The gift of arrogance: ken tai jo (剣 体 杖)

In the huge technical study of weapons in Aikido, the practice of ken tai jo (剣 体 杖) is usually seen as a set of techniques required for high dan ranks (generally for the test of the fourth dan and for demonstrations of fifth).

Important pages have been written about the purpose of this practice and about how much ken tai jo are intended as a tool to work more and more accurately on the integration between body (体 tai), sword (剣 ken) and staff (杖 jo) and in teaching and quotes both of Morirei Ueshiba and Morihiro Saito was underlined as they were “the same thing” (onagi 同じ).

In the following words we’d like to try to see the ken tai jo through our eyes, which are eyes of people who are basically students and, at the same time, responsible from 2018 of a group that slowly grows up nurturing the desire to practice of Aikido, without being too discouraged by the inevitable frustrations or the organizational hurdles that the pandemic brings with itself.

As students, we have the great chance of growing up in a Dojo where we learn through the responsibility of freedom. Our path was didactically set up according to principles of absolute technical seriousness without allowing that this kind of freedom lead into a hierarchical dogmatism.

The choice of a global exploration of Aikido is, frankly speaking, incredibly gratifying, as regards the thirst for knowledge of a student and his curiosity. It is also an element that keeps the fire of a teacher’s passion alive. However, the search for a balanced growth path between the three technical souls of Aikido (body, sword, stick, not to mention the other subtle aspects of the practice) requires the student the patience not to understand everything immediately, to accept his own incompleteness.

The first time we met ken tai jo we were fifth kyu. In a condition in which we were already struggling to patch up a sequence of suburi without inserting the stick into our own or others’ orifices, that night the feeling was of absolute inadequateness, as if the body were entangled in a gelatinous substance that prevented its movement.

The ken tai jo went back to its drawer, just to reappear many months later. Sometimes a seminar, sometimes a special keiko, sometimes simply a quick glimpse during a class. A “global” teaching allows you to peek beyond your own level, to see what is there.

Now, we are not fifth dan: we are confident of becoming n-th dan over many years, because it will mean that life will allow us to practice for a long time what we love.

It is arrogant, at our level, to practice – and show – technical proposals usually left for “the elite”.
Maybe. It is obvious that, looking at our performances, we notice smudges, inaccuracies and errors.
Is it arrogance to want to grow up?
Maybe. Clearly, the quiet comfort of one’s own nest is not questioned and leaving the est, even for a short range flight, is always a risk.
But on a closer inspection, probably the real arrogance is to think that you got there. To convince yourself that, yes, there is a moment in which you can say that the perfect integration between ken, tai and jo is done, completely. That there is nothing left to work on.
And to believe that to ratify this martial Nirvana, in which our aura alone has the power to bring peace to the world, is the performance of a series of techniques.

This is the gift of ken tai jo. A sort of embodied koan, a paradox of practice, in which you can realize each time what is known moment and what is not; what reflects security and what doesn’t.

The arrogance of questioning oneself day after day, students and teachers, together, for a more aware practice.

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Following you can find a short footage of the seven ken tai jo basic forms:

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