I am Kenough: when bokken’s practice meets Barbie

No matter wether or not you like it, the recent Barbie movie is a stunning marketing operation that offers various elements for thought and discussion.

In particular, the character of Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, is described as a simple guy, who exists only as a function of the blending he creates with Barbie. Gradually, becoming aware that in the real world he would not be able to find either a job or his identity, he realizes that being himself is what is enough to live a real life, far beyond expectations and stereotypes.

I am Kenough, indeed. I’m Ken and that’s enough.

Now, an average Aikidoka is not generally accustomed to play with Barbie dolls. Generally speaking in Martial Arts environments the female presence, with rare but growing exceptions, is not that high.

Therefore, the mats are often crowded with Kens who shake the (bok)ken, in search of some identity.

One aspect that the aforementioned movie highlights is the perfect, monotonous, plasticky repetitiveness of Barbie and Ken’s life in their world.

This brings to mind the technical program. Take, for example, the (aiki)ken program.

Seven suburi

Happo giri

Four awase exercises

Five kumi tachi (with the ki musubi no tachi as a bonus track)

Seven ken tai jo

Several tachi dori (let’s say about twenty as basic forms).

Seen like this, that looks like a pretty short list. If we think that in many dojos the black belt test is reached by limiting oneself to the seven suburi; that in many dojos (for instance at the Hombu Dojo) only a few tachi dori are required for the shodan; that in many other realities the study of weapons is the result of hybrids between jodo and kenjutsu….

If we think of all this, the study of weapons and in particular of the bokken would seem like the spasmodic repetition of a very short poem.

As the study deepens, you can start making the catalog much more fractal: all the suburi can be inserted into happo giri. In harmonizations, kumi tachi and ken tai jo may have a very high number of variations and/or disarms.

And again, you may connect kumi tachi, study the application principles (riai), study the philology of the ancient forms of ken tai jo…

A very ramified work, in which the extensive results makes mnemonic cataloging almost impossible and certainly useless and rather requires the constant formation of the bases and the clear understanding of the principles on which it is possible to modularly build the broad ramification itself.

Yet, even so, under what conditions is knowing and practicing a technical program, in this case of bokken, sufficient? Is it “kenough”?

What do we build? A golden world of martial plastic, made up of a beautiful collection of kata, more or less extensive?

Do we need them for anything? And for what reason? To improve the form and execution of tai jutsu techniques? To recall, in the movements of the body, the same movements used when shaking a bokken? To impress invisible Barbies standing at the edge of the tatami?

And even when you get to this level of awareness… What is it for?

There is something very formative in all disciplines: the repetition of the gesture. We have never known someone capable of getting to the end of some sector, remaining faithful to his/her choices, who has decided at a certain point to deprive himself/herself of the daily repetition of gestures, habits and routines considered essential.

All these people, rather, have had the humility to cling constantly to very simple practices – and because of this, they have become capable of doing very complex things. Above all, they were people who used constancy to transform themselves day after day into ever better versions of themselves, leaving a clean trail in the environments they attended.

A year of practice starts again, now. The hope is to find in what we do what is needed to be able to say, with satisfaction, that what we do, much or little, always represents our maximum today and the starting point for tomorrow.

To be able to say that we are “simply” us. And that’s enough for today.

Disclaimer: picture by shark ovski from Unsplash

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