When you consider that at least three of the instructors I am training under in California hold rank of shodan (1st dan) or above in Iaido (Japanese sword work) or other weaponry, then it is not surprising that a good proportion of our time is devoted to learning the proper use of bokken (wooden training sword) or jo staff (about five feet long). As someone with a limited time in California I have seized this opportunity to learn and practice as much as I can, because we seem to do very little weapon work at my home dojo.
Now I do not intend this as a criticism of my home dojo, but merely wish to observe that to date I can count the number of hours spent training with weapons at that dojo on one hand. I am sure there are good reasons. No doubt I need to understand the basic movements – footwork, my ukemi, keeping things to my centre – before I progress. Maybe my organisation feels it is important to work weaponless, that the rest is something that can be acquired at a later date. I am not in a position or with the experience to judge.
BUT, and this is a big but, if many of the aikido movements are derived from the use of weapons, then is it not logical to include weapons as a regular part of practice? I have been told numerous times that the classic aikido start stance of hanmi (shown below) is derived from holding a sword. It never sunk in. Not ever. Zero connection between the two.
Image from http://img2.ymlp158.net/juea_A1S0691.jpg
Fast forward to this afternoon, where I was practising with a bokken, and I looked down at my hands and feet and thought, “but this is where basic hanmi comes from.”
Experience outweighs being told something every time.
In addition weapons, as extensions of the limbs, emphasise our movement. So they provide positive feedback when we have moved our body correctly, and they exaggerate matters when we get them wrong. Turning the hips is such a simple move, but when holding a jo the changing lines between you and your training partner become extremely apparent. The jo staff swings around in a large arc, and you haven’t even moved your hands, just your hips.
If we extend this concept further, then having someone swing or move a jo or bokken towards you makes you very much more concise about moving off the line of attack and getting in close to prevent a second attack. The presence of weapons adds a sense of determination to both sides. Training partner hits you with his fist? It’s likely to hurt him as much as you. Training partner hits you with his weapon? There’s only one person going ouch. Precision and control become so much more important.
I don’t wish my training in aikido to become weapon dominated, I’d have taken up fencing if I wanted to go down that route. Yet I feel to date that something had been slightly missing which made me, albeit in a small way, understand aikido that little bit more. And heck, aikido is a hard enough martial art to understand at the best of times. I’m going to miss my regular weapons training when I go home.