Joys and Sorrows of Asobi in Aikido

Aikido must educate or entertain?

We all enjoy having fun, there are no discussions about it. We all enjoy practicing Aikido in a friendly atmosphere, on this as well there isn’t much more to say. However, which is the true place of asobi in Aikido? Having fun is one of the best means to an end, but be careful: where is the threshold crossed which the means becomes the end?

Asobi – Japanese Noun (hiragana あそび)
playing, game, fun

“The purpose of Aikido is to train mind and body, and form honest and sincere people”
(Morihei Ueshiba)


Fujimoto Sensei, in an interview to the magazine “Aikido” published by the Italian Aikikai in 1991, declared the following: “Doshu (Kisshomaru) said that Aikido is to be accessible for everyone”.  Fujimoto Sensei also added in that interview that this was the result of a natural process: “Doshu himself saids: I’m not the one who I wanted these changes, everything has changed”. The world has changed, needs, mentality, behavior have changed, therefore Aikidoas well: the way to practice it and teach it has changed”.
This change in the world outside of Aikido would have caused the change within it, with the consequence that the way to interpret the nature of Aikido would be changed. Hence the need to conduct Aikido lessons in a pleasant, fun atmosphere: this is what the Japanese call asobi, a positive feeling towards what one is doing that has much in common with the practice of any other sport, but also with the sensations provided by making music, or painting,  just as an example.
Teaching and practicing with the concept of asobi in mind is a far cry approach from the severity of the teaching system typical of traditional schools of martial arts in Japan but also in the rest of the world.
The asobi style of teaching fits perfectly to a new type of mankind whose need for entertainment should be somehow satisfied. Pressures derived from modern lifestyle, difficulties at work, family problems, lack of spare time, reducing of the average culture level are ill-adapted to a strict model of teaching and learning martial arts. Severe style teaching causes many students to walk away: it certainly does not fill the halls of students eager to improve. From here moves the necessity of gradually eliminating most of the connective tissue with the arts of Budo from which Aikido derivates and that constitute its essence.

Doshu in Sao Paulo, Brazil (2006)

It could be argued that the globalization process undertaken by the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, to whom we all owe the joy of being part of this movement and the opportunity of acquiring the knowledge that today we make us talk, already contained the germ of the denial of  Aikido’s basic principle as stated by the Founder: Aikido must be taught and practiced to become better human beings. According to the policy implemented from the Hombu Dojo to date, as human society changes, leaving less space and time for study and eagerness to improve, Aikido should also adapt and continue his run downward in search of a consensus that leaves us perplexed and quite indifferent.
This phenomenon is in common with the world of culture and arts in the broadest sense. It is enough to turn the TV on to become aware of the decline in the general culture level and when someone questions the leaders about it, the classic answer the get is that TV channels broadcast what people want. This is what happens when the concept of quality is replaced by that of quantity, when the values of knowledge, studying and reinterpretation of the tradition leave place to the arts of seeking consensus.
Returning to the concept of asobi in Aikido , nobody here wants to argue that Aikido lessons should be a massacre and the teacher a Nazi. Mine only intends to be an invitation to reflect on what we teachers propose and how we propose it to our class, because a potentially revolutionary message like the one contained in Aikido will never be applied through a few laughs and a couple of drops of sweat on the mat, while the transformation of Aikido in some another kind of sport exercise – functional with the plan of not changing people,and society’s unjust structures – needs exactly that.

Copyright Simone Chierchini © 2011Simone Chierchini
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2 thoughts on “Joys and Sorrows of Asobi in Aikido

  1. Pingback: Joys and Sorrows of Asobi in Aikido | Aiwakan Aikido


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