Dojo Files ~ Style Wars

Often when training in Aikido dojos I have heard discussions about what style of Aikido is better, or the best.

I always think that trying to compare aikido styles, or schools, is a rather counter productive exercise.

My Sensei [Takase Shihan] lectured about this at one of his early instructors seminars that I attended and said basically that each dojo and every individual instructor was their own “style” of aikido.

I have found from experience that this topic is fairly prevalent with the lower grades and tends to diminish and eventually vanish as one progresses upward into the Dan grades. I have seen and experienced very marked differences with the basic teaching methods of differing styles as I have often invited instructors from other styles to come and give a class.

Once we organised an afternoon seminar where instructors from three different schools each took a class each teaching the same techniques so that all students could see the differences which were then analysed and discussed.
This generated great respect between the students of the different dojos as well as the instructors involved, particularly when the most senior instructor demonstrated the natural progression of the techniques evolving through the developing skill level of any given student. (Lesson elements heavily borrowed from Doshu’s class at the 8th International Congress in Tokyo, September 2000.)

The main point now is the fact that when Dan grades reach Nidan or Sandan there are very little, or no differences. The techniques have all developed to the same level, regardless of the path, and it is hard to spot who belongs to what school based on execution or delivery.
Often certain aspects of the techniques that may be emphasised by one school or another at basics level will develop naturally as the student progresses.

Doshu’s lesson mentioned above looked at the evolution of the base technique. He said that one must explore every variation and aspect of the technique, find what fits, then make it your own.

~ Denton

[Nobuo Takase Shihan, 7th Dan, is my Sensei and is head of Aikido Shinryukan the NZ  Aikikai school. His Sensei is Seijuro Masuda Shihan of Shinjuku Hombu.]

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The Nightingale Floor

While visiting the Japanese city of Kyoto I had the great pleasure to walk in the footsteps of my heroes and spiritual mentors, Miyamoto Musashi, Munenori Yagyo and Takuan Soho, across the nightingale floors of the Shogun’s Imperial Palace in Nijo Castle.

This was not a planned visit but happened by accident. We were staying in Tokyo and decided to take the Bullet Train to Kyoto and booked an afternoon walking tour for the following day. On arriving at the hotel we had booked on line we saw an interesting structure across the road and found that it was Nijo Castle.

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After breakfast the next day we decided to go and check out this castle while waiting for our walking tour after lunch. Once inside the castle grounds we discovered the Imperial Palace, but it wasn’t until walking in the palace corridors that the penny dropped.

As we walked down the polished planks of the corridor my wife nudged me and said “listen!” I could hear the chirping and said “it must be a recording”, but no, it was a real and active Nightingale Floor. Then I saw the signs on the static displays in the audience rooms and I realised that we were in the Imperial Palace of the Tokugawa Shogun.

For some odd reason I had thought that the Shogun was based in Osaka and had forgotten that Kyoto was the seat of power at that time. Tears came to my eyes as I realised where I was and who had passed in these corridors before me. Not only the corridors but the whole castle grounds.

I never ceases to astound me just how many significant things happen in life purely by accident. Or do they?

Nijo by Night

Footnote – A Nightingale Floor is formed with close fitting polished boards with the edges not connected so that they move independently when walked on. There are also metal spikes set to the underside in pairs that cross the joins so that they rub together as the boards move, thus emitting a distinctive chirping sound. This will alert anyone sleeping inside the rooms that are surrounded by these corridors to the presence of intruders, Ninjas or assassins.

 

Aikido that Works

I have recently seen people referring to aikido styles as ‘Aikido that Works’, and that really made me stop and think.

Is it the style of aikido that works or is it the execution by the practitioner that works?
I am sure that a lousy effort by a student of a ‘strong’ style will be ineffective, just as the strong execution of a ‘soft’ style technique may be devastating. I have both seen and experienced these situations many times.

I have seen, though, examples of the bullshit aikido that looks totally staged, lame ass and sometimes downright embarrassing. This is what gives aikido a bad name and certainly needs to be buried somewhere with a bucket of lime.

Putting these ‘side show’ efforts aside though and looking at the more serious schools there is still scope for comparison and consideration of the differences. I have been looking at videos held as good examples of ‘Aikido that Works’ and liking what I see, however I do also see techniques executed the same way as I have been shown, taught and practiced in my own training and development and my mind recalls the dynamic executions of Miyamoto Shihan and Yokota Shihan, both of Hombu Shinjuku, as examples of a direct, dynamic and very effective form of delivery.

This is in direct contrast to other shihan that I have trained with, like Ichihashi (RIP) and Masuda, who’s rounded and relaxed styles do tend to look somewhat ineffective. That is until you happen to come to grips with these guys and be on the receiving end. The power is awe inspiring and it is like trying to move a tree.

So, I think that the answer to developing an effective aikido, and making it work, is to take in all that you see and learn then develop the techniques that suit your personal abilities best. Practice hard and make the techniques your own. In fact, own them.

It does not matter how good, powerful or proficient your instructor may be, you need to make the effort to hone your techniques into the effective dynamic yourself.

~ Denton

[Related post – Making it Matter]

Photo – Seki Shihan teaching at Auckland gasshuku 2006.