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Aikido Interview with Steven Seagal

I didn't even realise I had this lying around the house, courtesy Australasian Fighting Arts.

I've only managed to write about half of the interview that I have, I'll post the rest here in a couple of days.
It's an old interview, but still worth a read. Sorry I don't have the date.

The Lethal Aikido Art Of Shihan Steven Seagal.
Interview by Larry Reynosa and Joseph Billingiere

The following are excerpts from an interview with Shihan Steven Seagal. The purpose of the interview was to seek answers to some very difficult questions in an effort by the authors to provide the most definitive information available.

Seagal Sensei offered a wonderful opportunity because of his eminent qualifications-----a 6th Dan Aikido Master, a Shinto Priest in the Omoto Kyo Sect (in which O’Sensei himself was a Priest), and an American who has spent most of his life living in Japan and studying Aikido within it’s true cultural context. Who better an original source?

Seagal Sensei is a living bridge between Aikido in Japan and the West.
He is also a very nice man who graciously offered his time and knowledge and the opportunity to “pick his brain”. The result is a concise and elegantly worded discourse on some of the most important and obscure aspects of Aikido training.
The interview opened with Seagal Sensei being asked to elaborate on some comments he had made several days prior to this interview, regarding the subject of protocol in Aikido training........

Seagal Sensei: Well, the importance to me is they (new students) should understand that protocol is not the same conception that the average Westerner already has. The first important rule that anybody should have when coming into a dojo is to have an empty cup. It is to have no preconceived notions or expectations about what this is. That is to say, protocol to a Westerner, in many instances is some kind of prefabricated, formal ritual that someone has to go through, that doesn’t have to do with anything. But, highly to the contrary, in essence, protocol in the Japanese sense is the very most basic vehicle created to take you through the numbers of learning, in what one has to experience in order to reach the goal which is proper learning.

What I try to tell my students is that we have to learn how to begin properly. That in learning how to begin properly, you learn the essence of protocol, starting at the basics. Starting at the basics has to do with absolute humility. Knowing that you know nothing about what is about to go on and that you must become an empty mirror, you know? And when you start with attitude, you understand that discipline is one of the keys to protocol.
It’s like in tea ceremony, people see all this superfluous silly movement going on and they think, ‘god, what a silly waste of time’. In reality, tea ceremony and all of those movements, and all the etiquette and protocol involved is to teach you humility, grace and tranquillity. These are some of the basic elements that are hidden within the secrets of protocol.
All of the values of protocol that I am just discussing with you, are never going to be discovered by your average Westerner if he or she just gets out there and says ‘ok, I’m going to bow to the shrine because everybody else is’. ‘Why do I have to say this and do that?’ You know?
But the idea is the road to enlightenment can…any form of enlightenment can only be achieved through suffering and hardships and difficulties. In other words, any form of enlightenment can only be obtained when the road to all of one’s theoretical progress is blocked. Do you see what I’m saying? Even the road to thinking…a lot of times the teacher will teach by blocking the road to thinking. And that’s the other side to protocol. It’s not only all these things, but it is to create a state of mind so that the students can learn better. And that to me, is the essence of protocol. When a student has had the road to thinking blocked, when he’s had all of his senses deprived, in other words you are starting at the most sparse levels of everything. There’s not a lot of food or drink, there’s not a lot of acceptance, not a lot of praise, there’s not a lot of any of that. Traditionally, in the dojo there is none of that.
You know, really it is the most basic of basics. It is one room full of straw mats and a mirror, or straw mats and an alter. And those basics symbolise a form of deprivation of everything other than that. That is to say you are in that room to face, and for the first time, open up and view yourself. It’s the way to develop a frame of mind where you become so hungry and so attuned and so attentive, because there’s nothing else there but that. Now you can learn. That to me is the essence of protocol. Do I make any sense??

Interviewer: Yes it does, but I am viewing it from my point of view and not so much from the point of someone just walking into the dojo.

SS: Yes…I can only give you the whole picture, which is maybe very advanced and anything you can take out of any of this most basic form will be good. I can tell you what I can tell you, and maybe you can try to find the root form and put some of the broad strokes down on paper.

Interviewer: We believe that’s precisely what we are trying to do. However, how can this be expressed to many beginning students in America (and other western countries) who are used to a western style of learning, which is an analytical, systematic style versus an eastern style of learning, which is totally different?

SS: Yes it is the classical ‘ catch 22’, in the sense that really in Japan students are expected to come into the dojo adhering to basic protocol----to sit down, follow orders, follow what everybody else is doing, and listen and pay attention, and learn to listen and pay attention and learn to learn form what you see and hear. And that should be in this book.
For a certain period, if the teachers good, he will see that this person has been around long enough to now start to learn some of these things. In other words, if I can say “ok, now we are going to do a certain form of jumbi undo.” And everybody starts going like this (motioning an exercise). And the guys says “well, what’s that for?” You know, on his first day, if I show him what that’s for, he probably really is not going to understand, for one thing.
For another thing, if somebody on their first day comes in and wants to ask everything that they don’t understand, you’re going to be spending the whole day teaching them what they don’t understand. Whereas, if they, by paying attention, by shutting up, listening, watching and doing; if they figure it out, it is going to be so much more meaningful to them, because they are going to understand it on a different level. Do you understand that?
Here again there’s a fine line between how much they are supposed to figure out, and how much you should help them with. And my feeling on that is that a basic book like this in every dojo would be wonderful.

