Modern aikido

AIKIDO is a very beautiful art but it only sets partners as opposed to Judo where one is confronted to an opponent.

Such was a journalist’s comment during an Aikido demonstration, broadcasted from the Bercy Martial Art Festival in 1993 (TN: a major martial art event in Paris).

I think about Aikido's founder, Morihei Ueshiba sensei's tumultuous life. In Manchuria, in the first years of the century, where, facing the Chinese troops, his virtuosity with the bayonet saved his life a few times and distinguished him from all soldiers. A few years later, in Hokkaido's frozen landscapes, he lead a hundred of pioneers to found the village of Shirataki, reclaiming from wolves and bandits some lands the government was desperate to populate. Then in Mongolia, during the attempt to found a Kingdom of Peace on Earth, expedition during which his bodyguard skills saved reverend Onisaburo Deguchi's life (Omoto-kyo religion's spiritual leader) whom he accompanied in that utopian but not danger-free adventure.

Eventually, I think about the first years of teaching in pre-war Tokyo, in the police and Army academies. Difficult years of settling Aikido when Ueshiba sensei was confronted to many martial art experts' challenges, willing to test his skills, whom he defeated and convinced, up to the point they became his student.

I'm thinking about that life, entirely placed under the sign of combat and nowhere I can find any trace of complacency. That life is one of a warrior's who found other warriors on his path. The Art that crowned 86 years of martial discipline practice and study as described above, that art just can't be a choreography.

O sensei Morihei Ueshiba's Aikido is not a ballet danced by two or more partners, in a conventional frame and for entertainment. However, maybe without realizing the full extent of his comment, Bercy's journalist was right. The Aikido he had under his eyes is truly founded on the organized collaboration of two partners. What he probably ignores is that O sensei could barely recognize his own art. Modern Aikido is not Ueshiba sensei's Aikido it is only its image. Proving this requires recalling a few badly known historical facts.

The AIKIKAI SO HOMBU World Headquarters.

Ueshiba sensei taught his art in Tokyo between 1927 and 1941. In 1941, he left the capital for good and only came back for short stays. From that date onwards, he settled with his family in Iwama, a tiny hamlet in Ibaraki prefecture he wouldn’t leave before his death in April 1969. Here is the historical reality. In the last 29 years of his life, Aikido's founder fine tuned, developed, deepened and taught his art to a few locals, far from the "world Headquarters AIKIKAI SO HOMBU" he barely visited and that he left under a few pre war students’ technical watch and under his son Kisshomaru's administrative responsibility.

Understanding that historical fact is crucial for it allows to figure out an inconceivable truth otherwise: all Aikido masters, uchi deshi or not, who learned in Tokyo's Aikikai after the war were not O sensei Morihei Ueshiba's disciples. Of course, they followed a few trainings under the Founder but that learning was occasional and was not enough to create that very peculiar link with a master born from time and life in common. All of them were occasional disciples; none was a true disciple sharing the Master's daily life for years. There is a very simple reason for that: they didn't live in the same place.

The birth of Aikido

We then come to that surprising conclusion: at the very time Aikido received the official recognition of Japanese Government, at the time when many countries around the world welcomed that wonderful discipline with enthusiasm, at the very same time, the discoverer of Aikido, the man who had made all this possible, lived in an isolated place, with hardly any student, in the Japanese countryside, for nearly thirty years. Thirty years, does one measure what it means? Thirty years between the age of 58 and 86 years, the age of spiritual maturity when experience eventually gives its fruits… All the treasures revealed by this man along all these years were nearly lost forever, forgotten without a true disciple, able to remember and transmit them.

Morihiro Saito sensei

Because it had to be so, that role was devoted to Morihiro Saito sensei, a young peasant from Iwama who enrolled the Shu Ren dojo en 1946 like one devotes to religion, who worked and lived everyday with Ueshiba sensei, from that date onwards and during more than twenty years. Only him was present on a daily basis during that crucial post war period when the Founder achieved the full extent of his Art, developing entire aspects of Aikido (the weapon work according to Aiki principle for instance) which were only seeds before the war. Morihiro Saito has been the one and only Aikido Founder's disciple - in the strictest and truest meaning of the word.

