In this style of Aikido weapons practice is an integral part of the practice forming as it does an indispensable part of the system. In his Dojo weapon training constitutes usually half of the practice time.
The weapons used are the wooden sword (Bokken) the wooden staff (Jo) and the wooden knife (Tanken).
Why practice weapons?
All the great teachers I have studied with (Karate, Judo, Tai Chi Chuan) regardless of martial art have been unanimous in declaring that the essential elements of their art were encoded in the most basic practices – and that to really master body use, timing and distance and empty handed technique, weapon training was an essential study.
Morihiro Saito Sensei was no exception in his regarding weapons practice as being at the root of the technical system.
Advantages of weapon training:
- Body use. Posture and movement. In Aikido we strive to develop a body fully connected to the ground, connected intrinsically in all its parts and organised from the center, both at rest and in movement. The first level of weapon training is solo training and at this level one can train slowly and with attention on the above dynamics without the distraction of an attacking partner.
- Power. The development of power in Aikido (kokyu) is an extension of the above dynamics of body use and movement in that power is accessed from the ground, directed through the tissues of the body from the center and expressed and transferred through the periphery at the point of contact to our partner. The dynamic in the development of power: ground-centre-periphery is exactly the dynamic we search out with weapon training where it is much more accessible than in empty handed practice.
- Everything is bigger. In making the weapon an extension of one’s body weapon training increases one’s sense of reach and extension. Furthermore the distances, angles and timings are more clearly perceived and therefore studied in the basic partner work.
- Control and precision. In Aikido no protective armour is worn so control, precision and unflagging attention are a must.
- Riai. This refers to the harmony of principles underlying empty handed technique and weapon technique. Saito Sensei would say that Riai was to be understood and embodied at the level of body use and movement and that one should not depend either on having a weapon or on not having one.
- It’s beautiful! Without a doubt Aikido is one of the most aesthetically satisfying martial arts to witness and practice. The weapon forms as left by O Sensei and developed further but Morihiro Saito Sensei are beautiful to practice in their own right.
When considering this basic principle (Riai) Sensei said once that ‘the relationship between weapons and empty handed training should be close – but not too close!’.
Riai is not a purely horizontal or vertical relationship. Swordwork has a sharp precise ‘cutting’ quality that needs to be refined and given more circularity and softness in empty handed techniques. When weapons dominate one’s Aikido the quality in Taijutsu is often too sharp and direct. Without weapons one’s Taijutsu often lacks the precision and clarity of handwork and technical precision which is more often the case when weapons form the basis of one’s movement (Tai Sabaki). We look for a balanced relationship between these two arms of the art where both feed and reinforce each other in the most optimal manner.