by Patrick Augé Sensei
When preparing a demonstration, we should have a clear understanding of what our purpose is. Are we showing off how good we are in the hope that those who are looking will switch to our school? Are our long-time loyal students ready to cope with the newcomers? Are we ready to handle all those dan tori mushi (literally “rank-seeking insects” ? How do we deal with the ethics of these students (and by extension their teachers) when these students express an interest in our system? Being mindful of these and other questions must be our task when we both prepare and observe demonstrations.
When we observe demonstrations, we can see four kinds:
Entertaining demonstrations exist for the sole purpose of pleasing as wide a crowd as possible in the hope that Hollywood is watching. They are usually based on the choreographer's perception of what people expect, what they would like to see. They may be fun to watch but lack depth and are often misleading. Everyone forgets about them very soon.
Mindless demonstrations have no clear purpose. Laughter, indifference, embarrassment are the feelings that most commonly result thereof. They too lack depth and tend to mislead rather than enlighten.
Promotional demonstrations are means of advertisement used by a school or system. Their purpose is to appeal to a selected market segment or to as wide a market as possible. They may or may not reflect the truth, depending on the promoter's ethics and ability to deliver.
Educational demonstrations aim mainly at informing the public about a certain school or system. They usually reflect the truth.
Keep in mind that nothing is all black or all white. There may be a little of every kind in each demonstration. But one belief should remain steadfast: demonstrations should be the reflection of our daily teaching and training. They should not necessitate any particular preparation. In fact, to a trained and mindful observer, demonstrations reflect the true personality of the teacher, his/her students, their school, and their philosophy.
When we attempt to do something that is not part of our regular training, accidents happen; they also occur when we and/or our partners are poorly trained, physically and mentally. Lack of technical control stems from lack of emotional control; it also stems from a lack of commitment to genuine budo training. The quality of attacks and techniques, for example, results from our mindset. How we attack and how we execute reveal our lifestyles, our commitment to our budo training. If we establish our dojo training as the foundation of our lives, then we maintain the momentum acquired at the dojo wherever we are. We maintain zanshin and do not let emotions take over our thoughts, speech and actions. Then our sincerity will manifest itself in any situation. We develop this mindset in our dojo, with our teacher, and with our dojo mates. Otherwise, the dojo is nothing more than a gym where we engage in martial gymnastics. If we teach our students to attack properly, a clean focused oi zuki or yoko men uchi, for example, we will be ready to both offer and handle good attacks under the stress of a demonstration.
When we demonstrate, we must stay aware of our partners’ capabilities and limitations. When we are confronted with a situation where a partner acts or reacts inappropriately, we should still be in charge - just like a parent helps a child who is learning how to ride a bike. The child's safety is more important than the parent's ego. If we are mindful of ourselves as well as our partners, and if we are mindful of the principle of mutual welfare and prosperity, we will challenge our partner - but not beyond what he/she can handle. This is Tsuki no Kokoro, mind like the moon. As the diffused moonlight covers everything, so does the mind cover everything by maintaining awareness of its surroundings.
Perhaps we have compromised this need to be mindful in our training in recent times. This may be shown by the complaining regarding the lack of serious attacks in aikido. Before WWII, Ueshiba Sensei' s students were also his training partners. Many already had firm backgrounds in other disciplines and did not need to be instructed how to attack. After the war, however, aikido students were not required to have a background in martial arts, and most leaders of the time did not include attacks in their syllabus. This resulted in the situation we know today. Many who are not satisfied with this condition look towards their hombu dojo for a change. However, as we know, Japanese organizations will not change as long as there is some sense of harmony at home and/or memberships keep flowing in. It takes pressure from outside of Japan for anything to be changed inside. As teachers, we have a responsibility to make those changes here if we believe they are necessary.
As teachers, we must be like parents to our students. However, no matter how much we strive, we are still human beings, and it is good for our students to see our humanity (and the accompanying fallibility). Sometimes even Ueshiba Sensei’s own partners would get injured when he executed a technique on them during demonstrations. Did Ueshiba Sensei injure his demonstration partner on purpose or not? That we will never know. What we know is that Ueshiba Sensei also was a human being - probably a better one than most of us, but he was still a human being. Injuries are a price we pay for our training; we must accept that premise. What we must not accept is when a so-called expert injures a cooperating demonstration partner due to indifference, lack of control - or, even worse, malice. Under stress, we cannot readily filter out unwanted thoughts and behaviors, and they manifest themselves in our actions. Therefore, we must commit ourselves to sincere regular training to prepare to act accordingly under pressure.
Through my experience, I have found that some people tend to perform more skillfully under pressure than during regular practice. Others will perform poorly under stressful conditions while being constantly at their best during normal workouts. Few are unaffected. Budo teaches us how to find and maintain a balance between those extremes. Teachers must be aware of that since they have been walking the path ahead of their students. We can share only what we have. Hence, we must see it as our responsibility to develop those qualities. As long as we continue developing the spiritual aspect of aikido, we will respect Ueshiba Sensei's teachings.
I hope that those thoughts written at the spur of the moment may help my colleagues. They reflect my beliefs of the present moment and they may change. Comments are welcome.Patrick Augé Sensei, July 2002