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A ton of things to post about since taking up the martial arts again, mixing the soft art of Aikido with a variant of Shotokan Karate called Ao Denkou Jitsu (or ADK), which I practiced around ten years ago with an instructor who was kind of a role model then. Very few have probably heard of the latter. Sometime in the 1990s, Professor Rick Clark, who appears to have some government-related background in the security profession, established an art that combined the most effective techniques from a range of others he studied over the years, but Shotokan features heavily, with some pressure point stuff thrown in. Unlike Aikido, Ao Denkou Jitsu deals with the common methods of assault encountered in real life, and the training should become quick, brutal and realistic when the practitioner becomes competent in a given technique. And it’s a good workout.

Some Security-Related Trivia
Just in case any infosec people reading this thought ‘WTF’? when I mentioned Rick Clark. The Rick Clark I’m referring to here IS NOT the Rick Clarke of ‘cyber Pearl Harbour’ fame, but the founder of ADK who happens to be called Professor Rick Clark (a funny guy in person). Confused?

Meet the Clarks

It’s only recently I’ve actually read the ADK syllabus, as I basically didn’t have the Internet before 2002. Under the heading Training Methods: Habitual Acts and Associated Probability, Clark writes: ‘Within ADK, students are encouraged to study and consider these habitual acts of violence, and establish how their training can be used to deal with them, rather than deal with tournament or unrealistic Karate attacks.’
This is the basic idea behind threat assessment, understanding the different categories, knowing which are relevant, how they attack and the best techniques for countering them.

We also find the concept of ‘layered security’ and ‘defence in depth’ in ADK, under Kyusho: Fault Tolerance and Redundancy, so the practitioner isn’t proper screwed if one technique doesn’t quite come off as intended in a real situation: ‘Fault tolerance and redundancy are terms both used to describe the failsafe means by which a technique can be performed in such a way, that it’s effectiveness may degrade gracefully, rather than exhibit an “all or nothing” success.’

What I Learned About Aikido So Far
Meanwhile I’ve also been looking into the theory and history of Aikido. Obviously, as most the training involves grabbing each others wrist and practice with weaponry, Aikido isn’t something that’s just going to work in a real fight unless the adversary is exceptionally compliant. The key is to understand how the art became what it is. What changes were made by Morihei Ueshiba and those who followed, and why?
My main source at the moment is Stanley Pranin of Aikido Journal, who spent 20 years in Japan and produced a massive amount of research. Plus there’s a huge amount of contemporary/contemporaneous information to sift through. Here’s something I’ve been compiling that might help:

The history of Aikido is a complicated one, because it’s actually a bio of three central characters – Morihei Ueshiba, Takeda Sokaku and Onisaburo Deguchi. After that, there’s the internal politics that led to different branches and interpretations in the decades that followed.

This is the very basic story, after untangling all the complexities: Something called the Daito-ryu was headed by legendary swordsman Takeda Sokaku from late 19th century. Morihei Ueshiba studied the Daito-ryu under Takeda and eventually developed another style from that (we think). We could say that Aikido is a continuation of the Daito-ryu, but in a form that incorporated the ideas of religious leader Onisaburo Deguchi. These names will become familiar as I attempt to put their stories into a coherent narrative later.
But the history didn’t end there. From the 1940s onward, it appears some fundamental changes were made, so the harder Daito-ryu techniques and most ideological elements are omitted from modern Aikido as taught in the modern world, in much the same way weaponry is omitted from modern-day Karate. We also have variations in the way it’s taught today, through the different schools of Aikido that formed.

Ki and Aikido Philosophy
About Ki – I’ve heard from a few sources that even Ueshiba’s own students had problems understanding his spiritual ideas and philosophy. Ueshiba only demonstrated techniques and never explained them, leaving students to learn through trial and error, and some inevitably interpreting what they saw as magic. He also isn’t known to have preached his religious ideas. As far as I’m aware, there’s no common doctrine for Aikido, beyond thousands of essays out there by researchers drawing their own conclusions. One such essay by Kim Mortensen (A short story of Ueshiba Morihei and his Philosophy of life) lays out some of the ideas and where they might have come from.
Ueshiba knew that every person (and any tangible object, for that matter) shares one specific vulnerability – the ‘Ki centre’. This is a very specific point just above the waistline where a person’s upper body mass is concentrated. An Aikido practitioner can appear to drop larger opponents with a single touch, but what’s actually happening is the opponent’s ‘Ki centre’ is being shifted rapidly by a very subtle movement from something more stable, and that will take the whole body with it. The effect is the same as pulling a rug from under the opponent, but it’s the opponent’s centre of gravity that shifts instead of the ground, and only a slight shift is needed. Unfortunately ‘Ki’ has all kinds of wishy-washy New Age meanings attached to it these days. The only ‘force’ at play here is gravity, it seems.

An Ecosystem of Japanese Martial Arts?
The Japanese martial could be viewed as an ‘ecosystem’ with a common source going back 600 years or so, probably originating in Okinawa, which was along a major trade route between Japan and China. The arts could be variations on the same thing, taught in different contexts under different circumstances. I’ve encountered techniques that are unmistakeably common to both Ao Denkou Jitsu and Aikido, and even recognisable parts of ADK kata were implemented in the other art as locks, weapon strikes and throws. Of course, the alternative explanation is that elements of Karate were introduced at a later point.