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An Interview With Mark Jones (02)

by Meik Skoss

Aikido Journal #101 (1994)

In part 2, the chief instructor of Traditional Aikido of Napa discusses some of the moral and ethical issues that arise from training in the martial arts.

Your students are exposed to quite a variety of weapons. Have any of these people trained in other martial arts as well?

Some of them have trained in t’ai chi, and one of my Katori students is a nidan in tae kwon do. Hans Goto has trained in a number of different arts, for example Chinese wushu, in addition to aikido for many years. Jay Calendar, who’s a sandan, is also now a shodan in jujutsu. He used to be a judo competitor.

You say jujutsu shodan, is that the Danzan-ryu?

I think it’s the Danzan-ryu. It’s up in Santa Rosa. Do you know a fellow named Robert Hudson? He comes a long way to practice Katori with me on weekends. During the week there’s no aikido dojo close by, so he also took up jujutsu, to kind of fill in that need. Of course, he also does massage and they teach restorative arts. I sometimes wish that aikido also incorporated the restorative arts in its training along with teaching better attacks. I think that would, in some ways, make a more complete art.

You think aikido would benefit from both stronger attacking techniques, and from the inclusion of resuscitation and healing techniques?

In many ways we probably don’t need it as much as other arts, because we’re not really competing so much, although there does tend to be a lot of personal competition on certain levels within some dojos, or from dojo to dojo, especially in Japan.

You feel that there is more of that in Japan?

From my experience.

I agree with you wholeheartedly.

In a competitive art where you have two people going against each other who are equally matched and they are resisting each other, I think the chance that they are going to hurt each other is much greater than in aikido, where two people are working with each other, or in Katori where two people are working with each other.

Do you think so?

Well, from what I have seen. I have seen judo dojos where people are taped up from head to toe, and every day people are getting injured. In my philosophy of training, if you injure someone, you are not accomplishing anything that is any good. If I injure you, and you can’t train, then who’s getting the benefit? I think we should train as hard as we can, but I also think we shouldn’t hurt people.

I think that when you are training in something like judo or sumo, it’s an all out thing, and there’s not as much margin for safety in one sense, but in terms of egregious, really unnecessary, egotistical injury, I think personally, based on my experience both here in Japan and in the United States, that there is more abuse in aikido than in any other art I’ve seen. I’ll say that categorically-I’ve been on both sides of the equation. I think that in judo, because you are working all out you get certain kinds of injuries, but they’re not intentional. You also find certain injuries in karate, depending on the dojo. But, in Japan, in my karate dojo, there was absolutely nowhere near the number of injuries that you’d get in an aikido dojo-and my karate dojo is a hard-core Okinawan karate, taught as bujutsu. There is no abuse that I have seen.

I tend to agree with you. Most of the dojos that I have been to follow the principles of aiki. But you do get individuals now and then who, though they are really nice off the mat, on the mat are entirely different and they injure people. They’ll take a beginner who doesn’t even know how to slap yet and continue pushing until their partner is in tears. There’s just no reason for it If you are adhering to the principles of aikido you don’t injure people.

I would extend that to say the principles of budo.

Yes, I agree. I think all real budo strives to avoid any kind of fight. Gichin Funakoshi, who brought karate to Japan from Okinawa, would walk miles out of his way just to avoid a confrontation. Kata in karate starts with a defensive move, it starts with a block. It doesn’t start with a punch or a kick. It’s how aikido deals with confrontation, that makes it somewhat unique from the others.

For example?

In karatedo you might go to any extent to avoid a fight, but if it comes down to it, and you have to hit somebody, there’s a good chance that if you strike with all your power that you’re going to injure them. I think ideally, in aikido, if you couldn’t talk them out of it, and you had no choice but to take action, hopefully you would wind up pinning them and not breaking a bone.

But the operative word is hopefully. Can you really assume that?

It’s never an art that loses a fight. It’s only individuals who do. The term that comes to mind is masakatsu. Basically, if you act in accordance with the principles of aikido, you always emerge victorious.

“True victory, correct victory.” But there have been instances where senior aikido instructors have had fights or problems with criminal elements and in some cases caused injury. Is that blending? Perhaps in terms of the “big picture” it is necessary to cause pain, injury or even death to one or two people, to teach others that this is not the best way to go, or to reduce a probable situation where lots of people could get hurt or worse.

I teach my students something along those lines. I tell them that in the ideal world, with ideal aikido being applied, we will be able to reconcile an attacker, and leave as good buddies, but in the real world this isn’t always possible. If someone is trying to take your life with a knife, I think a broken arm is a small price for them to pay. I tell my students that the level of severity of the technique applied is very much an individual decision. Obviously, if a friend of yours has had a little too much to drink, and is a little belligerent, you wouldn’t put him in the hospital. But if your family is being threatened with bodily harm, or someone wants to take their life, and you are to defend them, even if at the risk of causing injury, that’s something that you have to decide for yourself.

