“Fine Arts and Aikido,” by Drew Gardner

There exist four fine arts I have discovered during my Aikido physical training downtime, which have kept me from feeling out of the loop over the past couple years. They are Japanese sword customization, Rakuyaki pottery, woodworking, and acrylic and oil painting.

The first is indirect, but relevant nonetheless. Working with a sword maker to create and develop incredibly beautiful katana and wakizashi, has combined his creative and hands-on art with my creative mind. It has been a total joining together of my personally desired designs in custom sword crafting with his ability to create wonderful swords. I have been working with the veteran, American sword smith, David Goldberg.

Rakuyaki is a form of ceramics that began in Japan, and consisted of ware so enjoyable to create, that American potters discovered it quickly. There is still a distinction between Eastern raku and Western raku, which is based primarily on minor specifics of methods and the use of different ingredients in glazes. Pots (all wheel-thrown, ceramic shapes) that are raku-fired, are advised against drinking from and eating from, because the glazes can contain heavy metals that are dangerous to introduce into the human body. Therefore, Rakuyaki is for aesthetic appeal and holding only ornamental objects. The first thing that must be done when beginning any clay pot, including a Rakuyaki pot, is to center a wedge of damp clay on the potter’s wheel. Experts can accomplish this rather quickly, but it takes me quite some time. The wheel is virtually useless if the clay is not centered. Firm stoneware takes much force to center, clay of medium firmness is easiest to center, and soft porcelain is quite difficult to center. This is true of an Aikidoka of proper rigidity, finding his or her center for paired training, martial situations, or casual everyday life.

Working with the wood medium can be simple, highly complicated, or anywhere in-between, depending on what the artist is creating. I had the opportunity to use a complete wood shop to create a jo, a bokken, and a stand for them. Focus, concentration become of the utmost importance in these ventures. The thought of making a true, cylindrical jo from a board of walnut seemed impossible to me. That was because I was a total rookie in the field, yet I was blessed with a great instructor. His confidence in the vast array of potential woodworking projects was paramount toward my morale; I never would have thought that forming a raw plank of wood into something useful was even possible. He knew it was. This bears much similarity to watching my skilled senpai, especially during my early months of training. They were confident about mae / ushiro ukemi and waza, so why couldn’t I be as well? After using the table saw to make the jo into an octagon, I used the hand plane with much repetition. No single slice out of the wood provided a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. This makes me think of Aikido, how “simple” irimi and tenkan exercises began every class. I could not palpably sense my improvement of either, but it was happening nevertheless. Although forming the bokken and kake (stand) took different tools, I found success through faith, effort, and humbly enjoying expert instruction.

Transitioning from acrylic graphic design on canvas to inspirational oil-paint realism has resulted in symbolism and metaphor, at least in my latest two oil paintings. Four martial-art-themed oil paintings have offered a way for me to focus on Aikido with a paintbrush instead of a jo, creating movement in the images, even while away from the dojo. Although at some times more than others, focus is essential and every brush stroke counts. Every mix of paints counts. An oil painting is whatever the artist wants it to be, and I am beginning to form my own style. The painting arts and Aikido share many commonalities. Some examples would be patience, precision, endurance, and keeping properly mindful of the big picture.

During any true free time, I suggest any of the above arts and crafts. Each is inherently pleasurable, and it can sharpen Aikido skill sets, enhancing what is learned on the mat. The most convenient and least expensive by far would be acrylic painting, although for someone who has access to the other arts, I would suggest the eclectic approach. Know that these are supplementary activities, while dojo training is of foremost importance.


  1. Samuel Coe says:

    lovely piece, thanks for contributing. I like how you can see aikido in other arts as well. Take care, Sam

  2. If someone has questions pertaining to these fine arts, I have been through the most novice stages. I do have the ability to answer questions about beginning in any of the arts included in my essay. I will gladly answer ones that are posted on this comment thread.

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