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Ueshiba Aikido e-Reflections
ISSN 1712-2341
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September 28, 2005

Learning technique is easy. Experiencing Aikido is different.

Reflection given to my students during class (27 Sept 2005)

I was recently asked how an Aikidoist would fare if faced with equally skillful martial artists from other disciplines. My first response was it depends, because in the first place an Aikidoist would not consciously and deliberately put him/herself in that position to test or prove anything. There is nothing to prove. But what about a roadside attack or during a robbery?

Since white belt, I have heard numerous discussions about the effectiveness of Aikido among fellow students in the changing room; speculating with "What if..." scenarios. These questions, no doubt, still occur amongst Aikido students today. What follows sometimes are students challenging each other in the Dojo. O Sensei reminds us that the Dojo is not a place to fight or challenge each other. The Dojo is a place of learning and growth - to improve technique and movement.

I have no doubts about Aikido's effectiveness. Not because I am an Aikido Sensei. Watching my Sensei and Hombu Dojo Senseis in action, and from my own daily personal practice experience I have no doubts. Understanding comes through personal unfoldment during consistent practice.

Aikido is budo. Although there is no competition, the potential to be deadly is there. As true budo, Aikido serves to resolve conflicts, not prolong them through flashy techniques and fighting to see who is better. Each technique ends decisively within seconds. There can be no testing, even among friends (from different martial arts), to see who is better because everyone would want to be victorious. And while Aikidoists train not to consciously hurt one's opponent, the friendly match will end up very deadly when each tries to prove that they are better than the others. Would an Aikidoist emerge from the rumble unscathed? It depends on the Aikidoist.

The question of effectiveness arises partly because Aikidoists learn proper Ukemi to protect themselves from getting hurt when techniques are applied. It all looks like a good pre-choreographed performance. I assure you, at higher grade levels, there is nothing pre-arranged in the application of techniques. As the picture above depicts, when a technique is applied at 100th of a second, Uke must fall freely or get hurt.

An unsolicited attack is a different matter. My sensei used to tell us that even a white belt in Aikido would be able to defend against an attack, provided he or she has consistently engaged in sincere, diligent practice. I echo the same sentiment. Keep practising the basic movements of Irimi and Tenkan with your whole body, and constantly review all the techniques you have learned and practised.

Daily Aikido practice prepares the student to function effectively in the present, when faced with an attack. My sensei Chang Shihan would say: it is always the attacker's way, not your way. Respond appropriately without anticipating or second guessing what may come. Let it come. All techniques and practice leads the Aikidoist to that point of "no thought". O Sensei described it with - there is only one 'sen' (initiative). In other words, an immediate intuitive response is just that: it happens when it happens... in the NOW.

I had a friend who was involved in what could have escalated to a bar fight. At the precise moment his attacker launched a vicious kick, he moved in Tenkan - turning away from the force of the kick. His attacker found himself airborne from the momentum of his kick, breaking his own arm and hurting his back when he landed on the floor - with both feet in the air.

All martial art techniques are effective. But there is a difference between being an effective killer and a student of Bushido. It is always a question of the quality of the student/practitioner. There is nothing to prove. Reflect on what you learn in the dojo. Visualise the techniques and start a journal.

It is similar to the metaphor about the car and the driver. Depending on the driver, the car may be transportation or a killing machine. Trying to prove that your car is faster and you are the better driver at high speeds always results in someone's death. Similarly, two people will look at a church ceiling and one will paint a biblical masterpiece while the other may just paint it sky-blue. All techniques are effective and can be learned. How techniques are applied, given a student's attitude, state of mind and daily practice, is a different matter.

See you in the Dojo.

In harmony,
Rafael Oei Sensei.
(© Copyright September 2005: Rafael Oei)

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