It has been a month since I came in Varanasi, India, at the invitation of VIDYASHRAM-THE SOUTHPOINT SCHOOL , in order to spread aikido within the ‘Nirman project’, which aims to broad-base education of young people attending that school.
I have been practicing aikido for 50 years. The style that I practice and teach is Kobayashi Ryu Aikido, which is based on the teachings of Master Kobayashi Hirokazu (1929 - 1998), a direct pupil of the founder of aikido Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969).
Aikido ("The Way of the Harmonious Spirit") is a traditional Japanese martial art. It is not a sport but a "Budo", a Japanese word meaning "Way to Stop the War".
Aikido, besides being an extremely effective martial art, is first of all an educational discipline for everyone, without distinction of age, sex, culture or social level.
It teaches how to work with the body in order to discover the tensions that inhibit it.
It teaches how to release an energy that can be used to act and create.
It leads to self-esteem and respect for others in favour of common growth.
It leads to the realization of one's dreams.
This educational message is key for the young since the future of the world is in their hands. Khalil Gibran said about our children:
"You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams."
Education lies in the knowledge of one's own body, in the search for one's own identity through one's relationship with others.
For this reason, the teaching of aikido turns out to be of fundamental importance in schools, where the young are trained.
Assisted by Sanjukta Roy, 1st dan, I am teaching the young students in Betawar, Varanasi.
Here at Betwar, students already have an excellent educational and relational training as they are prepared in a school environment where the aim is to enhance the personal qualities of the student.
Not unexpectedly, the first impact with an aikido class has revealed expectations borrowed from the information about martial arts – often incorrect or even harmful – coming from the media or more simply from friends and acquaintances.
Some of the boys were looking forward to fighting in order to demonstrate their strength and superiority; others were keeping aside fearful; the girls usually made a group of their own, wondering if they would ever be considered in an environment which is wrongly considered of male relevance.
The young people of Betawar are taught first of all:
* The management of space, discipline, silence, listening (which is the foundation of the relationship) and respect for the place devoted to the practice.
* Respect for the aikido partner, through the technique, and therefore the understanding of differences, sharing and mutual help; the understanding that the martial gesture is not used to suppress but to make live both contenders, by respecting their physical and moral integrity.
* Respect for the group, through the ritual and the relation to sacredness.
At the basis of all this there is the acceptance of essential rules to form a framework within which the young can find themselves, having points of reference in an environment unknown to them – namely the dojo (or place of practice) – and in conditions unusual to them.
Since the first lesson, many rules have been accepted immediately with great diligence:
- how to get on the "tatami" (a mat on which Aikido is practiced);
- which side of the mat the students sit on;
- which side the teacher sits on;
- the salutation towards the honour side of the dojo, i.e. the "kamiza", which is the place where the teacher stands;
- the salutation towards the aikido partner.
Of course, the acceptance of these rules has been accompanied by a number of questions, sometimes asked in a confused way, but this is ultimately a positive aspect, a point in favor of young Indian students, since it translates the enthusiasm to learn new aspects, which is something difficult to notice in Europe.
That is why I immediately proposed movements belonging to the ritual of aikido where the silence is paramount.
Everything was accepted with some perplexity, with lost looks looking for confirmation in the aikido partners. However, after a few classes, the students themselves looked for this specific aspect of the practice, the silence, which is key to allow them to listen to themselves and their companions.
We have also overcome the first resistance on the part of males to practice with girls.
The sky needs the earth to create the horizon! Yang energy needs yin energy.
The boys have understood this and now the practice is common, as it should be.
My teacher, André Cognard, says that in order to teach children and young people it is necessary that the instructor has solved his/her own infantile and adolescent problems.
This is a thorny issue, since sometimes violent children come out of our dojos, who consider the martial art as an instrument of domination over others.
In Betwar aikido classes aim exactly the opposite way. Aikido is definitely a martial art, an extremely effective fighting art where it may be easy to transcend into oppression. However, its educational aspect, for a trained teacher, is the foundation of the practice.
Respect, humility, benevolence and listening are the foundations for making aikido an instrument of peace and not of war, at the service of man and not against man.
Neither domination, nor submission, nor compromise is our motto. That is what we propose to our children in our classes, and it seems that the message has been received very quickly, with enthusiasm and intelligence.
Many things – as is logical – need to be improved, since we are at the beginning. The prospects of growth for this group of young people are exceptional though.
In the next classes we will provide the children with more information and explain further techniques, gradually, as is appropriate to a consciousness that is bound to grow.
8th dan, Shihan KRA, Kyoshi DNBK
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