The MAC’s Founder and Chief Instructor, Akira Tohei Shihan, held regular Question & Answer sessions with his students. Any and all questions were welcomed. The following document has been compiled from records of those sessions. Tohei Sensei answered a wide variety of questions. Topics included etiquette, technique, history, and philosophy.
What are the principles of Aikido?
Masakatsu, righteous victory, proper attitude. Agatsu, victory over self. Katsuhayahi – victory over speed of light, doing things quickly.
Who did the Aikido calligraphy that is hanging on the shrine?
This was written by Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, the son of O-Sensei and presently the leader of the Aikido world. He presented the scroll to me when I was sent to Chicago by Hombu Dojo.
What is written on O-Sensei’s picture?
Takemusu Aiki which is another name O-Sensei used to refer to Aikido. Take …budo, martial spirit. Musu … creation, birth of. Aiki … aikido, harmony, love.
What sect of Buddhism does Aikido have its principles from?
Martial arts and Buddhism are two different things.
I heard that Osawa Sensei practiced Zen. Was he a priest or was he just a practitioner?
He was not a priest, but he did study Zen.
What is the meaning of bowing during practice?
Bowing is a show of respect and courtesy. In the martial sense, it is a baring of the neck to the opponent, indicating trust that one will not be harmed. In the social sense, it is a humbling or “making lower” of oneself — putting the other person on a higher level of esteem than yourself.
When bowing, which hand should be placed down first?
We cannot say which hand, right or left, should go first, since styles are different according to the situation and school of thought. In some martial arts, especially when one is using a sword, the left hand is placed down first since this is the side where the sword is worn. But in Aikido since we do not carry weapons, it is acceptable to simply place both palms down at the same time. What is important is that our hands form a triangle and that we perform the bow with sincerity and respect. In some arts, for example in tea ceremony, it is proper to place the right hand down first as the sign of utmost courtesy.
At the end of class, after bowing to O-Sensei and then to the instructor (Sensei), is it necessary to bow one more time when Sensei leaves the mat?
No. Only two bows are needed.
After the bow at the end of class, what does it mean when you motion with your hands?
This gesture means that class is over and you can bow to your partner and leave. But proper etiquette would also dictate that you do not move as soon as the gesture is made — you pause for a respectful moment and then disperse. Since this is my “home” dojo, it is not necessary for you to wait until I am off the mat. If we had a guest instructor or if I were visiting another dojo, students should wait until the instructor has bowed off the mat.
Do we need to bow when exiting the mat?
Yes, bow from the seiza position.
Should we bow when we enter the mat level of the dojo after removing our shoes?
Yes, from a standing position.
Do we need to bow to a Shihan when we pass him?
No, only if you interrupt him. Do not call attention to yourself.
What does “onegai shimasu” mean?
Literally, I respectfully ask this favor of you. (Please teach me. Please come to my aid.)
Please explain the circle-square-triangle logo of our dojo.
These shapes represent Aikido. The triangle is like the beginner — strong, rough around the edges. Movement is in a direct line, like irimi. After some practice, the movements of the beginner become somewhat longer and more solid. This square is like nage and uke moving together. This is also the shape of the pin at the end of a technique. The circle is what we are aiming for — flowing, fluid, smooth movement.
How old were you when you began the practice of Aikido, and how did you find it?
I was 17, right after World War II ended. I wanted to help my country after its defeat by the U.S. I had returned from training to be a kamikaze pilot, and Japan had surrendered before I could fly my suicide mission. This sense of loss overwhelmed me, and I was searching for a purpose in life.
We have heard reference to “old-style” Aikido practice. Does this mean that it has changed over time?
I do not think there is an old or new style. Of course, when O-Sensei was young, his physical movements tended to be more rigorous than when he was older, but this is true for anyone. If you practice diligently, there is no distinction between styles. I teach what I learned during the time I was with O-Sensei.
What are some of your observations of Aikido practice and O-Sensei’s teaching?
O-Sensei had a certain aura about him. We deshi thought he was almost divine. His gifts shone through during practice sessions and each day was a different perspective.
Is there any lesson that O-Sensei taught you which helped your practice of Aikido?
O-Sensei didn’t talk much to us students, and questions were not allowed during his training sessions. My wife talked a lot more with O-Sensei because she spent time taking care of him. Ask her.
What is the difference between budoka and bugeisha?
