Ichiban and the obsession for measures

Aikido wa ichiban budo desu – 合気道は一番武道です。

This sentence from the founder of Aikido pops up cyclically. In some articles, in some conversations among practitioners, during training at the Dojo or attending some seminar.

An evergreen, in short.

But what does it mean? If we ask the various practitioners who grew up with a drip of a Japanese phrasebook handed down and accepted without blinking an eye, the answer will be:

Aikido is, first of all, a Martial Art.

It is therefore not surprising that this sentence is evoked in two particular situations.

The first: in those practice environments in which the techniques are performed with a certain vigor that often borders on an uncontrolled use of force, especially in levers and throws. “After all, guys, we’re not here to comb dolls”. And if someone gets hurt, never mind.

The second: in those practice environments in which the didactic study of techniques is often justified by recalling the roots of Aikido in Ju Jutsu and then training becomes a dystopian place in which one must imagine a horde of samurai attacking us in 9345 different configurations. “Guys, we are all cute and cuddly but let’s remember that, even if we don’t compete or fight, we are basically practicing a Martial Art”.

But why would the founder of a Martial Art have to remind his students – and us – that it is first of all a… Martial Art?

In fact, ichiban (一番) means “first”, “best”, “most important” and then the sentence actually sounds like

Aikido is the Martial Art number one.

Let’s imagine that in the mouth of Morihei Ueshiba. That is, said by a Japanese. A person belonging to a culture and a people where even today as you turn your gaze you see the best ramen, the number one beer in the world, the most important sake

It gives back to the founder of Aikido -a very worthy person and certainly with above average qualities– the right dimension of human being. Like many, like everyone -Japanese as well as non-Japanese people- proud of his value and what he achieved. Like all his compatriots, he naturally strived towards excellence. Always.

Not a Martial Art like the others. Simply the best.

We are wonderfully complex beings in the simplicity of our basic mechanisms. We dedicate energy and efforts in different directions, often without being clear about the reasons for our actions. That’s where our feedback mechanisms come in.

Since we don’t like to realize that we are following fruitless directions, then comparison arises. The need to measure ourselves arises. And if the need to measure oneself can restore one’s space in the world and become a dynamic comparison, the same underlying need for reassurance can lead our ego to do the simplest thing: mirror itself and prove itself right.

Consider yourself the best.

It’s a vice that affects everyone, in all fields.

“Ah, those from Karate, how snappy they are… Look how soft and fluid we are instead”

“Mmh, yes, Judo…Suppleness, yes yes. But too much strength and whoa! look at that sportiness. My my, don’t they see that we are the custodians of true Budo?”

Ju Jitsu. Yes, nice. But in the meantime, let’s start calling it Ju Jutsu and what about all those levers pulled to the maximum) What useless brutality. They should come to us to learn some etiquette”

Obviously we could go on, as indeed, with roles reversed, “the Aikido people” are like those strange uncles invited to the family lunch. Deserving of a formal smile and little more.

Morihei Ueshiba must have had his reasons for claiming that Aikido was the best martial art. Maybe he thought that he combined in himself all the best martial knowledge of the time. Or maybe it was (also) the typical marketing that Eastern nationalism affects people’s consciences. Who knows!

But what reasons do we have?

Are we so unsure of the personal growth tool we have chosen that we must strengthen our choices at the expense of other people’s joints? Or do we need to work with imagination, with unlikely technical and philological hyperboles that have their elaborate roots in distant centuries, in which there wasn’t even Aikido? All this because we have never realized that “aikido is first of all a Martial Art” is a sentence without any inner logic?

And what if, worse, we straighten the sentence and give it back the proud tone of the Founder? Are we so insecure that we have to continually discuss, among Aikido practitioners, how long our ki is? Or do we need o reiterate, perhaps even in front of athletes participating at the Olympic Games, that we are ultimately the best?

Better or worse there is certainly the choice of tools available to be better people… than we were yesterday.

So it’s fine if for some Aikido is, in this sense, the number one Martial Art, just as Karate, Judo, Kendo, Ju Jutsu, MMA, BJJ are for others… The aim of martial discipline is, moreover, only one: to forge women and men capable of responsibility and the ethics that come from daily work and it is certainly there that traditional Budo and combat sports converge.

Disclaimer: Picture by charlesdeluvio from Unsplash

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