Compared to other martial arts, aikido is something of a youngster, created in the early part of this century by a master who drew together what he considered to be the best aspects of several styles he had studied, and combined them into a new, truly defensive art. Rather than the kicks and punches that predominate in most styles, aikido emphasizes evasion and control, utilizing joint locks, holds and throws. The word aikido, in fact, means, method (do) for the coordination (ai) of mental energy or spirit (ki). There is no attack in aikido. There is an emphasis on balance and ki, or inner energy.
Black Sword aikido, as created and taught by Joseph Caulfield of Lyndeborough, is younger still, although its genesis is much the same: Caulfield has brought together what he feels are the best aspects of several systems to create a unique discipline that strengthens mind, body and spirit. A Boston native, Caulfield has lived in New Hampshire for about 20 years. He opened his Black Sword Aikido dojo at Morningstar Farm in Lyndeborough nine years ago.
As a child, Caulfield was drawn to the martial arts, but didn't quite find what he was looking for. "I studied karate as a child, but I never stayed with it." he said. "I felt that there was a better way of dealing with aggression than punching or kicking. Then, when I was in my last year of law school, in 1973 or 1974, in Massachusetts, I needed something to keep me sane. Law school can drive you crazy. I had maintained an interest in martial arts, so at that time I looked into some Chinese styles. David Carradine's "Kung Fu" series was on television and I thought that was a wonderful show. I had a friend who had done some judo in the Air Force, and he said I might like aikido. There was an aikido dojo in Cambridge, and I went over there and I fell in love with it. I signed up that very night, and have continued ever since."
Typically, Japanese styles of martial art feature strong, linear strikes, while Chinese styles work with circular movements. Japanese aikido goes against that trend. Aikido was founded by Master Morihei Ueshiba, who had studied extensively in a wide variety of arts. Many of the techniques that he incorporated into aikido date back more than 700 years, to the time of the Genji and Heike regimes. Several of the masters under whom Ueshiba studied, in fact, died without revealing their arts to any other disciple. He also pursued religious and philosophical studies, and in 1925 he developed aikido as a particular, truly defensive art in accordance with the highest dictates of his pacifist ethics. In 1927, his dojo, or practice hall, was moved to metropolitan Tokyo. He taught there until World War II brought a temporary ban on all martial arts instruction. When Japan eventually resumed its position of prominence in Asia and in the community of nations, the ban was lifted. Today aikido is taught around the world.
Many of the techniques of aikido are intended to turn the energy and force of an attacker against him or herself. As such, Caulfield notes that the essence of aikido far transcends the practice mat and typical physical defense situations. He feels they have also helped him in the other aspects of his life, particularly his career as a trial lawyer.
"Here, we are doing our techniques on the physical plane, and some of us hopefully are doing them on the spiritual plane," he said. "However, this idea of stepping out of the way of an attack, moving to where an attack is weakest, leading the attack, controlling aggression, these are things that I find myself doing more in the courtroom than I do on the mat. If I have a hostile witness, how do I control the situation? If suddenly some piece of unanticipated testimony comes out in a trial, that is the legal equivalent of an unanticipated attack. How do I blend with it, how do I lead it, how do I turn it? I use aikido concepts. Black Sword Aikido helps you to see violence at many levels. Not just the violence of the drunk in a bar, but the violence that happens in society, the violence that happens in marriages and in social relationships, the violence that happens in court. I think you begin to sense it, and because you sense it, just as here you can try to bring that aggression and violence to harmony, I think you can do that in the world around you, be it taking care of your rebellious 16-year-old, or be it soothing your distraught worker who is going through a divorce. So I think this is of much more use than just fighting."
Which is not to say that the fighting part doesn't work just fine, too. With its emphasis on balance and internal energy, aikido works equally well against one or more aggressors and largely eliminates the advantage of superior size and strength. Kathy Caulfield, a student as well as the instructor's wife, was drawn to the art by the speed at which she was able to learn techniques, and apply them. "It takes years to perfect, but you can do something quickly," she said, "and learn to defend yourself. You can do something, you can learn very quickly, and then you can practice for years to get elegant and graceful and wonderful at it. That's what I like about it. You can learn something instantly, you can learn in your first class, and you can still be learning more of that same technique in 30 years."
