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A Question of Weapons

by Lawrence Robinson

Like many of you I have been questioning our approach to weapons practice and the changes we have adopted.

I have concluded they needn't be as controversial as they seem to have become. O' Sensei brought aikijo and aikiken together to form a weapons system that was meant to be incorporated into aikido practise as a tool to improve ones aikido.

The kumijo, kumitachi and kata's have changed and developed over the years because they were not meant to be fixed. Indeed they are still changing.

Some points that spring to mind, for example, would be in the 31 count kata: movements numbered 9, 10 and 11 have now all become a continuous one.

Similarly numbers 20 and 21 are already linked together without any pauses to form one flowing movement as we have always practised. Does the knee touch the ground or not? Most probably when O' Sensei practised, the ground may have been wet and he kept his knee clear of it.

On the 1st kumitachi some of us practise cutting the body in the first defensive movement whilst others cut to the wrist as the sword strikes. Which is correct? It might be simply that the second one is done that way because the defender has reacted slower and cannot move in, and;so cuts the wrists as the sword is on the way down.

I approached Matt Hill Sensei and asked him to offer some history on O'Sensei and weapons and some of the points above. This is what he kindly sent for us:

 

Lawrence kaiten nage

 

The use of weapons and the question of changing form in Aikido

O' Sensei brought his study of the spear, sword, knife and aiki jujitsu together to form a martial system that he called Aikido.  Some ask why we practice with weapons.  There are many reasons ranging from the practical fact that as O'Sensei lived in a world where there were such things as swords, knives and spears and we have to learn to cope with them; to the fact that they reveal aspects of our Aikido that practicing empty handed alone cannot. 

Some of these aspects are:
· The different distances involved that we need to automatically adjust to
· The clarity of use of hito-e-mi and hanmi
· Comfortability of mind when attacked with a sword, knife or spear (ease with other  weapons will be a natural consequence)
· The sharpness, focus and precision that comes from facing these weapons

The kumijo, kumitachi and kata's have changed and developed over the years because they were not meant to be rigidly set.   As with all of our Aikido it is the principles that are important not the order in which we practice the movements.  Take a mason as an example.   First he has to learn how to make a solid building block (this is our suburi).  Once he has mastered this with the correct moulds and mixes etc he has something that he can use to build with.  If the bricks are not right they will crumble under pressure. 

Once his basic building blocks (aikido's suburi) are correct, and he understands the importance of the principles of construction: deep foundations, angles, supports etc (aikido's hanmi, awase, ki-no-nagare, kokyu, treat many as one, train hard fight easy (i.e. sincere, strong attacks) etc.  The master mason can then build any form that he wants to.  We can see this evidenced in the glorious cathedrals all across Britain.  In aikido these cathedrals are mirrored in our end goal of takemusu.  Takemusu (literally take - technique and musu – birth) is the stage attained where aikido is so much a part of us that our every martial movement is spontaneous and perfection.  Where you transcend mastery into being a maestro.

So one should not be concerned that form changes, to mix maxims, 'form is temporary, principles are permanent.'  Indeed they are still changing. All through O-Sensei's life, Saito Sensei's life and now his son Hitohira Sensei's life their form has changed. The principles however, have remained constant.  

Some examples of this are the 31 count kata movements numbered 9, 10 and 11 that are recently all practiced as one continuous movement. Similarly numbers 15 and 16, 20 and 21 and 25 and 26 are already linked together without any pauses to form one flowing movement.  Of course in reality they were only separated to make learning them easier.  This can be found throughout our aikido where we 'chunk' movements down to make learning simpler.

On the 1st kumitachi some practise cutting the body in the first defensive movement whilst other sword schools cut to the wrist as the sword strikes. Which is correct, answer both and neither, it is whatever works in a situation.  In mastery of the basics we must be rigid, in real time application flexibility is all important.

Matt Hill

 

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