Aikido: Confronting a Crisis

Taiji Rebel

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The following excerpt captured my attention:

Other traditional Japanese arts like Judo and Karate have 7-10X the interest, with an art like BJJ surpassing aikido by over 25x. Merely as an interesting data point, yoga, a non-competitive mind/body/spirit art, generates more interest than all the martial arts and fighting sports combined.
 

Hot Lunch

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An 86% decline in interest since 2004?

I think that one possible explanation is the fact that back when "karate" was an umbrella term that people used to refer to all East Asian martial arts, other East Asian martial arts outside of karate benefited from that. And those days are over now. I think that, by the early 90s, taekwondo did an excellent job at making a name for itself outside of the umbrella term of "karate." Aikido, not so much.
 

Monkey Turned Wolf

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The following excerpt captured my attention:

Other traditional Japanese arts like Judo and Karate have 7-10X the interest, with an art like BJJ surpassing aikido by over 25x. Merely as an interesting data point, yoga, a non-competitive mind/body/spirit art, generates more interest than all the martial arts and fighting sports combined.
Yoga doesn't seem like a good comparison/it's fairly obvious to me that yoga would win out in popularity over aikido, for a number of reasons.
1. Yoga often doesn't cost anything. It looks like he compared them via instagram hashtags - plenty of the people posting on instagram started yoga from a friend/local group or online videos, which are very abundant and free (and with no stigma against them). Compare that to the one Aikido place I checked out which charged 125/month for twice a week.
1a. If you're going by instagram, the data is skewed. Most students aren't posting videos/pics on instagram of training in a dojo, that's done by the instructors normally. So if people are practicing by themselves, they can be posting the videos/pics, which increases it's insta presence.

2. Yoga can be done by yourself if you want to, which lowers the barrier for unfit people, as there's no way for them to be embarrassed about it.

3. In martial arts you're actively learning skills, which requires more mental effort (in my experience) then following along with the stretches/poses of a guide. So even if physically the strain might be the same, that mental toll can add up.

4. Going along with the second and third points, there's no time table for it. I can do yoga once a month, and not 'unlearn' any skills (though my flexibility will regress), I can't do that for BJJ. And if I disappear for a couple weeks when I'm not feeling it, I may feel uncomfortable going back, knowing everyone's going to ask where I am. Normally this peer pressure is seen as a good thing (keeps you there) but it also frequently works in the opposite way.

5. Yoga doesn't claim to be a martial art. If you compare it to Aikido, the mental image is that it's a martial art, so people looking for martial arts will look at Aikido, read online about how it sucks, or discover it's not meant for fighting, or whatever, and choose another one. Meanwhile if someone's looking for a mind/body/spirit exercise, they're not going to look at Aikido at all, because it's considered a martial art, and they're not looking for one. Essentially Aikido is trying two markets and being the lesser option (in the public's mind) then other things in both markets.

6. Again, yoga doesn't claim to be a martial art. And a lot of people don't want to do martial arts. They have no interest in fighting people. So obviously, something where you don't have to fight people will be more popular than something where you do. I wouldn't be surprised if things like cycling, board games, tennis or soccer all surpassed individual martial arts in insta popularity as well.
 

Xue Sheng

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A Yoga class is made up of only about 30% men and the majority are woman between 30 and 50. And there reasons for going and there goals are very different from your average Martial arts class

I am not sure comparing a Yoga class is comparable to your average Martial arts classes.

However if you are going to compare anything martial art to Yoga, as much as it pains me to admit it, you would probably be better off comparing it to Taijiquan.
 
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Taiji Rebel

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It was actually the martial arts statistics which captured my interest :)

The original Steven Seagal movies created a big buzz for the art of aikido. As the years passed, so did his popularity. At the same time followers of BJJ and the UFC were growing in number. One goes up, the other comes down. The article mentions a peak of interest in relation to aikido around the time it was featured in the Walking Dead tv show.

Global-media has a great effect on influencing what is popular.