Although beginning students are sometimes put off by the seeming ease of movement of Black Sword aikido, it is not long before they realize just how powerful those gentle movements can be. "The way you perform these techniques in practice is not the way you would perform them on the street," said Caulfield. "When you first start studying aikido, every student goes throughout the crisis of wondering, Will these techniques work on the street? Eventually they go the other way: Can I practice this technique without hurting my partner? The nice thing about Black Sword aikido is you have an ethical choice. In karate, you punch and kick. Here you can use just that amount of force that is morally justified by the attack. You can trap someone, you can pin them, you can cause them a little pain, or, if need be, you can kill them. It gives you that ethical choice. Black Sword aikido is easy to learn, but it is hard to master. This is a lifetime commitment. Eventually, you really stop worrying about fighting with people, because the only one you are fighting against is your ego. There are enough means and methods of destruction in the world so that I didn't invent this as another method of destruction. I invented it as a way of integrating the psyche, of finding God, or whatever other metaphor works for you, and of becoming a better, stronger person who is in a better position to protect themselves and their world. And surely, with what has happened in the last couple months, the world needs protection. We live in troubled times."
It is on the traditional foundation of aikido that Black Sword aikido is built, growing, like the original, organically from its founder's studies. "After I was awarded my second-degree black belt in aikido, I started studying naganata, styles of sword and staff. I have been very fortunate to be able to study under world-class masters. My first aikido teacher was a direct apprentice Master Ueshiba. My naganata teacher was a grand champion in Japan. Then about five years ago, I decided, as all Japanese stylists traditionally did, to study with the masters of martial arts, the Chinese. I started studying with Dr. Yang, who is the foremost world master in chin na, which is a Chinese style of joint-locking techniques. I am the first non-personal student -- by which I mean I don't train with him every day -- I'm the first non-personal student and the first Japanese stylist whom he ever awarded a teaching certificate in Shaolin White Crane chin na. So I assist him in teaching when he holds seminars at his school, which is a great honor."
Of these styles, Caulfield has taken equal parts. A typical Black Sword aikido workout includes one-third aikido techniques, one-third chin na pressure-point and joint-lock applications, and one-third weapons training. "I'm always very careful. When I started studying aikido, we trained very, very hard. It was expected of us, in the typical Japanese feudal way. I did that for a long while, and I used to teach that way. But I don't any more. We aren't in feudal Japan. And also, an awful lot of the very rigorous Japanese ritual and training was really not part of the martial arts, it was part of the militarization of the martial arts, starting around the time of World War I and World War II. That is not the way that Japanese martial arts were taught before that; they were taught is a much more relaxed fashion. This screaming and yelling and hard training, and practicing until you are bleeding; that was not originally part of martial arts. But I used to teach that way because that is the way I was taught. There is no harm in sitting down and resting. There is no harm in practicing up to your abilities. I have an artificial hip. I had a total hip replacement a year and a half ago. The nice thing about this martial art is that you can do it with your limitations. It does not require extreme things of your body."
Exactly because we don't know what any given day will bring, the harmony and flexibility of aikido have subtle effects in everyday life, he says. While it is wonderful to rise to the occasion in times of extreme duress, the smoothing over of the smaller mishaps of life is of much more practical daily value. "In reality, very few of us are going to be in the World Trade Center, and very few of us are going to be in planes when someone sets fire to their shoes. Where we are going to be is, we are going to be walking down the street and slip on something, and hopefully we are not going to break anything when you slip. That is where you use your martial arts in the real world. Aikido has sometimes been called the noble art of getting out of the way," Caulfield laughs. "Think of Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. The big weight falls and he just steps out of the way. That's good aikido."