Nor were there names of waza. That just knocked me over when I first learned of it. Ueshiba didn’t call kotegaeshi, kotegaeshi he just called it aikido. He didn’t call iriminage, irirminage, just aikido. No names at all – Just undifferentiated aiki. The flow of the moment did this, so he did that, and there you have it, just AIKIDO, expressing itself through him in a multitude of ways. He didn’t teach techniques, he just taught aikido.
There were just actions and reactions — the expression of what he did from the general principles he embodied. Whatever he did–whatever stuff happened was aikido. No organizing structures, no teaching devices like kihon, katas or the like. Everything was Henka; everything was just variations on the general themes. And he made that work—and work well – he was the top of the heap, ultimate martial artist of his time and place. And he was tested—tested like no one else I’ve learned of since— shinken shobu–tested with live steel and if the legends are right, bullets too. Bullets may be a bit far, there might be some smoke and mirrors showmanship here, but nonetheless it is pretty well known that he took on all comers, judo, kendo, sumo you name it—he was unrivaled by all accounts, both armed and unarmed.
Names of techniques and katas and such came later. Much later. Had to be introduced by a whole other crowd. Gave students and teachers something to hang on to conceptually. Made for a simpler (and paradoxically in some ways more complex) learning experience. Of course some of that structure probably harkens back to the aiki predecessor, Daito Ryu—but I have to think that there is a substantive difference here. If Ueshiba was just teaching Daito Ryu, then why go to the trouble to found his own thing? There is certainly lots of Daito Ryu stuff in his work but I would argue that he wasn’t just reinterpreting Daito ryu curriculum. His was a unique new expression in martial arts that had unique aims and purposes. Once we’re in AIKIDO, we’re just not in Kansas anymore– it just ain’t old Takeda’s world at all. Ueshiba’s expression was something new, creative and inspiring—and originally undifferentiated.
That’s still a shocker to someone who has inherited a very systematized, rationalized, kata-oriented approach to aikido– it bakes my noodle, in a good way–I find it fascinating to consider AIKI from this completely different angle; and incidentally, from here to notice that the Rational approach sort of marginalizes the Founder even as it extols his genius. His undifferentiated aiki becomes somehow “less than” our better thought out new fangled systematized ideas— in some ways he is either held up as a god-like figure, whom none can replicate (not good for research purposes–replicable results matter) or he is diminshed/dismissed as an anachronistic spiritual mystic of some sort; while we are modern and better educated, logical , and consequently better equipped to teach the Founder’s art …
Are we really more efficient teachers than Ueshiba? Yea, right. Like he really had trouble teaching guys like Tomiki or Mochizuki or Shioda, come again? Our rationalist fantasy of superiority just allows us permission to deviate from the course.
Still, this reflex away from the mysterious and mystical toward the system of education is natural, evolutionary perhaps. We don’t all have to become spiritually endowed in order to realize benefits from aikido training, but I think what may get lost in such a move (the move toward making the mystery intelligible and known) is a sort of reification, ossifying the fluid concepts of AIKI into “known entities” and then promptly getting stuck on them. There is a beautiful fluidity and power in the undifferentiated and maybe in time we approach it in toshu randori if we’re lucky. But even then it does require that we let go of our knowing and understanding and more pointedly learn to operate out of that part of ourselves that remains undifferentiated too. The old zen proverb says, “to study the way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self…” It’s not too scary. Just forget your self a little and turn loose and let the undifferentiated aiki flow through you, and see what happens.