Yoga is not a martial art, and I am not 100% sure as to the reason for including it in the article. However, boxing is a martial art and we all know this sport has been on the decline since the introduction of televised bouts. You only need read A. J. Liebling's Sweet Science to see the figures, and that was in the 1950s. Boxing has lost many clubs, venues and fighters over the decades since then. In recent times this has been accelerated by the popularity of UFC/MMA due to promotion and media coverage.

I sometime wonder if the traditional styles will fade away completely. A number of the aikido clubs and instructors I knew have now vanished - many of my old karate buddies are struggling to run their adult classes and are surviving on kiddies classes. A few have turned to opening MMA facilities which they also hire out to other clubs, but even they have a high turnover of members.

Just a few thoughts which came to mind!
 

mograph

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A Yoga class is made up of only about 30% men and the majority are woman between 30 and 50. And there reasons for going and there goals are very different from your average Martial arts class
Yeah: yoga goals in North America seem to be more about health, fitness, social, and relaxation. Of course there's a wide range: I took one class where I had to hold a really hard pose (CORE!), and another class where we basically lay down for the whole class (zzzz). Looking for something in-between ....
I am not sure comparing a Yoga class is comparable to your average Martial arts classes.
I agree completely. In terms of effort, routine, and challenges, you'd be better off comparing martial arts and sports, I think, even if the MA is non-competitive.

However if you are going to compare anything martial art to Yoga, as much as it pains me to admit it, you would probably be better off comparing it to Taijiquan.
Ha! So true. In the minds of most folks, and for most classes, I think the two are 80% interchangeable. Relaxation, health and social goals are high.
 

Xue Sheng

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It was actually the martial arts statistics which captured my interest :)

The original Steven Seagal movies created a big buzz for the art of aikido. As the years passed, so did his popularity. At the same time followers of BJJ and the UFC were growing in number. One goes up, the other comes down. The article mentions a peak of interest in relation to aikido around the time it was featured in the Walking Dead tv show.

Global-media has a great effect on influencing what is popular.

Yoga is not a martial art, and I am not 100% sure as to the reason for including it in the article. However, boxing is a martial art and we all know this sport has been on the decline since the introduction of televised bouts. You only need read A. J. Liebling's Sweet Science to see the figures, and that was in the 1950s. Boxing has lost many clubs, venues and fighters over the decades since then. In recent times this has been accelerated by the popularity of UFC/MMA due to promotion and media coverage.

I sometime wonder if the traditional styles will fade away completely. A number of the aikido clubs and instructors I knew have now vanished - many of my old karate buddies are struggling to run their adult classes and are surviving on kiddies classes. A few have turned to opening MMA facilities which they also hire out to other clubs, but even they have a high turnover of members.

Just a few thoughts which came to mind!

Problem with Steven Seagal was his reputation took a major hit due to his abuses and antics.
My youngest was in Aikido for many years but two things occurred at virtually the same time, that got her to stop. Covid and the founding sensei of the dojo died of cancer.

And the sensei had a major following from all over the place. Once he died the school went into decline and COVID did the rest. The dojo has since reopened but, without the founder, it never recovered.

Another that can potentially build a bigger Aikido dojo following is currently in Japan for a year, plans on reopening his dojo when he returns.

But conversations with him, based on the research he has done, it all comes down to kids these days if you want a successful dojo. And there are people out there that can help you set this up, only problem is they are TKD focused and their system just does not work with Aikido.
 

Xue Sheng

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One more story from the old Aikido Dojo on Seagal

A guy came in to watch a class and after class the guy went on a rant as to how great Seagal was, how awesome Seagal was, how incredible Aikido was because of Seagal and this went on and on for about 10 minutes. Just before he left he said he'd be back to take classes. I don't think there was a person there that day who was unhappy when he didn't return
 
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One more story from the old Aikido Dojo on Seagal

A guy came in to watch a class and after class the guy went on a rant as to how great Seagal was, how awesome Seagal was, how incredible Aikido was because of Seagal and this went on and on for about 10 minutes. Just before he left he said he'd be back to take classes. I don't think there was a person there that day who was unhappy when he didn't return
Yes, we had loads of students arrive at the dojo in awe of Steven Seagal. On the whole they did not last too long - if they did stay it was because they realized aikido was actually more interesting than Steven Seagal :D
 
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We live in a sedentary culture. Gyms have a high turnover rate. Look at the regular everyday folk and you will see how popular movement-based practices are. Before the martial arts were introduced to schools and universities in Japan they were not widely popular. Tai Chi and qigong came to the fore in China in the 1950s as a result of being promoted by the government. Before that happened, these arts were not popular. Even Yoga, which was mentioned in the original article was not really that popular until celebrities started talking about practicing it.

