To lose or to win by a real sword

Shinkenshōbu
真剣勝負

The word by word translation of theese japanese four kanji is: real-sword-victory-defeat, put simply to win or to lose by a real sword. Real sword means a blade that can actually cut, not just a iaito (a replica of a sword with no cutting edge that is used in training kenjutsu), a sword that can strike a fatal blow. The meaning of this saying is “fighting for your life (or death)”, and it implies the danger is so great that in the end you can loose your life for real, no playing, be aware and act accordingly.
Osensei wrote that in true Budō, and Aikidō is the ultimate manifestation of Budō, there is no kind of competition, above all no sportlike competition, because of its true nature which is shinkenshōbu.
Any kind of sport contest, even the more gory ones like some mma fighting, must obey to some rules so that to have at least some kind safety standard, this way the lives of the contestants are guaranteed. But this thinking is just the opposite of shinkenshōbu. The wide of this gap is properly true to me, but for the people who trains any kind of martial sport, or shallowly dip in the self defence study, there’s not such clear understanding.
Shinkenshōbu means that any action is allowed, it has only to be weighted on the scale of reaching life and escaping death, it doesn’t have to answer to a set of established rules or any kind of referee ruling. A sportlike contest has no common ground with this way of thinking, and according to Osensei doesn’t belong to the Budō sphere, or to the so often ill-labelled martial arts.
The fans and the ones practicing fighting sports believe that this kind of contest is the most truly realistic, the violence showing, the strenuous effort needed, the high percentage of serious damage may be true but if first of all you are preventing any chance of dying, or you are trying to prevent it, what is the true nature of this kind of contest? If you fight to survive, but remove any chance of dying, you are just playing a game, dangerous, violent, bloody but still nothing more of a game.
I’ll try giving some evidence of this, let’s look at strikes to the back. There’s no fighting sports where striking the back of the head or neck from the back is allowed. If you wilfully strike at the nape you’ll get immediately disqualified. Because of this, techniques of leg swiping and fight to the ground are getting such relevance. But, when a fighter dives trying leg swiping with both his arms, he really exposes his neck to a permanently disabling elbow strike. An elbow strike of this kind is not allowed, it’s too dangerous, and leg swiping must be stopped with techniques that are not so effective, so that leg swiping and ground fighting are at such a high popularity.
Always because of a permanent disabling effect eye gouging, trachea grabbing, striking to testicles, finger locks, and many others moves are not allowed. Because of this to build a muscle armour in fighting sport has such importance, and brought forward weight classes and such nonsense. In what kind of fighting, that wishes to have a realistic approach, can exist weight classes? Can you imagine warrior asking to each other how many kilos is their weight on a battle ground? Nature is true evidence that such way of discrimination in fighting for survival has no meaning, the opposite is true.
I’m not pushing forward the idea that Aikidō is more realistic than fighting sports, it has its own flawed way of translating reality to a schematic pattern, with his striking molded on vectors, his absorbing techniques and continuous pressure that are expression of a dilated time perception that goes with study in sensitivity. But I think that his adhering to the shinkenshōbu principle is something which get always neglected by people of fighting sports.
Every technique of Aikidō happens when uke, the one who attacks, is able to survive the most immediate counterattack: atemi, the striking to vulnerable spot of the body, and the no turning back unbalancing of a kokyūnage. If uke goes quite unscathed over this answer Tori will have to exercise his control using a waza, an Aikidō technique.
A deep understanding of this may happen if we look at the kind of fighting that was taking place on the battleground of past wars, with the protection of heavy armours one was quite immune to empty handed strikes, and tried to avoid at all cost to fall to the ground in the middle of a melee, he would rather try moving from an unbalanced condition to the next to get back his grounding.
The shinkenshōbu principle, in Aikidō, allows strikes of any kind, no limitations at all, and “fighters” takes this in account. If you are an Aikidōka, and you let yourself be touched on your face, quarrelling whether the strike was strong enough to knock us out or not is meaningless, you must be aware that you could have lost your sight and got unable to go on. No referee is giving you a break if you let your nuts be stricken. No one is getting disqualified if he is so good to strike on your back. Because of this a really different way to answer to strikes and menaces comes forward. Awareness of not exposing your body in any way will have you choose unbalanced movement over any kind of parring or closed guard. To defend your central line and axis is the first product of this way of thinking, and if you cannot embrace this way of looking at a fight you have no chance of understanding.
If you truly would like to understand the course of action, and reaction, of an Aikidōka try visualising your enemy armed with a long and sharp knife, how much strength is needed in one blow to cut an artery?
See, we are back to shinkenshōbu, fighting with a real sword.
When you look at Budō the same way you look at sport fighting you are prey to the same mistake again and again, the method of learning, exercising follows a different path, which is not in any way equivalent.
Just for sport let’s try pretending being Usain Bolt, the fastest man on earth. You are able to move in a highly organised way, efficient and perfectly harmonious in a specific setting like a track. If someone showed you a video of an Eskimo, walking in his snowshoes, swaying like a penguin, would you be able to consider the effect of the snow on movement? Are you able to differentiate between the game of running on a track and having to move surviving in harsh conditions?
In Aikidō both Tori and Uke must answer the shinkenshōbu principle. Tori must evade the first strike and allow for musubi, the connection, to happen. There he can perceive clearly the center and central axis of Uke, so that he can exercise his control all along the execution of the technique to the end without giving up new openings to the blade of the attacker. Uke, after trying his first sincere strike, must keep on being aggressive in his connection, always being aware as much as possible to avoid any immediate sanctions.
This word “connection” frequently used in Aikidō is equivalent to being aware on many different levels, body, will, mind, breath and so on. If you cannot grasp the underlying of shinkenshōbu you’ll be just the same as someone looking the erratic movement of a man without knowing he is a prey to a sniper.
Shinkenshōbu way of thinking gives our daily practice a deeper meaning, it’s the fertile soil to a spiritual tension, it asks for absolute concentration, takes away anything that doesn’t belong to the moment and brings you to the present. This way the daily training of Aikidō is no more a playful practice, silence comes to you, and you have no way to keep pretending to be the someoneelse that you show in the face of society, you are your true self.