Interviewer: So you see this book as somewhat of a compliment, a blending of eastern and western learning systems?

SS: That’s right. This from of Shugyo has been around for at least two thousand years. And it’s not around by accident. And what Shugyo is all about is not being spoon-fed. It’s about trying to attune your awareness to being able to really understand and learn.

Interviewer: Questions often asked by beginners and spectators of Aikido practice are, “ Is he really taking ukemi (falling) out of necessity, or is he just falling for convenience?” And “Is he really being thrown like that?”

SS: It depends on who is throwing him, doesn’t it?

Interviewer: An answer often given in the form of a question is “ what is reality?” How would you react to this question?

SS: I’ll tell you exactly what I’d say. Two things. One, it depends on who is throwing whom. And two, right now if I’m throwing Matsuoka (Chief Instructor of Tenshin Dojo), yes, it’s real. And I would say right now, if I’m throwing Larry, it’s real.
I would say, on the other hand, if I’m throwing a beginning white belt, most of the time it is real. Even though they are the utmost beginner, and even though we can’t get to the real thing together, we are still….. I’m trying to find their level of confidence and fit that and go seriously at that level. I’m not going to throw them or do any joint lock or any strikes or anything to the point they are really going to get hurt, unless they understand this and want to go harder.
I’ve been in classes with Aikido beginners who were advanced in other arts who wanted to test me, and saying, “well, this really doesn’t work”, and “I’m going to do this; And I’ve had somebody dislocate their own shoulder. I had him and he tried to flip his body out of it and he just dislocated his arm right out.
more to follow later

Your welcome.

here is the rest of what I have.


Interviewer: So practice then, is a series of progressive approximations of reality and sometimes they reach reality?

SS: Well, to be perfectly brutal, I don’t like the way you are wording that. Only in the sense that…I mean it’s true, but it’s going to give people the wrong idea. That is to say, here again, it is real. All the way when you’re really practising Aikido on the mats with me, it’s real, no matter who I’m with anytime.
The difference is when your able to practice it at a high enough level, you can’t get into something that is more, you know, no-holds-barred. In other words, you don’t have to restrain yourself from going into things that are more dangerous. It’s real in the sense that no matter how much a beginner you are on the mats, if you do the wrong thing, your going to get hurt.
If a beginning person comes up to me and says “I’m bet I can hit you in the face”, and he does, there is a chance that that person might end up on their head and they might not know how to fall. There’s another chance that they’ll end up softly down on their back without getting hurt.

Interviewer: So they are not approximations of reality, but rather: they are reality based on the student’s own ability?

SS: They are real…different levels of reality, exactly. See the difference? The key phrase is, “It’s all your level of ability”. O’Sensei was known to always have said, “Ai te no chikara awasu”, meaning, loosely translated, is that you have to practise at the ability of your partner, and it always has to be the stronger and more adept person that has to adjust to the less adept, for obvious reasons. If I try to go as hard as I can with you Joe, you’re probably going to die. You know what I mean?

Interviewer: Yes!

SS: And don’t think that anybody should ever think that just because I’m practising with a 14 year old kid that this kid and I are not doing real Aikido. Because it is real Aikido! They’re doing the best that they can. When we talk about levels of adeptness, that’s a different story, but the same thing holds true. When somebody’s trying as hard as they can to punch you, trying to get the technique right, I’m trying as hard as I can too, to do Aikido with them, no matter what level it is at.
The ugly reality is this. In Japan, as you now well know, for the first two years that I had my dojo---forgetting about problems I had with the Mafia, Yakuza or anything else, because I was the only Caucasian that had taught in Japan—I had people everyday, trying to, what westerners would call…getting a cheap shot, or hit me from behind. Whatever; trick me.
Quite frankly, even if I wasn’t white, there is a tradition among serious Martial Artists. That is to say, if you don’t demand a real situation, a real atmosphere in your dojo, where people are able to go hard, then your practice becomes, in my opinion, ineffective. Like for instance, when somebody in an Aikido dojo says “okay” and they stop here (pointing to the tip of his nose). They go to punch you and they’ll stop before they hit you.
When you attack me you better come to really grab me, you better come to really punch and kick me, or I’ll get really upset. Because then, you are ruining the practice, and then yes; there is no reality. And then there is a different approximation of reality, because you are playing games. Am I making any sense?

Interviewer: Yes.

