Taking a quick break from nature writing – millipedes being the most common critters in my life right now, and I’m sure you don’t want to read about them! – so I’ll give you something martial.
I was recently asked by the Sayama International Friendship Association to demonstrate how to present an aspect of Japanese culture in English.
Now, in all modesty, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable on Japanese culture. I’m sure that with a little research I could have adequately presented just about any topic. However, some of the points I wanted to make in my presentation was that one should have more than superficial knowledge of their topic, and that possessing a genuine interest and enthusiasm is vital. I also wanted to make the point that showing or demonstrating something is vastly easier – and more attention grabbing – than talking about it. Finally, I wanted to present something that most people in the audience would not have any background knowledge in.
Aikido fitted the bill perfectly…
You’re probably wondering why I’m dressed like this.
Today, I want to introduce one of my favorite pieces of Japanese culture – aikido.
What is aikido? This is a simple question, but the answer can be quite long and complex. I’ll try to keep it simple.
Aikido is a modern martial art created in the mid-20th century by Morihei Ueshiba. Ueshiba based aikido primarily on Daito Ryu aikijujutsu, which in turn was derived from the martial traditions of the Takeda clan.
The techniques of aikido basically fall under throws and break-falls, locks, pins, chokes and weapons. The weapons generally used are the wooden sword, staff and wooden knife. These weapons are not taught as fighting methods as such, but rather as a means of further understanding aikido body movement.
The name “aikido” refers to meeting or blending with the energy or intent of one’s partner, and the nature of the techniques reflects this. A combination of entering and turning movements gives rise to the actual techniques, and the aim is to perform the technique without relying on mere physical strength. That said, aikido techniques have the potential to be painful or even dangerous. Practitioners are encouraged to adjust their technique to match their partners. For example, I have trained with people of both sexes, in all shapes and sizes, aged from 12 to over 70.
Millions of people around the world practice aikido, and I hope that from this short presentation you can understand why.
I would be happy to take any questions you may have.
As you can see, I avoided the use of any Japanese terminology or jargon – something I reckon the publishers of English textbooks could learn from. There is no mystification and no cultural snobbery; these two frequently make me retch.
I received a few questions, most of which I was prepared for: the nature of competition (Simple – there is no competition.); if I had ever “used” aikido “for real” (If you mean taking a fall from being hit by a car without getting injured, or avoiding fights, then yes. Actually fighting? – no.); and some questions by a practitioner of qigong about ki (Not enough time)
It was difficult to demonstrate much without a partner. I borrowed people from the audience to show principles such as unbalancing someone without using strength, or applying a wrist lock (on me, of course), but the only things I could show at full power were break falls and weapons – luckily I’m pretty sharp at those.
Many thanks to the people at SIFA for their cooperation with my demonstration.