Aikido has been one of the four principal martial arts of the USJA and later the USMA. The additional three are Judo, Karate, and Jujitsu. I have been very fortunate to be able to start my beginning in martial arts at Minot AFB (1962-64) with both Judo and Karate (Uechi Ryu). Minot was a SAC base and if you read O’Sensei’s article “50 Years and Six Steps to Freedom” you would realize that every SAC base has a Judo team. Then in 1964 I was transferred to Kadena AFB in Okinawa where I was able to study Shorinryu, on base with Master Kise and Uechi Ryu just off the base in Koza with Master Sinjo.
While I was there Aikido was being taught by Sensei Roy Yukio Suenaka on the other end of the island, I believe in Naha. Sensei Suenaka teaching was very good because although he was challenged almost every time he had class he remained to establish Aikido in Okinawa. Karate was the traditional martial art in Okinawa, not Aikido. Two others had tried to establish Aikido on the island. They were unsuccessful because they had not been able to establish that their techniques were equal to traditional Okinawan martial arts. Sensei Suenaka did not have this experience. This is also why I favor some of Master Suenaka’s techniques over others and why some of my techniques of Aikido are not from traditional early Japanese systems. The muscle memory of the katas of Uechi Ryu have had their lasting effect, especially San Chin.. In honor of my teachers I continue the practice of the principal katas of Uechi Ryu along with Aikido. Perhaps you may find that this is also similar to your experience.
For many of us Aikido has not been the art we first started with and while it has commonality with the other three primary arts of USMA the manner in which perhaps some of us also practice Aikido is somewhat different. Each person must find their own path; for your body will tell you what works best for you. Since our body changes as we age the manner in which we do a technique may not be the same ten or twenty years from now. That is why although my Aikido (Pangainoon Aikido) is heavily influenced by the three original katas of Uechi Ryu, primarily San Chin, and my movements have also become softer and more flowing. At 72, 5’5” and 140 pounds, no wonder.
For those of you who are growing older and wish to continue to practice martial arts in your 70’s, 80’s 90’s and beyond you may consider that soft flowing movements are more to your liking.
I would like to refer you to one of my favorite Aikido books Total Aikido the Master Course by Gozo Shioda, Section 1, the principals of Aikido, page 13.
As you get older, your muscles weaken,
And you can no longer lift and pull.
In the end there’s a limit to physical strength, no matter how you build it up.
That’s why Ueshiba Sensei says that
Unlimited strength comes from breath power.
In effect, it is based on natural principles.
If the other person comes powerfully against you,
And you respond by simply taking his power unto yourself,
There is no need for any effort.
I was first introduced to a form of this by a demonstration by Master Hohan Soken in 1966 when he taught our Shorinryu class- since Master Kisi had taken the brown and black belts to a tournament in Japan (at that time Okinawa had not become a part of Japan). Even though Master Soken was somewhat smaller than I am now and just as old, he effortlessly pushed my roommate who was over six feet tall, excellent physical shape and weighed over 200 pounds- backwards. As Master Soken moved forward those three steps it seemed that the more energy my roommate tried to direct toward him the easier it was for Master Soken to direct it back against him. Therefore Focused Power, which was probably brought from China was practiced in Okinawa by their Masters also.
Now note carefully the points Chushin-Ryoku, the power of the center line and Shuchu-Ryoku Focused Power. Note the example of shuchu-ryoku page 15 in the bottom two pictures, especially the positions of the feet and what you cannot see, the dip of the knees, with all the power emanating from the center. In the second paragraph Master Shido states,
“In order to develop shucho-ryoku, it is important not to depend on the strength of the upper body. If you do use that strength, the flow of energy will be stopped and you will not be able to transmit shucho-ryoku, it is important to ensure that your body is in a relaxed mode…
The ‘trick’ to concentrated power is in the big toe. When we fix the big toe to the floor, power comes into the hips. To that power you can then add the acceleration of the ‘spring’ action of the knee. If these movements are all done together, a very powerful force is developed. Because of this, developing the big toes through, for example, kneeling techniques are very important.”
The technique of shucho-ryok is what I do not see many times when I teach in summer camps. I realize that it is quite difficult for many of us who have utilized our upper body strength when practicing other arts to relax and let energy flow from our center, especially when accepting Uki’s attack. Be aware that most of us are not getting any bigger, well at least not taller! Energy is mass times velocity squared. And I don’t know about you, but I am able to move a bit faster when the movement is smooth, flowing and relaxed; then when I am doing the hard form of San Chin. The actual force of Shucho-ryok is just not usually realized in Aikido until Uki hits the mat. Therefore even though it is probably programed into your upper body muscle memory structure (O’Sensei’s rule of 5,000), relax, relax, relax and let the movement flow. When doing Aikido parry the attack, do not block it and use Uki’s force to your advantage.
In this manner by also learning to fall instinctively (we should already know this) and practicing softly and in a flowing manner we all as we age gracefully, can continue practice for a very long time. Into our 80’s or 90’s; perhaps even longer.
Take care, be well and dwell in O’Sensei’s spirit, he is always with us; practice, practice, practice.
Sensei John L. Herr ND, Pangainoon Aikido