Learning the Language of Aikido

Written by Julian Wilner

When we practice as nage and uke, we do so to create a relationship of giving and receiving. Acting as uke, I will initiate a technique by posing a scenario and challenging nage to respond, in the hope that I can learn something from this experience. As nage responds, he or she will impart some lesson onto me, which I will then try my best to understand. Usually, as I become nage, I will try to emulate the lesson I was taught, or at the very least, make allowances for it. Yet often during my practice of Aikido I will overcome some personal obstacle which has held me back and I will get the notion that I understand a given technique. I have the feeling that through perseverance and diligence I have finally learned a tangible and concrete technique that I can use as I please! Yet no sooner do I gather this notion than it is destroyed, now a vestige of a foolish arrogance. I find myself struggling to grasp why a technique which I so recently believed was infallible could have failed me so thoroughly. I wonder why a technique works sometimes but not others, on some people but not others, on some days but not others. I think the folly lies within my understanding of techniques.

Techniques are simply a form of communication, and each instance of a technique is a different way of communicating a given idea. Yet as any teacher will tell you, no two students learn alike. And as any student will tell you, no two teachers teach alike. Every person has a different vocabulary, accent, cadence and tone in their practice, each with different understandings of the intricacies of certain words, and everyone interprets things uniquely. It is this rich diversity of both teacher and student that makes Aikido so wonderful. Yet these things make it nearly impossible to master techniques at a superficial level; doing so does not enable us to use a technique in any situation. This in turn forces one to seek a much deeper understanding of each technique. I think this is one of the reasons why it takes a lifetime to master these techniques. To do so one must both completely understand the underlying concept, as well as be able to effectively communicate it to anyone, by no means an easy feat. I know that it will take a lifetime to understand how to do this — and I know have the patience to see it through.