Budoka is a professional martial arts instructor, whereas bugeisha is an instructor from an outside group. Aikidoka is a professional Aikido instructor, not students.
What does mushin mean?
Mushin means no mind, nothingness. It is very important to have this natural feeling during practice. This term is similar to heijoshin, but heijoshin should apply to your entire life, not just your practice.
After many years of training, technique becomes mushin (no mind). How does this apply to life?
When you first take a driver’s test, you concentrate very hard to maneuver the car correctly. But after many years of driving, your level of proficiency is increased and the same conscious focus is not required. Or take the example of a secretary who must hunt and peck when she first learns how to type, but after several years can perform very quickly and without looking. Extra effort is no longer required to find the letters on the typewriter.
How can we relax better while waiting for class to start?
Empty your mind of outside distractions by breathing slowly, deeply, quietly. As you are emptying your self, become aware of the atmosphere of the dojo and be open and receptive to the teachings of O-Sensei.
Is a balanced mind and a forgiving spirit required to practice Aikido?
Agatsu is all important. If someone is upset or angry, they do not have neutral feelings, and it is as if a gate is closed. With this sort of attitude, one is not receptive to any teachings. A student needs to be ready and open in order to learn.
How can we practice Aikido outside of the dojo?
Masakatsu, Agatsu, Katsuhayahi.
Are there exercises we can work on when we are away from the dojo that would help us become centered?
All the exercises we do in class can be done at home. To get the most out of them, you must make sure that you have the proper frame of mind and are doing the exercises with care and attention.
Is omote and ura different from soto and uchi?
How should we address senior students?
Since everyone is a dojo member, call them by name regardless of rank. You can address senior members as “sempai” if you wish, especially if they are teaching class. (You would not call them “sensei” even in a teaching situation.)
What are proper questions for sempai? How do we talk to them?
You should feel free to ask sempai whatever you don’t understand. If they do not know the answer, they should be willing to find out. The role of sempai is to help new members by showing, not teaching.
What if sempai is asked a technical question?
Answer in your best judgment. If your answer is challenged, your response should be that there are many ways to perform a technique. A dojo is not a school, however. It is a place where people come to pursue the same path. If a member challenges what is being learned, they are no longer members. I would like the yudansha to think beyond the technique — to get to the essence of the technique. Anyone can go through the motions, like a robot. But in order to understand why a technique works or where the movements fit in, this takes a lot of hard work and training. And this learning is done by working with a partner on the mat, not from watching videos or reading books.
At what level should you begin helping and teaching others?
Helping is not teaching — be very clear about this. Students’ roles are not to teach, but to help their fellow students.
Is it easier to learn by watching or being told how to do something?
Experience is the best teacher.
Then should sempai say nothing when practicing, only demonstrate?
Yes, a verbal explanation is not the best. There are times when it is necessary, but it should not be the first impulse. If you talk too much, you are not a teacher, not a sempai. Students mistakenly try to understand something with their heads rather than allowing their bodies to experience and learn it. One aspect of practice is to help purify your heart. This is done by action, not by words. Helping others and cleaning the dojo is an integral part of this process.
Is cleaning the dojo then equal to practice?
Cleaning is the first step in your practice and, therefore, not limited to just sweeping after class. Whenever you are cleaning the dojo, this is an extension of your training. This is why it should be done in silence with no laughing or joking among students. You must be attentive to what you are doing, and there should be no talking, for example when sweeping the mat after class.
What do you consider a serious student? How can a student of low rank give back to the dojo?
The first thing is to be willing to clean the dojo and to perform menial tasks asked of you. This is an extension of your training. Later on, you can help other beginners by passing on what you have learned — but you must be very cautious that what you are passing on is a true teaching, not hearsay or something you may have learned incorrectly.
Can beginners ask their seniors to slow down?
How can a student get over being afraid of getting hurt during practice?
Students need to understand ukemi and to keep practicing at their own pace. Let your partner know that you are apprehensive so the two of you can work in harmony with each other. Another important point is to let your “body” do Aikido rather than your “head”. Don’t think too much — allow your body to learn the movements.
What state of mind and body position make up a proper Aikido stance?
If you are in a correct stance or kamae, there is no “thought”. The term kamae means not only posture, but attitude. Only beginners would have to actually “think” about body position or how to stand in hanmi. As you progress in training, you should find yourself assuming proper kamae quite naturally and automatically.
