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The Path Beyond Thought (2001)

Video  |   |  Documentary
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This documentary shows footage taken from Seagal Senseis days in Japan at the Tenshin Dojo in Osaka, early days in America and some from the recent seminar in Santa Barbara. We can see him ... See full summary »

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Title: The Path Beyond Thought (Video 2001)

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This documentary shows footage taken from Seagal Senseis days in Japan at the Tenshin Dojo in Osaka, early days in America and some from the recent seminar in Santa Barbara. We can see him demonstrating, teaching and administering tests. It includes also many interviews of Seagal Senseis former students. Written by vincent.vega-2

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Aikido: The Path Beyond Thought  »

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Was released exclusively on Steven Seagal's website on VHS. See more »

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Revised Title: "The Aikido of Steven Seagal and Why it's Good"
9 May 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Since I'm not a student of this martial art, I'm not sure if I'm qualified to write this review to AIKIDO: THE PATH BEYOND THOUGHT - the 55-minute tape elaborating on the style of aikido and Steven Seagal's teaching of it. I give all aikidoka fair warning that anything that you read below in regards to aikido is not meant to be interpreted as anything other than my opinion.

This is not an educational video on martial arts, but an account of action hero Steven Seagal's manner of instruction. The tape features interviews with several of Seagal's students (among them producer/stuntman Binh Dang, stuntman Larry Reynosa, and stuntman/actor Craig Dunn), often serving as narration to footage of Seagal's classes and demonstrations throughout the years - from what's clearly his pre-acting career to apparently shortly before the tape's 2001 release. There are hardly any aesthetics or drama of any kind: this is a very to-the-point presentation.

I'm disappointed about how much the film focused on Seagal and how little it focused on aikido in general. As a matter of fact, half of the time the students mention the art, aikido is referred to as "Seagal-sensei's form of aikido" or some other clarifying title conveying his altered style. Of course, development of martial arts over time is common, but there's next to elaboration on the background of aikido and why Seagal sought to improve on it. Thus, there's no appreciation for the layman who sees Seagal repeatedly taking down students at least foot shorter than him with vicious clotheslines; I find myself asking "What's so special about this and why does it seem to work best for particularly tall practitioners?" Even though Seagal's lack of difficulty in taking down the uke borders on looking staged, the movie proves through and through that Seagal has the skill, grace, speed, and precision when it comes to martial arts that a lot of nay-sayers like to deny him. Indeed, anybody considering the man a phony should check out the movie and try to duplicate his actions. Clearly, Seagal has trained for many years to become as fluid as he is in the footage provided...but is he a good teacher? If we are to believe his students, then he is: all of the interviewees praise Seagal's intensity and lack of compromise, saying it all lead to them becoming better martial artists and that "he did it out of love". Seagal is shown displaying a very gentle manner towards younger or inexperienced students, so he's clearly not heartless...but I couldn't help wishing that he would back off a bit while teaching his more advanced pupils. Seagal uses profanity in the dojo, yells at students like a drill instructor, and Larry Reynosa recalls a US demonstration during which he "damn near killed" a volunteer. At the end of tape, I sure didn't feel like signing up for his instruction.

Luckily, the last 40 percent of the film finally shifts its attention to aikido itself and makes several important points, the most significant of which are that "the strength of mind" is played over the strength of the body and that the ultimate goal is to internalize aikido beyond consciousness ("if you have to think, it's too late") - explaining the significance of the title. Learning to fall is emphasized, as is the realism and importance of the randori (the three-on-one attack that makes up the black belt test). The students vouch for aikido's effectiveness and practicality, and even name it the best choice of martial art for women to study because of its complete lack of reliance on physical strength.

Eventually, it all comes back to Seagal and how "he is the source" and how "he changed my life." If you've accepted the fact that the film is more of a commercial for the man than the efficiency of aikido, this isn't a problem, but in all, I would have preferred a more harmonious balance of the star and the art. I'm glad for the authentic footage the film provides and for the unparalleled look into Steven Seagal's martial arts expertise, but this is a film better suited for fans of the action hero than of his martial art.


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