Weapons were banned from Aikikai Hombu by O-sensei and since that time the role of weapons in understanding the art of aikido has been much diminished. In addition, Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei oversaw an increasing and ongoing de-emphasis of atemi in aikido. There are historic reasons for these choices which are completely understandable, but they do leave some modern aikido with a few gaps.
So what does weapons training offer the art of aikido? Here are a few thoughts:
- The roots of aikido are in Daito Ryu. Open hand movements are based on the sword so you don’t need to learn a separate art (and a heap of new motor skills) for when you don’t have a sword. Training with weapons takes us back to the source and improves our aikido.
- Weapons are a natural tool to extend our mind outside the body. Yes, we know Ki is infinite, but putting a solid lump of wood in your hands gives you direct experience of extending beyond your own body.
- You can practise on your own. Most aikido arts are paired rather than solo. So unless you can get to a dojo seven times a week, you need to find a way to do more practice: so go scare your neighbours and swing a sword about.
- Weapon taking (bokken, jo, tanto dori) can take your art to the next level. If your kata practise is losing its edge, putting a weapon in uke’s hand can bring it back to life. Lipstick up a tanto and see how well you can apply principles without getting lipstick all over your gi.
- Weapon throwing (jo, bokken nage): kata don’t change because you’re armed. If you find yourself wanting to do something different because you have a weapon in your hand, here is a great opportunity to rediscover the kata. Jo nage is pretty mainstream but the lesser known bokken nage is a very powerful and practical tool.
- Stress inoculation and physiological changes: one of the most important tools for ongoing improvement is to introduce variability and stress inoculation through inducing a manageable, increasing amount of stress. Weapons are great for this. Why not let uke attack any way they want with a knife?
- Improved coordination, awareness and posture: it’s challenging to perform complex motor skills with a live weapon and not accidentally cut bits off yourself. It’s also interesting to observe how we (unnecessarily) change the way we move due to the distraction of having a weapon in our hands.
I am looking forward to the weapons part of atemi jutsu at our Autumn 2017 Workshop to bring some of these aspects to life and see how my kata stacks up!