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Open Forum: Aikido’s Role In Modern Society

by Stanley Pranin

Aiki News #88 (Summer 1991)

“Open Forum,” a new series of discussions with Aiki News readers in Japan, debuted in Japanese in issue #88. The purpose of this forum is to give aikidoists a chance to voice their opinions on a specific theme, and to promote greater communication between our editors and our readers, as well as between readers by removing the boundaries which frequently exist between organizations and which prevent open discussion about how they feel about aikido in their daily lives. An English language counterpart, “The Reader’s Forum,” will appear beginning with the next issue to provide similar opportunities for readers of the English edition. The topic for our first Open Forum is “What is the role of aikido in modern society?”

Thank you all for coming today. In the past Aiki News has dealt primarily with the history of aikido and Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu. We would like to expand our coverage to include topics of general interest. I believe that the role of aikido in our highly technical society has increased in importance. I would like to hear your opinions on this issue.

Kaneko: First of all, perhaps you should introduce yourselves.

Matsuo: When I was a student, 29 years ago, I happened to visit the Yoshinkan dojo and started to practice Yoshinkan Aikido at that time. I am currently practicing at the Yokohama Aikidokai, the head dojo of Terada Sensei of the Yoshinkan. I am a businessman.

Yamamoto: It has been about seven years since I started aikido. In the beginning I thought that aikido was a difficult martial art, but I have come to feel that there is no other martial art which I could enjoy more. Thanks to aikido, I now lead a very cheerful life. I work for the city.

Shinozuka: I have practiced aikido at Igarashi Sensei’s Hashimoto Dojo for only one and a half years.

Kajiwara: I practice aikido at the Kobayashi Dojo. My daughter started a month before I did. Kobayashi Sensei accepted her into the dojo at the age of three. I used to accompany her to and from the dojo, and so I decided to join.

Kaneko: The reasons you all began aikido most certainly differ, and so you will have a variety of perspectives on today’s topic.

Matsuo: When I was a high school student, I began to be interested in martial arts. I had no motive other than a vague wish to become strong. In the beginning, I concentrated only on building my physical strength and increasing my flexibility. However, after I got to know Terada Sensei, I was gradually influenced by more than just the physical or exterior aspects of Sensei’s daily conduct and modes of communication; there was a spiritual influence as well.

Yamamoto: I practiced judo from childhood until I reached junior high school. After graduating from university I went to work at City Hall, and after six years of office work, my weight had increased to 198 pounds (90 kg.). I went on a diet, but to no avail. I thought I ought to do some kind of exercise and considered karate, Shorinji or one of the Chinese martial arts, but there were no dojos located near my house. I also found them to be too hard physically. I didn’t want to resume judo either. One day, I saw a sign in front of Hashimoto Station which read “Aikido Hashimoto Dojo.” Six months later I visited to observe a practice. Seven years have now passed since I joined the dojo in order to lose some weight. At first, while I was still in my 30’s, I trained in order to become strong. Over the long run, however, after having thought about Sensei’s personality and the characters of my copractitioners, I began to realize that this intention was not correct.

Shinozuka: I have practiced aikido for only one and a half years. Although my children practiced kendo, I had never tried a martial art. I insisted that they practice so that they would be able to protect themselves to a certain degree. As I had no experience with martial arts, I could not give them any advice. At the suggestion of a friend I visited the Hashimoto Dojo and observed their morning session. I felt that I could do aikido. I think the fact that I started a martial art was also good for my relationships with my colleagues.

Kimura: Is aikido that special?

Shinozuka: Yes, it has merits. Martial arts such as karate or Shorinji can only be practiced when one is young; they cannot be continued for a long time. But in aikido, one can begin to practice in a more relaxed manner and can continue practicing even as one gets older.

Kaneko: Mrs. Kajiwara, in your case, your daughter started aikido before you did.

Kajiwara: Yes, I was busy taking care of her until she turned three. One day, my husband told me that he thought I had changed a lot. I felt that I needed to open up more and get out. I wanted to find something that I could do together with my daughter. I wanted her to do some kind of martial art, so I got in touch with several dojos. But none of them would accept a child of her age. I searched the telephone directory for dojo names and found the Kobayashi dojo. Although I didn’t know what aikido was, I called the dojo. They accepted her. One day when I went with her to the dojo, one of the live-in students told me that I might as well start too, since I was already coming to the dojo with her. Although I had never seriously done anything that could be called a sport before, he said that anyone who could walk normally and who led a normal life could do aikido. I watched a general class and thought it was great. I got so excited that I couldn’t sleep very well that night. The live-in students at the dojo told me that I would be able to perform at the level of the senior practitioners if I practiced hard enough, although how long this would take depended on the individual. So seven years ago I started the art. I feel great about having continued because aikido helps me to maintain a calm state of mind longer when something unusual happens. For example, I used to be surprised and step on the accelerator if a driver behind me honked his horn. Now I am calm before I start any action. I also think that I can stay more objective about my daughter’s behavior and words, or other’s opinions at PTA meetings and the like. I used to be short-tempered and got angry very easily. I think it is wonderful that I can now act in a more relaxed manner, thanks to aikido. Even though I have not made remarkable progress, I do feel that there has been a major psychological change.

Kaneko: Has anyone had a significant experience involving aikido in daily life?

