Aikido and the Vitruvian man #1

Leonardo da Vinci’s illustration of the Vitruvian man is famous. It is even represented on the Italian one euro coin.

Since 1492 this drawing has generated many comments for it is anything but banal. Of course reading all the studies devoted to that drawing is nearly impossible but those I read, regardless of their respective interest, tend to ignore a hidden aspect of that man which, like a lighthouse in the night, seems to try and attract our attention on one specific point.

The commentators, as far as I know, have underlined the harmonious proportions of he human body, insisted on its inscription in the square and the circle and therefore the links between man, these two geometric figures and their symbolism. All these observations, although interesting, remain quite theoretical and eventually don’t satisfy the researcher’s thirst. What I’m going to attemt showing is that, actually, Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing delivers very concrete, precise and operational information for whom relies on the practical knowledge of the principle of the body’s natural movement.

Strange as it may sound, it is Aikido which provided me with the necessary keys to understand Leonardo’s drawing. Indeed Aikido can provide with the practical knowledge of the movement in adequation with the eternal laws of the universe which lacks to the more intellectual-centered studies written sofar.

A thousand miles journey begins with the first step tells the Tao, let’s begin our journey with the footwork drawn by Leonardo, it can bring us further that we can imagine at first.

For an Aikido practicionner, the first striking element is in fact the feet position:

This position is, in a very remarkable way, the very specific and peculiar feet position which must be used in Aikido, it is a perfect hito e mi:

Morihei UESHIBA, Aikido founder, 1883-1969

Morihiro SAITO, Traditional Aikido, vol. 5, p.29

Gozo SHIODA, Dynamic Aikido, p.24

The feet in that position form a right angle triangle which hypotenuse is located at the back of the body (which is why it is called ushiro sankaku in Japanese). Morihiro Saito explains:

The back triangle stance, in the posture of right hanmi, forms a triangle alongside the outside of the right foot with the inside of the left foot. The Founder called this stance hito-e-mi. — Traditional Aikido vol. 1, p.19

That feet position is the crucial originality of Aikido among all other martial arts.

Sure enough, that position can be found within some techniques in other disciplines which can use it occasionally. But that position is never recognized and adopted as a founding principle around which the entire art is organized, it never begins and ends each and every technique like in Aikido, it is never conceived as the origin and the end of all body movements.

Besides, in daily life, no one uses that position constantly and the only people I know who use them for some specific posturesare the dancers.

So why did Leonardo draw that standing man in such an unusual position?

He certainly wanted to emphasize the length of the foot which, according to Vitruvius, must equal a sixth of the body’s height. Very likely, Leonardo willing to illustrate the proportions defined by Vitruvius, draw the profile of the foot. But these obvious reasons can also hide other reasons, equally real but more difficult to decode. Let’s try and do this.

Philippe Voarino, September 2013

What is Traditional Aikido?

Aikido is not a sport, it is a martial art which laws (takemusu) are in harmony with the laws of the universe. Studying them allows the practitioner to understand his place in the universe. Aikido was born in Iwama, O sensei achieved in that village the synthesis of tai jutsu, aiki ken and aiki jo.

Where to practice Traditional Aikido?

The International Takemusu Aikido Federation (ITAF) brings to the practitioner the structure he needs in order to work as close as possible to the reality O sensei MU defined. The official national representations are the guarantee of a teaching faithful to the Founder's.

The weapons of Aikido, aiki ken and aiki jo

In modern Aikido, weapons are hardly taught, if taught at all. In O sensei's Aikido, on the contrary, aiki ken, aiki jo and tai jutsu are unified and form together a riai, a family of harmonious techniques stemming from one unique principle. Each techniques helps understand all the others.

Aikido, a martial art or an art of peace?

Peace is a balance between a human being and the world around him. The true martial art's goal is not to become stronger than one's opponent but to find in that opponent a way to realize harmony. There is no enemy anymore as such, but an opportunity offered to reach unified ki.
Copyright TAI (Takemusu Aikido Intercontinental)