Physical Training Feb 2006
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Progressive Aikido: The Essential Elements

review copyright © 2006 Kim Taylor, all rights reserved

Progressive Aikido
Progressive Aikido
The Essential Elements
Moriteru Ueshiba

Hardcover  196 pages
190 x 260mm  800g
ISBN : 4-7700-2172-0
Publish : Jan, 2006
Price : $35.00

When I started practicing Aikido in 1980 there wasn't much progressive about it. We began, a class full of absolute beginners, by doing the same techniques our visiting instructor's largely black belt class was doing. This worked out not so badly since we were all young, fit University students who could "fly and survive" the training. It certainly gave us an appreciation of the complexity and subtlety of a martial art. We couldn't afford any such conceits as "knowing the right way to do it". From the very start we were aware of at least 6 ways to do each technique since first, sensei showed us at least 8 ways, and second, we managed to invent about four more on top of that. No seniors remember, just watch and try. You won't find many of that first class out there telling people the right and wrong way to breath or to twist someone's wrist.

Eventually though, one did begin to yearn for a bit of simplicity, a chance to simply practice one small movement over and over until it was perfect.

This book, as the title implies, has a slightly different viewpoint than "throw them in and see who floats". It is an attempt to organize the various skills of Aikikai Aikido into a coherent educational pattern. One starts with a simple skill and then builds on that skill, slowly working up through more and more complexity until the art is learned.

Does it succeed? I think so. The book is presented in much the same way that our dojo eventually ended up teaching our own beginners, and as such, is a very good book for instructors to own. Not only will it give an outline of the essential elements that ought to be taught, but it presents them in a progressive system that can be adapted to a set of classes of, say, 6 months or a year, which will bring students along efficiently and safely. So the book is well named.

Can someone who wants to learn Aikido pick the book up and get something out of it? Frankly, I don't know. I can't know since I'm familiar with all the techniques and skills presented, and taught them myself for several years. I would have no idea if a beginner could learn katate tori kote gaeshi from reading and looking at the photos. My brain fills in the spaces and my body feels the technique as I read. But that isn't really relevent. There are enough people practicing Aikido that this book will sell quite well without the mildly curious buying it and trying it out in the back yard.

Should they buy and try? I suppose it won't hurt, the book will be most useful for those who are, or want to practice since it's about 90 percent text and photos presenting technique. There is very little in the way of any other writing for the idle browser. But as usual in books like this, for the long time student of Aikido the good stuff is in the introduction from page 12 to 19... and as usual I suspect most will simply skip to the pictures. Do yourself a favour and go down to the local bookstore, pick it up and read it. It's short, it's worth it.

Not to reveal my age, but it was rather a shock to see Moriteru Ueshiba looking positively grown up, I last saw him in person about 20 years ago I guess. The book feels like I'm talking to a long-time friend rather than a set of pronouncements from on high. Again, I suspect my impression might be different from a beginner who will be terribly aware that Moriteru is the grandson of the founder, Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei. No matter, however you read the book, the information is solid, reliable and functional. John Stevens, the translator, has done an excellent job. There is no awkwardness in the language and it is a very easy read.

Has Aikido changed since I was a lad hitting the mat for the first time? I was very surprised to find that it has not, not in theory and not in practice. I could have used this book a quarter of a century ago, it would have helped a lot both in my learning and in my teaching.

And that is saying a lot. A highly recommended buy for any student of aikikai aikido.

You can read more about the book at the Kodansha website

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Physical Training Feb 2006