If Aikido Works Like a Sword, Then is it a ‘Weapons Art’?
A ‘Weapons Art’ uses a weapon or weapons (Eg Sword, Staff, Shinai, Etc) in martial practice. Popular examples are Arnis (Filipino Martial Art) and Kendo (Japanese Martial Art of Fencing). Aikido is based on the arts of the sword and staff. So is it a ‘Weapons Art’?
Here is one of the ways Aikido was explained to me. During a battle, when a samurai loses his sword and spare weapons he will need to take an attacker’s weapon to use it against him to survive. This is the practice of Buki Dori in Aikido. This practice is pure Aiki. One cannot clash with a weapon, one must blend (awase) with the attacker to avoid getting cut or chopped.
Do Weapons Art Still Work Without Weapons?
When I was a teenager in the 90s, I remember showing my sister the Aikido ken suburi I learnt. She looked at me in a weird way and said ‘That’s lovely, all you need now is to have a sword when somebody attacks you”. Although I was rather offended back then from that comment, nowadays, I think she’s got a very valid point, and I laugh thinking about it now.
It’s like learning how to use a gun and going through a gun range target shooting. Without that gun, all of those gun range training is useless. I think this is what makes Aikido effective because, without a sword, the Aikidoka still has taijutsu to use.
We grip and grab limbs like we hold a sword or staff. Gosh, we even attack like our limbs are swords. The whole Aikido form is based on swordsmanship.
The strong form of O Sensei’s Aikido has weapons in it. Without it, the strong and effective form is gone. I think that’s a fundamental problem in Aikido. The most popular versions of Aikido are practised and taught like it is an empty hand martial art.
Maybe We Should Accept that Aikido IS a Weapons Art
What separates bukiwaza and taijutsu is training with weapons. A martial art technique cannot be called bukiwaza with the absence of a weapon.
Even our Aikido attacks are called shomenuchi, yokomenuchi, or munetsuki, these are all sword cut or sword thrust terms. We call the edge of hand ‘tegatana’ – hand blade. Our Kokyu arm shape is extended and curved like a sword. Aikido the martial art is weapons-based.
Some of the effective Aikido taijutsu techniques I know works well with an Atemi or two. A lot of Aikido techniques I’ve seen will only work with an atemi. Without atemi, there’s a good chance that the Aikido technique wouldn’t work at all, an example of this is Kaiten Nage from kihon.
When Tori (Nage) is doing an Aikido technique and Uke stops him, the most effective way for that technique to continue is to insert an atemi or two.
This is what I love about O Sensei’s Aikido – Iwama Aikido. Most techniques practised have atemi in them.
By the way, on a side note for those of you that are just starting out in Aikido, an atemi is defined as a strike on pressure points. An atemi is unique because most of the time, it is invisible or one cannot see it coming. If an atemi is visible, it is usually thrown to induce Uke to block. This is how Aikido teachers differentiate an atemi from an ordinary punch or kick.
For me, an atemi is a strike pure and simple. An atemi could be as simple as a jab or a kick to the face. If a jab to the jaw knocks the attacker out (without injury) and stops the attack. Then the situation is controlled. Isn’t that the homeostasis that we are after in Aikido? The return to the position of no violence.
Maybe I am oversimplifying what an atemi is, but that’s what I am doing, I am simplifying and demystifying Aikido so that it is easy to understand and absorb.
All these reasons and thoughts led me to a new paradigm shift in a fundamental belief, perhaps Aikido IS a Weapons Art. To me, this is a game-changer. This paradigm shift changes how I train, how I will teach my students, and even how I describe Aikido when I write.
I always thought that Aikido is the closest (modern) martial art to the Samurai because it has taijutsu (jujutsu), bukiwaza, bukidori, bushido, bushin, and spirituality.
Finally, I can accept the purpose of Aikido and where it stands as a martial art.