What should uke do after back ukemi to make it more safe?
Back ukemi is used more for practice at slower speeds. When the pace is faster, front ukemi is preferable. After front ukemi you roll to your feet and you are in hanmi.
What is uke’s responsibility?
The foremost responsibility of uke is to harmonize with nage’s movements. This requires the state of mind called mushin or to be ego-less. The role of uke is not to “take ukemi” but to be thrown — I cannot emphasize this enough. In Japanese, the saying is that one should enjoy throwing and enjoy being thrown. This does not say “take ukemi” — it says “be thrown”. There are students who ask to have ukemi practice sessions in order to learn how to take what they consider great-looking falls. But remember that Aikido is not an acrobatic or gymnastic performance. Aikido is moving in harmony with a partner, uke reacting in response to nage’s throw. Sometimes I think students are taking the falls on their own rather than letting themselves be guided by nage. They swing their legs high and make sweeping arcs, much like a performer on stage. This is the ego in motion. Those who have been thrown by O-Sensei can never forget the feeling and the wonder at ending up on the floor without knowing how they got there. Not for an instant could one worry about looking good while “taking ukemi”, for there was a complete giving over of the self, of mushin. We need to get back to the basics. When practicing with a partner, strive to become one and to harmonize with each other’s movements. Students should not be throwing themselves, which is what happens when they do not allow themselves to be led by nage. Without a partner, there is no Aikido.
How does Masakatsu, Agatsu, Katsuhayahi pertain to ukemi?
In Aikido, ukemi cannot be discussed on its own. Nage and uke are an inseparable concept, and each cannot be defined without the other. But in order to answer this question, I would say that perhaps Masakatsu is what mostly defines proper ukemi in that uke must make the correct moves appropriate to the situation. Now, what does appropriate mean? Simply stated, this is what was emphasized in the above question about uke’s responsibility — Uke responds correctly to nage’s movements, taking into consideration the size, speed, skill level, and intentions of nage. It seems to follow then that if uke can forget the ego “self” and quell the desire to take a fall rather than being thrown, and instead be able to move in harmony with nage, this is practicing Agatsu. Finally, Katsuhayahi comes naturally after being thrown by other people thousands and thousands and thousands of times, not from “practicing ukemi”.
If we should be happy when throwing and when being thrown, is this the same as “heijoshin” which means not having any emotion?
First of all, the saying does not mean “happy” as much as “to enjoy” throwing and being thrown. The idea is to have a good feeling about throwing and being thrown, and this does not necessarily translate to being happy. Also, “heijoshin” does not mean without emotion, but a state of normal emotion, how you are usually and naturally feeling. We are sentient beings, not robots. We need to simply be in our ordinariness.
What is the correct way to do kokyu dosa?
If someone is sitting in front of you trying to block your movement, the natural reaction may be to want to push outward from your seated position. But if this person is stronger than you, you will not be able to go against this force, so you must instead lead them downward to the ground. It is important not to clash with your opponent but to blend with their power. The pin which is applied at the end is not a show of force to demonstrate how strong you are in being able to prevent uke from getting up. Don’t try to hold down or press your partner into the mat — the important thing is for you to be properly centered when sitting seiza. If you are in an immovable posture, your partner will not be able to get up.
Why is kokyu-nage named so?
Kokyu, meaning breath, is so natural that one does not have to think about it. The techniques should be very flowing and smooth, never forced, and always following the natural line and movement of the body. When breathing, you should never inhale or exhale loudly. Breath, too, must be flowing and smooth, never forced. Some students exhale loudly, thinking this helps them to relax and do a technique, but this is merely empty noise. Natural breathing is quiet, silent.
What about kiai, especially during techniques such as kokyu-nage?
If the kiai is a natural response, not forced, then it is acceptable. Some students, however, want to yell because they think this gives them more power, but all they are doing is being a nuisance and distracting themselves and others. The kiai must be absolutely natural and spontaneous, an almost involuntary response. O-Sensei’s kiai was something which welled up from his very being. Many would agree that it was like a supernatural phenomenon.
Why do we bow to O-Sensei’s picture when we take weapons?
We bow out of respect and gratitude to O-Sensei and to show our humility in being able to practice his art.
What is proper weapon etiquette? How should we carry a weapon during class? How should we place it when sitting seiza? What is the proper way to hand a weapon to your partner? Should we bow upon receiving the weapon?
