Martial Aiki - Past and Present
by James Williams (An excerpt from an article published in the Aikido JOURNAL)
"Nature knows but one kind of justice, the inevitable conformity of results to causes."
In modern language we use the term martial arts for a number of disciplines that are based to some degree or another on various Samurai methods of war and personal combat. There are differences in the interpretation of the term martial art depending upon whether the art is Budo or bujutsu. Although Aikido has its technical base in the Daito ryu Aiki ju jutsu of Takeda Sokaku, it is most decidedly a Do art in it's philosophy, application and execution of technique. Spiritual, moral, and physical edification are esteemed as higher priorities than absolute combat function. This very much reflects Ueshiba Sensei's personal philosophy as well as the prevailing political and social climate of Japan following World War ll.
A feudal era Samurai military art, such as the Yanagi ryu Aiki Bugei taught by Soke D.J. Angier has a classical perspective. Yoshida Kenji, Soke Angier's teacher, came to the United States prior to World War ll. Kenji was the son of Yoshida Kotaro the man who introduced Ueshiba Morihei to Takeda Sokaku and then sponsored Ueshiba into the Daito ryu personally vouching for his character and sincerity. Yoshida Kenji was raised in a family where the Samurai tradition was still practiced in the old manner. His father Yoshida Kotaro, a long time compatriot of Takeda Sokaku, had strong emotional ties to his Samurai past and this was reflected in Kenji's training and outlook. Because Yoshida Kenji came to the United States prior to World War ll his samurai philosophy was unaffected by Emperor Hirohito's edict concerning the teaching of arts of war and the devastating effect on the Japanese psyche of two nuclear explosions and absolute military defeat. Unencumbered by the effects of these events Kenji taught a true expression of a classic feudal era samurai art in its original usage as a military science.
In a classical Bujutsu, weapons ability and technique were of prime importance and most of the training centered on this. The empty hand techniques that come down to us from the classical era are for the most part based in weapons movements primarily those of the sword. These techniques of striking, throwing, grappling, strangling, joint locking, and escaping were learned to facilitate the use of the sword or other weapon when the bushi was encumbered by his opponent in such a way as to prevent the free use of his weapons. This also applied if the bushi for some reason did not have access to those weapons. The classical warrior needed a wide range of military skills and did not limit or narrow his training leaving out valuable knowledge that would hinder his victory in combat.
Soft in a feudal era Aiki bujitsu was defined by how a technique was applied and in the mental attitude with which combat was approached. The soft was evidenced in the subtle application of the technique to prevent the opposing warrior from detecting and countering. This subtlety of physical movement facilitated the proper use of a mind state that tricked or deceived the adversary through the use of various voluntary and involuntary physical and psychological mechanisms. It was the search for ever more efficient methods of combat that spawned the development of Aiki. This method of combat to the samurai mind however had nothing to do with what happened to the opponent outside of the fact that it facilitated his demise. Blending and harmony meant aligning oneself with physical reality and the movement, physiology, and psychology of the adversary to defeat him. The awareness and sensitivity that came from the study of an Aiki based military science was valued because of the increased ability it gave the warrior to successfully perform his prime directive, victory in mortal combat. For those Samurai fortunate enough to belong to a clan that taught an Aiki aspect of bujutsu the art was practiced not for spiritual edification but because it was the most efficient method of combat. These hidden, secret techniques, were only taught to highly placed family members in the clan and were kept from those of lower rank.
Classical bujutsu has been distilled from the most absolute of human physical conflict, close hand to hand combat with edged weapons. For the Samurai this combat ultimately meant killing or dying and his military training, by necessity, reflected this grim reality.
