Monday, May 22, 2017

An Aikidoka's Reading List

    As with almost all martial arts, the physical skills are only a part of the overall learning process.  For many martial arts, a lot of history, language, and philosophy creeps into your education.  And that's a good thing.  It gives you a much larger picture to place your martial art.  Aikido is no different.  Even though it is a relatively younger martial art, being only established in the first half of last century, its training and philosophy goes back to the days of samurai.  Its also contains a very simple philosophy, which is difficult to put in words, and must be understood on a deeper level.  In order to help people get a better understanding of this, here are five books every aikidoka should have read at the very least, and probably own.

The books are not presented in order or importance, just five books.

1. Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere by Adele Westbrook and Oscar Ratti

    If aikido was a college class, this would be the textbook for the class.  It gives you a deep enough piece of everything that makes up aikido to start to put them all together.  There is still enough left unsaid to make you curious and want to delve deeper into the art and philosophy.  However, if you are a beginner there are few books that can be more useful than this one.
    Also, the illustrations!  I cannot stress how much I love the illustrations in this book, and its companion Secrets of the Samurai.  The simple, fluid, black and white drawing given a sense of movement that's required when trying to illustrate for aikido.  The book would be worth it if it just had the illustrations.  The fact that there is really good information, and a lot of it, makes it even better.

2. Budo-Ueshiba Morihei

    This book dates from before aikido was even called aikido.  This book, with its pictures of techniques gives us a snapshot of how aikido was taught in the infamous "pre-war" era.  When the hombu dojo was affectionately known as "Hell Dojo."  It was called aikibudo at the time.  The idea of pre-war aikido is that it was somehow more of an effective martial art, as it was taught then, and it somehow got more watered-down as time went on.  That is a story for another time, but this book gives us a record of that time.  Its full of step by step pictures of O-Sensei himself performing many of the techniques that would become aikido.  Many have used this book as a reference to show how he actually taught some of the techniques.  It can be called upon to show "correct" ways to perform a technique.  There is a limit to this method, as the picture was the correct technique for the moment the picture was taken, but it is still an invaluable resource.

3. Dynamic Aikido by Gozo Shioda

I am a fan of the aikido style of Gozo Shioda which is called Yoshinkan Aikido.  It has a tendency to be a little more aggressive and active than other styles of aikido.  This book is written by Shioda Sensei, who was a direct student of O-Sensei.  He starts off with a basic history of aikido, its origin with Daito-ryu Aikijutsu, and the tales of where that system came from.  He then goes through and shows, and explains aikido things like stances and basic ideas on how to generate power from stances and movement.  Then the book really takes off with the techniques.  Each of the basic techniques chosen for this book are simplified with very nicely overlayed arrows showing direction of movement.  What I really love of in this book is the end sets of technique pictures.  They show how aikido can be used in real life situations.  Which, for when this book was published in 1968 show people in suits and ties using aikido.  I love that.  I understand that if you were going to present yourself in 1968, you put on your suit, but it still makes me smile.  The techniques are also demonstrated by women, and of course, they're dressed to the 9's as well.

4. The Way of Peace-Ueshiba Morihei

    If you are looking for more on the philosophy/spiritual side of aikido, then this book is one of the most important for you.  These are (supposedly) the words of the founder when discussing what aikido is.  I only say supposedly because there is some ideas that it was the words of O-Sensei, but because he wrote and spoke in a combination of mystical speach, and in an old fashioned manner, that his son, Ueshiba Kisshomaru, re-wrote the pieces to be more readily digestible.  If this is the "easy" version, I really would hate to see the first draft.  The book is a series of one sentence to one paragraph addresses of what aikido is and what the mindset of an aikidoka should be.  I get the feeling from reading this book, that these were originally orations, from O-Sensei and not written down by the founder.  I don't get the feeling that these were never meant to be collected together.  It's not that they contradict each other, or are mutually exclusive, they just seem disjointed.  None of this distracts from the wisdom and philosophy that is presented.  Especially if it is directly from the source, it has a bit more gravitas to it.

5. Aikido Ground Fighting and Atemi, the Thunder and Lightning of Aikido, and Following the Martial Path by Ken Jeremiah and Walter G. Von Krenner

    For this last one, I'm choosing a trilogy of books.  These are written about the experiences of Walter G. von Krenner, a student of O-Sensei, and his time in aikido.  The books themselves are intended for a little more advanced audience, so I'm going to include them for that reason.  The others are more introductory, but by no means simple.  The first two of these books are about how aikido could be used as a martial art of self defense, and how the techniques already being taught can be applied on the ground to become groundfighting.  The second shows how and why atemi is applied in aikido in order to make it an effect civilian self-defense art.  The third, is about the more spiritual side of martial studies, especially aikido.

I hope these give you a list that can add to your reading list for aikido.