This information should be passed on to you from senior students during practice.
How should a beginner practice with a bokken?
It is not necessary for beginners to practice with weapons. Wait until later in your training. After you have practiced various techniques for many years, then you can more easily progress on to weapon techniques.
Are there any special bokken exercises that will improve hand techniques?
Bokken techniques are done only from the right side. If you practice with a bokken, do your exercises from a variety of postures — seiza, tachi waza, suwari waza — in order to develop your overall technique.
When doing bokken techniques, is it better to start with gyaku-hanmi or ai-hanmi?
Both are acceptable depending on the technique, but the basic stance is gyaku-hanmi.
What is the purpose of jo waza?
This is another perspective, a different application of hand techniques. If you have mastered hand techniques, you should be able to perform the very same movements with a bokken or jo and with the same proficiency.
What part does speed play in Aikido?
The more speed, the more power. But the first consideration should be correct technique. Speed comes in when necessary.
How do we know when to attack harder?
If nage requests it. But it is very important to remain calm and maintain a proper attitude.
Is Aikido always on the defensive side, and how do you use it to attack other people?
Aikido training is not to learn how to attack people, but for purposes of practice, we need to have nage and uke. Since nage does not need to defend if there is no attack, uke learns how to attack properly for practice purposes only.
When on the streets, do you attack uke or do you allow him to attack and then react to this attack?
I don’t know. In the dojo we practice with the goal of improving our selves. With training, our technique improves also which may possibly help in case of a real attack. In the streets, however, is not a practice situation so I cannot speak to this.
Can you use kicks in Aikido? Which techniques could be used to defend against kicks?
Kicks are not necessary in Aikido. Animals use their feet, not humans. As for defense, any technique applied against a punch or strike, for example shomen uchi, yokomen uchi, or tsuki, can work against kicks because the direction of a punch would be the same as a kick.
While doing free-style techniques with multiple attacks, how do you know if someone is behind you?
After completing a technique, turn and look around. By shifting your hanmi you can see in all directions. As you practice throwing several partners, you must always be aware of what you are doing and understand the moves you are making — it is not just a matter of go, go, go.
How does one keep the ki low?
If I understand the question correctly, you are asking how to become centered. You begin by relaxing your body completely, taking cleansing breaths, and sinking your thoughts as deeply as you can. If it helps you, think about your center of gravity shifting downward into your abdomen. As you continue your development, you should find yourself being able to maintain a low center no matter how vigorously you train. But if the awareness and mindfulness are not there, you will not be centered.
Should we practice even if we are tired?
If you are only a little tired, you can still practice at a slower pace, at your own level with an appropriate partner. But you must be able to remain focused and aware. Like eating, you must be aware of the food in order to enjoy it. If you are very tired, it is better to sit and watch class. As an instructor I must be on the mat all the time, but a student has an option.
What is the difference between iki and kokyu?
Iki is breath as in the medical sense, while kokyu means breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth as when training.
Why do we do the rowing exercise?
To teach us to move from the hips and to help not only our bodies, but also our feelings to become centered.
Where should one focus the eyes during a technique?
Do not look into your partner’s eyes, but focus somewhere in the area of the nose. This should allow you to see the entire field of vision.
How many irimi techniques are there?
Irimi is a direct entry; irimi nage is a technique. It is more important to understand the feeling of irimi, of making two lines than it is to worry about technique names.
Why do we use atemi? How often should we use atemi?
Atemi is to used as a last resort if uke is resisting. During practice you should not have to use atemi if your movements are correct to begin with.
What does koshi nage mean?
Koshi means hip and nage means throw.
What is the highest rank you can get in Aikido?
In some special cases 10th dan has been awarded.
What is the protocol for testing?
Testing is done by rank, progressing from fifth kyu up. The instructor (Tohei Shihan) is seated to the right side of the shrine. When you hear your name, move quickly to sit seiza facing the shrine with your partner, in the order in which your name is called. First bow to O-Sensei, then to the instructor, and then to your partner. When a technique is called out, the student sitting on the far right (the first name called) is nage and performs first, continuing on until the instructor says to switch. Do not pause simply because you think you have completed the technique — continue until you are told to stop. Nage and uke then switch roles, and the second student performs the same technique until told to stop. When the test is over, the same order of bowing is repeated, and the students move quickly off the mat. During the test, there must not be any talking on or off the mat. All members, whether watching or waiting their turn to test, must be respectful and quiet at all times. A test is not a public event, and spectators are not invited. No photography is allowed, and only Aikido members should be in the dojo.