As Flying Crance mentioned above, "Some things will always be more of a niche interest than others. There is nothing wrong with that" :cool:
 

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I remember when Aikido was legitimately considered a functional martial art.

Obviously if people have that perception. Then they will be more inclined to practice that art.
 
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I remember when Aikido was legitimately considered a functional martial art.

Obviously if people have that perception. Then they will be more inclined to practice that art.
When do you remember aikido being considered a functional martial art?
 
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Mabye 10 years ago now.
Shifts in time, and changes in culture affect how life is perceived.

Aikido appeals to all kinds of people for different reasons. Starting out in the striking arts was great, but I wanted to understand how body mechanics could be manipulated and decided to look for an art which used joints-locks and balance breaking.

There were two schools in my location. One offered Jujutsu, the other Aikido. First place I headed was the jujutsu dojo. The instructor had a big ego and was putting down all the other martial arts - claiming jujutsu was the original art and anything ending with do was a sport :confused:

I took two classes there and decided he was just making this stuff up 不

We did not see eye-to-eye, especially when he asked me to hit him in the face. I double-checked he wanted me to do it for real, and he agreed so I threw the shot slightly wide - he went nuts, told me "we do not punch like that" and proceeded to show me one of those unrealistic karate punches

So, I left and headed to the Aikido club.

The aikido instructor was balanced and focused with a structured class. They used randori to test the techniques they had been learning. Weapons were used too, and it was full of experienced and dedicated martial artists with backgrounds in other styles and systems.

Prior to going there I had not even heard of aikido, but I liked the atmosphere and I was learning new things, so I stayed
 

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Today, Aikido people typically don't really know why they're training, so it's difficult to get new people to join. Many old timers started because aikido was considered as a superior form of fighting (= more effective and/or ethical) but the mainstreaming of MMA, along with the technical regression in aikido and the terrible image it now has over the internet, have undermined that appeal. Many of these people keep training out of delusion or out of habit, which is naturally not compelling for newbies. Some guys present their aikido as a way towards "spiritual development" but it often sounds very hollow and vague to me (and this comes from someone that practices an esoteric method that aims to "manifest yin and yang to stand on the floating bridge of heaven"). There are also some that practice aikido as a form of social gymnastics/conflict resolution/contact improvisation and seem to have moderate success, but I don't know much about that.

To boot, our culture has changed: the "Asian martial arts" trend of the 80s (cf. Karate Kid and kung fu movies) has faded away; people are much more conscious about fitness and aesthetics; and there are many more sports and hobbies available to the average Joe which are more in line with today's trends. The fact that most aikido eschews competition may also sound out of touch with modern sports culture. There's also a dearth of younger instructors so once the old guys retire the dojos simply close.

It's actually the backlash of the decisions taken in the 50s by the Aikikai (the mainstream aikido organisation, headed by the Ueshiba family). Previously, aikido was one of the many names given to one school of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu whose head instructor was the famous Morihei Ueshiba. I won't go too much into detail here but at some point, Morihei moved away from the Aikikai headquarters in Tokyo to settle in the mountains in Iwama and told his son Kisshomaru "take care of the dojo, even if you must sacrifice your life, 'kay bye".

Kisshomaru was left by his renowned father with the responsibility of the survival of the dojo in a post-WWII Japan. To illustrate how bad the situation was, the dojo hosted refugees from the bombings who lived mere meters from the training mats. Kisshomaru had to ensure the survival of his dojo and did his best to promote it. One problem was the competition from his father's disciples: while his dojo in Tokyo was slowly crumbling, Gozo Shioda's Yoshinkan organisation was expanding and Kenji Tomiki was teaching his competitive form of aikido in universities. So Kisshomaru undertook a radical campaign to save his dojo. Firstly, he clashed with Tomiki saying that "there can be no competition in aikido so call your art something else". Secondly, he made the art more accessible by making the techniques simpler and dumping his father's complex spirituality in favour of a simple humanistic message ("the Way of Harmony"). Thirdly, he tried to cancel the connection to Daito Ryu by presenting aikido as Morihei Ueshiba's original creation, trying to equalise his father's name (and by extension his own personal brand) with the art. This is also seen in the way the founder is revered and by the fact that Kisshomaru gave himself (and his father post-mortem) the special hereditary title of "Doshu" (Leader of the Way). And that's how the art expanded all over the world.

