A Tool For Your Path

Archie Champion, Birankai Senior Council Member and Chief Instructor, Central Coast Aikikai

People too often undervalue the benefit of martial arts practice and its ability to transform one’s life. To have good health, power and energy at any age is a blessing. Being healthy is a virtue that every individual should strive for to the best of their ability. The muscles of the body are naturally designed a to be challenged by bearing weight, and being lengthened and contracted. The bones are designed to bear weight, to continue to grow, to replenish themselves and to remain strong. It is the body owner’s responsibility to know these things and to engage in practice designed to fulfill these functions that has been handed down from the ancestors. People suffer from many health issues that decrease quality of life and lead to premature death, which can be changed through Aikido practice. Having practiced Aikido almost every day for 44 years, I don’t consider myself old or close to the end of the road.

We live in a postindustrial, digital, AI culture, programmed to believe and operate as if our human consciousness is no longer capable of focusing for extended times to achieve true development. Especially in this day and age of technology, it is essential you create something with your hands. We no longer really develop and hone our physical skills; instead we simply express ourselves with filters and quickie videos. Nowadays, if you want to learn something you watch YouTube, not a book or manual in your hands. Yet it is through the body we experience the world, coming to sense the mystery of life, and a feeling there must be something beyond it. It is through the body that we express our true Self.

Our physical body is the alchemical laboratory in which we can test what kinds of foods, how much physical training or rest, and what kind of mental attitude we need to cultivate an ” Aiki body”. A human being who develops an Aiki body can circulate life force. Developing an Aiki body requires humility to learn from nature – the natural world, and your own nature/body, working with the hands, the body, the physical. To work with the body is to engage creative spirit, becoming co-creator with nature. Similarly, our emotions are stored in the body as energies we sometimes must work through physically, rather than talking about them. Aikido movement helps you go into that space, where those emotions live and move this energy through the body. Bodywork helps you learn to release fear or anything else that is not you, and learn to trust your intuition.

The lockdown over the last two years caused me to stop doing body arts and to only teach Jo. (Usually I switch every year, but the uncertainty of the times compelled me to stay with Jo.) First let’s remember every weapon has its own “spirit” and a manner in which it likes to do things,  almost as if it has a personality. Furthermore, weapons tend to create their own “rules” for body methods and training. The Jo’s versatility is the liveliness of the grip, making practice very enjoyable and flowing, as there fewer limitations on what can be done and achieved. The Jo can be held with junte, gyakute, or a combination of grips. In fact, the hands can grip at any position, even at the butt of the Jo, and at any distance across the length of the weapon. With such diverse grips, the hands can also easily adopt some of the qualities and methods used with swords and can move similarly to many empty-handed techniques. When pressed against uke’s joint or bone, the Jo often enhances joint-locking techniques. Stand in left or right hanmi, you still enjoy practice: left hanmi, symbolizes our attraction toward divine light and spirit, and progress; right hanmi symbolizes our individual body, and regression. 

(Earlier I said every weapon carries its own spirit – with Jo that spirit is wood. Human beings have used trees and their wood as friends, medicine, and vessels for their creativity. We evolved to coexist with trees and other plants in the deepest sense possible. I personally have had an affinity to wood for as long as I can remember and believe deeply this is an innate human trait. Even traditional Chinese medicine recognizes trees and wood are related to our livers and Hun (ancestral spirit). They also see wood virtue being adaptable, you can pull, push, press, thrust, smack, chop, redirect, divert, absorb, block, spiral from the middle and sides.)

In sum, the ideal of our Aikido has always been to create a body of work that set the standard for others. Today, if the body is uncomfortable doing something outside its normal range of natural ability, or if the breath is not developed enough to move and circulate life force, many simply give up and move on to that which can be done with little/no effort, depriving our mental and physical development. Others go through the motions, recording the “hours”. Few actually change their diet, adopt a holistic or spiritual way of living and become actual practitioners committed to a lifetime of consistently  engaging your body with this wonderful tool called a Jo. Those of you who are willing to follow their hearts and connect with your core being will in this tool find solace and meaning. Seek to make it more than a weapon, and it shall serve to guide you on the path.

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