Are the hour requirements for testing unique to this Dojo?
The number of hours is a measuring point, meaning you are eligible to try testing. I do not know about other groups because what they do is none of my business. Years ago when the U.S.A.F. was first formed, test requirements were standardized, but now each region’s Shihan has modified these for his area.
How can people supplement training for a test?
Come to class, come to class, come to class.
When the M.A.C. hosts a seminar, what is our role as students?
You should create a welcoming atmosphere which means a clean environment. Try to make visitors feel comfortable, but if you are a beginner, remember that there are some roles which only senior students should take. Be willing to learn and to perform necessary tasks. During class, practice with members from other dojo. During a seminar it is hard to tell the rank of our partner and who should go first in doing the technique. If our dojo is hosting a seminar and you are not sure about your partner’s rank, always defer to the guest. This is common courtesy. Also defer to age.
What do you do when you know your partner is a visitor who has not been announced to Sensei?
Suggest immediately that they announce themselves and take care of the necessary paperwork. Visitors must sign a waiver before they can practice. Those who are on desk duty need to identify visitors and have them properly introduced before practice.
Is it possible to have a time scheduled for free practice?
There is time as soon as the Dojo is opened, before the first scheduled classes. In between the two evening classes, there may be some free time provided that all cleaning duties are finished first.
What does the word Kangeiko mean?
Kan means cold and geiko is from keiko which means practice. Kangeiko is a special training session held during the coldest part of the winter. At the M.A.C. this is a ten-day program at the end of January or the beginning of February.
What is the meaning of the New Year’s decorations on the shrine?
These are typical Japanese symbols for the New Year. The round rice cakes are called kagami mochi, or “mirror rice cakes”. The shape is round like a mirror which is one of the three sacred symbols of the supreme Shinto deity, the Sun Goddess. A mirror also plays an important role in reflecting back to us our selves and our actions. A sheet of white paper, a symbol of purity, is laid under the rice cakes. Green leaves or evergreens represent longevity and growth, and the tangerine placed on top signifies the passing from generation to generation, turning from green to color. If we were able to do so in our dojo, I would like to serve the traditional sweet bean soup and rice cakes at our Kagami Biraki celebration every year. This is when the kagami mochi is broken up into small pieces and passed to every member of the dojo, to be eaten in a sweet bean soup. As we share this offering together, we can all be rejuvenated and rededicate ourselves to Aikido.
What is Kagami Biraki?
This is a New Year’s celebration in the martial arts, usually around the 15th of January. The traditional ritual is for the kagami mochi (rice cake) which had been offered on the shrine to be broken up and passed to every member. Kagami means mirror in Japanese, and this sacred symbol of the Sun Goddess deity reflects our true selves.
What is the true meaning of Dojo?
A Dojo is not only a place for training the body and disciplining the mind, but it is also a unit like a family. We are all members of this Dojo, and just as in a family, we need to all take responsibility for the well-being of the group. During practice we look after each other so we can benefit mutually from our training. After practice, we work together to clean the Dojo because we have dirtied it as we trained. We dirtied it — therefore we need to clean it. This is the least we can do to prepare the Dojo for those members practicing after us. It is important to perform menial tasks with a willing attitude. This is part of our training. And it is also very important to be able to anticipate what needs to be done. Students should not have to always be asked to do chores — they should notice that things need to be done and then do them before having to be told. Mindfulness is good training. This is how we can all pitch in to care for our Dojo, our family.
What is the role of uke in terms of harmony? How do you know when this happens?
The resulting feeling between nage and uke is that there is a certain good flow coming from the way they are practicing together. As students advance in their training, they will be able to adjust their movements, speed, and intensity to maintain this harmony and learn to give themselves over to their partners as uke. There is no resistance, but enough tension to make the throw natural and correct.
What role does atemi play in Aikido?
Atemi should be used only as a last resort. But as we train, we need to be aware that atemi can come in at any point during a technique. We can always use atemi, but we choose not to. I feel that atemi stops the motion of uke and takes away from the flow of the technique. When movement stops abruptly because of atemi, there is a disruption of harmony between nage and uke.