How do you teach your people to deal with this dilemma, to resolve these issues? We have training methods that reduce the possibility of injury, but all of those techniques are deadly. One of my teachers once asked me, “How many throws are there in aikido?” I said, “Well, I don’t know. I’ve heard various numbers. 64. 362. 2,000. 6,000. 16,000?” He said, “Uh-uh. None, Zero. All the throws are strikes, the pins are all deadly. We throw to avoid injuring.”

I try to show my students what’s real. I teach atemiwaza, that is, striking techniques. I’ll tell them that whether they actually need to follow all the way through with that atemiwaza depends on the severity of the situation. If you practice atemiwaza, then you can use it if you need to. If you don’t really need to then you can use it as a blinding move or distraction to help you into your technique. Obviously, in a real situation, if you have somebody on the ground, and you are pinning their shoulder, then you have the option to believe them if they say they’ve had enough and they want to go home with their arm intact. But if this person is just going to get up and try to shoot you, you have the option of dislocating or breaking their arm.

So you are talking about dealing with what is real in the sense of making decisions to resolve real conflict and possibly injuring, or worse, a “real” assailant.

For me it goes back to aikido being a real martial art. And for me, it has to be a real martial art.

Which means?

That the techniques have to be effective against real attacks. There are many different styles of aikido and even within the same school there are different styles and different feelings. There are many reasons for practicing aikido. Some people practice aikido for health benefits. But for me it has to be a real martial art, one that works against real attacks. I’m not saying that this way is for everyone. Not everybody needs to study weapons. This goes back to the question of whether weapons are a necessary part of learning aikido. They’re not necessary, but I think that they can be extremely helpful in making your martial art more of a true martial art, as opposed to being just a dance.

You used the term “true martial art” just now. Do you mean to say if you’re not doing weapons, you’re not doing true martial arts?

No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that to me it isn’t a martial art if people take falls for you when the throw isn’t there. If people run around you and go off and do a roll, when you haven’t really thrown them, it is not a true martial art. I tend to relate things to what I think would happen in the real world if somebody really was attacking you, how they would move and such. I think a lot of what people in aikido perceive as immobilizations or throws, would not work against really strong attackers. I think a lot of people are amazed when they visit a dojo where hard grabbing techniques are practiced and they’re used to more flowing movements, and all of a sudden they find that they can’t move very well. I think you need a little bit of all the different things. I think that people who do nothing but flowing need to get a little more grounded, and to do a little more hard basic grabbing. And I think that people who do nothing but kihon waza, basic techniques, need to get out there and learn to move their bodies some more, to do more flowing. There are a lot of people who don’t feel comfortable relating aikido to a martial art or self-defense. They just like it as an art or as an exercise.

More akin to dance?

I have no problem with that way of thinking, but that’s not what I do. If students wish to do that, that’s fine. I think one should make what one is teaching clear to one’s students. Are you teaching philosophy? Are you teaching a real martial art? Can they actually defend themselves with this? Or is that not the point? For myself I’d like to believe that we can adhere to the principles of aikido and not injure people and still be able to deal with a very real and very strong attack and be able to complete a throw without injury to ourselves or to the attacker. That’s my goal. 1 find that the weapons training is helping me towards that, and I think my aikido is better for the weapons training. The reality that Katori Shinto-ryu brought to my weapons training carries over directly into the reality of my taijutsu, my body arts.

What about the issue of weapons and injury and death? Has that come up?

Interesting question. I show my students the difference between the kata practices and the real technique-that in fact if you moved in a slightly different way this move could be fatal. In Katori we practice very fast and we practice very close to each other and a lot a control is needed, but people do make mistakes. Occasionally you get bopped in the head, but it’s never anything serious. The most serious things that happen are people getting bloodied fingers because we are close and people aren’t perfect yet, and miss a little bit. But a few bleeding fingers is probably the most serious injuries we ever have.

I wasn’t referring so much to training as in a more general sense. You, the trainee, are training in something that has some pretty severe potential. How does the trainee deal with this? Most of us don’t face life and death situations in our daily lives…

Occasionally students see the potential in a certain throw, and I wouldn’t say that it really shocks them, but it can really open their eyes as to how potent or lethal the technique can be. But basically I teach my students what I was taught, which is the only reason you can do a nice ukemi is because your partner allows you to. Every strike, every throw is potentially lethal.

How about with the weapons? Has that come up?

Occasionally when you show somebody how easy it would be to separate their head from their body with a real sword, it can be rather shocking.

You mentioned earlier, and this has been my experience as well, that training with weapons, particularly in classical disciplines, you develop a sharpness, an edge, a sense of timing, a sense of distancing, a sense of potentiality, and you become more aware than the average person, who doesn’t do this kind of training. Your ability to react gets compressed and your idea of what can happen to you, what you can do to somebody else gets compressed. All of a sudden you’re working three to four to six steps ahead of the other person. Is this ever a problem when your classically trained students are working with students who have only done aikido?

