"We never know what we give until it’s been given,
and then we may be the last to know if it did arrive in the way we thought it should."
Tony Sargeant Sensei
We forget much, even some of the really important things, but because we still actively study the art, we come across new learning. Someone opens the gateway to what was hitherto hidden from view ... perhaps it is even our own gate that we kept closed until then. Armed with our new learning, old memories are triggered and we see the similarities for the first time. We have joined two more pieces of the great puzzle. Only by more study will we discover the other pieces, never close your mind to what might be. Good hunting.
Choosing a way to train with weapons in line with the principles.
Based on my many years of training in the Aiki weapons of Saito Sensei from Sensei Tony Sargeant, many years of tai chi practise and some very useful insights into Ki Aikido from Sensei Huw Collingbourne, I’d like to share some thoughts on training with weapons.
The Iwama style weapons training has given a foundation of techniques and applications. Their purpose is to change the body, express and extend spirit and develop skills in timing and distance. Tai chi has brought a philosophy and a set of principles that sit in harmony with my idea of aikido. The symbol we so often associate with tai chi represents opposites that abide in harmony not in conflict. The symbol has no beginning and no end; there are no straight lines and no breaks. The principles of Ki aikido, difficult to master as they are, offer abilities that seem at times, akin to magic. (Essential to find the right teacher)
Would you agree that Aikido requires sensitivity, connectivity and relaxation of the right kind, to effect the desired result on your training partner? Are Aiki principles generally counter intuitive to the human condition, which note, is also its greatest asset?
Training with weapons is an interesting and useful way to develop the harmony necessary for Aikido and can help find the effortless power exhibited by some of the great past masters.
Only the receiver experiences the force but cannot identify clearly where it came from, rendering them unable to counter.
How often have you heard expressions like, ‘accept the gift,’ ‘please come past,’ ‘care for the attacker,’ ‘respect the partner’s ki,’? All these expressions are there to take your mind away from the point of contact and allow your whole being to engage in the movement without tension and in a harmonious manner that leads to a failure to harm or control you. Success for you is not over them, but over yourself.
If aikido requires sensitivity and leading the attacker to where they are willing to go – not where you force them to go against their will – then to exert unnecessary force will be counter to aikido principles. Any force the attacker feels, not in line with their own, will provide them with information to use against you.
Like it or not, weapons training was a big part of O-Sensei’s practise and development of his art and his own amazing skills.
If harmony is required in taijutsu then it must be also found in weapons or bukiwaza.
Taking the Jo or short staff as our example, it should be possible to make all the suburi and kata with the lightest of grip and to experience the moment without any effort except intention. Whether you wish to hold stronger is up to you and circumstances. But, if you can perform katate toma uchi (suburi number 12) with only a light thumb and finger grip, then you must have been in harmony with the Jo. Both you and the Jo travelled on a mutually agreeable path. The sort of harmony that you need in taijutsu and for what I now believe is the real essence of aikido. The passive overcomes the strong. Yin overcomes yang.
All of your moves with weapons should take the path that is agreeable to the weapon. There are certain directions, almost exclusively along the length of the weapon, that provide that effortless path to aiki.
The weapon is not used to block but to blend, connect and neutralise and your own movement should be at one with that blend. ‘Never have conflict at the point of contact’, is the prevailing principle here.
If you can’t do it with the Jo, then perhaps you’ll struggle to achieve it empty handed.
A harsh grip on the Jo can only slow and restrict your movements and possibly worse still, encourage you to ‘make the Jo travel where you wish – right or wrong’. Lighter grip more sensitivity, more harmony, better feeling.
It’s the body and not the arms, that makes the move whole and in doing so, will affect the training partner in the same way too ie their whole body.
I neither know nor claim that this view is right but it represents my current belief based on the feelings I have during training. Perhaps it is worth a try!
For over 45 years I have trained with weapons as fifty percent of my practice. O-Sensei clearly trained with weapons, yet over my years of aikido training I have had to listen to the diverse arguments over the need or not to train with them.
Now, I have reached a point in my training, where I no longer need them to aid my own practise – they have already done their job.
I realise that concentrating on body movements does not develop the footwork as well as training with weapons. Nage often struggles to find correct footwork in taijutsu but had they taken up weapons training, their footwork would have become automatic and allowed a deeper understanding of the art to be reached.
I do not think O-Sensei used weapons ‘just because he liked them.’
Over the years many students have requested a Jo class, because they find the freedom of expression and variance of use with the Jo much more interesting than the ken.
I realise from this that we have let our students down by not clearly stating the purpose behind weapons training. We owe it to our teachers, masters like Saito Sensei to honour the founder’s teaching, just as he did. Saito Sensei asked us to keep the art alive and safe – and this meant the weapons legacy too.
If you really have an interest in following O-Sensei but your own style does not train in weapons, there are clips on youtube to watch and after that it is up to you to find time and space. It will be worth it.
Apart from the essential footwork emphasised and instilled by weapons, there are other gifts too.
