido practitioner the best example is Ueshiba Morihei sensei; mathematician, naturalist, fireman, gardener, philosopher, calligrapher,practitioner of Budo, founder of Aikido.
When we consider the life of the founder we see that he is very much a warrior in the tradition of his ancestors. His daily training in Budo is intense, strenuous, physically demanding, and a continuous process of discovery. He follows the ancient samurai lifestyle. It is a simple lifestyle. Part of his daily routine is studying the Classics. At any given moment his students would find him somewhere in his house or in the garden with a book in his hand. He enjoyed working in his garden, which provided food for him and his family and students (Gardening is a traditional samurai skill, each samurai needed to be able to provide for himself, his family and his community). His spiritual practices were also part of his daily regime. That meant that he would visit shrines and temples, attend Shinto and Buddhist ceremonies, bring offerings and prayer to kami sama.
All this was what he called Aiki. Or Aiki no Michi.
He did not explain Aikido merely as a fighting skill. He explained it as a way to become a complete person, as a way to connect with nature, as a way to better society, as a path to wisdom, as a path of empathy and reconciliation, even as a bridge to peace and harmony.
More than ever we need instructors that have the dedication and inspiration to teach Aikido as a way of life, not as a method of fighting (or as a way of making money).
It is in that sense that I state that Aikido is NOT a martial art.
Auvergne, spring 2015