Piccoli grandi stage!

Nell’Aikikai d’Italia come in molte altre associazioni ogni anno vengono organizzati moltissimi seminari, che si svolgono generalmente nei fine settimana. Tutti questi seminari sono condotti da grandi maestri giapponesi (o europei, vedi il caso di Tissier ed altri) che vengono in visita in Italia per seguire lo sviluppo degli allievi che li hanno come punto di riferimento e da maestri di lungo corso italiani, che con la loro lunga esperienza cercano di tenere vivo l’enorme bagaglio tecnico dell’Aikido. In buona parte di questi casi a giovarsi dell’insegnamento sono soprattutto i gradi più avanzati, perché i grandi maestri hanno già un linguaggio molto articolato che porta avanti un discorso cominciato molto tempo fa. Non è impossibile inserirsi e imparare qualcosa, ma credo che nel caso di un principiante assoluto, o di quel filone in particolare, quello che uno ne possa ricevere è un’immagine di qualcosa a cui aspirare o di un lavoro che ha seguito uno specifico percorso. Quale percorso formativo deve seguire allora un praticante di Aikido? Se avete letto già altri articoli sul blog conoscete l’importanza che do alla pratica assidua nel proprio dojo sotto l’occhio attento del proprio responsabile, oltre questo ci sono piccoli stage che secondo me hanno un enorme valore formativo. Li definisco piccoli stage perché sono tenuti da maestri che sono 3°-4°-5° dan, che non hanno nomi molto conosciuti ma che come il vostro insegnante sono a loro volta responsabili di corsi frequentati da persone principianti ed intermedie. Non girano il mondo dalla mattina alla sera, ma con premura costruiscono una pratica solida per i propri allievi, costruiscono il loro linguaggio didattico arricchendolo di parole ed esempi che hanno visto permettere di raggiungere più facilmente la comprensione di una tecnica o di un movimento. Un esempio di questo genere di stage sono quelli organizzati dall’Aikikai Milano, il dojo storico fondato e sviluppato dal maestro Fujimoto e portato avanti dai suoi allievi oggi, che sono rivolti uno ai gradi mu, 6° e 5° e l’altro al 5°-4°-3° kyu, e che di solito sono tenuti tra la fine di gennaio e marzo. Soprattutto il seminario rivolto ai gradi intermedi è un’ottimo stage che ha visto alternarsi insegnanti molto validi (Emilio Cardia, Fabrizio Bottacin, Andrea Re, Laura Benevelli, Cristina Sguinzo), impegnati nel costruire un percorso didattico intorno alle tecniche di quei gradi specifici. Il valore di questo stage è così alto che ogni anno con la scusa di accompagnare i miei allievi vi ho partecipato arricchendo non solo il mio bagaglio tecnico ma anche didattico, cercando di fare mie le soluzioni di insegnamento ogni volta proposte. Si tratta di persone che si sono formate seguendo lo stesso modello didattico, il maestro Fujimoto, ma che ovviamente hanno assorbito e fatto proprio il suo metodo secondo le proprie inclinazioni. Questo ha una grande importanza perché a volte un mio allievo che si è arenato su una mia spiegazione grazie ad un modo comunicativo differente riesce a superare l’impasse. Più o meno per lo stesso motivo questi “piccoli” stage sarebbero il modo migliore per avvicinarsi ad una pratica che magari si trova interessante ma che non si è ancora avuto modo di sperimentare pienamente perché differente da quella solita del proprio dojo. Vedo molte persone condividere sui social i video del maestro Fujimoto, pieni d ammirazione per la bellezza ed ampiezza dei suoi movimenti, e leggo come per molti di loro si è trattato di un evento non ripetibile, ed invece penso a come il maestro abbia elaborato una didattica ben precisa, tesa ad acquistare una ben precisa forma, e che questa didattica non è andata perduta ma viene tenacemente portata avanti dai suoi allievi, che si incontrano, confrontano e portano avanti quell’eredità. E questo credo non valga solo per il maestro Fujimoto ma sia un lavoro comune di tutti quei responsabili di dojo senza nomi altisonanti che si muovono sul territorio rispondendo prima di tutto ad un forte senso di responsabilità.
Detto questo, se in particolare siete interessati all’Aikido del maestro Fujimoto, e volete assaggiare il lavoro che egli ha proposto per anni, invece di sospirare davanti ai suoi video vi invito a ritrovarci sul tatami in occasione dello stage che ospiterò a Roma con gli stessi insegnanti che quest’anno hanno condotto il seminario per i 5°-4°-3° kyu a Milano, i maestri Bottacin e Benevelli.
Qui sotto la foto della locandina.
seminario Roma