“When you bow onto the mats you are entering an ersatz war zone. Behave accordingly. Trust no one. Especially beginners who are the most dangerous.”
Dojo myopia is unacceptable. When you step into the street, a room or any dojo if you are not capable or willing to at all times extend your awareness consciously to every person, dog, fly, spider and ant within the range of vision or hearing, you are not practicing Budo but merely self obsession. In training practice you must be aware of every person in the room/dojo and where they are or are moving towards, their active trajectory at any given moment. At all moments. THIS IS YOUR BUDO PRACTICE! Budo without awareness is nothing! An instructor worth his salt will train myopic attitudes out of you very quickly. With a shinai across the back of the legs if necessary. If he cares. Otherwise he’s just frightened of losing you ‘cos he wants your dollars.
I can’t speak for others but I make it my moral responsibility to ensure to the best of my ability that my students will be strategically capable and defence enabled if ever they get attacked. Those who don’t want this standard because, “it’s difficult” are welcome to leave. And they do. Budo is not a toy and there is no such thing as a, “martial art” you practice in order to be unable to protect yourself. Listening to some, “aikidoka,” that appears to be the spin. I’ve been often surprised by people who practice what they call this “martial-art of Aikido” who simultaneously also claim that they “don’t expect it to work,” (whatever that means) and that they are “not practicing for self-defence.”
In the world such as it is today, I find such statements extraordinary to say the least and striving to live in a complacent glass bubble of denial, dangerous.
Aikido is Budo and as such IS dangerous. Even in training. The Founder had a list of precepts with regard safe training posted on the wall of his dojo(s) titled “Rules During Practice.”*
Take it upon yourself to make it a main point of your own practice to extend awareness at all times. For your safety and everyone else’s. It is this very awareness which saves you in “the street,” or any field of activity. And in your sleep, not only when travelling or moving in far away places away from home, but all the time. If someone passes your front gate you should know. Make it a practice. Make it your responsibility. Otherwise we live as zombies. Such would be unacceptable for purporting budoka. Everyone in that room is a potential “enemy.” The dojo is full of snakes. Warm family atmosphere? Stop kidding yourselves people, either practice BUDO or go home!
“Techniques” are a part of the story of the Budo of Aiki, but without awareness you have only crude, clumsy force at your disposal, and that is not Aikido.
As with all skills, Spatial Awareness can be developed and augmented with regular practice. Serious outdoor activities which place a demand on the Spatial Awareness faculties are most helpful. But there are also dojo techniques which are applicable when this attribute of Budo is addressed with the seriousness it demands. I’m dismayed that the focus on Zanshin has been largely neglected as the most vital element of training. Where is people’s awareness when they train? Chatting?
Looking at articles like this and the responses, I’m beginning to wonder how much has become “lost” in the last 50 years. We appear to be talking about this as if it is something new and as if training consists of focus on your training partner alone. Whew! This is not only trivializing Budo, but placing practitioners at risk. A frightening thought. Distraction is a favourite of muggers team-working and a prime strategy in any meaningful battlefield. Not to mention con men after your money in “civil” society. Also I’m taken aback by a hardened samurai getting caught in this way, when reading about Ryoma Sakamoto getting himself killed at an inn while drinking tea, by an assassin running down a corridor. This outcome has nothing to do with physical armour or carrying a sword, but the spiritual armour of Spatial Awareness which provides advanced kime predictability and which Morihei Ueshiba exemplified.
How did Ueshiba attain it? Look at his lifestyle. He put training before watching movies, worked outdoors and spent meaningful time meditating and communing with the Universe.
The provisions for augmenting Spatial Awareness are inbuilt and there is a part of the brain lying dormant, awaiting to be activated to this purpose. It is an asset. But it requires activation through use.
“Adjacent to the Amygdala is the all important Hippocampus, a horseshoe shaped sheet of neurons located within the temporal lobes and which importantly, functions to deal with memory learning and emotion as well as spatial orientation, navigation and consolidation of new memories. Emotion and memory being very closely related, the Midbrain also contains the Cingulate, Anterior Cingulae, Cingulate Gyrus. In brief, a Gyrus describes a fold or “bump” in the brain serving special functions and purposes.
The Cingulate Gyrus is situated above the Corpus Callosum (A thick band of nerve fiber/connecting tissues which connects the right and left hemispheres of the brain), located between the Cingulate Sulcus and the Sulcus (groove or indentation) of the Corpus Callosum.
These deal with higher cognition, multitasking and functional connectivity. The anterior Cingulate Gyrus is a pivotal component of brain networks directing affective and cognitive functions. As part of the Rostral Limbic System,the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus modulates internal emotional responses. Cognitively, the Anterior Cingulate Gyrus is considered to be an integral component of a variety of executive functions such as motivation, attention, working memory, learning, especially in novel situations and when overcoming habitual responses and includes decision making, awareness and insight. This brain activity may represent immediate emotional reaction to outcomes and spontaneous decision-making. All attributes essential for progress in Budo as well and living in natural environments.”
