Thursday, February 21, 2013

Aikido in Arizona

Te waza (hand throw) demonstrated by Soke Hausel at Casper,
Wyoming clinic.
Aikido is a Japanese martial art modified from jujutsu in the 20th century. Aikido (合気道) (the way of harmony) is a grappling art created by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969) in Tokyo. According to Farkas and Corcoran (1983) the art was created in 1942; however, like any art, it is difficult to say exactly when it came about as martial arts are created over extended periods of time and constantly evolving. Frederic (1998) suggests aikido began its evolution in 1931 and its governing association dates to 1948. The name ‘aikido’ was officially registered with the Japanese Ministry of Education in 1942.

 The creator of aikido, Ueshiba was described as religious and nationalistic and created his art with religious and nationalistic overtones: he particularly avoided including any connection to kempo (Chinese hand) and other Chinese arts (Frederic, 1998) to be sure this was an indigenous Japanese art. At that time in history, nationalism in Japan was rampant.

 Ueshiba linked aikido to Zen and Shinto: national faiths of Japan (Farkas and Corcoran, 1983). He emphasized harmony between breath, spirit (ki), and body (tai) combined with nature while emphasizing harmony between mind (shin) and moral outlook (ri). In Zen, followers believe the center for meditation and power is the tanden, a point situated 1.5 inches above the navel. This point is emphasized as the source of power in aikido and is the point from which ki (spirit) is thought to originate.

Ueshiba began in Daito-Ryu Aiki JuJitsu and through time, named his new art Aikido. Today, more than 30 different sects of aikido exist. Aikido emphasized the philosophical aspect of martial art referred as ‘do’. ‘Do’ (pronounced like the female deer) means ‘way’ or ‘path’ to enlightenment. Many techniques (waza) in jujutsu and judo require close contact grappling; whereas Ueshiba avoided such techniques in favor of placing an attacker at a distance.

Ueshiba’s philosophy was to defend against an attack without causing great injury. To do this, aikido attempts to redirect an attack by blending the attacker’s movement and redirecting the attacker’s momentum against himself. This is done with entering and turning movements. Aikido uses many joint locks to manipulate an attacker while attempting to direct an attacker in the direction of the force generated by the attack. Joint locks are usually followed by throws. Aikido attempts to lead an attacker (uke) into a circular path so that the defender (tori) turns on an axis. The circular motion allows the defender to neutralize an aggressive action by gaining control of momentum (Westbrook and Ratti, 1970).

Like jujutsu, aikido starts with atemi. Atemi is a vital point strike used to disrupt the attacker’s balance and is very important, particularly in places like Arizona. This is because people in Arizona sweat. Its hard to believe, but very recent government-funded research identified Arizona as the place where people sweat the most in the US. Did we really need the government to spend our taxes to determine this piece of information?

 Following atemi, the defender uses evasive moments and body shifting (tai sabaki) to manipulate the attacker’s force so it can be used against the attacker who is redirected and thrown. Many techniques in aikido end with grappling to subdue the opponent.

 Most techniques in aikido are used to control (katame waza) or throw (nage waza). According to some sources, there are over 700 techniques that fall under these two categories and are derived from basic kata (forms) of aikido. Aikido kata consist of freeing oneself from basic grips or grabs (te hodoki), throwing, and immobilizing with use of pressure point attacks (kyusho) on joints (kamsetsu gaeshi). Aikido practitioners also use a limited number of weapons as part of training that include bo (6-foot staff), jo (4-foot staff) and yawara (short stick) (Frederic, 1998).

According to Mitchell (1998) aikido lost much of its effectiveness through time. Genuine attacks were replaced by compliant attackers: a would-be attacker typically runs forward with arm held out until the defender employs a defense. This is followed by a symbolic strike or atemi. However, without a focused and powerful atemi, one learns to defend improperly. As a result, some aikido masters separated from the mainstream aikido association and attempted to develop more effective methods for self-defense. Tomiki aikido incorporated contests to try to improve reflexes, but this is something that was already part of many jujutsu and judo arts, where continuous defenses (randori) are performed non-stop. Another school, Yoshinkan aikido, focused on the importance of ki requiring their uke to attack with energy and force. As a result, Yoshinkan aikido has been used to train many Japanese law enforcement agents as it is thought that this emphasizes more realistic atemi.

 The atemi (or strike) in aikido is very important. If not practiced with focus and power, the practitioner will learn an incorrect response to an attack. An atemi can include shuto (open hand) strikes to the arm, teisho (palm strikes) to the chin, kozumi geri (kick) to the chest, etc.

 The traditional aikido dojo (place of the way) is simple. Floors are matted since practice involves throws and unlike judo and jujutsu, the aikidoka (practitioner) does not slap the mat (tatomi) when thrown, but rolls out of the fall (ukemi) similar to ninjutsu. To practice these types of break falls, aikidoka dive onto the floor extending one slightly curved arm forward while curving the spine to keep the head tucked in. As a student progresses, these dives become higher and higher and cover greater distances.

Aikido, like most Japanese martial arts, has a ranking system of colored belts (kyu) that vary from school to school. As one progresses, they may reach the upper levels of aikido or dan (black belt) ranks. Aikido practitioners typically wear a hakama (split skirt) with a gi jacket. Since aikido manipulates the joints, teaching this art to children should be avoided.

Exercises in aikido serve to loosen wrists and joints. During training, the wrists are seized and twisted and joint locks applied until the uke either slaps himself on the thigh as a sign that the tori should stop applying pressure, or until uke yells ma te. Through time, the wrists become supple. The more one practices, the less the wrist hurts. However, in the beginning, one can expect sensitive and swollen wrists.

Because aikido does not involve intense striking and kicking techniques such as karate, the public views this art as being less violent and is therefore a good art for many law enforcement agents. It also focuses on restraints, another important law enforcement application. There are several aikido schools in Arizona.

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