How should we breathe when doing techniques? Should we exhale at the end of a technique? Should we be holding our breath while throwing?
Above all, breathing must be natural. And holding one’s breath while doing a technique is not natural. The more you practice, the easier it will become to be able to control your breathing and to remain in this natural state while doing a technique. There is a tendency for beginners to hold their breath when throwing, first of all because they are tense and apprehensive about doing the move correctly. But there is also the false notion that holding the breath gives one more power. This might be the case when doing an activity like weightlifting, but in Aikido the breath must be continuous. Contrary to what many students are in a habit of doing, it is not correct to suck in a big breath and then forcefully exhale, thinking that we are helping our body to relax and be strong. We are not using physical force to do techniques — we are relying on ki. And as ki and breath unite, this is an absolutely natural flow. One way to train yourself to breathe properly is to remember that Aikido is learned by the body, not the mind. Your head sometimes gets in the way of your body learning a technique. Don’t think too much — just let your body feel how the moves need to be done. Then your body will also take care of the breathing rather than your mind trying to control, and thereby stopping, the flow. This is why you must come to the Dojo and practice on the mat — you cannot learn Aikido by reading books and watching videos.
I’d also like to talk more about coming regularly to the Dojo for training. We all lead busy lives, and sometimes it is hard to make a commitment to come to class. But if your intention is to pursue Aikido, then you should have a sense of pride that urges you to practice regularly. This feeling of pride is not one that boasts of the effectiveness of Aikido or that compares and criticizes other martial arts, but one that encourages you to grow and develop, Masakatsu. And the only way you can make progress in using this tool to polish yourself, Agatsu, is to practice on the mat regularly. Staying at home and watching videos or reading books is not training. This Dojo is not a school. There is a big difference between going to school and practicing at the Dojo. Don’t confuse these two. As long as you keep paying tuition at school and do a bare minimum of work, you can probably stay year after year even if you don’t attend class, and perhaps even graduate. A Dojo is different. Unless you come to train often, you will not advance. You must put in time. This investment of time and energy will not only aid your progress in Aikido, but the cumulative effect of all members training together will help build our Dojo to be a strong community living out the principles of Masakatsu and Agatsu.
How does budo blend with Aikido?
Aikido is budo.
Can you practice Aikido and not practice budo?
When you practice Aikido, you are practicing budo.
What difference, if any, is there between being physically centered and mentally centered?
When we talk about the body being centered, we often use the term “keep one point”. This means that the body’s weight is dropped down into the abdominal region to a point just below the navel and that this center must be immovable. In order to maintain this physical posture, however, the mind must be trained to remain centered also. Otherwise, no matter how stable your center of gravity may be, someone physically stronger will be able to move you. When practicing how to “keep one point”, it is essential that the body be relaxed. If one is not successful in staying relaxed, perhaps this indicates a lack of being centered mentally, a lack of concentration and discipline. Just as the physical body needs to practice movements and techniques, so also must the mind be trained. When the two unite and flow together quite naturally, there is a sense of complete mindfulness and awareness which gives rise to correct Aikido.
How can we help uke who have trouble doing forward rolls?
Try to explain the movement first, as talking may calm the beginners’ fears. When the explanation seems to be understood, then do the physical motion slowly, over and over.
What should a beginning student’s goals be?
There are many. Some students want to learn how to be strong. I began Aikido training in Japan after the end of World War II when everyone in our defeated country wanted to become stronger, but that is not as important as learning how to concentrate and center oneself.
What should an advanced student’s goals be?
Again there are many. People have different styles and, therefore, different goals. Some people have a need for more power, but like all worthy goals, this is not something that can be achieved immediately.
What is mushin?
The meaning is “nothingness” or “having no thought”. The literal translation is empty feeling, but the meaning of “empty” can be mistaken by some people so we must be careful when using this word. “Quiet mind” is another translation, and this concept is very important in Aikido.
Is it okay to decline to practice with someone you don’t want to practice with?
There are people who are not fun to practice with and you may choose to avoid them. But it is important to remember that always practicing with the same people is not a good idea, though it may be easiest to learn certain techniques this way. It is okay to avoid people who are hard to work with.
There are many techniques in Aikido, some we rarely practice such as bokken waza. How do we find the appropriate time to study these as well as our usual regime of techniques?
