Popular! “Steven Seagal can’t lift Koichi Tohei!”

One of the big problems with many of the Aikido articles printed by westerners is that they are opinion articles, often with fuzzy interpretations of numerous Aikido or Aikido-related ideas. Sometimes the idea of “Aikido-related” is a far stretch indeed, getting into self-help, psychology, and other areas that Ueshiba never directily mentioned or advised on in his life…

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  1. Charles Humphrey says:

    I gotta say I’m always a bit put off by the whole “unliftable sensei” routine. It’s pretty hard to lift anyone from under the armpits, never mind somebody with a bit of a sense of their centre of gravity. I once had a senior Aikikai instructor in the mountains in Yamaguchi try this one on me, first my brawny Japanese (budo loving) travel buddy tried just like Seagal did and obviously couldn’t lift the (very diminutive) Master, but without thinking I just picked him up the way I’ve picked anyone up since childhood, I dropped down wrapped his hips and lifted with my legs and picked him clear up and high off the ground. His students and he himself were amazed and looked at me like I was some kind of secret wizard, but I just did what makes sense instead of trying to do it the dumb way that my friend did.

    There’s probably some kind of suggestion work going on where they point to their shoulders and say “pick me up” and so your mind thinks it’s supposed to pick them up by there. You never get anywhere picking something up all hunched over trying to lift them high up above their centre. I have a hard time lifting my little girlfriend up that way, so why is it always I see this photos as “proof” of skill? Not to say Tohei didn’t have skill, but these little tricks kinda cheapen folks because it’s obvious what’s going on and it has nothing to do with their skill but basic biomechanics. If someone told me I had to lift them that way I’d say they were dumb or thought I was dumb. Straighten your back, drop your hips, grab the center, push up. I’ve never met a man who was so good I couldn’t pick him up by his hips (though I expect I’d struggle with someone over 300 lbs,) and never met someone so small and stiff that it wasn’t still hard to lift them by the shoulders. So what’s the big fuss all about?

  2. Charles Humphrey says:

    I see the same kinda schtick all over the martial arts world. In the Bill Moyer documentary about famous Beijing Taiji Master Shi Ming (whose controversy in the Chen style taiji world is comparable to Tohei’s), he has this big brawny American student try to “shoulder throw him” but he’s just standing still and calm and to get up under his arm while he’s in such an upright position the poor American kid inevitably gets himself all twisted out of shape and hunched over working against himself. This shows that Shi Ming’s got good basic posture, but beyond that it’s nothing that special… he even has to stabilize himself by shifting footwork. Again, I’ve never met anyone that was so good they couldn’t move me when I’m just standing still and relaxed…a nd I don’t think anyone without serious partial residual tension would be any different unless they’d been conditioned by their teachers to take dives. The only way to “throw” someone from a neutral position is to use combative strikes to disrupt their structure and then seize the opportunity to collapse their balance. I dunno… I don’t like the parlour tricks. They give people the wrong idea.

  3. My current school has some Tohei lineage and our sensei calls the ki tests “aikido party tricks” but we still explore some of them. You can learn some important traits like dynamic relaxation or good posture from them. We tend to look at them in more biomechanical sense than a mystical energy. I think most schools could benefit from learning some of these things.

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