Author: Bret Gordon
In part 1 (click here to read), I briefly defined one interpretation of "aiki" as the moment in time when two opposing forces intertwine. I also began touching on Aiki no Rentai (conditioned aiki body), and it's on this subject I'd like to dive deeper.
As I previously stated, Aikido founder Ueshiba Morihei functioned on a different plane from what we often see in modern Aikido. By all accounts, Ueshiba had the aiki body which brings me to the next interpretation: Aiki is something you have, not something you do or something that happens. To quote my friend Rob Liberti, "aiki in me makes aiki in thee."
When the aiki body is developed, the opposing forces we're talking about no longer refer to two separate entities but rather forces acting within one's own body. Through engaging the connective tissue of the body, we're attempting to create omnidirectional force by expanding in all (six) directions: up, down, forward, back, left, and right. The body, constantly being pulled in all directions, develops a tensile strength that neutralizes force acting upon it (often referred to as rooting or grounding). With that, an elasticity is also created that allows force to travel through the body without obstruction.
In order to cultivate the aiki body, each system has their own specific conditioning methods, called tanren 鍛錬 (forging), but common practices include:
Now, here is where things start to get slightly more complicated and confusing. When we are talking about aiki as a quality one possesses, what we're really discussing is a concept called internal power (IP). But instead, we tend to use aiki as a catch-all shorthand for several different aspects of training. I'll briefly break them down here:
Internal Power - The result of very specific biomechanical processes, which include engagement of the fascia and other connective tissue rather than firing up large muscle groups, engaging the body as a single cohesive unit, and coordinating the breath to create either suction/connection or expansion. Movement originates in the tanden (lower dantien), and priority is given to maintaining structural integrity above all else. There's more to it, but without these attributes it's definitely NOT internal power.
Aiki no Rentai 合気之錬体 - The pre-conditioned state of being, a body that has been conditioned to move, carry weight, and express power with the processes described above. There are many ways to integrate the body, with the fascia model being the most common among Japanese internal arts practitioners. Other integrated structures include the bone reference model, a deeper level of connection most commonly seen in Chinese internal arts.
Aiki no Inyo'Ho 合気之陰陽法 - The study of intertwining opposing forces for the creation of aiki.
Aiki no Jutsu 合気之術 - Techniques of aiki, that do not rely on any joint or skeletal manipulation. This is somewhat misleading however, more on that later.
Fure Aiki 触れ合気 - A subset of Aiki no Jutsu that expresses the technique through minimal touch instead of full-force grabs/strikes, meant to show one's ability to connect and disrupt immediately upon contact. In Chinese internal arts, this is referred to as Na Jin (seizing power).
Aiki Jujutsu 合気柔術 - Jujutsu techniques (joint locks, manipulations, throws) powered by the aiki body and that affect the entire structure, rather than simply the joint being attacked.
Aiki Kenpo 合気拳法 - Striking techniques powered by the aiki body rather than conventional karate or kickboxing mechanics.
Collectively, all of these things are often referred to as "aiki" which only leads to arguments and miscommunications. The waters are further muddied when you consider the deliberate disinformation often engaged in by teachers of internal arts as standard policy. Kondo Katsuyuki, Menkyo Kaiden in mainline Daito Ryu, exemplified that in his comment:
"When my teacher Tokimune was still active and in good health, many of his students from all over Japan came to Abashiri once a year to take part in the annual Headquarters meeting. Several times, when I came to participate in the headmaster direct transmission seminars (soke jikiden kai) that were always held on these occasions, the meeting was divided into two groups, one taught by Tokimune sensei himself, the other taught by me acting as his instructional representative. Naturally, the day before these my teacher would go over with me in detail about what he wanted me to teach on his behalf, and he always told me that I must not teach the true techniques that I had learned from him. Even in regard to the very first technique taught in Daito-ryu, ippondori, I was strictly prohibited from teaching the real version I had learned directly from Tokimune sensei, and was told to teach only the version of ippondori he always taught in his own Daitokan dojo.
My teacher explained his purpose in this by saying, "What will you do if you teach people the true techniques and the next day they leave the school? The oral and secret teachings of Daito-ryu will flow outside of the school." He also said, "Out of a thousand people, only one or two are genuine students. Find them out and teach them what is real; there is no need to teach such things to the rest." My teacher only taught real techniques to a person if he could ascertain, from his questions, technical and physical ability, apprehension, and diligence, that they carried a sincere and genuine attitude. He inherited this method of teaching from Sokaku sensei." (source: Aikido Sangenkai Facebook)
My own experience in the aiki arts echoes Kondo sensei's statements. My teacher, Steven Hatfield, is extremely reserved with who he teaches aiki to, and honestly hates how freely I demonstrate and discuss it. Our goals as instructors are simply different, and in my experience it doesn't matter how much you try to teach aiki, the secrets guard themselves.
Stay tuned for part 3...