Post war

In the early fifties, the Aikikai resumes its activities, interrupted since 1941 by the war, then when the American authority forbid martial arts teaching. That period is a cornerstone in Aikido history. That is the birth date of modern Aikido. The experts, because they hadn't worked enough with the Founder, hadn't had access to the full extent nor the details of basic techniques knowledge. Since they didn’t master the techniques’ logical reasons, they often had to suppose or imagine them and sometimes had to get information from schools that share no links with Aikido. Unfortunately, researching that field does not stand mediocrity. O sensei's genius belonged to another time. But, as exceptionally gifted as he was, he still needed a whole long life of discoveries and peculiar experiences to acquire his subtle understanding of combat and structure his Art accordingly.

How any modern Aikido practitioner, obviously limited compared to the Founder, could discover alone and with the same finesse, the technical elements he never learned in first place? That would be a miracle. Nonetheless, with more or less innocence, that is precisely what the Aikikai students actually tried to do, then their students, and then their students' students, losing along the way the realities that always guided Ueshiba sensei. Modern Aikido and its connivance come from that process. Aikido was emptied of its martial reality, and therefore its meaning by the absence of continuous and steady relation with the Founder, the technical uncertainty created by that situation and the lack of competence to address the issue. For the unity proposed by O sensei's Art consists in unifying opposites, but of course, in order to achieve this, there must be opposites. Resistance is necessary for the art of non-resistance. Without uneven, there is no even and light only exists because of absence of light. Without opposition, non-opposition becomes absurd.

Tai no henka
Align your feet with uke's

Dualism, unity, Love

In Aikido, uke must embody opposition, that resistance I cancel by unifying both of us according to certain laws. That is precisely that love Ueshiba sensei meant - Love which, from a superior point of view, means the reconciliation of contradictions which, seen from an inferior point of view, look like a constant fight.

That Love necessarily goes through a phase of fight, because fight is a reality of the world and one can only build on reality. Aikido leads to the discovery that forces that are generated by any fight are not opposed but complementary and can be brought back to unity. Aikido allows understanding, in an operative way, that unity is born from dualism, that it does not mean the absence of dualism but that it solves dualism. Modern Aikido simply forgets that the whole Universe is a harmony between tensions and, instead of taking ground on the firm realty of that dualism, one thinks that dualism can be ignored, put aside a priori.

However, transforming the opponent into a partner is not only a simple "evolution" as often stated without thinking further. It negates that great law balancing the cosmos O sensei always had in mind. It implies the destruction of the very source of Aikido: the notion of opposition.

The new Aikido

What would we think of a mathematician who would delete the notion of operation? All things equal, this is what modern Aikido quietly does. A walk-on actor mimics an unrealistic attack, follows his partner in a docile way - when he does not anticipate - and falls out of convention. The attacker is controlled because he had already agreed to be...

And no one notices. Here is the new Aikido, transformed to fit the finishing 20th century, an exotic and elegant corporal play and expression. The Aikidokas really don't understand anymore the meaning of the sword they carry. They mistake the freedom Aikido eventually creates after many efforts with the gratifying illusion of being free to do whatever they fancy right from the start.

But the light that burnt so brightly at the birth of Aikido is not likely to be lit off so soon. Because it does not emanate from one single man, as exceptional as he may have been. That will which manifested itself to give birth to Aikido now works to preserve its integrity. It works through Saito Sensei who embodies it at the moment, being the man who can gather the full extent of Ueshiba sensei's techniques. (TN.The article was written before Saito sensei's passing). And, equally important, the man capable of gathering O sensei's multi form and non-systematic teaching in a method.

Because Aikido without a guide is impenetrable, hermetic. It is a labyrinth with no Ariadne's clew in which modern Aikido got lost. Once again, Saito sensei himself was only an actor, an instrument moved by a far greater will. That will which gave birth to martial techniques throughout time, that will which inspired Morihei Ueshiba, that will which takes care of traditional Aikido in the dangerous cruise through Modernity, that will goes far beyond our humanity.

Takemusu is a manifestation of that will. That's why Takemusu belongs to no one. For that reason, serving its design and goals is right and worthy. It has nothing to do with Bercy or any complacency.

Philippe Voarino, Vincennes, September 21st, 1993

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)