Little House In Ise


Weapons Training at Honbu: The Kinjo Meiwaku Theory
November 24, 2010, 12:27
Filed under: Aikido, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , ,

In some parts of the Aikikai discussion of weapons training in can sometimes cause almost religious levels of dispute. I have heard very serious Aikidoka tell me that O Sensei “gave” weapons to Iwama but not to Honbu and that, in some way, proves the superiority of Iwama flavored Aikido. Without getting into the “what is better” or even “what is closer to tradition” arguments. I would like to propose a theory as to why weapons are not typically taught at Honbu.

Aikido Honbu Dojo (its official name) was built in Ushigome Wakamatsu-cho (later just Wakamatsu-cho). Despite the name (牛込:”ushi gome” means “crowded with cows”) the area was residential even when the original dojo was built. Now the neighborhood is packed with single-family residences, multi-story condominiums (called “mansions” in Japanese) and apartment buildings.

The residential Tokyo feel of Honbu contrasts strongly with the Iwama dojo which is nestled in a farming area slowly evolving towards being more residential. The neighborhood has many large vegetable patches, flower and traditional gardens as well as the occasional rice paddy and working farm. The area is also relatively thick with trees and the nearest neighbors are more than a stones-throw away.

Compared to Tokyo, Iwama is spacious and open. So much so that outdoor weapons training is not uncommon. The high ceilings and light fixtures at Honbu show that when it was rebuilt in 1967 someone had been thinking about swinging weapons. Even so, there is no space outside for students to do similar outdoor practice. If anyone were to do so the neighbors would be irritated and uchikomi (striking) with bundles of bound sticks or car-tires would certainly draw protests.

At the start of normal classes, which may be the loudest portion, the windows are closed to minimize disturbance to the neighbors. Also, in most flavors of Honbu Aikido there is very little use of kiai or other yelling. In fact, people who grunt or make “Ha” sounds are discouraged from doing so. Quite the opposite is true in Iwama where shouts of “Hap!” and “Ho!” are the norm especially during weapons work!

It is my contention that it was merely a matter of being a good neighbor that caused Honbu to go down a path of not teaching weapons extensively. Later, courtesy likely became custom then finally policy. There are still weapons requirements for testing at Honbu and one can occasionally see Doshu practicing suburi privately, so, it is possible to say that weapons are still an element of Honbu Aikido though certainly much less than in Iwama.

Based on this reasoning, there are clearly elements of modern Aikikai Aikido that are more closely linked with environment than with the philosophy or martial spirit of the founder. This then raises the question, what else? What other aspects of Aikido technique, teaching or logic may have been changed to suit differing environments?

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13 Comments so far
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Dumb question: what is Kinjo Meiwaku?

As for the differences, I can only reiterate what has been told by my sensei (plural).
Iwama was originally the retreat of O’Sensei for WW2 that was eventually settled by Saito Sensei senior. The kiais are as a result of how Saito Sensei trained in Aikido and that’s how a lot of the students coming from Iwama train.

As for weapons…isn’t a lot of Aikido’s positions based on the sword? I haven’t been to Japan for Aikido (though would love to!) so alot of what I’m saying is like I said, second hand information.

Just adding my two cents.

Comment by Accidental Aikidoist

Sorry! Not dumb at all. “Kinjo Meiwaku” means “trouble for the neighborhood”. I guess I didn’t point that out… duh! :-)

Yeah, Aikido techniques frequently do seem to be based on weapons techniques/assumptions and much of our allegory and metaphor are also weapons related. However, if Honbu doesn’t teach weapons and actually denies their importance then what should we as Aikidoka make of that? For me, the historical logic/rationale behind why such choices might have been made becomes very relevant to my day-to-day practice of the art.

The question is then, why was the content that Saito Sensei experienced different to that of other students of the same period? My theory is that the answer is practical and has more to do with location than attachment to particular students or anything esoteric. To wit, yelling and and chopping is just too damn loud for residential Tokyo. It would cause trouble in the neighborhood…

Comment by Eric Holcomb

I remember that Saito Sensei in Iwama once showed me an article written by Kisshomaru Ueshiba where “Doshu” explains that he chose that weapons would not be trained in Hombu Dojo. I can not remember the whole article and I have tried in vain to find it. But I remember Saito sensei enthusiasm over this concession! I think that Saito Sensei sometimes felt lonely in his insistence that he taught it as O-sensei had taught him ..