No, not really. I can’t think of any time people have been really affected by that. I’ve had a couple of students who have been with me for a long time, and I’ve told them that if they wanted to practice Katori they could. But they said that they were just not ready at this point, for the commitment, or the reality of a live blade. There’s nothing like working with a real sword to really bring out focus and an understanding of the reality of the technique. My very first Katori practice in Narita was three hours long, and the first hour and a half I was on my knees doing a single partner practice with my sword for the first time. I must have lost at least five pounds. Bruises on my knees. Being the only foreigner at the dojo, and my Japanese not that good. The teacher can’t speak any English.

It’s even difficult to understand his Japanese if you’re not used to his particular dialect.

Sugawara Sensei wasn’t there, he just pointed the way and said, there it is. You’re the first foreigner they’ve admitted there for a while, you don’t want to blow it, and here you are with this real sword. Otake Sensei does it, and there’s no sound. Your sword comes rattling out of the saya and rattling back in, and you’re just hoping you don’t drop it on the floor and cut your toe off or cut your ear off when you’re putting it back in the saya. There’s nothing like working with a real sword, but not everybody’s ready for that.

Do you find that the people who have trained with you in classical weapons technique to be any sharper, less liable to be injured or less liable to injure other people than people of comparable experience in straight aiki technique who have not trained in classical weapons?

Well, I wouldn’t say that it was so much that they nave less chance of injuring somebody, but I would certainly say that they are a little more comfortable facing certain situations, or even just doing something like jo-taking or sword-taking. Because they have spent a lot of time dealing with people swinging swords towards their heads, they feel more comfortable taking jo and swords away from people. As far as less injuries, I don’t really know. We don’t have serious injuries, so it’s difficult to say.

Are there any harmful or negative effects of weapons training on your taijutsu?

Not so much from what I have seen personally, but I certainly can see the potential for someone going in the wrong direction. People can get so carried away with their weapons practice that they forget the original intent, which is taijutsu. It’s been often said that we’re only practicing with the weapons in aiki to help us understand our taijutsu, not to go out and get in a sword fight. There are few sword fights happening these days, and we rarely have a sword in our hands when something does happen… So I believe it could be easy for someone to lose sight of the purpose of weapons training in aikido. If they understand that the reason they’re doing it is so that their aikido techniques will be better, then it’s all right Society being what it is today, we are not carrying around swords or sticks, we are carrying around briefcases or purses or whatever. So basically, we are empty-handed most of the time I think it’s a big mistake for teachers to teach weapons as a separate class and taijutsu as another class and not relate them back and forth. I think we have to look at both. There are times if I’ve been having a problem with taijutsu, I’ll look at it from a sword point of view, and I can usually correct it that way. And vice versa, if I’m doing weapons, I consider how can I apply it to my taijutsu and make it work. They help each other, I think. The problems arise if one loses sight of that.

Are there any final points you’d like to make?

Just about what David Lynch said in his interview. He’s been studying aikido for a long time, and I’m sure he’s teaching very good aikido. But he’s never learned weapons, so he doesn’t teach weapons and I think that’s fine. If you tried teaching weapons that you’ve never learned properly, then I think you’d be causing more problems than it’s worth. I certainly think that you can learn good aikido without having learned weapons. For myself, and the way most of my students feel, it’s a real benefit to get used to the weapons. I don’t think people should be limited. If somebody wants to learn aikido but doesn’t want to learn the weapons I don’t think you need to tell them that they have to do weapons. I think they are perfectly capable of learning good aikido and good technique without weapons. For myself, I enjoy the weapons, and I’ve gotten a lot of benefit from them. I would just hope that people would keep open to what’s out there. Even if they don’t pick up a sword and start practicing, at least look at it and decide. Look at some good weapons training, if such a thing is available.

How can one go about finding good weapons instruction?

I always tell people to take a look and see what kind of person the teacher is. I think you can look at a lot, even from an untrained perspective, and tell if something’s real or if it would work on a very basic level. If you are still unsure, then you might have to travel out of the area to get a feeling for what’s good, or what’s worth it. If you really want it badly enough and there’s a good teacher out there, you’ll go there. Even if it’s only once a month. You can take it back and if it’s something you can train in by yourself at home, you can do it. I think that’s preferable to training in something that is, I don’t want to say bad, but not as good.

Profile of Mark Jones Began aikido in 1970 under William Morris, and has since trained with Dennis Tatoian, Morihiro Saito, Tetsutaka Sugawara, both in California and Japan. Holds the rank of 4th dan. In 1986 entered the Katori Shinto-ryu, and is now licensed as kyoshi or instructor. Has also practiced judo, karate, foil fencing, and t’ai chi ch’uan. Opened Traditional Aikido of Napa in 1983 where he offers instruction in aikido and Katori Shinto-ryu.

Traditional Aikido of Napa 2516 Laurel Street Napa, CA 94558 USA tel. 707-257-6639