Sunday, 19 February 2012

Steven Seagal The Path Beyond Thought

Steven Seagal has become a controversial figure in the martial arts world since he took credit for teaching UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva 'that' Crane kick, which he spectacularly beat Vitor Belfort with. Whether or not Seagal is an MMA guru he is a bonafide Aikido master. Seagal is a 7th Dan Aikido black belt and holds the honorary title of Shihan meaning 'Master'. Steven Seagal's accolades in Aikido are even more impressive when one considers he was the first ever Westerner to run his own Aikido dojo in Japan.

The Path Beyond Thought is a documentary about Seagal as an Aikido instructor, as he was known in Japan as Take Sensei. The documentary features interviews with some of his former students both in Japan and America and their insights into his approach to teaching Aikido; as well as footage of Seagal's demonstrations and classes. The documentary covers many elements of Seagal's teaching as well as Aikido's fundamental techniques such as the importance of Ukemi (break falling) and Randori (three man attack). Of particular interest was their reflections on the Dan grading and Seagal's especially high expectations and pursuit of perfection. The very strong impression given from the documentary was the seriousness and commitment with which Seagal taught as one who strove to embody the true essence of Budo. Seagal's Aikido as testified by all his students was very practical and realistic. His classes were very physical and he pushed his students to their physical limits.

Seagal has his critics, some accuse him of abusing people, both stunt men in his films and his students on the matt. However, Aikido itself has its critics as being ineffective in real-life self-defence situations. Many observe that Aikido looks more like a dance than a fight. In contrast, the footage of Seagal demonstrating his Aikido techniques are incredibly inspirational as he executes each technique with the utmost conviction and puts 100% into them. Seagal's demonstrations are never sloppy, never half-hearted, never flowery - they always are effective, with an economy of movement. Basically Seagal practices his Aikido as if his life depended on it and truly captures how Aikido would work on the street. This is something to be admired about Seagal - he is a true martial artist.

After watching the documentary and footage of Seagal teaching, I have reflected upon my own experiences in Aiki-Jujutsu. Very often my Aiki-Jujutsu classes leave much to be desired, compared to Seagal's standards. Atemis are not performed with the proper conviction and there isn't the same emphasis on the importance of ukemi, not to mention the lack of real randori. One day I would like to teach my own Aiki-Jujutsu classes and Seagal's teaching model is one I am inclined to imitate. All I can do for now is continue to learn and do the best I can, making sure that I train to my own high standards and learn from masters such as Steven Seagal.

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