Weapons, Part II: A Clarification

Okay, I’m cheating here. Yesterday, after writing my entry on weapons practice, BlackBeltMama, wrote a comment about the weapons she studies in her own martial arts practice. Normally, I’d just respond to her comment with a comment of my own; however, I made this commitment to writing a post every day for the next month, so I’m going to respond instead with a new post. Maybe that’s not really cheating, but anyway…

BBM points out that she studies a variety of weapons types–some of them easier to carry around than others. I neglected, yesterday, to point out that, in Aikido, we study the tanto, the bokken, and the jo. That’s it. So my perspective on weapons is a little bit skewed by just considering those particular tools. Clearly, there are some weapons that are far more adaptable to today’s world, and I have no problem with anyone who wishes to study them. BBM also goes on to talk about how useful a staff could actually be in a conflict, given how you can certainly make them readily acceptable. And to that I must also agree: I used to keep a jo staff under our bed for just that reason.

Perhaps my biggest issue with weapons, then, stems from the integration of the bokken or sword within aikido practice in particular. There are those whom I have met who have emphasized the study of the bokken within aikido to such an extent that it truly does baffle me. My biggest concern is that aikido requires a very careful study of timing and proximity, of understanding how to support and control someone else’s balance and posture. Bokken and sword work are useful tools for studying timing, and perhaps a little useful in terms of looking at proximity, but it is not the same as actually being in close contact with your opponent, subtly shifting their balance, feeling the flow of their attack and the confines of their structure so that you can find the weak point. To study the bokken in context is to study calmness and committment. To study it to the near-exclusion of other aspects of aikido is, well, questionable. I suppose it would be akin to studying judo without regards to pins, or escrima without ever picking up some sticks.

(Okay! I said I would write every day for a month. I never said I would write well. Perhaps, after this month is over, folks will understand why there are times when weeks go by between my posts… ha.) 

6 thoughts on “Weapons, Part II: A Clarification

  1. I do agree that we are all entitled to have opinions. I was merely wondering about yours, regarding the subtle shift of the attackers balance and the manipulation of the flow of the attack in this video.

  2. Yo Dave,

    Long time!

    For me, the point of weapons tends to be more about the elements surrounding their practice rather than learning how to use them. As an example, yes, Aikidoka generally do learn tanto but they tend to learn tanto-tori rather than how to fight with one. If you learn more than a couple of strikes with a knife then you are getting better than average Aikido knife training (IMHO). So, though I enjoy learning the techniques associated with tanto/knife, it is learning how to respond to feelings brought out by a knife attack that I find beneficial to my training. Weapons, even simulated weapons, will push emotional buttons and send many solid Aikidoka into mini-panic attacks. Learning to overcome this fear and still be able to relax during a weapons attack is the most important, for me.

    Similarly, when performing kumijo or kumitachi, an uke making a serious strike at my head kicks my training out to the emotional edge much more quickly than empty handed attacks do. It is scary to face a real strike and step INTO it in order to do technique or just avoid injury. Overcoming flinch reflexes and fear responses can help bring confidence. As a powerful sensei who we both know once told me, “Confidence is the key ingredient in good Aikido.”


  3. Hi, me again …

    I forgot, there was one other thing for which I find weapons training very beneficial: learning maai and variations of it. When only performing taijutsu (empty hands/body techniques) maai is important but when confronted with an armed uke, maai is suddenly the most important part of your tiny universe. One inch in the wrong direction, at the wrong moment and you will have a nasty welt to learn from… Weapons work will tend to force students who have not quite gotten some key elements to understand them intimately (after they get over clumsily swinging an awkward stick).

    So, weapons work is extremely useful for improving Aikido even if you never have to worry about assailants armed with katana …


  4. Howdy!

    I read somewhere (no idea where) that one of the reasons that aikido uses the jo is because in a pinch, you can make anything into a jo. The bokken and tanto correspond to weapons a samurai would carry, but the jo is more just “generic stick you find”. Tree branch, broom, whatever you happen to see lying around, you’re already trained to use it as a weapon.

    Come to think of it, I believe every room in my apartment has a jo (map in the kitchen, shower rod in the bathroom, clothes hanger rods in the entry and bedroom, …).

    So I see no need to “make [the staff] readily acceptable” — they already are. (“Yes, officer, I was in the kitchen and this guy broke in, so I picked up the mop. That’s why he’s unconscious, and also lemony fresh.”)

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