O’Sensei brought his study of the spear, sword, knife and aiki jujitsu together to form a martial system that he called Aikido. Some ask why we practice with weapons. There are many reasons ranging from the practical fact that as O’Sensei lived in a world where there were such things as swords, knives and spears and therefore we have to learn to cope with them, and due to the fact that they reveal aspects of our Aikido that practicing empty handed alone cannot.
Some of these aspects are:
- The different distances involved that we need to automatically adjust to
- The sharp clarity of utilising hito-e-mi and hanmi
- Calmness of mind when attacked with a sword, knife or spear (ease with other weapons will be a natural consequence, but it is still good to try other weapons)
- The sharpness, focus and precision that comes from facing these weapons
The kumijo, kumitachi and katas have changed and developed over the years because they were not meant to be rigidly set. As with all of our Aikido, it is the principles that are important not the order in which we practice the movements. Take a mason as an example. First he has to learn how to make a solid building block (this is our suburi). Once he has mastered this with the correct moulds and mixes, etc., he has something that he can use to build with. If the bricks are not made well they will crumble under pressure.
Once his basic building blocks (aikido’s suburi) are correct, and the aikidoka understands the importance of the principles of construction: deep foundations, angles, supports etc. (aikido’s hanmi, awase, ki-no-nagare, kokyu, treat many as one, train hard fight easy (i.e. sincere, strong attacks) etc. The master mason can then build any form that he wants to. We can see this evidenced in the glorious cathedrals all across Britain. In aikido, these cathedrals are mirrored in our end goal of takemusu. Takemusu (literally take – technique and musu – birth) is the stage attained where aikido is so much a part of us that our every movement (martial or not) is spontaneous and just right, where you transcend mastery into being a maestro.
So one should not be concerned that form changes, to mix maxims, ‘form is temporary; principles are permanent.’ Indeed, they are still changing. All through O-Sensei’s life, Saito Sensei’s life and now his son Hitohira Sensei’s life, their form has developed. (Please excuse me here for only using the Iwama tree, but it’s the only one about which I can talk from experience) The principles however, have remained constant.
Some examples of this are the 31 count kata movements numbered 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 that are recently all practiced as one continuous movement. Similarly numbers 15 and 16, 20 and 21 and 25 and 26 are already linked together without any pauses to form one flowing movement. Of course, in reality they were only separated to make learning them easier. This can be found throughout our aikido where we ‘chunk’ movements down to make learning simpler.
On the 1st kumitachi some practise cutting the body in the first defensive movement whilst other sword schools cut to the wrist as the sword strikes. Which is correct? Answer both and neither, it is whatever works in a situation. In mastery of the basics we must be rigid, in real time application flexibility is all important.
I hope that this goes someway to answering the questions of why weapons are practiced and why form changes. If anyone has any questions they are welcome to email me from the site at Wiltshire Martial Arts