AIKI - The art of aligning

AIKI, the first two syllables of aikido mean that the defender tries to align with the thoughts (spirit) and then with the movement of the aggressor. More specifically, this principle states that a defender anticipates the thoughts and intentions of an aggressor, in order to foresee the line of an attack and align with his movements. The success of these movements requires that one synchronises his movements with the attacker and stays connected with him or her.

The principle of AIKI was already known and previously used, when the founder of aikido Morihei Ueshiba, the ‘teacher of teachers’ (Morihei Ueshiba, O 'Sensei), used it to name a new defensive system, making a statement on the technical bases, and the philosophical principlew, upon which he could base and further develop aikido in the modern world.

Application of the AIKI-principle to techniques

The practice at the dojo (school) aims at developing ‘body’ and ‘spirit’ meaning our perception as well, in order to develop our senses and foresee as much as possible the movements of others. In case of an attack we try to align with it and this may sound strange or paradoxical, but if you remember that defense to a violent attack is not a violent response, then we will understand, why training in aikido means avoiding the straight line, upon which the attack usually occurs.

When ‘avoiding’ the line of the attack, our goal also is to absorb the energy and power that comes upon us and consequently to redirect it, usually to the ground, so that at the end, the attacker could go away with empty hands, literally and metaphorically. Aiming at and throwing somebody on the ground is an old military principle of ending a conflict. We should note here that even a warfare is based on principles and rules that the parties involved ought to respect in order to retain a basic level of culture and humanity.

Ueshiba towards the end of his life had become deeply religious, influenced by a religious doctrine known in Japan under the name of Shinto. He believed that one has the power with love to change not only oneself but the world around him much longer and much more effective than with the use of violent force. Here, I think it is worth mentioning a similar philosophical and political attitude that of Gandhi in India, who managed by using the principle of ‘passive resistance’ to throw off the colonial regime, imposed by United Kingdom on his country, during the 19th until mid 20th century.

Ueshiba’s approach to martial arts is based on deep philosophical and religious principles with a long history, such as Buddhism, which was transmitted from India to Japan. The principles governing aikido are based largely on such roots and more specifically on the religion called Shinto, branch and implementation of teaching and beliefs of Buddhism as just mentioned, in Japan. AIKI however is a principle of martial arts, which indicates in current terms the ability to anticipate the moves of others and if possible in aikido at least we try not just to be ready to accept the attack, but to absorb the energy so that to redirect it and neutralise thus the risk of bearing a mortal injury to the defender and also the attacker.

The concern, we would say for the integrity of the attacker, distinguishes aikido from other martial arts. For this reason, some teachers believe that certain techniques give the aggressor a ‘second chance’, so to speak, to realise in full, what s/he is actually doing, if this is possible in the few seconds we have at our disposal. Scientists however point out that our thoughts run very fast, similar to the speed of light, which means that getting a millisecond to think is probably long enough.

A technique, which brings together the principle of AIKI is iriminage, where after the first phase, the response, in the second one the defender finds himself at the back of the aggressor so that both (attacker and defender) look towards the same direction. Perhaps it is far fetched to interpret this attitude as giving a second chance, but especially this technique poses a problem. The choice to enter the back of the aggressor states that essentially the controversy has ended, and this because the attacker is vulnerable, one can harm him/her as all spots are ‘open’, and yet the defender continues to work as though he/she does not know it and not grasping this with his/her mind, while avoiding the temptation to hit someone at his/her back, in order to ‘beat’ him/her. So the question is, Why to do such a thing if not to give the attacker a second chance? Well, the answer is I think not simple, but it is also worth mentioning that Victory over one or more opponents is not the intended purpose of aikido, but the peaceful ending of a conflict, in which both parties come out unharmed, if possible, both morally and physically.

Anticipating and connecting

Moreover, in practice, the principle of AIKI is translated as redirection of the movement of the attacker, that we learn in the beginning. Later, at a more advanced level an aikidoka is able to absorb the energy of an attack in different ways and use techniques in order to be able to control the direction an attack must take, in order to end it safely as much as possible. In practising this principle, we train in order to find the ‘empty’ point, that is the point where there is no strength or energy or it is very limited. In other words, we practice so that to ‘find’ or to create in the movement an ‘empty’ point. This in turn implies that we are constantly in touch and connected with the aggressor and with his line of attack or the force s/he excerises. Aikido is a martial arts that keeps being connected with an aggressor, which runs one would say contrary to what we do in everyday life. When we argue with someone we stop speaking with this person, in aikido on the contrary we try to keep contact, connecting mentally and physically. In this way we are able to notice and foresee the slightest movement showing intention and in this way prevent or control the force of an attack before it is fully manifested.

For this reason, aikido practitiones say that in aikido we practice what is visible, a move, an attack, a hit, but also what is invisible, such as glimpse, or an imperceptible movement. For this we try to cultivate not only empathy and understanding but also intuition. We learn to perceive the danger, to ‘smell’ as it were, before it occurs. So we sharpen perception, mind and our senses that warn us much more directly and faster than what the eyes are ‘seeing’, but may not fully comprehend. Our movements ought to be natural and peaceful, even if expressed instinctively. Achieving such naturalness means it requires to practice constantly; the name for this in Japanese language is KEIKO, which is translated as practice, practice and practice.

Athens, December 1, 2010

© V. N. Kantzara

Note: Quoting is permitted,provided this text is acknowledged as source.


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