A feudal era Aiki ju jutsu is not Aikido with Atemi and joint locks thrown in. It is also not just hard rough Aikido. Neither is it a conglomeration of various other arts such as judo, karate etc. This outlook on Aiki ju jutsu by practitioners of Aikido is prevalent because there is so little true Aiki ju jutsu practiced in this country. It is amazing in the last 15 years how many Aiki juu jutsu schools and masters have appeared. When Soke Angier first began teaching Yanagi Ryu Aiki Ju Jitsu in Los Angeles in 1955 even the Japanese Budo instructors there where unaware that there was such an art and told him there was no such thing. The lack of proper Aiki ju jutsu training in many of modern proponents has led to hard, leverage oriented techniques with Atemi and strength added due to the inability to perform the techniques in an Aiki manner. True Aiki ju jutsu is a very sophisticated principle based art that is not defined by any particular techniques but by their method of application. Thus it is softer, more subtle, in its application of technique than modern Aikido. For this to be true takes extensive training and extreme skill that is attained by few people. Becoming harder in your application of technique and adding Atemi does not make Aikido into Aiki ju jutsu and in the attempt you may well compromise your Aikido.
The result of the soft, subtle, application of an Aiki ju jutsu technique as felt by the opponent or training partner may be very unpleasant, even dangerous, however it is the application of these techniques that defines the art. Atemi, joint locking, or strangulation techniques are applied in specific situations depending upon what your opponent offers you, not because you cannot execute a particular technique and need to soften him up. It is the opponent who determines what technique will be used.
Breaking someone's elbow and throwing them on their head in a manner that precludes them from being able to roll out of it does not make something Aiki ju jutsu. Those in Aikido who are looking to stronger, harder application of technique to make their art more combat practical are moving away from the roots of their art. To deal with an adversary from an Aiki perspective regardless of whether he suffers great bodily harm or death is to deal with him in a calm, emotionally detached, blending state of mind. How you deal with the adversary not what you do to him determines whether it is art or mayhem. To add kicking and punching to your Aikido in order to deal with opponents who are significantly larger and stronger than you, or to use when your technique fails is not going to achieve the desired result. One of the major reasons to learn an Aiki art is to be able to deal with those situations where there is a significant disparity in size and strength. After 36 years of martial arts training including wrestling at high school and college levels, boxing, and kick boxing, as well as confrontations in less controlled environments I can attest to the fact that kicking and punching have some serious limitations. This is especially true as regards to size differential in an opponent. When did the last middle weight boxing champion regardless of his skill defeat the heavy weight champion? The harmony and blending with physical reality of Aiki as well as the counter action use of the opponents momentum and strength are what elevates Aiki ju jutsu into an art form that allows the trained practitioner to deal with larger, stronger, tougher, faster opponents. The art obtains it's considerable combat function because it is soft in it's application, when you lose the soft you compromise the function.
My teacher is 61 years old and 5'6" tall, I am 6'2" and weigh 220 lbs.. I have extensive training and considerable fighting expertise. He deals with me under duress not with punching and kicking skills, or superior strength and speed, but with his subtle application of Aiki ju jutsu. These abilities have been honed through 48 years of training in a pragmatic Samurai military art where form absolutely follows function. To paraphrase a quote from Yoshida Kenji Sensei, " I do not look to authority for truth (reality), but look to truth (reality) for authority". Practical application of the inner principles of Aiki ju jutsu according to the prime directive of victory in combat defines the form of the art.
It has been said that because of the ultimate combat pragmatism of Aiki ju jutsu that it lacks any moral or ethical underpinnings. When reading literature written by Samurai during the feudal period it becomes apparent that for the classical bushi this was not the case. Because there is no moral or spiritual presuppositions placed in front of the prime combat directive does not mean that the adept has no moral imperative. Neither does it mean that the art does not facilitate spiritual awareness. This spiritual awareness, however, takes place because of the substance of the art and how it is applied and is not a lens through which the practical combat function is viewed. Katsujin-ken, the ideal of the sword that cuts down evil gives life to those the evil would prey upon, was prevalent among classical bushi.
Ueshiba Morihei founded Aiki Budo on the highest of moral ideals, harmonizing nature and man in the effort to promote world peace. He modified the Daito ryu techniques in an way that has made Aikido available to the world. It would not be possible to do this with a classical Aiki bujutsu. For the Samurai however no such ideal or desire existed in their definition of Aiki bujutsu. Victory in combat or death for themselves and possibly their clan was the defining principle of their military arts.