Giorgio Veneri: My Point of View on Traditional Aikido

Veneri Sensei

Giorgio Veneri in Enniskillen, Irlanda del Nord (1997)

The following is a transcript of an interview by Simone Chierchini, with one of the greatest European Aikido teachers of all time, Giorgio Veneri, taped after his seminar in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland in 1998. In this interview Veneri Sensei airs his disdain towards those who claim to be the true keepers of the Founder’s Aikido, claiming instead that Aikido is a living body, and therefore changeable, as Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba theorised

by SIMONE CHIERCHINI

CHIERCHINI
Two words, Traditional Aikido. Words that have been misused and abused by both the ignorant and the initiated. What is your point of view?

VENERI
If you use the word traditional, you want to stimulate reverence to a way of thinking in which the past is always better than the present. In regards to Aikido, I don’t really know what traditional Aikido means. I could repeat the words of Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, ‘Aikido is a living organism and for this reason it transforms and improves’. O’Sensei’s direct pupils are few and all have their own interpretation of his teachings, but none of them can claim to practice the ‘true’ Aikido, since it would be impossible to copy another man’s feats. If I would have to choose someone to follow, it would be the Doshu, since he’s a direct descendant O’Sensei, but even his Aikido is different from that of his father. What I’m about to say now might create a bit of a scandal, but if you look at tapes recorded in the 1930’s and compare what you see to present day Aikido, you can easily see the changes brought over the years. I have to say it improved for the better.

CHIERCHINI
It seems to me to be difficult to use the term traditional when nothing is ‘fixed’. There are no katas (fixed forms) and O’Sensei himself refused to see his techniques as finished, constantly improving on himself. And I think it was O’Sensei’s idea that Aikido would have to continue on being developed, to keep it ‘modern’ and prevent it from going ‘stale’ or ‘rigid’.

VENERI
Most ‘Teachers’ didn’t put their teachings in writing, this was mainly done by the disciples, for later scrutiny or to exact reverence. For example, Jesus Christ didn’t put anything down in writing, what we know about him and his teachings is from the New Testament and has been written years after his death. These writings have afterward been interpreted and edited by various religions, distorting his words and teachings to the level that it is hard to know what Jesus was really like. If the art of Aikido is to stay vital it has to change. I have the impression that the Aikido techniques practiced today are more sophisticated, elegant and graceful. I do not use the word ‘effective’ since to me that is of little importance, but it is more effective then when I started my practice.

Giorgio Veneri

"The main developer of Aikido has been Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba"

CHIERCHINI
To recapitulate, we could say that the Aikido we practice now is rooted in O’Sensei’s teachings, but has evolved over three generations of hard working Aikido practitioners.

VENERI
That’s true. There has been three generations of aikidoka, the first being the students of the pre-war era, most of whom are gone now. The second generation is the post war one. Most of these teachers are sixty to seventy years old. About the third generation we have to make a distinction between the Japanese, who are in their late forties, and the foreign sensei, like myself, who are in their late sixties. This generation will be crucial for Aikido in the coming years.

CHIERCHINI
We could say to those who talk about traditional Aikido that they are making a fundamental mistake in believing Aikido to be finished. The ideas of harmony and peace were actually developed quite late by O’Sensei and have been polished by Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba.

VENERI
Actually, the main developer of Aikido has been Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, like the originator of Christianity wasn’t Jesus, but Saint Paul. Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba has been the organiser, the one who canonised the forms and gave Aikido meaning and direction.

CHIERCHINI
We should also remember that Doshu Kisshomaru was responsible for spreading Aikido around the world. We probably wouldn’t be here talking about Aikido if it wasn’t for him.

VENERI
To truly understand O’Sensei’s teachings, we would’ve had to move to Japan, which wouldn’t have served us very well, because in his days most dojo were very strict on the admittance of Japanese students. For foreign students to enter any martial art dojo was close to impossible.

CHIERCHINI
When I hear people talk about Aikido, they always refer to O’Sensei as being principal in its development, with the Doshu as a secondary mover, an obscure figure. Some of them even bad mouth him as being not of the stature of his father. How do you relate to this?

VENERI
O’Sensei created Aikido, and as the originator he left us an idea. He didn’t explain much and, while he left writings on the spiritual part, he didn’t put down much about the Aikido techniques. Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba task was to expound on this idea. To do so, his life was devoted to the work of his father, rendering him unable to step out of the shade of that giant. He also was the recipient of criticisms on Aikido people wouldn’t have dared utter to his father. Coming back to tradition, in about ten years there won’t be any direct pupils of O’Sensei left in the world. I’m talking about his real pupils, not the ones who followed three or four lessons. When they all are gone, anybody will be able to pretend to instruct ‘traditional’ Aikido, since there would be no one left to put a disclaimer on such an outrageous claim.

GIORGIO VENERI
Born in 1937 in Mantova (Italy), Giorgio Veneri began his career in Martial Arts studying Judo and earned his Shodan by Koike Sensei. In ‘63 he got a degree Mathematics. The following year he met Mr. Kawamukai, Aikido 3rd Dan Instructor and decided to join Aikido practice. In ‘65 he met Hiroshi Tada Sensei and fell in love with his vision of Aikido. Veneri became one of the first students of Tada Sensei in Italy and shared with his Master the pioneer era of Italian Aikido. In ‘67 Veneri organised first Tada Sensei’s European Course, and he has continued doing so until ‘95. Nidan in ‘70, Sandan in ‘74, Yondan in ‘79 and Godan in ‘86, Giorgio Veneri was appointed Rokudan in ‘94 by Aikido Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, first Italian ever. He has been founding member of Italian Aikikai (1965), the European Aikido Federation (1976), and the International Aikido Federation (1977). Former Chairman of EAF (79-84), he has also been Chairman of IAF (84-94). He is member of the IAF’s Superior Council as well; this Council has the task to maintain Aikido in the true spiritual way taught by Morihei Ueshiba. In ‘84 he was appointed by EAF to spread Aikido in Eastern Europe and he committed himself to teaching in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Turkey, USSR (now Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, etc), South Africa, Ireland and Jordan. He passed away in March 2005.

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One thought on “Giorgio Veneri: My Point of View on Traditional Aikido

  1. I am prevaliged to have trained under Veneri Sensei on many of his numerous trips to South Africa!! He will live forever in our hearts!! Domo Arigato Georgio Sensei!!

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