The three great schools of Japanese empty-handed martial arts have a common ancestor : the various schools of jiujutsu. Judo developed the art of breaking balance and karate that of the atemis or blows, while aïkido concentrated its search for harmony on techniques of joint locks and mastery of the sword.
The dialogue between these modern disiciplines is rarely calm. Their partisans forget that it was on Jigoro Kano's insistence that Gichin Funakoshi came to Tokyo, and that the former also sent his assistants to learn the art of Morihei Ueshiba.
Each of these disciplines has important gaps which supporters of the other methods are eager to point out :
- Judo is the "way of suppleness". Blows are forbidden and practitioners must grip each other by the back of their jackets. The result is a conventionalized struggle that does not permit more dynamic techniques of assault. While the fundamental principle of judo is the appropriation by one of the partners of the energy given by the other, in competition they become adversaries, opposing each other, starting offensive movements to provoke a reaction which can be taken advantage of to defeat the other. So the art of the willow "that bends to relieve itself of the weight of the snow" is often transformed into a formless struggle... And how, moreover, can we justify the study of strangle holds, which are particularly dangerous and hardly adherre to the basic principles of judo ?
- Karate is supposed to take its feared efficacy from the resolve to hit "with the whole body", to literally go through the target. And yet, requiring practitioners to control their free attacks makes them freeze their movements right at the instant when they should be using maximum speed and force !
And while the "father of karate" forbade all free combat, karate quickly degenerated into mere boxing, and the year following the decease of the master witnessed, in Japan itself, the organization of the first karate competition.
- in aikido, the "way of harmony", the study of blows is not systematic and foot attacks are entirely neglected. Therefore practitioners are left unprepared to confront more realistic situations. Certain very sophisticated techniques nevertheless require thrusts to the face or the plexus, discreetly referred to as "distraction". Aikido practitioners often learn to mimic attacks and counterattaks, just as the most rigid karate pratices.
Furthermore, since the partner playing the role of attacker is supposed to participate in the movement that will catch him up before throwing or immobilizing him, it is the defender who often shows more aggressiveness and assurance. This is accentuated by the fact that joint locks and pressure on sensible points can be very painful.
Our research, begun more than 20 years ago, derives from a desire to address, as much as possible, the drawbacks, and at the same time applying the fundamental principle of each discipline : the art of using the attacker's energy, the practice of putting one's whole self into an assault... all the while remaining in harmony with one's partner(s).
Creating a synthesis must not limit itself to collecting different forms, or it will result in a mere heterogeneous catalogue of techniques. And deploying a brutal block taken from the hard styles of karate, only to take the partner's neutralized energy and throw him with a judo move would be absurd, not to mention against aikido's search for harmony. A synthesis must transmute its basic elements.
The need for an original approach gradually became clear, in order to :
- develop offensive movements that are as intense as possible, teaching us to channel and express our energetic potential
- predict the partner's moves and to subtly communicate, arriving at a fusion of minds and enabling us to use the energy he willingly gives us, thereby developing our openness to others
- discover how movements of attack and techniques of defence can complement each other, to pratice in harmony, without reflexes
- train without tension, with the spirit as free is possible, so that as the body completes one technique we can anticipate the next one
- so prepare for free combat with several partners attacking simultaneously
We call this synthesis "Aiki-karate-do" in homage to its principal founders. While the evolution of its techniques has now stabilized, it must be admitted that too few students have persevered long enough to achieve a satisfying level of practice. The blows on the presentation DVD still lack sincerity, but at least the movements are sweeping, dynamic and free of aggressive spirit.
Aiki-karate-do's guiding principle is the desire to unite, in one spirit and one physical capacity, both the ability to mobilize all of one's enregy -- like an athlete who with fierce determination throws himself into beating his own record -- and the indifference of Zen's practitioner which aims to maintain a proper posture undisturbed by passing thoughts. An inaccessible ideal ? Certainly. What is essential is not arriving but maintaining, as much as possible, the resolve to advance along the way that is traced out ahead of us.
None of the techniques are based on a partner's strategic error or involuntary loss of balance, or on the superiority of one partner over the other. A good throw should be the result of a correct attack and the defence it provokes. Success and progress can only be made together. Concepts of victory and defeat are entirely foreign to the conception of the martial way proposed here.
The very concepts of attack and defence should ultimately disappear, leaving only practitioners driven by the same spirit, and the movement that unites them, as the roles of attacker and defendre pass spontaneously from one to the other.
The envisioned efficacy goes well beyond the desire for force, a practical need for self-defence, or the competitor's ambitions. Martail arts are Zen in action. They aspire to be an art of living. Combat is not the goal but the instrument that helps us more serenely confront all of life's combats.
Yves Thelen is teacher of philosophy and secular morality. He has taught the martial way for more than 40 years. He has published many books including "Aiki-karate-do, From Fight to the Death to an Art of Living", and "Awakening to the Philosophical Spirit".
The DVD or the book "A New Approach to Martial Art" (French-English) may be obtained simply by wiring 10 € (or 20 for the twoo) to the bank account of Shudokan - Liège - Belgium - IBAN BE52 0639 2392 2409 BIC: GKCCBEBB (Please be sure to include yout mailing address).