The only other thing that I can say here is that traditionally in other dojos, you’ll find a lot of different teachers trying a lot of different things a lot of different ways. It takes time for the beginner, in order not to get hurt, to be able to go full bore at Aikido. In other words, somebody might be able to punch and kick me fast as anybody, but he can’t take the fall afterwards. So because of that, we have to alter the practice. We have to adjust to the strength and level of the different aspects of levels of ability of the student. It is back to “Ai te no chikara awasu.”
Now maybe he’s a great karate Shodan and a great fighter, but maybe he just can’t take the falls. So I’m not going to be able to throw him, or I’m going to hurt him. This doesn’t mean to say that he’s not going to be able to attack me seriously either. The only thing that a student like that shouldn’t do is: They shouldn’t try to sneak up on somebody and give them the best they have from behind or whatever, because then you don’t necessarily know who is behind you and you go to throw him or her; you know what I mean? I mean there are situations where they have to be careful.

Interviewer: How do you explain many Martial Art dojos (Aikido as well as others) where it seems the training is so rehearsed and so compromising? Sometimes it seems, the only reason an instructor has students is to make a buck and have a social club.

SS: Well my feeling is basically, and I wish you’d quote me, what has traditionally happened a lot, is certain people----some very famous---have been overseas, in the service. And maybe they studied six months to two years of a martial art, then they are out of the service. That fact is it hasn’t been two years because their entire stint was only two years. So in reality, they’ve only gotten six months of martial art training . They’ve come back to America and maybe they received a Shodan in Okinawa, automatically thinking they’re a teacher.
One of the reasons never ever wanted to take me seriously is because, and one of the reasons they felt it was their job to make me quit as Uchideshi, or kick me out of the dojo, or not teach me, was because traditionally this is the way Americans and other foreigners have been. They come over, they learn six months or a year of a martial art, they think (snapping fingers)… they are a teacher, and they think that they know it all when they haven’t even scratched the surface yet.
Then they come back to America and start teaching. What I’m really trying to say is the martial arts have, generally speaking, been born wrong in America. Aikido generally speaking has been born wrong in the sense that some teachers, maybe a lot of teachers, didn’t get their basics down before they started teaching.
When I go from dojo to dojo, sometimes for example: I see people attacking each other and I see Uke falling before he’s even been thrown, or touched.
How could this have anything to do with Aikido? O’Sensei always said “Aikido wa budo de aru”. And what I felt he really meant was, “this is a martial art and if it doesn’t work, take up aerobics, take up dance, or take up a gun! But don’t call it the martial arts.” Aikido is a martial Art, okay? I think that there are Aikido dojos in America that have damaged the name of Aikido, and many of my different friends that I respect and are Karate Masters and Kung fu Masters, say “Gee…. even a lot of my students became my students by accident because they had seen Aikido and thought it was a joke. They saw people randomly taking falls for each other.
I think the two of you here can testify that you’ve really tried to hit me, and you’ve really ended up on the mat and you know it’s the real thing because it works, and it hurts.
Basically, what I feel is that you have people practising like this in many places because they never learned it before in the first place. O’Sensei said the basics should never change. So when you don’t know your basics, and then you try to make it up as you go along, it starts resembling something that…. doesn’t even resemble Aikido.
O’Sensei always talked about shinken shobu, or fighting to the death, or at least with that feeling. So that is somebody lives, fine, and if somebody dies, that’s too bad, either way. It’s that seriousness of life or death that’s lacking with many people and they end up making it a play. Aikido is not a play.
You know, I used to hear stories of O’Sensei. People were trying to kill him constantly. Many times he was faced with death. They didn’t try to punch him, or throw dirt in his face, they tried to kill him. You know there’s a difference, and that’s why O’Sensei’s Aikido worked.
the end


New Member
Originally posted by kokoro

Seagal Sensei offered a wonderful opportunity because of his eminent qualifications-----a 6th Dan Aikido Master, a Shinto Priest in the Omoto Kyo Sect (in which O’Sensei himself was a Priest),
Where can I find more information about S.S. and the Omoto religion?
Here is an definition of Omoto religion from the Aikido Journal:


Lit. , "Great Origin." A new religious sect founded at the end of the 19th century by an illiterate woman named Nao DEGUCHI who underwent a series of enlightenment experiences and around whom a large following developed. The religion gained followers rapidly in the early part of the 20th century largely due to the efforts of Onisaburo DEGUCHI who married Nao's daughter, Sumiko, and popularized the sect. The Omoto religion began to become a significant religious and social force until weakened by the OMOTO INCIDENTS of 1921 and 1935 when the church was brutally suppressed by the Japanese military government. At its height it had some three million adherents. Morihei UESHIBA became a believer in the Omoto religion in December 1919 and was heavily influenced by its philosophy. His close association with this sect lasted for some 15 years although he maintained relations with the religion until his death in 1969.
Just a follow up to the Interview......

I found a another bit of paper that says the Interview was extracted from the book " A beginners guide to Aikido", written by the interviewers. There is more of this interview in the book.




I Belong To Steven
Well, I have been pretty good...Long time no hear from you, so I have been kinda curious...The Seagal torch I hold still burns hot as ever....:D