Is It Still Aiki?


Recent discussions on Aikiweb sparked my interest, especially a critical question asked by Jon Reading:

What is internal power and how does it relate to aikido?

It struck me as an important question, full of its own complexity. Some follow on questions are:

  • Is there only one kind of internal power?
  • What types of internal power can be cultivated?
  • Are they all equally relevant to arms length grappling?
  • Are you integrating internal power in an optimal manner?
  • Is your approach still Aikido or Jujutsu?

The last question is driven by whether the source of your internal training is from Japan or China. If you add Chen Taiji to you Aikido, are you still doing Aikido? From 1989 to 2005, I practiced a form of modern jujutsu that was a combination of Karate, Judo, and Aikido reworked with content from Kodokai seminars Yonezawa held in the 1970s. Unfortunately, my teacher in his naivite focused on hard bone crunching locks and not anything more subtle until much later in his career when he invited a qigong teacher to or dojo. I remember the qigong person, who had tremendous stability, say if we could learn to work with qi we would vastly improve. He was fine with the external nature of our locking and throwing, it was a bit beneath him but would be improved if we practiced neigong. It would have been a good thing if he had kept his class going there. I think we would all have benefited. Many years later, I wound up leaving that group later on and focused my time on Bagua, Xingyi, and Taiji. I now focus on them as separate arts taught in the same school, taught in a way that is compatible.

  • When I hit someone, is it Xingyi or Bagua?
  • When I throw someone, is it Xingyi or Bagua or Taiji?

Sometimes it is clear, sometimes it is less so. I remember an admonition about how once you get a person off balance and hit them, the result will depend on your body development. That development can happen in a variety of ways. It is your body. A question is how you train yourself, so that you can generate power in that circumstance.

The broader Aikido community is very lucky there are people willing to share their body methods (shen fa) with others, outside of a closed group (particular Aikido organization or ryu). I wince a bit when I hear Daito ryu traditionalists talk about the propriety of Aiki, when Ueshiba and Takeda taught so many many people. Even though I am friends with one or two of them and think some of them are good martial artists, there are others, however, who put the name of their art and lineage as something to distract from their own level of skill. I think all of this falls back on what each individual can actually do. This is why inter group sparring and pushing can be very useful.

Is that Aikido?

For me, when I do something that looks like ikkyo:

  • Is it Aikido, Xingyi, or kodachi from Jiki Shinkage ryu performed without a weapon in my hand?
  • If Takeda studied Jiki Shinkage ryu for a while, is that more reasonable to claim than Xingyi, which he likely never encountered?
  • Does it matter, if someone cannot stop me?

Some additional questions are, whether given the benefits of internal power and stability to taijutsu:

  • Is it important to seek Ueshiba's specific methodologies or can alternatives suffice?
  • Is it important to be able to do what he did how he did it or just be able to do what he did?
  • Can this be done by most people in the context of Aikido or is understanding Daito-ryu necessary?
  • If you practice other approaches and they influence your Aikido, is that acceptable?
  • At what point are you no longer doing Aikido?

I am writing this as someone who did what is probably considered fairly low-level external Aikido for a time and then decided to focus on internal martial arts in their own context. I have worked those ideas back into my taijutsu. In fact, because one student followed me in my path from jujutsu to bagua, in applications to Gao style baguazhang, some of my old taijutsu waza survive, albeit in modified form. Are they Aikido, jujutsu, or Bagua? I ask this because in Chinese traditions, applications like locks and throws are considered in an art if they follow the principles or feeling of the art (e.g., the same lock done by a bagua person or a xingyi person, a little differently), but there is a basic level of knowledge considered independent of specific arts.

I don't think I do Aikido any longer. If I do something that looks like irimi nage, is it just Bagua or is it good Aikido now that I know internal ideas, or is it bad Aikido because the form doesn't look quite right?

I feel remiss in not trying to offer some answers or opinions; I plan to do so in a follow up post. Here, I will at least notice one problem with the entire line of questioning is something my first Bagua instructor, Bob Galeone, related to me, in his opinion Aikido lacking a well-defined decision procedure (in the logical sense) to determine a person's skill. I think recent efforts at going back to what Ueshiba wrote, his philosophical environment (phenomenologically, semiotically) are useful. I think relating his ideas to other practices in Chinese and Japanese martial arts is also useful. But, I think the questions above begin to point at some of the challenges thereign. Just because in Taijiquan we have certain ideas of body mechanics, and they work extremely well for stability, does not mean that a Shaolin Lohan practitioner who is stable uses the same ideas or methodologies to be stable. If an Aikido practitioner seeks to be stable, and has lost the connection with what Ueshiba taught, and picks a Taiji methodology to accomplish that skill, is it more or less compatible with Aikido versus one who does very fundamental stance training from Shaolin Lohan Quan? Or is it Aikido because the person dresses in a keikogi and hakama, and bows to a picture of Ueshiba in a dojo with tatami mats? And still pays dues to his parent organization and goes to annual seminars? At what point, in adopting methodologies from other arts (Taiji, Bagua, Systema, Jujutsu, etc) is the person no longer welcome in her own dojo? How do some people navigate incorporating ideas into their practice and stay respected shihan in their organizations and others wind up leaving?

These are some random rainy day thoughts.