Carrot and stick: kumi jo and fourtwelve steps kata

The use of the stick as a weapon has a history as old as the world. The stick is in fact the cheapest and most easily available tool -much more than a blade, in effect- and it is therefore not surprising that it is part of the training of many martial disciplines.

In the vast Aikijo program, the simulated fights – kumi jo (組 み 杖) – provide a visual representation of what could be a confrontation between two individuals clashing each other. A bunch of frames with an ancient flavor, crystallized by Morihiro Saito and offered as study and growth tools to Aikido practitioners.

As we already stated about the kumi tachi, also in this case we could look at the kumi jo with an exquisitely philological perspective and gradually get lost. One can discuss about the influence of Shinto Muso Ryu; what he may have learned from Sokaku Takeda; on why the use of the bayonet inserted in old-fashioned rifles could or not inspire Morihei Ueshiba in structuring the movements with the jo.

Yet, the result would be a collective narcolepsy; the community of Aikido practitioners is already a minority and there is no need to prune it further. Moreover, much has already been written and said about these topics, with doubtful utility for a better practice.

Looking at a certain uniqueness of kumi jo with respect to the various practices of the use of the stick in the different styles of Aikido, the investigation could fall into another trap, the comparative one. It is a fact that in buki waza different styles of Aikido follow didactic approaches that do not refer to Aikiken or Aikijo. We talked about that with respect to Kashima Shinto Ryu as regards the bokken. This is also true for the jo. If you follow Tada Sensei you will come across kata 1a, 1b and so on. In the Kobayashi Ryu, as well as in the proposals that were made by Chiba, Nishio, Satome, Tohei Sensei (to name a few) different forms of the study of weapons have been transmitted. Some kata aimed at showing the stick response to a bokken attack. Others provide what are likely to be frames from the same movie that generated Saito’s encoding, taken in different times, ways, sensitivities, influences and skills.

Going ahead, we can meet the 8 steps jo kata, 18, 22, 28 and so on to rise, up to 41, probably passing through that of the fourtwelve steps, which is transmitted only telepathically to the tenth dan.

Looking at the variety (the richness?) of such phenomena, a subtle aspect may rise up and unite all human beings, and therefore also Aikido practitioners. Cognitive biases.
The mental traps with which our mind tries to justify our choices when confronted with other realities emerge clearly through judgment.

Generally a practitioner raised in Iwama Ryu buki waza looks at the Jodo exercises proposed by other styles and openly abhors them. The vice versa also happens.
In short, the tendency of our mind to agree on the basis of those who think like us (or those who fight us) emerges; on the basis of how much investment we have made to try to repeat some kata like robots, not accepting supposed evidence of having lost time and so on…

Kumi jo can be an effective medicine against such cognitive biases; at least a tool to make them a little more evident. To get to that, however, one must be able to go beyond the last and deepest bias, which is anchoring.

Because yes, it is true that in the didactic intentions of those who codified Aikijo, this tool is intended to offer a continuous reference to the practice with bare hands and with the bokken. But relying on that first information given by a simultaneously distracted and obsessive practice of kumi jo, typical of the average practitioner, can make you lose sight of everything else.
We get excited to see some tai jutsu techniques emerge, we recognize the traces of kotegaeshi,, we glimpse nikkyo, shihonage, kiri otoshi… Just carrots while using a stick.

But is it useful? If there is no constant attention to the underlying principles? Why, when we perform kotegaeshi with our bare hands we use one routine, when we do shichi no awase with the bokken or the second and fourth kumi tachi we use another one and when we perform the sixth or eighth kumi jo still another one?

In an era (quite enduring) in which the rules of distancing predominantly allow just the practice with weapons, the kumi jo give back to the practitioner the adrenaline of combat, that ingredient that crumbles all false constructs.
Breath management, decision to attack, clarity of intentions, optimized use of weights and therefore of movements, clear protection of one’s center, grounding, energy absorption, dynamic harmonization to the situation, imbalance, action on the kinematic chain of one’s partner. ..
Elements that are typical, founding, of each technique in each school in each discipline. And which of course we also find in the repetition of the kumi jo.
Summarizing, in a world that evolves dynamically, experimenting with new forms, there is room for everything. For the kumi jo and the fourtwelve movements kata, provided there is a clear didactic and the commitment to use them as a tool and not as an end.

Preserving tradition serves as a trigger for daring to explore the unknown; otherwise one is responsible for a shapeless world, where new and old can neither be defined nor enjoyed, because there is no limit, no reference point that gives value and meaning.

Below is an extract from the recordings of the kumi jo and the kumi jo of the kata of the 31 steps. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Picture by @thiszun (follow me on IG, FB) from Pexels

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