Comment by Thomas Hansen

a small addition … Nor am I interested in what is right and wrong in Aikido. My own experience is that weapons training provide a good foundation for centering, footwork and posture. For me there is no doubt that my training in Iwama has made me strong in the base – but not so fluent in ki nonagare. It has come later in the six years that I’ve trained in hombu dojo. Or that’s how I choose to look at it… :-)

Comment by Thomas Hansen

Hi Thomas!

Do you remember the year that article was published? I’ll look around for it too.

Regarding your comments on the benefits of weapons training: I completely agree. I have found that weapons training immediately and positively impacts my unarmed technique on many levels.

My purpose for writing this article was to suggest a logical reason for weapons being dropped from the Honbu curriculum. As soon as I have evidence that contradicts my theory, I will post a retraction. Honbu teachers, and many others, have been teaching Aikido that is significantly different than that taught by Saito sensei for a long time so it doesn’t make sense that Honbu would drop its weapons curriculum just because it differed from that taught by Saito sensei. There must be something else. I believe the something else was pretty mundane.

When will you be visiting Tokyo next? Please give us plenty of warning so the city can have time to stock up on beer … :-)

Comment by Eric Holcomb

Hello

I have written to my Shihan Ulf Evenås to see if we can find the article .. I also want to read it again after so many years.

But as I understand it – O Sensei taught rarely bukiwaza in hombu – but made more shows that no one could find a way to teach from.

We have snow and freezing temperatures right now in Denmark so we started planning to get out of here. We are planning right now to travel around May. It sounds good with beer in stock …

Comment by Thomas

Can’t wait to see you! Stay out of the cold!
:-)
e.

Comment by Eric Holcomb

Hi Eric,
I’d been wondering why Hombu doesn’t teach weapons. I had thought perhaps there are just too many people, and too many “visitors” for weapons work to be safe at Hombu, but I think your reason makes much more sense for why they stopped. How nice of them to think of the neighbors!

My first aikido experience was at an Iwama-style dojo in Melbourne. Unfortunately I only did 3 months, but I remember the bokken and jo were a lot of fun. Since starting at Hombu I’ve often thought it would be good to do it again.

It would be great if Hombu could start some smaller weapons classes, kind of like the “Aikido Gakko” – “Aikido Bukiwaza Gakko” if you will. But unfortunately I guess that’s unlikely.

Do you have any recommendations where one could start learning the weapons in Tokyo?

Andrew.

Comment by Andrew Parker

Andrew,

Please remember I am tossing this out as a theory — so far it sounds logical to me but I don’t want to go too far with it. :-)

I am afraid that I don’t know enough about weapons in Tokyo to give any specific suggestions for training outside the dojo. You could ask sempai who spend a lot of time working with swords after class. They may be able to point you in the right direction.

Also, Yokota sensei runs special classes that are not officially part of the Honbu schedule. Ken and jo seem to be a big part of those classes. Some regular Honbu students attend with an invitation. So far as I know, only his special students get those invites but I’m not certain about that. You could check into that as well.

Another thing to consider is adding Iaido or Jodo as an adjunct to you Aikido. Who knows, Aikido may become an adjunct to your weapons work! There are a quite a few folks around who do various sword arts and I am sure they can set you up better than I can.

I have been doing my best to visit Iwama as often as I can but, sadly, that’s not very often. There will be more opportunities!

Good luck!

e.

Comment by Eric Holcomb

I’m sorry to deflate your argument a bit about the lack of space and neighbors. in the 1960s and 70s Saito Sensei taught at Hombu Dojo in bukiwaza every Sunday morning …

What happened then is the question?.

Comment by Thomas Hansen

Thomas –

Just my two cents, but wasn’t there a lot of upheaval following O’Sensei’s passing? O’Sensei was around during the 60s and for all we know Saito Sensei could’ve just been following in his footsteps.

As the 70s, well with Tohei Sensei’s leaving, along with dozens of other sensei you have to imagine how a lot of them just packed up, settled somewhere and did they’re own thing.

Comment by Accidental Aikidoist

My point is only that it was possible to train bukiwaze in hombu and they did it in existing buildings. My guess is also that weapons training was a “victim” of a political game after Osenseis deat??

Comment by Thomas Hansen

*shrugs*

I suppose so.

Comment by Accidental Aikidoist




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