Receiving an all out attack from a weapon allows you to come to terms with panic and fear and guide you to correct positioning with an adversary. Without pressurised training such as this you will never know if your version of the art will work in the street. It may be too late by then.
The attached photo shows a completed move but the power, stability of hips and feet, allow mind and body to become one with the attacker. It is not seen but it is felt by both – to me this is O-Sensei’s gift and why weapons should be part of your training.
Sensei Tony Sargeant 6th Dan August 2018
I’ve been practising Aikido since about 1974 and I’m only just beginning to develop a new and worthwhile understanding. I’ve seen people who I believe really understand the essence of aikido, though I still struggle to find the way they achieve it. I would like to share what I now know with anyone who is interested. Therein lies the problem – no one is! I teach Aiki weapons, Jo and Ken and have done as a dedicated weapons class since 2008. These isolated years of training and exploring have opened up new and rewarding insights.
It’s about connection within self, about victory over self, overcoming the habits and reactions that we unerringly developed over the years to our detriment. The greatest power comes from relaxation. The lightest touch of thumb and forefinger on the Jo can overcome almost any opposing physical strength. To understand this, it is required to understand what is meant by relaxation. Videos and books can rarely if ever express the essence of the art of Aikido, though they may on occasions show you a suitable gateway. Once again, a recurring theme shows itself, what you really need is not what it appears to be. In fact what you desire, you can have, by doing the opposite of what you think you need. Never add strength, if anything, remove strength to find real power. Opposites have immense power, as does relaxation. However, the key to much success will come from your mind – your greatest friend and yet your greatest enemy.
You must learn alone but, to do so, you need the company of others.
Our modern, progressive world with all its impatient information and frenzied, tense activity finds little time for an inner journey that takes a lifetime . . . or more.
Eventually, this could draw people into a dark age of wide spread mental illnesses . . . and there may not be a lamp left burning for them to find their way out.
Aikido has a beneficial spiritual quality, or at least it should have.
Even if O-Sensei's aikido dies out and its bones lie in the ashes with those of the Dodo, my own personal journey does not feel as though it was wasted, despite the disappointment of no new students to enjoy the same.
Insights for new students in Aikido.
If you are coming on our mat,
make sure that you are, not too fat,
and if you really want to win,
make sure that you are, not too thin.
If you want to learn to save,
when joining us, you need be brave.
But also useful, so I hear,
is, never lose, your sense of fear.
Always heed, the teacher wise,
but question what he does advise.
Practise well and peace you’ll gain,
as long as you don’t mind the pain.
Keen students fine, come through the door,
they love it all, they love the floor.
Once gi is bought with stroke of pen,
we won’t be seeing them again.
On my advice, don’t come to blows,
Aikido’s secrets – no one knows.
Strength of gnat or strength of ox,
all Aikido - paradox.
Aikido and cross training.
Stick your ego in the cupboard and go and visit another club, another teacher, even another art and find out if they have something to which you were previously blind. How arrogant are we if we look down on others of lower rank and think, “they have nothing to teach me.” Go and find out, and be prepared for a shock.
I cannot help feeling that O-Sensei, who none of us are ever likely to emulate, found his answers from diverse sources, dare I say, even from his farming practises, never mind martial training. Yet many of us think to find our own answers by Aikido alone. True, we follow our own way in life but is your Aikido the real thing? Can you make it work? Indeed, is that last question indicative of a non aiki way in itself?
We may be strong, capable and very good at what we do and though it may not be correct, time and practise has made us effective despite any defect. It’s even worse if we never train with other styles or clubs (or even other arts). Safe and stuck in our comfort zone we deny ourselves the opportunity to grow. O-Sensei never stopped studying and exploring the mind body connection yet how body aware are we? Will Aikido give us conscious body awareness? If we don’t let rank get in the way, a visit to another teacher may well bring a discovery to our advantage. But that challenges our sense of accomplishment, it rattles at the cage of our comfort zone.
After some 40 years of training, I am now more amazed at what I cannot do than what I can do.
I recently joined a large number of teachers from across the world at an all embracing seminar of Aikido in Burwell, Cambs. An event promoted by Quentin Cooke for Aiki Extensions. I witnessed how a beginner, with only one lesson behind them, using true principles was more effective than I was with all my techniques.
I had become a prisoner of what I knew. Freedom sometimes presents a more challenging environment.
I’m not going to rabbit on about this but as older age approaches I have less fear about being open with my words. Many of us have forgotten what Aikido really is and some of us never even knew in the first place.
At the very least, think on that for a moment or two..
The Chinese have a saying, “Don’t just listen to my words – go see.”
The short wooden staff - simply throughout history one of man's greatest friends.
To test the depth of water, reach high berries and fruits, an aid to walking and climbing, a tool,
a weapon, something to raise to the heavens and connect with the Gods.
Shepherds carried them, great warriors carried them, men of all persuasions.
You can find that connection with nature and history too.
Keeping the way.
We all, that walk this path, shall find
Sharp thorns, that seek to tear and bind.
When darkness falls, the way seems long,
But trouble not, our minds are strong.
With hearts of oak and faith that’s blind
We’ll find at last, this path is kind.