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Ueshiba Aikido e-Reflections
ISSN 1712-2341
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Aug 10, 2011

"Do you practice hard or soft Aikido?"

From a person I met on the street one day

The reason he asked was his brother used to practice Aikido at a dojo where (including him) there would always be someone ending up with a broken arm or wrist during classes. He also knows of another dojo where the practise is so soft and slow that he wonders about the efficacy of that practice.

Reflecting on the characters AI-KI-DO and what it means, there really is no hard or soft - it will be whatever it needs to be, to be in harmony with whatever force is exerted. This manner of technique-application is possible through weekly paired-practice, to immerse, transform, and improve our ability to harmonise with whatever force we are faced with.

As I responded to the question, I was careful not to criticise or judge the dojos mentioned. In my mind, no matter who or how anyone practices Aikido, it is still Aikido. I replied that we approach Aikido in a practical manner at our dojo. We learn to apply appropriate pressure and speed necessary to the attacking force, while flowing and blending with our partner's attack. Apart from etiquette and philosophy, that is what is refined in each and every class. This is the reason I advise students who take ukemi not to attack too fast if they are not prepared to meet and receive the resulting technique at an equal speed and force.

We gather in the Dojo every week to learn and to practice in a cooperative manner. The joy during practice comes in mutually supporting and enhancing each other's learning experience.

Daily and weekly practices are not occasions for testing or challenging each other. These are periods of learning and inner discovery to prepare (pre-pare) ourselves by cutting away and altering attitudes, behaviour, habits, and unwanted extraneous hindrances that may affect the development, study and practice of Aikido mentally, physically, and spiritually. Each moment at practice precedes (pre-seeds) the ability to experience the techniques in real time, in full realisation of Aiki in action, and in the event one has to defend oneself in an actual situation.

Nurturing a respectable and noble attitude while developing the muscle memory for each movement and technique is best practised at a slower tempo to capture every nuance and aspect of what is being learnt. Eventually, the practitioner will be aware of the options available while subduing an attack, including the ability to determine the necessary amount of damage to inflict. At that moment when it is needed, the practitioner would be present (pre-sent) and prepared (pre-pared) enough to be able to negotiate through that attack.

Proving the efficacy of a technique, or a martial art during practice through injury is unnecessary. Testing each other in the dojo is counter-productive, and nurtures a combative and aggressive nature. This inner turmoil and noise will distract and desensitize the student from perceiving the opponent and the immediate environment accurately. I think this, coupled with being injured even before an actual attack, is contrary to practicing a martial way for self-defence, self-preservation, and self-development.

What an excellent question.

See you in the Dojo.

In peace and harmony,
Rafael Oei Sensei.

(© Copyright August 2011: Rafael Oei)

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