The Opponent Is Within | By Richard Strozzi-Heckler | Issue 136 | The Sun Magazine

The Opponent Is Within

Aikido And The New Warrior

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Richard Strozzi-Heckler responds:

I began my study of the martial arts with Judo at the age of ten; since that time I have studied systems that have included Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Brazilian, and Korean martial arts, and have been a student of Aikido for more than fifteen years. Each of these arts offers something unique, but it is clear that if one brings an inner presence to the external form, it creates an enhanced quality of movement. Without this presence one is simply performing techniques by rote. I believe it is this emphasis on presence that attracts so many people to Aikido; the “magic,” however, is in the person, not the form.

Morihei Ueshiba’s statements about Aikido were based on years and years of diligent study and practice. He was a recognized master of Bushido [The Warrior’s Way], and martial artists arrived from all parts of the world to challenge his art of “peaceful reconciliation.” From all accounts he was not only successful in defeating them, but impressive enough for them to remain as students. While Schaler considers Ueshiba “grandiose,” the government of Japan considered him worthy of their highest honor, that of a National Living Treasure.

While Schaler suggests some provocative points, he transgresses a cardinal rule that is routinely accepted in the martial arts world: it is best to comment on another’s art from a position of experience. To criticize a martial form without having direct experience in it is something like being an armchair quarterback. I would encourage Jeff Schaler to study the art of Aikido in order to deepen his analysis of it.

I suspect that Aikido [“Aikido And The New Warrior,” Issue 136], in spite of all the noble claims made by its practitioners, has more to do with religion than with martial (war) arts. Ueshiba is quoted, “Aikido is a way to harmonize the world and to make human beings one family.” This is a bit grandiose. Further he states, “The enemy tries to fight with me, the universe itself,” as if the two were one and the same. The implication that those who oppose him are somehow separate from universal harmony doesn’t make sense.

Realistically speaking, after all the cosmic romance subsides, discussions of “subtle energy” amount to little more than obscurantism. Suggestions of Aikido as a superior form of martial art are indications of arrogance and ethnocentrism. Stories about supernatural powers that transcend “the normal laws of time and space” are fairy tales for adults stuck in childhood. They entertain the crippled spirit and are myths of a savior symbolizing freedom from the human.

The real enemy within is, to me, one who confuses imagination with what actually is. Aikido is just people moving in relation to one another in particular ways. There is no magic.

I have the honor of being a friend and professional colleague of Richard Heckler for many years. I am also a student of the martial arts and hold a second degree black belt in Korean Myosim Kendo and Iaido.

Jeffrey A. Schaler Silver Spring, Maryland
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