Article by Sugano sensei

Link to Sugano sensei article

What Is Aikido And What Does Training Mean To Us


When it comes to progress, I think we may have to ask how progress relates to aikido. In a sense consciousness to achieve or to progress is the essence of sports. In the world of sports, one is considered to have achieved his or her goal when that person becomes a champion.

However, aikido exists outside such a frame of progress. There is no clear attainment point in aikido no matter how many years one practices. In other martial arts, the results of practice are clear by the number of people one threw in a lesson. Aikido has no such clear results. One must meet the demands of self learning. It can be hard to continue aikido unless one has a desire to constantly learn.

I believe such a desire entails exercising a capacity to revisit and evolve. For example, at first, one may have the desire to be strong. What form this desire takes depends on the current state of the individual. At first, it may entail learning the technical curriculum, grasping the philosophy and its implications, and knowing to some extent the history of the art. By learning the technical curriculum, one faces certain demands. Then one’s goal may evolve to focus on the patience, self-awareness, humility, and perseverance to realize the precision of the technical curriculum. Next, by encountering all the complications and confounding situations that prevent precision that don’t necessarily lie inside oneself, one may focus on one’s relation, attitude, apprehension, and reactions with respect to other people. If one desires to be among other people in a way that one would define as “strong”, then one would face the realization of being weak or lacking in various contexts. One’s weakness in the various contexts could not be overcome the way it would, apparently, as in the context of an aikido practice where one may do so in the physical dimension. Revisiting and re-forming one’s goals is closely related to constantly learning.

The teaching method, too, is an important subject. In the case of sports, there are matches, so there is a clear result. Since one’s progress is apparent, the teaching method has always been studied and evaluated. Meanwhile, in aikido, the basic teaching method whereby students repeat the throws and techniques shown by their teacher and then repeats them has not changed from old days too much. It is important that the teacher tries to make the training meaningful for the students, and it should be done with an intention to help the students develop their ability. No development or the progress will be made only by showing one’s strength and preeminence.

The teacher’s purview is only the development of aikido ability. It isn’t to counsel you to become a better husband or type up reports faster at work. Thus, despite every student coming in with their individual histories and current issues which they may somehow relate to their aikido practice, the aikido teacher doesn’t directly meddle with any of it. Thus it can only be the student’s responsibility to improve or otherwise affect their life outside of their aikido practice. Of course to some extent the teacher could have a part in inspiring the student to connect their aikido practice with life off the mat.

Progress also depends on how the students would like to practice. One might simply enjoy training as recreation. For those people who would like to train seriously, it will be more interesting and helpful for the development of their abilities if they have the right kind of teaching and opportunities.

In Belgium, I teach classes called “inner school” in response to the solicitation of students’ desire to learn further. I initially limited the classes to only 40 students with black belts.  I call it a school program, rather than a seminar. It takes place in a training camp form. There also was a request in the Netherlands, so I started the school over there, too. Even though there are only few of these schools, there are people who wish to attend programs like this with great interest. I believe that more places and more opportunities should be given to such people.

Levels of Understanding

In aikido, one learns by experiencing through the body. This alone would only result into physical experience, even after 10 years of practice. If one continues practicing for many years, of course, the body becomes strong. However, the level of understanding can still be doubtful.

Everything is learned physically as a result of experience, but to display what has been learned, some verbal expression and other methods become necessary. Hence, one should find opportunities and try to learn various things outside of aikido.

Osensei realized it in the Omoto religion. I don’t think one could fully understand the discipline of aikido without something like that. Learning by the physical experiences certainly is important, but I think it is also important to experience something new besides aikido to stimulate one’s thought and brain.

It is necessary to study basics things without being disturbed by one’s own mood and the feelings. The lesson method of aikido is left to the decision of each instructor, and this is a good thing about aikido. If strictly codified, the independence which is the merit of aikido is lost. Of course, balance is important, but I think it is better that one has a good level of skills, specifically posture, the sense of maai, directionality, the principle of the sword line, gaze and so on. It is often seen in enbu (martial art performance) that people just stand straight before a partner waiting for the attack. This is because there is no awareness of the sword line at all. Osensei frequently talked about gravitation training. Gravitation training is for learning how to lead and go together with the partner’s movement. One can learn this using katatetori.

Such basics can be learned through body movements. In other words, the principle of aikido skills will be understood through the apprehension of body movements. Small details of each technique are different, depending on the individuals, but there is always a sense of maai and directionality in any technique. Therefore, as long as there is an understanding of the principle of the skills, it can be applied to all movements. That understanding is indispensable to progress to a further stage.


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