It is not necessary to train with weapons. Practicing empty handed is hard enough for students and is all that is necessary to develop proper Aikido technique. This is why there are no weapons-training sessions at Hombu Dojo. Although Doshu Ueshiba uses weapons during his public demonstrations, he reiterates that this training is not essential for Aikido students. When you think about it, how applicable is bokken or jo practice to daily life today? We no longer walk around the streets carrying swords or sticks. But because of our students’ preoccupation with weapons training, we do some of this practice in our region. The objective, however, is not that this has any real significance in this day and age, but simply that this is another means to help develop proper attitude and movements that we can apply to our daily lives.
When is it appropriate to work on advanced techniques?
What is a beginner? Here in our Dojo, technically it is a student 5th kyu and below, but in actuality we are all beginners and always beginners. We can never consider ourselves “good” enough to work on advanced techniques. For those who take too much pride in being higher ranking, always keep in mind that these labels and categories are arbitrary. We practice Aikido movements over and over again to train our mind and body to work in harmony. Techniques are a mere tool for this purpose so don’t get too caught up in them. After all, what practical purpose is there in trying to apply shomen uchi attack or kotegaeshi technique to working with computers?
If students travel to other dojo, should Sensei be informed?
Yes, it is important that you let me know before you visit another dojo. If this visit comes unexpectedly and suddenly, a telephone call from that location is appropriate. Also, be sure to report back to me when you return home. I am interested in hearing about positive aspects of other dojo. I do not want to be judgmental or have to listen to negative reports.
Is it appropriate to approach our Aikido training always with the mind that this is truly a martial art and not for other purposes such as exercise?
Aikido as budo has a depth to it that is not always appreciated by students. One aspect is that of courtesy, as in the saying that budo begins and ends with courtesy. Another is attentiveness — being absolutely aware of each other as nage and uke, and also being aware of the atmosphere in the Dojo and taking notice of one’s surroundings. Most martial arts are concerned with winning and losing. Aikido differs from this in that the objective is harmony. This is not to criticize other martial arts, but merely to point out that the philosophy is different. In Aikido the emphasis is on victory over oneself rather than over others.
Should nage watch the striking hand in shomen-uchi, yokomen-uchi, or tsuki attack?
Ideally no, but in the beginning stages of training, it is impossible to avoid looking at the hand. It’s okay to look, but it’s better not to look. As training progresses, and eventually with proper kamae, the attacking hand will of course be included in your line of sight because you will develop an expanded, inclusive field of vision. Unnecessary and improper focus on the attacking hand will freeze your response and prevent blending with the movement.
Sensei, why do you sometimes hop at the end of a technique?
I must be careful to get out of the way of falling uke so as not to get injured myself or to cause injury to uke. Of course, it is essential to maintain balance and proper posture at the end of a technique, but sometimes it is necessary to get out of uke’s way.
How do we practice moving from the center?
Moving from one’s center is what we already do in our daily lives. When we walk, even if we are not aware of it, we move from our center — it is not a matter of willing each leg to step forward, one after the other. When we sit down, our entire body falls into a chair. We do not have to consciously move our limbs, just allow the body to move as a whole. O-Sensei taught that Aikido movements are not new or strange, for they are absolutely natural and taken from daily life. When we practice Aikido, therefore, the lessons we learn can be applied to our daily lives. Because some of the rituals come from Japanese culture, like bowing for example, there may be an assumption that Aikido movements are also foreign, but they are part of our natural motions stemming from the physical and spiritual center of our bodies.
Do we have a mission or obligation to our community?
Since we humans do not live isolated, solitary lives, of course we do have obligations to a greater community. In an everyday setting, you may want to help someone push a car stuck in the snow or help an elderly person board a bus. While you are under no obligation to do these things for others, there is an opportunity to take some non-boastful pride in the service you can perform to your community. In the Dojo, if you do not participate in cleaning up or in other activities, you will gradually become isolated and after some years, be left with only your self. The Dojo environment is not one-on-one teacher to student, but a group of members working together. Sharing with others does not deplete your resources. Another way to define sharing is as an extension of yourself. For example, when we are taught to extend ki over and over again, this does not mean that we will soon be without any more ki. This energy is continually being renewed within ourselves. As an instructor, I share with you what I myself have learned. If I thought that sharing would deplete my store of knowledge, then I would have a negative balance. To extend kindnesses to others is not for their benefit, but for our own — because what we try to give away will surely return to us tenfold.
To Be Continued …