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Ueshiba Aikido e-Reflections
ISSN 1712-2341
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Dec 12 , 2010

"Budo is for purification of the spirit,
not for piercing someone with a sword."

O Sensei Ueshiba Morihei

This is the third week of Advent, and it commemorates hope while waiting expectantly through uncertainty; in this case the birth of a saviour celebrated at Christmas. Just like a journey through the dark night of the soul, it is the glimmer of hope and trust that keeps the seeker persevering on the path.

This past week I distributed the certificates and belts to students who have just undergone the November Grading Test. It really is a rite of passage from one level to the next, acknowledging progress along a journey that does not seem to have an end. So why journey in a martial art if not to eventually fight?

While the practice of Aikido isn't about fighting - i.e. "not for piercing someone with a sword", make no mistake; the techniques you have learnt are potentially lethal. In a life-threatening situation, while defending oneself in a blind rage without self-control, it is possible for a beginning student to break the attacker’s arm, neck, or cause a concussion executing an ikkyo, shiho-nage or irimi-nage. It isn’t a sport where a person fights to score points, until one person “taps out”, or is knocked out. Practising Aikido deals with life and death, and it begins with the refinement of the self as the first step to self-defence: one’s attitude and behaviour. The unfoldment and skills do not come overnight, but through repetitive practise (verb) and practice (custom) in cooperation with your partner during class. O Sensei described this as purifying oneself and one's spirit.

My Aikido training included 13 years of assisting and being an instructor before being appointed a Sensei. No questions, no pay, and at the time I had no idea where it was all taking me. Just observing, listening, learning, practising, assisting, receiving guidance from my sensei, and just following my sensei around, while still attending my regular Aikido classes.

In the culture I’m from, no one would presume to ask to be a sensei, let alone ask to be trained to be one. In our dojo, and typical of most Asian and traditional martial arts, leaders and instructors are selected from among the ranks, identified by the chief instructor and groomed from day-one based on the student’s attitude, character, and ability. Not all will become senseis, just as not all Dan level aikidoists automatically become instructors or assistants. As a sensei, we are expected to pass on the practice, the techniques, the attitude, art, culture, and the philosophy. It is not something that solely can be studied and learnt. It has to be lived, breathed, and experienced. Even as a sensei now, I am still learning and can’t claim to know it all.

“The road is long, with many a winding turn, which leads to who knows where…” as the song goes. Keep persisting and slowly work through the techniques and movements, even if you feel it may be pointless or feel you are not coordinated. Don't give up or give in. One day you will stop to look at the trail behind you, and surprise yourself at how far you’ve come.

See you in the Dojo.

In peace and harmony,
Rafael Oei Sensei.

(© Copyright December 2010: Rafael Oei)

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