The significance of traditions in aikido
A European`s stereotype of a Japanese person is that daily life in Japan is subject to a strict code of traditions and rituals. Historically, the peculiar geographical position and nature of the islands Mountainous regions occupy a considerable part of the islands. This made people build their settlements on a rather limited area. The population interacted within itself and with the physical environment to create a distinctive region, although a certain set of conditions made new territory gains almost impossible required a very special approach to economic and social development of the nation.
While Asian and European nations could extensively develop and expand their territories during war conflicts, the Japanese had to deal with their very special conditions thoughtfully, introducing social regulation because a local conflict in a densely populated region could lead to a disaster.
Rituals and ethic rules were a vital part of that system of a society`s self-regulation. Thanks to them communities were never plunged into chaos. As human actions are regulated by ethics, people very soon get used to being less emotional in public. They become more capable of controlling their feelings and are more composed. This is an advantage because one can channel his/her energy into something positive rather than merely surrender to primitive instincts of being very emotional.
In theory, there are many hierarchies in human society: family, military, religious, etc. All of them exist in contemporary world and are supposed to be observed simultaneously in everyday life. In Japan the system worked in quite a different way: every individual had to decide what hierarchy to observe to find a balance and compromise with other people according to the situation.
Now, European people, who have business contacts or cultural ties in Japan have to follow numerous rules unknown to them. For instance, the Japanese are very punctual. If you are desperately late you absolutely have to warn your Japanese business partner and then reduce the time of the meeting by as much time as you missed out because you turned up too late as your partner might have some more meetings scheduled to follow.
When Europeans borrow Japanese cultural phenomena they have to observe original rituals as well. But is it really necessary?
As far as martial arts are concerned rituals are an indispensable part of the whole process of training. Aggression and the inborn instinct to fight will only aggravate if they are not restricted by a code of rules. To manage the group driven by aggression one has to choose an intricate tactic. Ethics and discipline were initially introduced in connection with the need to control the fight. A fight without any rules can`t be associated with budo (the path of a warrior).
Aikido is a very special fighting sport. The philosophy is base on various traditions and the main idea is the non-resistance to violence concept.
Let the attacker do what he wants to do - sensei frequently says. But a strong must is that neither uke (the attacking person) nor nage (the defending person) should be hurt physically or morally damaged. Numerous rituals are of great help when somebody`s trying to achieve the controversial aims of the aikido philosophy. Thus, all the rules which are supposed to be followed, are based on reasonable grounds.
A beginner is always surprised that he/she is supposed to make endless bows before almost every action on the tatami. The main meaning of the bow is to demonstrate the respect to the partner or the opponent No matter what a person you encounter means to do or what his/her intentions are, you have to respect your opponent. As you are no well-aware of the person`s motives and potential you have to be initially positive about him/her. These are the basic values, central to the aikido philosophy
Rituals are a vital part of aikido fighting sport because they help get rid of social barriers when people of different age, gender and social groups have to obey the same code of rules. Political leaders, businessmen and students can attend aikido club together. The bow makes people feel equal to each other. We encourage our members to have proper respect to each other regardless of gender, creed, social status or disability and we are strongly opposed to words or actions which display prejudice or discrimination of any kind against any individual. Equality yon tatami is an the absolute truth. The bow also expresses the sportsman`s attitude to the dojo. If you are neglectful and forget to bow entering and leaving the tatami, you don`t respect the place of your training. Bows also are not just about ethics. Surprisingly, your physical fitness improves when you bow in a stoja or sitting in a seidza position (on your knees) - your back muscles grow stronger, making your posture better.
Sportsmen are required to wear the same clothes because all of them apart from the instructor are just learners. Moreover, this tradition emphasizes their equality, too. It also helps concentrate on the training and eliminates the envy. White (clothes for training) conceal the social status of people which is sometimes very helpful to the instructor.
The warm-up exercises are a ritual. There are two main reasons for it. Apart from getting ready for the training itself people have some time to meditate abstractedly on aikido and forget about their daily routine. This condition is primarily necessary for successful and, more importantly, safe training. Coming to the dojo, a person is supposed to be responsive and ready to absorb new information. Which is difficult when one`s thoughts are not set on aikido.
In our daily life we are used to expecting the same reaction to the same factors. Our childhood memories are very helpful - parents were instantly ready to hit the roof with rage when they saw mess in our rooms. The mess was the factor that made our parents ask tidy everything up .This kind of immediate reaction is not always helpful, although sometimes it might be useful. Having come to the training centre and having put on those very special white clothes a person is ready to start his/her aikido practice. Such practice does make perfect. And even more consequences to follow - a learner`s ability to follow the rules can at times help violate them easily, because of the awareness of their reasonable nature and profound understanding how everything works.
Such skills as knowing how to meditate, having fulfilled a certain program of actions (a ritual) is very supportive in everyday life. Getting emotionally engaged in different activities rather than always be concentrated on monotonous work is what people rarely can do without proper training. Uncontrollable emotions are very often harmful. Interaction between people becomes more efficient and productive when communicative behaviour of individuals is in a way restricted by rituals.
This article is aimed at a wide audience and thus we won`t go into specific details, but rather just mention the significance of all the rituals in the process of training. We have been conducting our observations for 4 years already in our aikido club. 200 people were taking part in this experiment". The results proved to be convincing. We found out that following all the required rituals we managed to improve psychological, physiological and organizational aspects as well as discipline.
The methods we are using were specially worked out for the Perm region, but they can be easily modified for some other regions of Russia and Europe.
Physiological aspects. Specific rituals and rules, if observed, improve one`s coordination, gradually strengthen knee joints and back muscles.
Psychological aspects. The main goal of an aikido instructor is to achieve alertness on the part of each student. One of the most productive methods is repetition of the same exercises exactly when the instructor feels he/she is losing the attention of the group. This helps to avoid conflicts and develop one`s ability to absorb new information. A deeper insight into psychological aspects will be given in the next article on aikido philosophy.
Organizational aspects. The main concern of an aikido instructor is learners` safety. The only way to be safe is to follow the rules. Awareness is developed when all members of the group are bearing in mind their own and their partners` safety. In this case the risks are minimized. To a great extent traditions and rituals are a key to harmonious team work as aikido is not an individual sport.
Instructors and other members of the our club are asked to fulfill all the rules approved by the dojo of the club.
The authors of this article hope they managed to give an overview of the values to which the club subscribes and that this article might be useful to other martial arts instructors.