Aikido and the use of weapons

Weapons training - Kingston Aikido

There are two main schools of thought regarding weapons training in Aikido. Those that consider weapons training of value, and those that don’t.

The Hombu Dojo (Aikikai Foundation), believes that Taijutsu (body technique / body skill) forms the basic core of Aikido, and weapons training is subordinate to these core values. Other organisations and styles such as the well-known Iwama style (also within the Aikikai Foundation), believe weapons are an integral part of Aikido.

For me this argument is redundant, as Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, trained, practiced and taught weapons as part of an integrated martial art system that he eventually named Ai-ki-do.

“Taijutsu and bukiwaza cannot be separated in any meaningful way”

“Aikido itself is a composite system, where weapons play a critical and core role, with many Aikido techniques being derived from the sword”

So, What, Why and How do we practice weapons in Aikido

Weapons training - Kingston Aikido

What?

There are many different weapons used in Aikido training, the most codified being, the Bokken – a wooden sword, the Jo – a wooden staff and the Tanto – a wooden dagger which is used as a knife.

Why?

Taijutsu and Bukiwaza (weapons training) share many core principles that can help and develop student along the path of Ai-ki-do.

One term that often gets mentioned in martial art circles, including Aikido, is Riai, which literately translated would be Ri – principle or truth, Ai – harmony or unifying; that is, the ‘blending of truths’ the ‘Harmony of Principles’

So, what are these principles that underpin Taijutsu, Bukiwaza, Tennis, Football, Rubgy etc….?

Some of the core principles that have personally bubbled up to the surface on my journey, and in no particular order are: Maai, Zanshin, Tai Sabaki, Koku and Ki.

Maai, simply means “interval” and refers to not only the space between two opponents, but also the mental distance and time it takes to travel the physical, and mental zone of engagement. In training or competition, both the opponents try to maintain Maai whilst preventing the other from doing so, that is, waiting for a lapse of mind and body, so that a successful action can be performed, before your opponent can or does.

For me, weapons training greatly aids the development of Maai, by helping the participants to really focus on how to cover distance, create the optimum angles, rhythm and timing of an attack, whilst maintaining a laser like focus on your own and the opponent’s intentions.

Zanshin translates to “remaining mind”, a state of awareness and relaxed alertness before, during, and after an action, whilst holding kamae (posture). For me, weapons training brings Zanshin to the centre ground; a relaxed and alert state of mind, which can be worked on and developed during solo and paired weapons practice.

Weapons training - Kingston Aikido

Tai Sabaki translates to ‘whole body movement’, used to either avoid an attack or place yourself in an advantageous position, usually moving off the line of attack rather than moving against the attack. That is, blending and harmonising with your opponent’s output, a skill greatly developed within the weapons sylabus.

Kokyu (Breath) or Kokyu Ryoku and Ki, (Abdominal Breath Power), is about rhythm, flow and the extension of Ki (spirit, intention, life force), through breath power. You take in the attacker’s force and then return it, through the use of your vital body and energy centre, sometimes called the Hara or Tanden. Weapons practices is a vital tool to further develop and focus one’s spirit, the aim being to develop and direct the extension of Ki through the extension of breath. Kiai often used as a way to project Ki through breath power.

How?

All the schools I’ve attended to date teach solo and paired weapons training, both of which I feel are of equal importance.

Solo weapons practice

In Aikido most of our training is performed with a partner, one could be tempted to think that progression in aikido is dependent on the presence of a partner. But solo weapons practice presents a perfect vehicle to learn body movement, both subtle and gross, efficiency in movement, body extension, breath power and Ki extension. Through a vast series of progressive solo works, one can be taken through a structured journey of Ai-ki-do awakening.

Paired weapons practice

Within the realms of paired work, each participant, the Uchidach (striking/attacking sword) and the Shidachi (doing/receiving sword) have an equally important role to play.

The senior role is normally the Uchidachi (The losing side). In paired Kata, the Uchidachi usually initiates the action and governs the tempo, allowing the Shidachi to strike the winning blow. Any corrections in the distance between the two is usually made by the Uchidachi.

The Shidachi on the other hand, is led by the Uchidachi who provides a true attack; this allows the Shidachi to learn correct body displacement, combative distancing, proper spirit, and the perception of opportunity (Riai). The Shidachi will aim to move like a shadow of the Uchidachi, neither being ahead of the movement, nor lagging behind, before delivering the winning blow.

At no point are the Uchidach or Shidachi in competition, but each equally learning the core principles of Aikido through paired weapons practices.

Weapons training - Kingston Aikido

I really do believe that weapons training opens up doors of perception within the field of Aikido, that may otherwise remain shut or take a lot longer to appreciate.

What do you think?

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