- Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings
An injury has kept me out of aikido for the better part of the last three months. My recent return to the mat came with a boxing wrap on my left wrist and no small amount of trepidation about that wrist's future. I am a guitar player, after all.
In the meantime, as I feared, my source of free taekwondo has dried up, at least for a while. Aikido and I are left alone with each other, and I confess to some discomfort with that idea that has kept me anxiously thoughtful during my hiatus.
I have written extensively (here, here, here, and here) on the question of whether or not aikido is--or can be--everything I want it to be in my life without something else on the side. It's a question I've struggled with during my absence from the dojo, and one I wanted answered beyond all doubt before I returned and exposed my wrist to any possibility of re-injury.
What I concluded after three months of deliberation is that I come to the dojo looking for three things: (1) a martial art, (2) exercise, and (3) a tool for discovering and changing myself.
I won't stress much over the third item on the list, since I think any activity that serves as an object for mindfulness and perseverance can become the kind of tool mentioned therein. But there is some aikido, I think, that doesn't fill those first two criteria.
There is a breed of aikido that functions more like yoga or tai chi: a meditative dance that builds flexibility and supposedly develops the mind and spirit. It is martial in origin, but embraces little or no element of danger. It teaches control of the body, but does not push the body to its limits. Shoji Nishio, one of aikido's great masters, speaks of this kind of aikido in his book Yurusu Budo when he says, "In many settings these days, aikido is becoming little more than a kind of health exercise pursued by the elderly, and women and children."
My impression is that many people embrace this kind of aikido, and I (unlike Nishio Sensei) have neither the wish nor the authority to question them. But for my part, I am not particularly interested in aikido of this sort. I joined the club looking for a martial art. And while this kind of aikido might well be art, I don't think it's martial. What's more, it isn't much of a workout.
My humble sixth-kyu assessment is that there are a couple people (a minority of the large cadre of instructors) who sometimes teach this kind of aikido at the dojo. I like them, I respect them, I don't want to question them, and I certainly have no business telling them what or how to teach. I am, as the name of this blog makes clear, a newbie, and my instructors (and most of my training partners) have every right to tell me to stfu n00b. I would be arrogant indeed after a year-and-a-half of aikido to question or criticize the aikido of an instructor.
But that doesn't mean I want to buy what every aikido instructor is selling.
What I decided during my time off was that, if I am to continue as an aikidoka, if I am going to build an aikido that meets my needs, I need to start being conscious of my goals in aikido and what I am doing in pursuit of those goals. That means, I think, becoming a little more picky about whose classes I attend. Not because I think I know aikido better than my instructors (or anyone else, for that matter), but because I know what I am looking for and I need to start going where I find it.
If this seems a little arrogant to some, I can endure their criticism. My time and my wrist deserve nothing less.