Matsuo: I think that we see a beneficial effect regardless of what sport is practiced. In aikido, we learn to cultivate a state of mind that allows us to maintain a calm, normal state, and to avoid being involved when we are suddenly faced with an unusual incident. One rainy day I was wearing boots walking to aikido practice. As I walked along the underpass, I heard someone yelling. I discovered that he was shouting at me because my umbrella had brushed his leg. Without realizing that he was calling me, I was wondering what had happened to cause his loud shouts. When I discovered that he meant me, I immediately reminded myself of the image of aikido as well as the trouble it might cause my sensei [if I failed to deal with the situation well]. I thought about how I could deal with this man without injuring him should he attack me. To make a long story short, despite my concern, the man apologized to me. I have had several similar experiences. I started aikido for the childish reason to become tough so as not to be beaten in such situations. But after I actually began, I found that there were many other strong people in our dojo, and I finally stopped being so unyielding. Before I started aikido, I used to pick fights with others, but afterwards I became more relaxed. Aikido influenced me to open my eyes, as well as to help me keep my normal state of mind when something occurs. One day, I caught a masher who was chasing a girl. On another occasion, I caught a drunken man who was knocking over the bikes and motorcycles parked around the train station and took him to a police box. I think that yonkajo influenced him. He must have thought that he could not resist me and so followed me obediently.

Kaneko: There are a number of “popular” sports, such as tennis or soccer. You all must have had a rea-son for choosing aikido. Mr. Yamamoto, why did you switch from judo to aikido?

Yamamoto: I do one of the popular sports: tennis. I used to enjoy sports a great deal and believed that winning was the highest goal. After having started aikido, however, I have gradually realized that I would not hold a high position in a world where might ruled. When I began to think in this way, sports did not seem so exciting. The result of playing sports turns out to be negative. The reason I still play tennis is to study things like irimi or tenkan movements when a ball speeds towards my face [laughter].

I am a garbage collector in Sagamihara City. The truck that we use has a revolving window which runs well in the beginning, but it stops near the end when there is a lot of garbage in the truck. This prevents us from seeing what might be flying back at us. One day a glass fragment flew at me. I automatically closed my eyes and moved my body. I found the fragment sticking in my vest. Not long after I had started aikido, a whisky bottle broke and a sliver of it stuck in my eyelid. Since I deal in filth, filthy liquid comes to me. We can certainly use hanmi to avoid getting hit. This is good practice. “Do not show the garbage your unpreparedness” [laughter].

My daughter has been practicing aikido with Igarashi Sensei since she was two years old. I see no reason for women to practice aikido if they do not learn to protect themselves to a certain degree. I teach children twice a week at the dojo. Mothers come along with their children and watch their practice. But few of them join the practice. If they did, I think that they would love it.

Kaneko: We’d like to move on to the question of whether aikido is useful as self-defense. It has been said that Japanese women became strong after the war, but I think that it is difficult for them to be as physically strong as men. Our article on “Model Mugging” [AN#84] was of interest to our readers in this respect. What do you think?

Shinozuka: I think it is necessary to do some martial art so that we can protect ourselves if we should encounter a situation which involves fighting. Karate practitioners, I believe, concentrate on attack and pay little attention to defense. I think aikido is best both for self-protection and for controlling others. Girls and small children can practice it. I know a girl who practices the piano. She does not want to hurt her hands by using them like they do in a karate dojo. Considering these factors, I think that aikido is best for her and will be good for her if she can also learn to protect herself.

Matsuo: I think it is difficult to judge which is the best. For example, a girl who was a black belt in karate met with an accident when she was traveling alone. The issue of self-defense in aikido depends on the circumstance. I think that eventually we can protect ourselves using aikido. Aikido is very useful for keeping a calm frame of mind. It would, however, be rather dangerous if we start off trying to fight an attacker. In an article written by Kyoichi Inoue Sensei, who teaches police women at the Metropolitan Police Office, he says that when someone grabs your shoulder it is best to get rid of this annoyance without letting him know it by releasing the hand as if pushing against it. In my opinion, it is rather dangerous to use aikido techniques for self-defense. I think that the spirit of aikido is to control the mind to avoid arousing the fighting spirit so that we do not have to apply techniques on an attacker.

Kaneko: Mrs. Kajiwara, what is your opinion from the woman’s perspective?

Kajiwara: I think that it is most important to know one’s own power. To have such a conceited mind as to show off one’s strength just because one has been practicing a martial art is the very path to self-destruction. I think that aikido is good because we cannot enjoy practice without maintaining an open mind towards our partner; it is not aggressive, but it should not make us feel conceited. When I went to a martial arts camp abroad, some participants in my beginners class tried to show off their strength by demonstrating their knowledge of karate or kick boxing. They joined the aikido sessions thinking that aikido was easy. But when I grabbed them by the hand they could hardly move. I have been practicing aikido not to try to become strong but only to be accepted by my fellow practitioners, and this attitude helps me to protect myself.

We practice for example, thrusts and yokomenuchi in the dojo. Do you think that this practice would be effective in an actual situation?

Matsuo: Even at our quickest, we could hardly handle the attacks of those who have practiced karate seriously.

What should we do? How should we practice?

Matsuo: First of all, I don’t think it really matters. I do not think that we should practice always imagining real strikes or attacks because our purpose, except for those who aim to become professional martial artists, is different.

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