“Connection, an Aiki perspective,” by Francis Takahashi

“If we truly wanted the most reliable directions to any destination,
wouldn’t we first attempt to find the person who actually made the trek?”

If we truly wanted the most reliable directions to any destination, wouldn’t we first attempt to find the person who actually made the trek, and returned to share his findings? Perhaps the second choice would be to read the first hand accounts of that journey, and glean all that we could from interpreting the words, and poring over any maps or directions available. Entertaining a third option, would we really choose to put a lot of faith in the secondary reconstruction of allegedly original documents and sketches, by a person or persons whose measurable skills are mainly limited to translating and deciphering language, with little or no extended experience and measurable success in making a journey akin to the original one of interest, or without personally experiencing and surviving the challenges and obstacles normally encountered on the way to places unknown and unfound? And what of the actual journey back, which constitutes fully another dimension of skills, acumen and appropriate use of finite resources. Again, based on what verifiable data, genuine proofs, or acceptance of the claims by legitimate authority should our confidence be sensibly placed or even justified?

Similarly, if we wanted to go back in time on a historical quest for factual data and as close as possible to any and all first hand experiences dutifully recorded by reputable and acknowledged authorities in that field, wouldn’t we want the connection of the dots to be as narrow and as close as possible? Wouldn’t we need and want to isolate and verify each factor for authentication, independent of any other factor or claim? The spoken word is not worth the paper it is written on, is a classic and sage business admonition, and we should be as skeptical here as well, or be willing to absorb the cost of being proved regrettably irresponsible, foolish and naïve.

I am reading seemingly authoritative sounding accounts by various individuals, trying to make a “connection” of the various discoveries of Morihei Ueshiba’s complex life, his sparse amount of writings, and often arguably unclear records of his teachings. None of these researchers actually had personal, hands on contact with the Founder, nor learned directly from his hand or his voice over an extended period of time. Despite YouTube videos and a scratchy recording here and there, our actual store of irrefutably clear evidence of the Founder’s real intentions, clearly defined vision, or of a well documented history of his achievements remains elusive, to say the least.

I am definitely not condemning or minimalizing the sincere and honest attempts by certain notable individuals, who are attempting valiantly to do the truly onerous research. Where would any of us even begin to make sense of the mountain of information without the life’s work of Stanley Pranin, who has labored so much, alone, and for so long. Painstakingly deliberate to “get it right” as much as possible, Mr. Pranin has “made his bones” in being fair, thorough and accurate. Yet even he admits that there is so much more to do that would require several lifetimes of work. Today, he finds himself accompanied by several folk with far less pedigree and hard earned authority than he, making claims of prescience and wisdom even he dares not advance. Simply being able to translate the vocabulary of any language certainly does not “connect” to also understanding the material, and wisely pontificating on its layered meanings for the rest of us from some source of legitimacy and trust.

The operational word for this article is the word “connection”. The Japanese verb to connect is tsunagu. The Japanese noun of “connection”, however, is setsuzoku. Other nouns in Japanese include renraku, meaning a junction, a point of communication or correspondence, and kankei, which suggests a relationship of some sort, or to an established relationship between two concepts or of individuals.

In the accounts published in English, it appears that the use of the word “connection” implies some sort of bond or link between two or more persons in an established and verifiable martial context. I wonder whether, or of which appropriate or applicable Japanese word above was being referenced in this regard. Perhaps this is simply another leap of logic or intuition, that is intended to give instant license and legitimacy to the one who dares to be bold, and to correspondingly take pre-emptive command of the phenomenon of “connection” on behalf of the rest of us. Really?

The one question that glaringly stands out to me is, a connection between whom, to accomplish what exactly, and when and in what time frame, and why it is so crucial? It seems to me that once you identify your target, you really want to dispatch it as efficiently and quickly as possible, and soon to be far away, and back on your journey. Connections, by definition, are not so easily made, and even more difficult to simply disentangle from, once their usefulness is over. Why spend so much thought and energy in establishing a relationship that will be over quicker than a Shinchoku giri?

I also recognize the phenomenon of “getting inside your opponent’s head”, so to speak, and to not only anticipate, but to actually influence his response, using your ability to “connect” with his naked intent. This is a rare skill, and must be used judiciously and only in great need. The potential for abuse is huge, as seen with historical figures like Hitler, Rasputin, Jim Jones, Ted Bundy, and many others that can be named.

If training in Aikido has anything to do with setsuzoku, renraku or kankei, let’s spell out the legitimate conditions for its appropriate application. If we are to tsunagu with our training partner, how will we keep it honorable, at decidedly mutual arm’s length, and remain morally and ethically acceptable to those in observance. Teachers of young children, most importantly, must be transparent in their instruction and guidance.

Yes, by judiciously and correctly connecting the dots of the Founder’s journey, we can learn much about how to authentically fashion our very own form of aikido. We must be careful and vigilant, however, to not include any of our own misguided and premature conclusions, selfishly crafted agendas, or to disingenuously intimate “special knowledge” or arbitrary insight, or to otherwise mislead those with whom we train, especially novices. Our “connection” to the Founder must always be based on legitimacy of transfer, provenance of verifable contact, integrity of training motives, fastidious use of terminology, and an uncompromising and unconditional commitment to open minded regard for all legitmate instruction, and Reigi Saho for one another.

Finally, keep your planning simple, easy to follow and rewarding to do. The most important focus of your training, will always be to keep the dots connected, and to execute each element of your martial training, and that of your compassionate will, without any hesitation.

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  1. Thank you Takahashi Sensei for another deep and thoughts provoking article.

    I think that even if we read all the well documented, first hand information about the Founder we will never find out all about his journey, his thoughts and intention and of course everyone will get to his own conclusions, each one very different, because by reading and researching we always put something from our own experience into our understanding.

    In Spanish we use the word to connect “conectar” as to blend like between uke and tori, it can also be used like a connection between long time friends or partners who understand each other without words.

  2. Hi Francis,

    I’m not sure what “less pedigree” actually has to do with the validity of a particular argument or supposition. As we all know, even judging a “pedigree” can be a tricky endeavor at best.

    Don’t you think that it would be more constructive to clearly state the assertion that you disagree with and then direct your objections to the specific assertion in question?



  3. The past is elusive. Written history is inevitably incomplete, is loaded with biases, errors, fabrications, preferences and as with all things the story varies with each witness’s viewing point.

    Unless you can travel in time as with Dr. Who, at best all we mortals can achieve is an approximation, some closer than others.

    Each moment is unique.

    The “footsteps in the sands of time,” left as a beacon by the greater lights who have passed through time may leave a legacy which carries value and import for this moment today.

    In this case the best we can hope to do is to continue to carry the baton in this evolutionary relay that add value through our own efforts.

    The closer and more authentic researches may serve to inspire our journey. But unless we are travelling on our journey actively, it is only dreams.

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