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Aikido looks like dancing!

On the second day of Pentecost we went to the Japan fair in Leiden, like we did last year and the year before. We scored some nice sake, shincha (2010 first flush sencha tea) and a few other goodies. But we also went to see a demonstration of Aikido, one of the ancient martial arts.

The art of self-defense is not supposed to be just a sport or hobby, but a way of life in which body and soul become one: winning is achieved by your mindset (not just physical capability).

Aikido is often translated as the Way of harmonious spirit; ‘-do‘ referring to spiritual enlightment. The idea is to redirect the force of an attack rather than opposing it head-on. So aikido teaches one to fight, but its main objective is not to kill. Unlike judo and karate there’s no competition either.

Japan is often considered the cradle of martial arts. But they actually originate in India, where a secret art of fighting based on animal principles was taught aside yoga and massage, more than 3000 years ago. It was brought to China in the 6th century by the Indian monk Bodidharma who traveled to Shaolin monastery to promote his country’s religion. He taught the friars exercises to prevent stiffness caused by the day-long meditations. And because the monastery was often raided he also trained them in self-defense. Shaolin monks became the ultimate fighters because they combined meditation, focus and the art of breathing with physical training and fighting techniques. A code of honour evolved when the Chinese involved the monasteries in military training.

Martial arts came to Japan from China and were incorporated by the elite social order of Samurai. Being masters in perfectionism, they further developed it into an art of its own. Aikido as we know it today even has a Japanese traditional ‘uniform’: wide Samurai pants (hakama) and a jacket resembling a short kimono tucked into the baggy pants.

Aikido is an elegant sport and really looks like dancing to me. Yeah well, why did I think it was called martial ARTS? Dancing as a way of life, that’s something another Master of Arts, Mr Murakami, recommends in his book Dance Dance Dance… ;)

“So what do I have to do?”
“Dance,” said the Sheep Man. “Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays. Yougottadance. Don’teventhinkwhy. Starttothink, yourfeetstop. Yourfeetstop, wegetstuck. Wegetstuck, you’re stuck. Sodon’tpayanymind, nomatterhowdumb. Yougottakeepthestep. Yougottalimberup. Yougottaloosenwhatyoubolteddown. Yougottauseallyougot. We know you’retired, tiredandscared. Happenstoeveryone, okay? Justdon’tletyourfeetstop.”
I looked up and gazed again at the shadow [dancing] on the wall.
“Dancingiseverything,” continued the Sheep Man. “Danceintip-topform. Dancesoitallkeepsspinning. Ifyoudothat, wemightbeabletodosomethingforyou. Yougottadance. Aslongasthemusicplays.”
Dance, as long as the music plays, echoed my mind. [p.86]

May’s Hello Japan! mission was a suggestion of Novroz and it urged us to appreciate Japanese sports. Not being much of a ‘Sporty Spice’ I thought I could talk some more about the baseball theme in Yoko Ogawa’s book The Housekeeper and the Professor, or maybe transcribing quotes about samurai arts in the recently read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet (by David Mitchell). But I decided to really challenge myself and actually look into one of the martial arts.

It was fun!


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