If he was at an inn, Sakamoto would have been surrounded with deployable weapons, tables, chairs, cups, chopsticks, toothpicks, saucepans anything at all. It takes a considerable time to run down a corridor. I put it that it was “peacetime” that killed Sakamoto, lack of daily practice making him vulnerable because he relaxed his Zanshin. Something you must NEVER do. All things taken into account, perhaps he was exhausted or suffering from post traumatic stress. The most dangerous moments are when everything seems OK. Perhaps he had no jujutsu skills wherewith to augment his sword techniques, with or without. No matter, everyone has their good and bad days.
A few weeks ago I had occasion to be in an unknown town. It was night and I stopped at an isolated beach to hydrate, eat and meditate. Waves breaking are good white noise. But that night “the vibes” were uncomfortable.
And then the reason appeared:
A male person who had gotten out of the only other car at the parking lot, began lurking about and as I was leaving kept trying to work his way behind me in the dark. I had to traverse some some parkland to get to my vehicle. At one point he tried to strike up a conversation. I responded civilly but curtly. This was clearly an abnormal situation deserving of suspicion. As I was walking to my car I had to address keeping him visible and actively manage the maai. He tried very hard to place himself in what he hoped was my visual blind spot and was fumbling in his pocket. Probably a knife. It was dark. I didn’t let him. Each time I turned to maintain visual contact he would back off. Self evidently cautionary predator body language. After I got into my car he then followed me through the local township in his car and was later surprised to find that I was following him. He then took fright and sped away. Training enabled this evasion but it is also common sense. I wasn’t about to be nice and civil since his behaviours evinced several identifiable indicators.
Waiting for him to attack so I could “perform” “a technique” is idiocy of the greatest order. Since I have nothing to prove, to me, this was a preferred outcome. “Nothing” happened and it suits me. I got some training. (A lot in fact did transpire which I was able to add to my training notes. Identifiable nuances of circumstance which are now recorded.)
People, look up the word: Zanshin. Zanshin is a paramount attribute for every budoka. My suggestion is find every which way to address and EXERCISE ZANSHIN IN THE DOJO AT ALL TIMES! And in daily life. That’s what dojos are for. Not making eyes and conversing about the weather.
When executing waza you MUST be watching for other attackers. And noticing other trainees. In real life, at least 85% of the time they will be there because the salient feature of bullies is that they are cowards and feel outnumbered by one person unless there are at least ten of them. Even then they will filled with fear while they beat their chests.
Evading flying ukes is part of the training. Any dojo not actively addressing Zanshin is kidding themselves. Please take note. It may save your life one day. Zanshin. Zanshin. Zanshin! It’s not just a cute word to repeat at parties to show off your “martial,” rather verbal prowess, but something a budoka practices 24/7 non stop.
Zanshin is especially relevant to AI-KI-DO!
By the way, Zanshin has nothing at all to do with existing in a frayed state of paranoia. That’s not Zanshin. Proper Zanshin is the calm awareness of properly flowing Ki that tolerates no complacency in oneself. It is not a mystical state only available to some but not others, rather, anyone who puts in the regular practice can activate and progressively augment this natural attribute. Zanshin, like all living skills requires due maintenance.
People tend to want lots and lots of words, “explanations” and heady conceptual garbage, then imagine they “know” something because a book or two lie idle on a shelf. The “secret” lies in PRACTICE! DOING IT DAILY. BU-DO! The bu that you do is the bu that saves you in the end. There are no other “secrets.” Morihei’s serious uchideshi would practice sneaking up on each other constantly (as do most animals in packs, herds, flocks pods, bands or whatever their intra species grouping play/practice.) Indeed Ueshiba himself invited surprise attacks from his deshi offering them high rank if they could succeed. None did. A tribute to practice when duly addressed. So just DO it!
Muhammad Ali often joked about his “radar” and demonstrated it in the ring.
“I have a radar built inside me to avoid punches.” Muhammad Ali
But this is mere sport. A warrior’s radar goes a little further and is on guard all the time.
Morihei Ueshiba demonstrated it more meaningfully. I won’t offer the long list of anecdotes. Read Aikido Journal’s extensive resources. It’s all there plus a few tips on how-to by the man himself.
In today’s world, there is an unhealthy trend, especially with many people who attend Aikido dojos, to make like pious stunned mullets instead. Street thugs are attracted to bashing pious stunned mullets. My suggestion is drop the quasi-religious pomposity, develop a sense of humour about yourself and PRACTICE ZANSHIN!
Conversely you are free to one day find out the hard way. Not recommended.
“Martial” training is not safe. Complacent people die during practice drills. “…that aikidoka are frequently lulled into complacency by their perception of aikido as a harmonious, peaceful art..” is not an acceptable state of affairs.
