The challenge of modern aikido is that it exists in a world where most of us typically don’t operate under regular physical load in our daily lives. This impacts on the way we move and the body quality that we adopt in making those movements. By way of comparison, the Founder of Aikido was a farmer and was use to working in a very physical environment for most of his life. The result is that what was natural movement and posture for him, and many of the masters of past, is well … not that natural for us.
Recently, a number of us at the dojo have resolved to include heavy bokken training, through the use of a suburito, as part of our regular weapons practice. For those not familiar with the suburito, it’s a heavy bokken that is thicker at the blade than the handle. It is also longer in length than the standard bokken. The benefit of using a suburito for bokken work is that it is a simple and effective method of bringing load into our Aikido practice.
To move the suburito for any length of time (and we are talking minutes) relies on the practitioner abandoning strength based methods and instead using the “natural” principles of posture and movement that form the basis of our Art. The principles to which I refer include being centered, “heaven man earth”, centerline movements, sinking, using major muscle groups to ignite smaller ones, weight transference, “feet move hips”, “silk-reeling”, “yin-yang”’, keeping knees off lock, etc. When these principles are applied, the suburito can be moved with minimum effort.
The effect on bokken kata practice when using a suburito is also quite interesting. I think it would be fair to say that there is an injection of martial integrity introduced into the kata movements. This does not occur because of the weight per se, but rather the disciplined way that you have to move and hold your posture throughout to allow the additional weight of the bokken to be moved with minimum effort. For an example as to how the Aikido Yuishinkai kata “free wielding sword” looks with a heavy bokken see the below demonstration by our Chief Instructor Peter Kelly Sensei.
We have also found that the internal aspects developed using the suburito flow directly on to our unarmed practice. Particularly noticeable benefits include a reduced urge to “muscle techniques” when encountering resistance. The natural reaction is to instead relax and sink. A greater sense of centered movement, both as uke and nage, is also very evident.
Please be assured that I’m not suggesting that the suburito is the be-all and end-all of effective Aikido practice. There are lots of incredibly proficient Aikido practitioners out there who have never even picked up suburito. All I’m saying is that if you are seeking to widen your current training methods for developing the internal principles underpinning our art – its worth a try.
In the meantime, if you’re going to pass me a bokken….better make it a big one.