At the core, Budo is all about positioning, battle positioning, (sentoujinchi), indeed. But more, Aikido is about alignment, alignment with oneself, with the Universe, with others and with everything. A dynamic, moment-to-moment life navigation, that in juxtaposing with all Creation, enables harmony to propagate!
I was still practicing Judo in the 60s when I first heard something that resonated. I was not interested, as insecure fools do, to prove anything about my ego. My search for skill, from a very early age onwards, arose from the need to assert in order to protect those who could not.
It was then I read an article about Aikido. An interview. I forget who it was who was being interviewed. It could have been O’Sensei or Koichi Tohei sensei, or someone of that caliber. But the gist never left me.
After discussing Aikido, the interviewer lobbed a salvo, “And if someone else was being attacked, what would you do then?”
The interviewee replied, “I would place myself between the attacker and the victim…”
This implied much more than it stated. SKILL! A very high level of it. A realization of essential unity and that we are what we protect, what we stand up for.
Anyone participating in a battle who is not protecting something, is a mercenary who is participating in crime.
How do we go beyond falling into the trap of being either a bully or a victim? By placing and re-placing yourself, just like riding a horse.
Watching a rider, the appearance is of someone merely sitting. Those who’ve ridden know this is not so, rather, a continuous re-placing into balance and integrity, Breath, balance and hara (“seat” in equestrian lingo) harmonizing as one with the horse. When firing arrows from horseback, more so. On the ground, with or without sword, or any hand held weapons, this is the same. “Horse stance” has a very valid basis. It is not static. A slight shift becomes Hanmi Gamae and turns the horse. It also enables the sword, the firing of arrows and may other skills.
Positioning, as with battle positioning is the single-most crucial attribute of life, survival and thriving. Whether a battle, a tsunami, a war, a building or forest fire, an earthquake or volcano, tornado or cyclone or whatever the imminent extreme. Conversely, a job interview that will change the course of your life, marriage, or any other life-path decisions.
Your position and your decision will determine whether you live or die in an instant of sudden change. Or the shape that the long road ahead will take, in lesser but no less crucial matters. Favorable positioning is ultimately economical and most productive. Unfavorable positions are expensive and wasteful, if not deadly.
When conflict hits the ground to become violence, it usually does so hard and fast and without much mercy, if any at all.
Predictability is 99% of the game, especially when it comes to managing a conflict, or any other high speed emergency.
The ability to identify and predict the shape of an incident comes from practice. Lots of it. Drill.
Clarity and understanding gives rise to best response capabilities.
The complacent, the lazy, like to waffle incoherently, and the dull like to imagine that either it will never happen to them–famous last words–or that a few techniques, an idea of ki, or a call to a deity will do it all for them.
That’s why the world needs warriors of caliber, to protect people like that. Not half the time from themselves!
The warrior, necessarily understands positioning and how to recapture best position as a result of regular training.
This is the essence of practical Aikido. Strategic thinking. Impractical aikido I don’t know anything about, nor do I want to participate in something fake with a noble label attached.
The whole of refined combat or situational management, or Aikido, is about predictability and identification, best positioning and synchronized flow of action, or aiki.
Position of Safety
How many “fighters” know and thoroughly understand the position of safety in combat and in life itself?
In all kinds of combat there is a position where you are less compromised and less at risk than any other. The identification of this position is worth more than gold. Indeed: Life!
But it is not a static position. Rather a dynamic and shifting one that adheres to a universal principle.
Aikido specializes in accessing position of optimal safety immediately. To achieve the kime-instant decisive potential of quick conclusion, you must understand strategic position of safety thoroughly and access it immediately you are attacked, without the opponent(s) realizing it.
Every circumstance has a position of safety. Possibly no-one has studied this more, in terms of human relations and nuances of social hierarchy, than the Japanese. Where does the chief executive sit and why? Note it. Where are the junior ranked placed, in a car, a room, outdoors? Why? How do you speak and to whom? Who do you defer to and who not? If not why not? All that arose from military procedure for optimizing survival function and efficiency.
The many of the body language predispositions that in times of feudal necessity communicate deference, status, rank etc., all serve to establish position of safety. If you have no comprehension of such security measures, you would be well advised to review your opinion about being a fighter. Great ring fighters are repeatedly and frequently demolished in street and other unprotected situations because they fail to understand position of safety and optional variables.
In proper Aikido practice we practice to fine tune this attribute of correct and best placement. This fine tunes the decision making processes for survival and for thriving. Positioning is the skill of relationship with other energies, without which there is a lot of clashing.
As it improves in us because of practice, we can apply it into all of life and purposefully place ourselves, instead of being buffeted unconsciously by the winds and currents of what would otherwise appear as whimsical existence, instead of a great harmony that can be aligned with, navigated successfully and tapped to the all-gain thriving of life, and the human family.
Aikido practiced with diligence to its true purpose is the preeminent Budo, because, whilst it enables moving into best battle position, it then chooses to reconcile from that place instead of doing battle. Love instead of war; and to win nonetheless whilst offering the opponent life instead of death. A form of ruthless forgiveness and dynamic compassion, hence dispelling setsuninto (the sword that takes life) from the very position of setsuninto. Already placing him in checkmate, then offering the attacker an instant choice to turn on a dime, for an alternate and different outcome.
The attacker has a split second, last-call-opportunity to re-evaluate. At this point, the attacker will reveal his truest intention by his action. If the attacker makes the right choice, then everyone wins and life wins thereby, becoming katsujinken (the sword that gives life).
If not, he bears the consequences of his own attacking without our input to his defeat. Our refusal to then accept the destructively intended energy, allows it to recoil on its propagator.
This is the ultimate position for navigating the universe, life and conflict and the practical application of the Aikido principle. Whilst being true to yourself, all life and those you are protecting; you thus protect life in accordance with the requirements of nature and the universe. With this earned gift comes immense responsibility to continuously de-escalate all violent intent, yet meet it without hesitation and lead it to a benevolent conclusion.
Beginning within oneself, we find and reconnect with our innermost centre that is already aligned with the centre of the Universe, through the daily shugyo and misogi of meeting challenge and harmonizing it in daily training.
We do this by applying ki from a position of Ai.