“….Money for Gods sake” Isn’t that how the song goes? The root of the lyrics is older than the song itself where contrasting views about the purpose of art became a movement of thought. As one school approached art as something that had its own purpose and did not need explaining outside of that, the other school was utilitarian, that all activity served a function or purpose in society. It begs the question is Aikido (and Iaido for that matter) something “bigger” than just what takes place on the mat? Where it becomes something that carry’s on into our lives, helping us navigate through it or gives us a different way to engage in life? For the most part my passion for it has always been the training itself, which over rules any kind of interpretation. In fact anything else that is derived from this, is arguably more akin to Buddhism than Aikido per se. As I listen and take note of how many people in the Aikido world try to explain how Aikido has changed their lives, I think is it Aikido that has changed it or is it the people who you train with? In one of my podcasts from The Aikido of London Discussion Series, I am chatting with Erdjan Eker, one of my senior and longest standing students. He mentioned how some of the members state that Aikido has changed their lives and for the better. He admitted that he has never felt that way, that for all the enjoyment he has experienced and the struggles, he cannot categorically say Aikido has changed his life. Yet slowly and over time he has felt how the training has worked its way into his body and shifted his mental focus and perspective in subtle ways. I recently published an article, “When life gives you lemons…” It is an attempt to explain how we engage with each other, sometimes not in a pleasant way and how the application of Ukemi can be a tool to deal with these situations. There are so many other accounts of Aikido in the daily life and terms like “Aiki spirit” a supposedly benevolent and altruistic application of this enigmatic martial art or “Big Aikido” as a philosophical and ethical way to live ones life are bandied around.
I know I can be very cynical about these interpretations as I have myself struggled to see any correlation between a 60 minute training session and absolutely anything else beyond that. One thing is for sure, to get half decent at Aikido , the on the mat stuff that is, is going to take a lot of hard work and energy. To have quality of training will likely take up more of your resources than you expect. The enjoyment and pleasure in training is a part of that hard work and if it”s for you it becomes a labour of love. Almost from the outset of my Aikido career, getting onto the tatami trumped all. Getting to class from north London to south London was a long journey and then back again late into the night. In between I was in a bubble where Aikido training took place and that was a special thing to me. Many years later and many thousands of hours of training and later teaching, I still find that Aikido is just Aikido and thats “all”. If you look at it that way, then this martial art is no different than someone finding a love of dance, singing, acting or music or other martial arts. You are actually very fortunate if you have found some activity that sings to you in that way, possibly a calling in ones life. Questions like “does it work?”, “is it a kind of jujitsu?” Or “is it Zen?” become irrelevant. It becomes what it is when you are doing it at the dojo, it is its own thing, it has its own value and merit. It is at such times that the question of what Aikido is and whatever so called benefits there are outside the dojo become inconsequential. It is an incredible martial art because it is incredible when you are in the midst of it and that is enough.
To have something that you can turn to as often as you can and willing to commit your time, is special. Sometimes it feels selfish, and can be but in this busy world with all its ups and downs, we are fortunate to have something where for an hour or two a few times a week, you switch it off and strive to be where you are, on the mat soaking up the training and effectively be transported to this special place. When a class gets heated with all the disparate and unique energies arriving for that evening, or afternoon, when it gets intense and you are getting told off for doing it wrong, it is a wonderful thing. It takes your mind off what you are doing elsewhere, and then you go home better for it. The next day? Maybe you are one of the fortunate ones, who wake up looking forward to the next session. That alone is worth it. The rest…? Martial art, for martial arts sake.
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