Of war and Peace

Twenty years ago, I first stepped in O sensei's old dojo in Iwama. I was then a young inexperienced teacher, second dan, confident about his knowledge, just the way you are before life teaches a lesson in humility.

I'll never forget that first lesson. I was waiting, as I had learned, for my partner to attack with shomen uchi and then I applied ikkyo omote. I did it twice, maybe three times, before a vigorous "dame!" could be heard which marked, as I was about to discover, the beginning of the questioning of everything I had learned before.

Dame! That's not right! Morihiro Saito had just stopped the lesson. Everybody sat in seiza, me in the middle of that circle, and I was invited to repeat my mistake. Saito sensei stopped me and explained that O sensei always applied ikkyo omote by attacking first and that this technique was not possible if I waited for uke's attack. Having finished his explanation, he took his glasses and a book next to the kamiza and read a few sentences I could not understand; then he came to me, gave me both the book and the glasses I didn't need and I had just enough time to have a glimpse on a few photo of O sensei illustrating a text in Japanese.

The lesson ended and since the Iwama's uchi deshi slept on the dojo floor, in front of the kamiza, I was able to grab and read the book while setting my futon for the night. I had in my hands "Budo" the only book O sensei ever wrote. I could not understand Japanese but the photos were clear: O sensei actually attacked shomen uchi and then applied ikkyo omote.

A few years later, the English translation was available and I was eventually able to understand what Saito sensei had read that day and could check that the texts confirmed the pictures.

Tori : step on the side with your right foot, immediately strike your opponent with your right te gatana...

Uke : try to parry the right arm strike.
Tori : ...cut sharply to the ground while holding your opponent's right wrist and controlling his right elbow.

Can it be more clear?

I was once teaching these notions to a group of teachers and one of them told me the following:

I admit that your explanation is logical in terms of movement dynamics. I read the explanations written by O sensei and I hear them fine. I see O sensei' s photographs which are without any ambiguity and which support the text and your point… but I find unacceptable that such an art of peace like Aikido can tell us to attack first.

I have since heard that same discourse in many versions: "how atemi can exist in Aikido?" "how on Earth can weapons can be used in Aikido?"… One could read the same thinking in the background: how love and peace could use war means?

That's where, conscientious objector or not, one has to accept the consequences of our ideas. And it does not mean anything else but this: O sensei who attacked first, who used atemis, and practiced weapons until the end of his life was wrong. O sensei discovered Aikido and, fortunately, we have understood it better than him. That is the underlying meaning beneath that understanding of peace.

Of course, we have understood nothing but through this reasoning, we have managed to reduce Aikido to a defensive Art. An aggressor, a victim. A good guy, a bad guy.

There lies the weakness of that understanding: it is entirely built on a moral vision, a subjective vision, ie ultimately on emotions, a mood… For any moral point of view is necessarily relative, whoever stands for it. "Human, too human" wrote Nietzsche. From that human point of view, byproduct of a limited and incomplete moment of time, how such an art which aim is to embody the global system that rules the entire cosmos - by putting it in action in the human microcosm - could be understood? Let's not forget that common sense once made us think without a doubt that Earth was flat.

In other words, attacking is not good but attacking is not bad either. Attacking can't be invested with morals. It is the necessary appropriate act in a state of the world at a given time - and there is nothing more to say. The moral approach is irrelevant for the study and the understanding of irimi.

When one goes further in Aikido knowledge, one can discover that tenkan movements, which are a way to receive the attack at ju tai level, transform at ki tai level in an active and complex process which allows calling, inviting the attack so that it enters a cycle that allows controlling it.

So I'm asking that teacher who wouldn’t accept that an art of peace could require attacking first: what is the nature of that call but a superior form of attack, an attack with no spirit of opposition, an attack that abides the laws of the universe but an attack still? Here are in my opinion the deep reasons that lead O sensei to pronounce that sentence, so easily misinterpreted:

One must not make a problem of relative things such as good or bad.

Reaching peace with martial art means is a paradox if one stays at the surface of things. The peace Aikido offers is very real. It is valid because it is not imposed from outside by circumstances, but because the individual who achieves the path Aikido draws can't see the world but through Aikido. But which peace are we talking about? Not the kind of peace our mental and intellectual habits spontaneously identify.

Getting rid of these moral constraints and the blindness they create requires time, a lot of time. Aikido requires giving up a few conceptions and does not fit men in a hurry. The young teacher I was would have benefited from that advice: let's show a bit of humility, let's trust that extraordinary art and the man who discovered it and above all, above all, let's be patient!

Philippe Voarino, Howth, October 16, 2005

What is Traditional Aikido?

Aikido is not a sport, it is a martial art which laws (takemusu) are in harmony with the laws of the universe. Studying them allows the practitioner to understand his place in the universe. Aikido was born in Iwama, O sensei achieved in that village the synthesis of tai jutsu, aiki ken and aiki jo.

Where to practice Traditional Aikido?

The International Takemusu Aikido Federation (ITAF) brings to the practitioner the structure he needs in order to work as close as possible to the reality O sensei MU defined. The official national representations are the guarantee of a teaching faithful to the Founder's.

The weapons of Aikido, aiki ken and aiki jo

In modern Aikido, weapons are hardly taught, if taught at all. In O sensei's Aikido, on the contrary, aiki ken, aiki jo and tai jutsu are unified and form together a riai, a family of harmonious techniques stemming from one unique principle. Each techniques helps understand all the others.

Aikido, a martial art or an art of peace?

Peace is a balance between a human being and the world around him. The true martial art's goal is not to become stronger than one's opponent but to find in that opponent a way to realize harmony. There is no enemy anymore as such, but an opportunity offered to reach unified ki.

Copyright TAI (Takemusu Aikido Intercontinental)