About the Art Form
Aikido is a relatively new martial art in India, but very popular in many other parts of the world. It is known as a Martial Art of Peace because it seeks to resolve a conflict, not conquer an attacker. The word translates from Japanese as the Way (Do) of Harmony (Ai) with Energy (Ki). This art was developed in the early to mid 1900s by Morihei Ueshiba or O Sensei (Great Teacher) as he is referred to, by integrating elements from traditional Jujutsu (free hand), Kenjutsu (sword) and Sojutsu (spear) fighting techniques and infusing into them an attitude of concern for the wellbeing of both the defender and the attacker. This philosophical shift transformed potentially fatal techniques into an effective martial art that is morally and socially acceptable today. As with all martial arts, the larger goal is to stop violence whether it is from outside or within oneself. The ultimate goal is to achieve a union of the individual with the universal through sustained practice.
From a practical standpoint, Aikido students practice in pairs with each partner assuming the role of attacker (uke) and defender (nage/tori) alternatively. All techniques rely on unbalancing the attacker and end in a safe throw or immobilization with a joint lock. Successful unbalancing (kuzhushi) of the attacker allows the defender to dissipate the force of the attack and in turn control the attacker with the use of minimum force. During practice, the safe and proper way to receive the technique (ukemi) is stressed as much as the application of it, which allows the study of the technique from a different perspective. The change of roles also allows the partners to cultivate a collaborative, rather than a competitive, attitude towards practice. Aikido has no competitions to judge winners and losers. It is meant for the forging of one’s own body, mind and spirit through constant practice. Aikido has in this way remained an art instead of becoming a sport and, has thus, stayed true to its Founder’s vision.
Researches and Development of the Form
After O Sensei’s passing in 1969, Aikido has acquired different flavors and different degrees of popularity for each of these flavors. Aikikai, Yoshinkan, Yoseikan, Tomiki and Shin Shin Toitsu are some styles of Aikido, with Aikikai having the most widespread membership. Although all these styles were refined by direct students of O Sensei, the Aikikai style became the most established one, led as it was by O Sensei’s son and grandson, emphasizing the spirit of the Founder’s Aikido, even as they simplified and codified the technical aspects to make it easier for students to grasp. The Yoshinkan style was developed by Gozo Shioda Sensei, and is considered to be a “hard” one, since it retains many elements of O Sensei’s pre-World War II Aikijutsu. The Yoseikan style was developed by Minoru Mochizuki Sensei and has a greater flavor of judo than other styles, due to Mochizuki Sensei’s lineage. The Tomiki style is unique in that it allows and conducts competitive tournaments as a way to measure skill level. The Shin Shin Toitsu style, better known as Ki Society Aikido, was developed by Koichi Tohei Sensei and emphasizes the projection of Ki (or energy) over the technical and martial aspects of Aikido.
The Aikikai style evolved from O Sensei’s teachings and practice and was codified from a technical standpoint by his son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba Doshu (meaning Leader of the Way). The current Doshu, Moriteru Ueshiba Doshu, continues it in form and spirit. This style is characterized by an evolution of Aikijutsu to Aikido, with an emphasis on developing the body, mind and spirit without sacrificing the effectiveness of a martial art. It teaches one to blend into the attack, rather than confront it, before neutralizing it. There is a greater emphasis on empty-handed techniques over weapons work, since in the present age most people do not carry weapons; however practice with weapons are used to enhance the understanding of the open handed techniques. Our dojo teaches the Aikikai style since my teacher, Tomoleoni Sensei, learnt directly from Kisshomaru Doshu and Moriteru Doshu.
My Experience With the Art Form
I started practicing Aikido in 2008 in the U.S. and continued there until my return to India in 2014. My teachers at that time continue to remain my teachers now even though I am not physically at that dojo.
I took up Aikido for physical exercise towards a healthier lifestyle and to develop a self-defense skill. I continue to practice it, because along the way, I have realized that Aikido holds lessons for life beyond the mat. It teaches one to stay relaxed when attacked, to dissipate the energy of the attacker by manoeuvring to see their point of view and to use the body and mind in unison for better results. Whether the confrontation is physical or verbal, of ideas or egos, at work or on the street, the recipes for successfully negotiating them can be developed by sincere practice of Aikido.
Taking on the role of a teacher was a necessity as there was no Aikido dojo in Pune when I moved here. My role as a teacher is to serve as the next link in the chain of teachers that have kept this art alive, and as such, is a big responsibility. So I am learning to look at my classes more critically. Am I communicating clearly enough for the students to understand? Are my expectations for their training realistic? Am I giving each individual the space to grow while still encouraging them to push themselves? Am I passing on the most important aspects of training (etiquette, perseverance, beginner’s attitude) that my teachers have stressed in my training? Am I taking responsibility for my students’ progress the way my teachers took in mine? Am I continuing my own training so that I will have always something to offer them even as they progress? Am I being a good role model for them?
These questions also constitute my dream for our dojo. I hope we are developing compassionate and competent martial artists, instilling a sense of community and keeping the Aikido tradition alive and true. No matter how large our membership grows, there will always be a significantly higher population who cannot devote the time to study this art in depth. For them, I would like to offer a taste of the numerous benefits that can come by shifting to an Aikido mindset – reconciliation instead of confrontation, physical and mental flexibility instead of rigidity and self defense through enhanced awareness.
Changes You Want to Bring About for the Art Form
It would be presumptuous for me to wish for changes to the art itself, but I would like some perceptions of it to change. One perception is that Aikido is not an effective martial art because it looks a lot like a dancing! Nothing could be further from the truth! This perception has led to youth preferring even sport like MMA that glorifies violence. In reality, violent sport defeats the self-defense purpose of a martial art because a competitor is willingly putting himself/herself in harm’s way and the measure of success is which person can endure violence to a greater degree. A martial artist is too smart to do such a thing! Our goal in martial arts is to protect ourselves and in Aikido, also protect the opponent from needless violence. The second perception is that a martial art is for young and fit people only. This leads some visitors to ask whether their age or physical condition will allow them to practice. My response is that there is some level of practice that is appropriate for everyone and that they should try it out for themselves to judge.
Aikido is more than just a martial art. It can be a means of developing a person more in more ways than just physical. It helps to relieve stress for people with hectic lifestyles. It can increase flexibility and balance for people approaching their golden years. The confidence that comes from resolving conflict gently but firmly can help children deal with bullying, while negating their own aggression tendency. So while Aikido is truly an effective martial art and effective form of self defense, it can offer many other avenues for exploration for people at different stages of their lives. The door to the dojo is open to all who are interested.
About the Author
Anoop Chengara Sensei presently holds the rank of San Dan (third degree black belt), conferred upon him by Aikido World Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan. He is a student of Lisa Tomoleoni Sensei, 6 dan, Chief Instructor of Abiding Spirit Aikikai and Director of the Aikido Shimboku Kai and of Michelle Tate Sensei, 4 dan, also of Abiding Spirit Aikikai.
You can join regular Aikido classes at Artsphere.
To join please contact +91 9561720001