“After enlightenment, the work begins..” Venerable Geshe Thubten Dawa
Coming from a different background, when at first learning Aikido, at times I thought some techniques to be some sort of make believe.
Whilst initially I did not hold much for the usefulness of some Aikido techniques, life circumstances repeatedly proved me wrong. These very “seemingly useless” Aiki jutsu techniques, as if of their own accord, emerged superlatively to save me in separate weapon and other attacks as well.
This gave rise to questions in my mind. Particularly since in sporty sparring, such techniques often prove useless or difficult to volitionally deploy.
Unlike the movies, generally, in real life, people don’t hold a weapon in order to stand and have a conversation. They lunge and plunge in a fearsome and sudden frenzy. People who stand around talking themselves out of using a weapon are easy to deal with unless you suffer from irrational fear which then escalates the situation. It’s the mad and bad ones that don’t give you a second chance. You have to move immediately.
In quiet times, I strove to cast my mind back and place myself in the position the ancients found themselves. How did they train?
Over time it became simple commonsense to realize that in the battlefield and other situations, the power of observation, the greatest faculty of survival, was not wasted, as we too comfortable and dull moderns who want to be spoon fed, tend to do.
They NOTICED. Often at the expense of those who, whilst battling, did not fare so well.
Battle is akin to chess or igo. Close quarter combat, to high speed chess or igo.
The combat masters of the ancient clans specialized in evaluating what works and what does not. They honed in to what does work well. And they refined these predispositions of action-interaction through trial and error, until they got better.
The dojo became a place of very scientific R&D, reenacting scenarios they had witnessed. The easy situations are easy, but the worst case scenarios and their variables require drilling. Well drilled soldiers or any personnel from any field of emergency mitigation, sustain less losses than those who fail to drill regularly.
Drilling (kata) acclimatizes the mind and body to act correctly by accessing fearlessly, instantly and without question or pause, those preconditioned responses mind tracked in training.
Importantly, regular training develops the ability to notice, identify and predict predispositions and outcomes immediately. Predictability is true power. Especially in high risk situations. And timing is of the essence.
Real survival scenarios usually happen faster than the speed of thought. If you have no valid and proven point of reference, you will tend to panic, stall, freeze or do stupid and counterproductive things that will lead to your demise. In these situations opinions will hold no sway over reality.
Real survival scenarios are usually neither fair, easy, nor balanced.
When contending, and the odds are even, quite simply the strongest ki wins. When the odds are uneven, you have to tap deeply into strategic cunning in the face of the acceptance that, in the balance of probabilities, you are likely to die. And you have to alter those probabilities using what is available, readily at hand or as may be offered by the very adversary. Live or die you have to wing it and win. There is no draw in life and death situations unless you want to call Ai Uchi (mutual kill) some kind of draw. But where’s the gain in that?
The experience accrued through regular, valid drilling, will emerge with confident power, faster than it is possible to think, analyze or contemplate. This will measurably improve your chances of survival.
The dojo is not a place to prove who is better or not. It is a place to improve responses. On this basis training from a worst case scenario is good practice.
This, however, will kill your ego as the good, non-accommodating attacks, usually and repeatedly “kill” you in training.
The practice is to continue to repeat and to dig deep until occasionally you do acquit yourself well and then take note. And when you can achieve good results once out of each ten attempts then try for two, then three and so on until you approach closer to a full score.
This is not a method of contest, and must never be permitted to become so. It is a method of augmenting real capability and must be treated as such. It increases ki, kokoro and aiki capabilities.
The attacks must be sincere, strong and as real as it is safe to do so, modulated sufficiently to mitigate injury, and you must be thoroughly warmed up. This training is preferable in warm weather to minimize injuries.
Time and editing is a luxury of the dojo. In the battlefield you get only one chance to fail. Over time, in the dojo, you will begin to notice openings in the “worst scenario attacks,” and over time and training, you will become able to better position to quickly evaluate and exploit these weaknesses and to capture the advantage.
The ancients were not idiots. The Jujutsu and Buki forms from whence Aikido is derived were discovered in life and death scenarios before being refined in a monastery or the pampered circumstances of non-warring societies.
Like any other human being, obviously, the Aizu and other samurai wanted to live to go home to their families.
On this basis they trained honestly, consciously and thoughtfully striving to clearly notice natural predispositions of intense interaction.
Honest training is a requirement. Honest, meaningful attacks and honest functional defences are essential in training.
Otherwise you have to ask yourself: “What am I doing in a dojo?”
When a situation does happen there will be no time to contemplate theories, only to act and this must be correct and save you. If not, it will not.
And then, in-between times and in colder weather your soft training will not only have greater meaning than before, but will also yield further improvement to moving well. Slow training is a safety mechanism which also develops the Aikido Body, one less disposed to receiving injury. Injuries in training usually arise from unnatural tension of the body which result from inflexible mental attitudes.
Each Aikido core technique, the basic kihon, exists for a purpose. Extracted and distilled from a variety of real and functional, close quarter battlefield techniques evolved over many centuries, they contain the natural predispositions of effective physics, delving deeply into the body-mind connection to extract other benefits unrelated to combat as well, and which can improve all aspects of life in general.
Aikido training can be a form of yoga and dance which unlocks a multitude of benefits not to be underestimated.
But we must never forget the roots and original purpose of the art, as a life saver. Otherwise all the other attributes will close down as well.
To jog that memory it is good practice to occasionally depart from rote, explore and place yourself in a worst case scenario. And then be forced to get inventive.
Yes, you will appear to make a fool of yourself, and this often. But you will learn much. And this will be of great value.
Better that latent errors be discharged in the dojo where you can work to repair clarity with the repetitive death of ignorance, than real life where only one such circumstances could bring about a real and premature death. You own.
Such is the nature of enlightenment and practicing to wake up.
And such is the nature of augmenting real and functional skill which will prove useful when called upon to save you in a real situation.