Commonalities and Differences

From “agasan’s” blog:

On June 1, there was a seminar I attended that was hosted by Edogawa-ku Aikido Federation, taught by Kuriowa Yoshio sensei. Despite not being in the best of health, sensei taught dauntlessly and impressively. I would like to pass along some of the many things I was able to hear on that occasion.

First is something that may be related and similar to, or different from, something that I wrote in a previous blog entry. What I had written was, “aiki techniques can be found in other budo and sports.” On this occasion sensei spoke on some very specific examples on the use of the body and their commonalities.

For example, when in sumo one tries to do uwate-nage or shitate-nage, the way the arm that grasps the mawashi moves is the same as for shihonage. Conversely, the way one uses one’s arm to tighten and raise the opponent’s arm is the same as for ikkyo. Furthermore, in table tennis when one does a forehand it is shihonage, and a backhand is ikkyo.

There were other examples given such as baseball and golf, sensei’s point being, “The movements of aikido are wonderful because they are common to those in various budo and sports. One mustn’t consider the movements of aikido to be unique. It is a mistake to think that you are doing something that is special and different from others.”

I, too, think that, broadly speaking (excepting those people who are double-jointed), no matter what sport people are doing, it is people who are doing it and the use of the body is the same. However I had not thought about it so specifically as sensei described. Particularly, the words, “Aikido is wonderful because of the commonalities” hit home. I was able to understand both the omote and ura meanings of the teaching, “One shouldn’t be content simply because it’s aikido.”

Another topic: As I related previously, Kuroiwa sensei had told us about O-sensei’s teaching about shomen-uchi. I inquired about this again. Once, O-sensei happened to look in on practice, in which the people were doing shomen-uchi as we do normally today. He became very angry and scolded them, “Who taught you such a thing?! Is it Tohei?” However, as in the similar occurrence regarding kenjutsu, it was Kisshomaru sensei teaching. On that occasion, O-sensei taught that for shomen-uchi one should not take back the arm but strike straight at the opponent’s face.

If this was the case, then current aikido forms are continued in a way that was denied by O-sensei. However, Saito sensei wrote that he was taught that one should enter while matching the timing of the take-back of shomen-uchi (the historical timing must have been different), so it would appear that even if one is fine with the opponent doing shomen-uchi with a take-back, one should not do so oneself. As Kuroiwa sensei says, aikido teaches lies.

In aikido shomen-uchi is basic among basics, and it may seem desirable for authoritative figures to have a uniform, clear teaching. On the other hand, it could be that the possibilities and appeal that lie within aikido exist where it is not so.

There were two outstanding points in this text. One was about the uniqueness of aikido. The other was about shomen-uchi.

Re: uniqueness. These days when I am asked what aikido is, I default to a very terse, dictionary-like answer and depend almost totally on the person who asked the question as to how I respond to them. Most people, when they ask, also give a lot of information regarding their preconceptions and what kind of answer they are seeking. In any case, I am probably not one to “sell” aikido very well as a unique, novel thing.

When I hear people say something like, “In aikido, you…” I have a reaction along the lines of, “Why couldn’t someone do that regardless of having aikido in their background?” as well as “Well, I think we could do this also, and while it is good to consider overwhelming people with information, it may be dangerous to give people the impression that we don’t do it at all”. I think I have some discomfort at seeing aikido as a sort of philosophy, dogma, or religion, which I feel I see frequently. The “shoulds” and “have tos”. “In aikido you shouldn’t inflict pain or damage.” “In aikido you have to blend with the other person’s energy.”

And often the case is, it is followed by, “But in reality if my family was being harmed I’d do whatever it takes, etc.” The “but” says to me that that person is saying, “I would act like this according to aikido thinking, but in reality if I faced this situation I’d abandon that thinking and act accordingly”. However, I think all budo is behaving in accordance with the situation. To think that because you do aikido, you behave (or should behave) in a certain way I think is restrictive and possibly foolishly dangerous.

I think aikido or any such art is about how to be, that is, how to exist in and experience the self and the world. Budo, and aikido in particular, may emphasize how to interact with other people. Aikido in particular may emphasize how to interact with other people in a wider variety of situations (eg age-wise, gender-wise, experience-wise) without a clear goal (eg winning, completing a technique successfully no matter what, getting compliance etc from the other person, etc).

Re: shomen-uchi. This is actually not a big blip on my radar but some things ran through my head. One was the film Tomiki made in which the uke very slowly and deliberately approaches nage with his arm already sticking out. One is the emphasis on punching in Saotome sensei circles. One is the stereotype of “running at nage with your arm sticking out” in aikido. And another is the way I remember sticking my arm out in Endo sensei’s practices, in a punching/thrusting motion but with the handblade, not fist. Finally there are the connections I’ve made between all of the things I’ve encountered in my aikido experience with what I’ve been exposed to through the sanchin kata and taichi – namely the common use of the body, and the “un-necessity” for speed.

Basically speed and abruptness are overrated and not very necessary, and the whole “sticking your arm out while going to nage” thing is okay if done properly. The rub is, of course, “properly”.

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