I have long been disappointed that I have not seen any pictures or film of Ueshiba Sensei taking a fall and practicing ukemi. I had come to the conclusion that it was not much part of his practice. Finally I found a film, and took a still of it, of Ueshiba taking a fall for a boy practicing with him. I am still not convinced he took a lot of ukemi in his later years, but at least we see him doing it once.
Here is the film it came from. This still was taken at 7:13 in the video.
It has been 4 weeks since the shoulder injury. Motion is back, but working out is still not a good idea. I have been playing around with the brush and magic again to get me through the injured time till I can hit the mat again. Doc says it might be as long as a year before everything is working right again.
I choose the Black Widow as a subject because, to me, they look the most like calligraphy of any creature. Yoshimitsu, the mythic founder of the aiki concept, learned his understanding of jujutsu from nature. He noticed that a spider making its web could catch its prey that was bigger than the spider itself. This gave him the idea that the small could defeat the large.
Regular/Stiff Form script (Chinese: 楷書; 7th century)
1.the derivation of a word. Synonyms: word origin, word source, derivation, origin. 2.a chronological account of the birth and development of a particular word or element of a word, often delineating its spread from one language to another and its evolving changes in form and meaning. Synonyms: word history, word lore, historical development. 3.the study of historical linguistic change, especially as manifested in individual words.
Seal script (Chinese: 篆書)
Modern stiff form stroke order
The character 合 originally comes from from the Chinese mainland, and was much later adopted into Japanese (maybe 1500-1900 years ago.) Pictographically 合 is an inverted mouth 亼 talking to another mouth 口.
Let's start by taking a look at the pieces of the character.
An important radical (part) of this character is a the symbol for mouth/opening.
Oracle bone script (Chinese: 甲骨文;) from 14th -11th centuries BCE.
The meaning of 口 - the mouth / a person / a certain article ( as a cistern, a big jar, etc. ) / the edge or blade of a knife / an opening / a gate ( especially in the Great Wall or city walls ) / a crack
Now let's take a look at the second radical. 亼 - In most contexts represents an upside down mouth - a mouth talking to you. Another meaning of 亼 - to assemble. to gather together
Oracle bone script
In Chinese 合
to combine / to unite / to gather / to collect / to close / to shut / to suit
合 in Cursive/Grass script (Chinese: 草書)
In Japanese 合
fit / match / suit / join / combine / unite / coincide / agree
Defining the martial arts term aiki 合気 is a tricky venture. In fact I will venture to say defining aiki is absurd. It is undefinable, but the journey of defining it IS the path and practice. It is my belief that essentially it is a word like 'magic' with multiple meanings, or even no real meaning. It is a word an artist adopts and spends their entire life rethinking the meaning of over and over.
First lets take a look at some common translation errors. Often 合気 is translated as harmony-spirit. Some translators have even called aikido the art of peace, again a poetic, but non literal translation. This character 和 means peace/harmony not 合.
'Ai' 愛 in Japanese is love, so again it is a common incorrect translation to call aikido the art of love. Aikido uses this 'ai' 合, not this one 愛.
合 - to fit
In our quest to understand this elusive term, let us look at the literal translation of 合. In most dictionaries the definition of 合 - to fit. To fit. I like that. It makes a lot of sense really. I can see how many translators want to layer their own poetry onto the definition, but I think 'to fit' works great.
That being said, kanji are quite complex, so sometimes other words are associated to make the meaning clearer.
Now let us look at the second charecter in 合気 aiki, the 気. Spirit is a fair literal translation. But the BIG problem is that even in our native tongue of English this is not a clearly understood word. In Japanese there are a handful of characters meaning spirit. Let's look at the other characters so we can determine what spirit ki 気 is not.
精 - a spirit,a soul,energy,vigor, 霊 - the ghost, the departed soul, the soul, the spirit 魂 - a soul, a spirit, a ghost
So 気 is not soul kind of spirit. It is something different, really.
気 air, atmosphere, spirit, mind, heart, will, intention, feelings, a mood, nature, a disposition, attention, care, a sign
I suppose we could take a word from the first character translation and combine it with the second to begin to construct our own personal poetic translations.
合 fit, match, suit, join, combine, unite, coincide, agree 気 air, atmosphere, spirit, mind, heart, will, intention, feelings, a mood, nature, a disposition, attention, care, a sign
合気 is fit/mind, match/disposition, join/nature, unite/mind, fit/spirit
While hopefully the word soup gets us thinking about aiki in new and different ways, that fact is as artists we all begin to come to a personal understanding of what aiki is and what it isn't. Over the years I have heard many people give personal definitions of it and I would like to start collecting them here as the years progress. Following I will list personal definitions I have heard, or that readers submit.
1. Accommodation to circumstance 2. Instant victory 3. Instantly penetrating the spirit of the opponent 4. Nonviolent action 5. Movement that is invisible to the tactile senses of the opponent 6. Teaching lineage from Takeda and Ueshiba 7. Fitting to energy 8. Sagawa reports that AIKI was defined by Takeda as a specific technique that could be taught quickly, therefore he was very careful about whom he showed it to. 9. Finding the fit 10. Confluence 11. Synergy 12. The skill of unifying yourself internally , both mentally and physically, as well as externally with space and change(opponent and with environment.)
As a young child I stared at the silver screen in fascination of the Hollywood martial arts. The young, strong and muscled characters could dispatch a legion of people who stood in their way on their quest for righting wrongs and fighting evil. They gained their miraculous powers through the study of the martial arts - a form of magic it seemed. I think Hollywood advertises for the martial arts more than anything else. The message they sell on the behalf of martial artists is the myth of invulnerability. The martial path is a path of ultimate power - preserving one's own life and dispatching the life of another.
As I grew into my life in the martial arts, more legends were handed to me. I learned of the great teachers such as Ueshiba of aikido, Mifune of judo. A devoted cult of the faithful rise to support the exploits and legends of the greats. Here we go beyond Hollywood. Now we find the real men who were supposedly invulnerable. The stories of the great masters whose pictures are on the wall seem more credible to the young artist as now I found living proof. I found a man called sensei who had hints of these powers. He told stories of the greatness and invulnerability of the men he has met. Sensei assured that the masters before him out shined even the greatness of his own understanding. As I have grown I look back and see that these great men were no more invulnerable than anyone else. Now they are cloaked in myth, and their exploits border on legend and fact. The quest for invulnerability continued on.
Years of training turn into decades. But I look at myself and I find myself no closer to any form of invulnerability. My body still breaks, and I still feel fear. My maturity erases the the foolishness of youth. The myths a young man learns about the arts is the opposite to the martial reality. The martial path is NOT path of ultimate power, and no form of invulnerability is obtained. While yes, skills are developed, the deeper lesson that emerges from our training is our ultimate vulnerability. The myth was given to us only as a something to eventually disprove.
In opposition to the modern movies about the martial heroes, the writing and stories that came from the samurai shows a different view of the martial path. Typically the old stories of the samurai end in failure and tragic death. The hero fails and there is no happy ending. It seems to me that the traditional tales do not prop up the myth of invulnerability. Instead the old tales remind us that even though we walk the martial path there is only one destination and that is our ultimate mortality. Invulnerability is a myth. Accepting our vulnerabilities is truly one the deeper lessons we learn from the martial path.