When you bow onto the mats you are entering an ersatz war zone. Behave accordingly. Yes, show respect because you are among compatriots, but for purposes of this drama, these friends are now playing the part of being enemies. All of them. Trust no-one. Treat them all with caution. Especially beginners who are the most dangerous.
It is YOUR responsibility to be aware, to dodge people and to evade flying ukes and if you are really a senior student and not just pretending, when only seniors are present, to aim your ukes at the other attackers during multiple attacks. In the street this works a charm. In training, the other ukes responsibility is to preserve themselves by getting out of the way. If you can’t train like this please burn that black piece of cloth you wear around your waist for you are just pretending.
Is there such a thing as an un-crowded dojo? If so, save for one rather large venue, I’ve never known anything other than crowded mat space for over 50 years and believed safety Zanshin to be part of the training. At least that’s what my teachers imparted. “You take responsibilty, it’s part of the training!”
Zanshin won’t magically appear ‘cos you once read about it online, it or fling the word about gratuitously to impress people at parties.
The dojo is an ideal place to practice and develop Spatial Awareness, as can be also boating in small vessels in reef territory and rough waters, working with horses, wild animals, war zones, crossing the street, driving a car, employed as a professional protector of any kind.. the list is endless.
For the true Aikidoka the decision to address Zanshin – Spatial Awareness with the importance it deserves is a requirement. Not a mystical ambiguity to be mostly ignored.
Morihei Ueshiba and other competent budoka have often been accused of “having a force field” around them. This is somehow supposed to discredit or lessen their hard earned, real skill.
The fact is this: There IS a force field indeed, but it is more akin to radar than it is an invisible bubble of any kind.
This “radar” is available to anyone who will sincerely put in the work to exercise it over time.
* Here are some variables by of The Founder of Aikido of his:
“Rules During Training” or Rules During Practice”
They present no ambiguity.
If you can’t or won’t take these seriously you should not be training Aikido.
They have appeared variously in such publications as “AIKIDO” by Kisshomaru Ueshiba,
and; “AIKIDO, The Arts of Self-Defense” by Koichi Tohei Edited by Morihei Ueshiba, revised edition 1961.
1. One blow in Aikido can kill. When practicing always obey your instructor and do not use training a time for needless testing of strength.
2. Aikido is an art where one person learns to face many opponents simultaneously. It therefore requires that you polish and perfect each movement to become invulnerable from any direction.
3. Practice with a feeling of joy and exhilaration.
4. The teachings of your instructor constitute only a small fraction of what you will learn. Your mastery of each movement will depend almost entirely on individual earnest practice.
5. Daily practice begins with light movements gradually increasing in intensity; but there must be no overexertion. Even elderly people can practice with pleasure.
6. The purpose of Aikido is to train both body and mind sincerely. Aikido must not be taught to immoral people or used for evil purposes.
1. Aikido decides life and death in a single strike, so students must carefully follow the instructor’s teaching and not compete to see who is the strongest.
2. Aikido is the way that teaches how one can deal with several enemies. Students must train themselves to be alert not just to the front, but to all sides and the back.
3. Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.
4. The instructor teaches only one small aspect of the art. Its versatile applications must be discovered by each student through incessant practice and training.
5. In daily practice first begin by moving your body and then progress to more intensive practice. Never force anything unnaturally or unreasonably. If this rule is followed, then even elderly people will not hurt themselves and they can train in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.
6. The purpose of Aikido is to train mind and body and to produce sincere, earnest people. Since all the techniques are to be transmitted person-to-person, do not randomly reveal them to others, for this might lead to their being used by hoodlums.
1) One blow in AIKIDO is capable of killing an opponent. In practice, obey your instructor, and do not make practice a time for needless testing of strength.
2) AIKIDO is an art in which one man learns to face many opponents simultaneously and requires therefore that you polish and perfect your execution of each movement so that you can take on not only the one directly before you but also those in every direction around you.
3) Practice at all times with a feeling of pleasurable exhilaration.
4) The teachings of your instructor constitute only a small fraction of what you will learn. Your mastery of each movement will depend almost completely on your earnest practice.
5) The daily practice begins with light movements of the body, gradually increasing in intensity and strength, but there must be no overexertion. That is why even elderly an elderly man can continue to practice without bodily harm but with pleasure and profit and will attain the purpose of his training.
6) The purpose of AIKIDO is to train both body and mind and to make a man sincere. All AIKIDO arts are secret in nature and are not to be revealed publicly nor taught to rogues who will use them for evil purposes.
1) One blow/strike is capable of killing. Follow directions of your instructor and don’t needlessly test strength.
2) The ability to face multiple opponents, develops awareness towards all sides.
3) Training atmosphere should be pleasant and joyful.
4) Practice is the primary means to achieve mastery.
5) Training should be natural and reasonable. When this is followed even elderly individuals can develop Aikido’s potentials.
6) The purpose of Aikido is to train mind and body and make an individual sincere.