21 Jan Aikido, the courage to test one’s hypotheses
Aikido, the courage to test one’s hypotheses – by Leo Tamaki
I have always considered Budos to be more than Bujutsus, that their ethical dimension should never put aside technical abilities without which they would be empty. It is only by sublimating and guiding concrete abilities via a superior ideal that the practitioner can understand and reach his/her true value. With either element missing, one will then be facing a charlatan or a craftsman of destruction.
One of martial ways’ objectives is to lead human beings to overcome their fears. The first, the most instinctive fear is the one about preserving one’s physical integrity. It is only by achieving a tangible martial efficiency that the practitioner can overcome it. Having overcame this primal fear, the practitioner will be able to undertake the remaining part of the long journey ahead… An arduous task that cannot tolerate dogmatisms and obscurantisms which are too often the prerogative of martial traditions.
Studying and polishing
A practitioner essentially faces two tasks: refining his/her skills and searching for a better way to do things. Obviously, each will focus on one or the other depending on his/her path and personality. It is a common and constant process, with no finish line. I still have a vivid image of Tamura sensei continuing to train and search until his last days of practice; a craft that sparked the respect of Aikidokas in the whole world.
In addition to the courage that undertaking such work requires, you even need more of this quality to do it in a pertinent manner. How many incoherent “innovations”, sometimes laughable and often dangerous, do we witness when looking at the diversity of modern Aikido? Empty findings, that are the results of our approximations and cowardice.
Do not get me wrong, as a student of masters such as Tamura Nobuyoshi, Kuroda Tetsuzan or Hino Akira, I am in no position to criticize the research process. I simply have the feeling that if some people have the courage to undertake research, only a few have the courage to test the relevance of their findings.
Theories in Aikido
The main issue in Aikido (and similar practices) is that they allow to build the most extravagant theories because they do not have to prove their assertions. However, the danger does not come from these methods that are so far-fetched they discredit themselves, but from the ones that are beautiful, logical, coherent and seducing. Martial practice only has value when it is rooted in reality. The trap is that, nowadays, practice evolves within frames that we can modify at our convenience to demonstrate theories, presenting all the signs of scientific thinking via a pseudo-experimental process, without its rigor and objectivity.
To simplify, one can consider the scientific experimental process as the following:
Hypothesis -> Experimentation -> Hypothesis modification or Theory establishment
The current problems are that:
– Hypotheses are generally based on erroneous foundations:
– Movies: the vast majority of “fights” witnessed by contemporary practitioners have been seen on a screen. Although a quick research on the internet offers the possibility to watch real fights, such as shown by security cameras in prisons for example, Aikido demonstrations pretending to be “realistic” simply use cinematographic codes that are very different from concrete violence.
– Combat experience: when practitioners have some combat experience, it is often limited to brawls or sports meetings. Even though this kind of confrontation does not exclude potential serious consequences, it remains fundamentally different from combat for survival. These confrontations can offer food for thought; however, their difference with the essence of warrior techniques at the origin of Aikido has to be understood for us to intelligently make the most of it.
– Misconception of the historical environment: warrior techniques are adapted to the context within which they have been created. The complexity of the warrior objectives led to the coexistence of practices with similar appearance, but aimed at practitioners as diverse as the task they performed. Inevitably, erroneous interpretations will result from misconceptions about these elements.
– Erroneous models: faith in the expert one follows is a prerequisite for every true transmission. Nowadays, the issue is that the level of renowned experts is too often debatable. Sometimes, they are even wrong about the hypotheses underlying their practice. With all due respect, and without denigrating their respective qualities, in case of doubt it is primordial to ensure the veracity of the points made by one’s teacher. For example, I can think about two direct students of Osensei, both 8th dan, that still profess that the hakama was used to hide the feet movements.
– Misconception of the cultural environment: the transmission process of Japanese martial techniques is particular. Despite sharing many elements with other traditions, its overall essence is unique. Only the understanding of the systematisation used by the bushis can lead to real benefits from their inheritance.
– Non-exhaustive list…
– The experimentations are often erroneous because:
– They are based on incorrect or inaccurate hypotheses, for the aforementioned reasons.
– The framework is too narrow: some hypotheses work when some elements of the situation are defined. These hypotheses often become totally impossible in an evolving situation.
– One unconsciously looks for elements confirming one’s theory, discarding anything that could demonstrate its limits.
– Because practitioners persuaded by the validity of their practice make something that simply does not work, work.
– Non-exhaustive list…
Seeking the limits of one’s hypotheses
To reach the highest level of one’s art, as well as to make the required changes to maintain it alive, we have to aim for martial efficiency. To reach it, we use an experimental method based on teachings received and our own reflexions. It is our duty to maintain thoroughness and sincerity, without which we would create sterile and temporary illusions leading our disciplines to ruin.
We need to have the courage to look for what challenges our assumptions and exposes their flaws! The solution is not about finding comforting evidence and seeking to reinforce our convictions, which solely mirrors our current limitations. It is about exposing our hypothesis to uncertainty and facing the biggest difficulties. Trial and error is the only way we can develop models ever more precise, ever more efficient. Let us not be attached to theories, as beautiful as they could be, but let us focus on challenging our illusions.
Note: This article was initially published in AikidoJournal. The magazine and website offer a very rich content, strongly recommended (in French only).
Original article by Leo Tamaki “Aikido, le courage de tester ses hypothèses”, published on 12/05/2016. Link:
Open translation by Nathan Augeard, with permission.
 Budo: literally, martial way (the interpretation and meaning of this term is very subjective).
 Bujutsu: literally, martial technique (the interpretation and meaning of this term is very subjective).
 Bushi: warrior.