by Richard Mann
This is not an article about Kiai, though the experience it describes offered me a point of view on it that I had not considered before.
Training in Sinkendo was a rewarding, but stressful process for a long time. The reason being, the instructors were/are very 'shouty'. I would often reach breaking point during practice while being shouted at "DAME! MORICHIDO! DAME-DAME!". It was intense and all along I would be shouting inside my own head "I'm not doing it wrong because I WANT to!" or "I'm TRYING! Give me a break!". It was a long time before I understood what was going on and that understanding came at the 2008 Shinkendo and Aikibuken seminar in Budapest...
As founder of Skinendo, Obata Toshishiro Kaiso lead the way and training with him was a powerful insight into something I still struggle to grasp today. That aside, I found his demeanour on and off the mat to be dichotomous. On the mat, there was no pleasing him. You could struggle the entire day, give it every ounce you had and if you managed to AVOID getting shouted at, then this was the height of praise... I never managed to avoid getting shouted at. :-p
Off the mat at the seminar, however, he transformed. He was amiable, friendly, loved telling stories and not once in memory did he raise his voice to anyone. As long as he had some soy sauce (where he goes, a little bottle of soy sauce followed, don't question it), you could literally ask him anything.
While eating dinner one evening after Keiko, someone asked him "Sensei, you are so different off the mat? You are so quiet. Why is that?"
Well... the room inhaled air, their food, and the table-cloth all at once and did their best not to choke and spit it all back out again, but Sensei simply nodded. He then expressed the following (his English was a little broken and my memory is bad, so I am paraphrasing, but the sentiment is true to his word)...
You must train the body and the spirit when in the Dojo. If your spirit is weak, then your body will falter and you will fail. If you ever face the need to use your Aikido outside the Dojo and someone shouts at you, threatens you and tries to intimidate you, then I have failed you if do not think "Sensei is louder."
The entire table laughed as many were enlightened to this truth. I then realised that Sensei was never berating me out of spite and never trying to make me feel worthless, he was always trying to prepair me for something we all hoped would never be needed. Since then, Keiko was different for me, no less shouty and often no less trying, but the knowledge that Sensei did everything he does with a singular purpose in mind... To help me find my potential and enable me to use it in any situation.
I hope that I (and no one I ever instruct) never need to use their Aikido to defend themselves. If ever I do, however, I will depend upon my spirit/mind having the strength to allow my body to move. This is something only offered to me by having learnt to deal with the pressure of intense Keiko. So if ever your trusted Sensei appears to be angry with you, pressures you, shouts at you and/or apparently needlessly tries to get under your skin, remember that this is a Martial Art and if ever you have to use it, it's only these times that can prepare you to do so.