Author: Bret Gordon
Last year, I wrote an article entitled "The Untouchable Martial Art" which discussed the phenomenon in the Kempo/Kenpo community that allows anyone with even the slightest training to branch out, start their own "Method" and be legitimate. They found the loophole in the normal standards of legitimacy, which allows them to be founders of their own system while not really being founders. Yet they're not exactly a branch or ryuha of a larger system either, because they each maintain their own separate identity. They're on that dotted line, double dipping.
Well, it appears that the plethora of systems claiming to teach "Aiki Jujutsu" were told about this loophole and jumped on the bandwagon. Because no two practitioners define "aiki" or "internal power" exactly the same way, a black hole was created that sucks in any one even remotely connected to Daito Ryu. Aiki Jujutsu has become a blanket term for realistically anyone teaching joint manipulation and throws that favor being on the "soft" side. Let's just ignore the fact that jujutsu itself is the "gentle art" and encompasses all of those throws and locks in their entirety. Yet people still jump on the aiki bandwagon and for what? Well, because they I can.
Personally, I blame Kano Jigoro. After visiting the dojo of Ueshiba Morihei, he remarked "This is my ideal budo" and continually referred to aiki jujutsu as the "highest form" of jujutsu practice. So the precedent was set to include aiki as simply an extension of jujutsu. From then on, aiki came to be known as simply advanced jujutsu. But that couldn't be farther from what aiki is, at least as defined by American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu. According to our tradition, aiki is pre-conditioned state of being that affects anything that comes in contact with our body. Through proper stucture and biomechanical alignment, we teach how to achieve instant kuzushi and generate power outside of conventional muscular strength. Those who feel true aiki often comment that their strength dissipates while their body is being painfully compressed and thrown or locked.
While aiki can be applied with taijutsu (empty-handed arts), the validity of this study truly shines when dealing with weaponry and weapon retention. People make the mistake that Daito Ryu holds the trademark on aiki, yet that couldn't be farther from the truth. Numerous koryu systems practiced sophisticated methods of off-balancing, specifically in Kenjutsu. Daito Ryu is best known for expanding those concepts for taijutsu application, yet they're not the only ones. Kito Ryu is another jujutsu system known for its internal curriculum, as well as Miura Yoshin Ryu (now extinct).
In fact, it should be noted that the phrase "Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu" never existed until Takeda Sokaku issued the kyoju dairi (representative instructor's license) to Ueshiba Morihei, pictured at right. It was always simply Daito Ryu Jujutsu, and it's believed that Takeda made this distinction because Ueshiba had deviated so far from the mainline curriculum that he did not want people thinking that's what true Daito Ryu was.
To add the confusion, Takeda was known for teaching every student something different. It wasn't until his son, Tokimune, took over as Soke that Daito Ryu had an established curriculum. So every student of Takeda studied, thinking they were learning true Daito Ryu (and in a sense they were) and then branched out to start their own organizations. Yet every single Daito Ryu branch teaches something different. If the various branches of Daito Ryu can't even agree on what Aiki Jujutsu is, how can we expect anyone else to?
The newest argument in the aiki community is "Well, they may have aiki but ours is just different. It's more refined." And that's fair. There certainly are varying levels of internal power, and definitely a large margin of applicability between the way each school teaches it. However, shoden level aiki is still aiki. I once attended a Daito Ryu seminar here in Orlando several years ago, where the instructor was explaining that Ryotedori Aiki Age was essentially the initiation. That as long as you could achieve proper age (rising), you were part of the club and everything else was up to the practitioner's personal development. How much more they could apply was irrelevant, they had "it."
But what about the numerous people who can't? Who are the aiki police that are going to go around forcefully changing everyone else's system name, logo and patch? In reality, no one. There are those who will sit around and make videos complaining about everyone else. But it's not their fault. We are now in the second and third generation of instructors simply regurgitating what their teacher told them was aiki. You're fighting a losing battle, because very few people are willing to admit their sensei might have been wrong. Add to the fact that aiki is not like karate, judo, jujutsu or any other art that has well-defined parameters. You can complain all day long, but at the end of day, everyone will still have their own interpretation of what aiki is. Dont even get me started on the numerous Chinese internal martial arts. And that is why aiki is an untouchable martial art.
This article was originally published on the US Association of Martial Arts blog. To view the original article, please click here.
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The articles posted here have been shared from the US Association of Martial Arts website, run by our headmaster Bret Gordon, for their relevance to Aiki Jujutsu. For more of his writings, please click here.