Go and Aikido
On this page, people who have practiced both Go and Aikido, can relate of their experiences.
Dieter: Aikido has been my only and short experience with oriental martial arts. I've found a big similarity in the state of mind you need to excel at either art. In the West, we tend to equate a quiet mind with passivity and equate aggressive action with anger. The spirit behind Aikido and probably martial arts in general is to reach a peaceful mind in order to do what is necessary, be it attack or defense.
When a westerner starts with Go, he will often equate the call for kiai (fighting spirit) with the act of wildly fighting about. The skilled Go master will calmly return his rage. That's the kind of wrong interpretation we have heard before, but I have encountered at least as often the western player who thinks that a calm state of mind is reflected by lame moves that accomplish nothing but reinforcing alive groups. The skilled Go master will calmly take control of the larger area. This is more of a surprise to the romantic seeker of Eastern values. It reminded me of an Aikido lesson where my teacher asked me to hit him on the head. I brought my arm down to stop right above his head. He smiled and said: if you do not attack me, I don't have to defend myself. I want to show you how to defend, so please hit me on the head.
So, I learnt that you should reach a calm mind in order to be sharp at the execution of what is necessary. Kill a group for instance, if that's what the situation calls for. Anger and blood thirst will blur the reading skill and the strategic vision. Fear and laziness too.
DJ: Dieter, thx for writing this words of beauty, I cannot agree more.
I practised intensively Aikido for about one year, long ago (I also tried a little Yai-do, the Art of unsheating the sword, but Aikido remains my favourite). I even published an extensive article on Go on the Italian Aikido magazine...
It was there that I fully appreciated the oriental way of teaching: no unnecessary words, the Sensei acts, and you repeat and repeat, trying your best. Still today my favourite way to study Go is to go through professional games - I do some problems every now and then, but mostly I love to see pro at work, trying to understand their ways, either in the Fuseki or in the infighting: besides improving your go, it is like listening to a symphony.
But in general I think the aim of Go is different from that of Martial Arts, although purely defensive ones as Aikido. After all in Go you just need to have one more point...
Jared: I studied Aikido many years ago. Ai Ki Do means Way of Harmonious Energy (litterally). Harmony between attacker and defender's energy on the practice mat is the same as harmony on the goban.
Bildstein: I haven't played enough Go or studied martial arts for long enough to make me an expert in either, but some would say that to master either art you must stop thinking in terms of "winning", perhaps concentrating instead on concepts like "correct" or "effective".
yunshui: Personally, I tend to find a lot of parallels between the two in purely physical terms. When I'm on the mats, I tend to see Aikido's entering tenkan movement as being analogous to a hane. Iriminage in the dojo bears a positional resemblance to playing a territorial invasion on the goban, whilst Aikido's omote techniques remind me of the thrusting play that cuts through a knight's move extension. And a painful atari makes me think of nikkyo. Maybe I need to get out more...
I once put up a poster in my local dojo advertising for Go opponents with the line, "if you want to learn Aikido without being repeatedly hammered into the floor, Go is the game for you!", and I stand by that - the principles of entering, occupying and surrounding space, being aware of the environment, trying to establish harmonious (yet advantageous) spatial relationships, aiming to achieve a nice shape rather than focusing on winning - all of these elements and more are common to both arts.Obviously playing Go won't make you into a samurai-smashing uber-aikido master, any more than perfecting tai no henka will give you the skills of Go Seigen, but each one can provide insights into the other which might otherwise take rather longer to arise.
emeraldemon: I've studied Aikido much longer than go: I first learned about go through an Aikido instructor who gave me a copy of Go For Beginners. Certainly both require the same mindset of calm focus, and I think you can say the same of any activity where time and concentration are important. A few thoughts about go have been influencing my aikido lately though. In go, we play each game "to the death". One player wins, the other is defeated, each trying his hardest to win. In aikido, the roles are asymmetrical: uke is trying to give a good attack to help nage learn. So really, typical aikido practice is more like solving tsumego, I think. Uke sets up a problem, and the heading is "nage to play and live"!
cmasc?: In aikido and go there seems to be a reasoning that the best move ist also "good looking", elegant. In aikido most people will recognize the masters, because their movement is effective and beautiful at once. Similarly we have the concept of good shape on the go board. In aikido we try to stop thinking and control the body movement by awareness/sensual input. This reminds me of playing a fast go game, where you play instinctively and rely on the visual patterns for finding a good move.
Big difference between the arts: Go has a reliable way of assessing your improvement, which is totally independent from the beauty of your game: you will win or lose the game. In aikido it is more difficult to tell if you are progressing: has your posture improved? Are you more relaxed than before? How is your timing and fluency when moving? Because there is deliberately no competition in aikido (a good thing), you need a master to assess your improvement by looking at you. It seems to be much harder to rate your progress even if you practise with good ukes which can try to show you how effective your defense is.
yunshui: I recently wrote a short essay on the relationship between Go and Aikido - it's pitched at aikidoka rather than Go players, but might be of interest.
HET: In Aikido practice there are two roles: Tori and Uke. Uke attacks and Tori performs the Aikido technique. The common perception is that Tori is the one practicing the real thing while Uke plays the role of the "dumb bad guy". Actually this is not true, it takes a great deal of skills to be a good Uke to the point that some senseis explain that it is the hardest and most important part of the practice. In order to be a good Uke one has to perform a realistic committed yet not over-extended attack. Additionally the Uke has the responsibility to react to the technique as a competent martial artist by staying relaxed, evading blows, recovering balance when possible, continuing the attack as long a there is an opportunity, the combination of all this will "force" Tori to "resort" to a correct Aikido technique.
My point is: if there is a comparison to make between Aikido and Go, we should look at both roles, Tori and Uke.