So, out of the many different forms of aikido that exist today (as, for a number of reasons including the above-mentioned developments, there's no standard for the art), a lot may die out because there is no generational renewal, while some will probably survive in smaller pockets. Perhaps just like Kisshomaru made radical changes to make his dojo survive, practitioners should dare to define their own vision for their dojos' future...
 
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Today, Aikido people typically don't really know why they're training, so it's difficult to get new people to join. Many old timers started because aikido was considered as a superior form of fighting (= more effective and/or ethical) but the mainstreaming of MMA, along with the technical regression in aikido and the terrible image it now has over the internet, have undermined that appeal. Many of these people keep training out of delusion or out of habit, which is naturally not compelling for newbies. Some guys present their aikido as a way towards "spiritual development" but it often sounds very hollow and vague to me (and this comes from someone that practices an esoteric method that aims to "manifest yin and yang to stand on the floating bridge of heaven"). There are also some that practice aikido as a form of social gymnastics/conflict resolution/contact improvisation and seem to have moderate success, but I don't know much about that.

To boot, our culture has changed: the "Asian martial arts" trend of the 80s (cf. Karate Kid and kung fu movies) has faded away; people are much more conscious about fitness and aesthetics; and there are many more sports and hobbies available to the average Joe which are more in line with today's trends. The fact that most aikido eschews competition may also sound out of touch with modern sports culture. There's also a dearth of younger instructors so once the old guys retire the dojos simply close.

It's actually the backlash of the decisions taken in the 50s by the Aikikai (the mainstream aikido organisation, headed by the Ueshiba family). Previously, aikido was one of the many names given to one school of Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu whose head instructor was the famous Morihei Ueshiba. I won't go too much into detail here but at some point, Morihei moved away from the Aikikai headquarters in Tokyo to settle in the mountains in Iwama and told his son Kisshomaru "take care of the dojo, even if you must sacrifice your life, 'kay bye".

Kisshomaru was left by his renowned father with the responsibility of the survival of the dojo in a post-WWII Japan. To illustrate how bad the situation was, the dojo hosted refugees from the bombings who lived mere meters from the training mats. Kisshomaru had to ensure the survival of his dojo and did his best to promote it. One problem was the competition from his father's disciples: while his dojo in Tokyo was slowly crumbling, Gozo Shioda's Yoshinkan organisation was expanding and Kenji Tomiki was teaching his competitive form of aikido in universities. So Kisshomaru undertook a radical campaign to save his dojo. Firstly, he clashed with Tomiki saying that "there can be no competition in aikido so call your art something else". Secondly, he made the art more accessible by making the techniques simpler and dumping his father's complex spirituality in favour of a simple humanistic message ("the Way of Harmony"). Thirdly, he tried to cancel the connection to Daito Ryu by presenting aikido as Morihei Ueshiba's original creation, trying to equalise his father's name (and by extension his own personal brand) with the art. This is also seen in the way the founder is revered and by the fact that Kisshomaru gave himself (and his father post-mortem) the special hereditary title of "Doshu" (Leader of the Way). And that's how the art expanded all over the world.

So, out of the many different forms of aikido that exist today (as, for a number of reasons including the above-mentioned developments, there's no standard for the art), a lot may die out because there is no generational renewal, while some will probably survive in smaller pockets. Perhaps just like Kisshomaru made radical changes to make his dojo survive, practitioners should dare to define their own vision for their dojos' future...
This is a complex and well constructed point of view. You have obviously done your research and know how to present all the ideas and opinions you have gathered.

A simpler perspective could be that westerners are not so enamoured by the mystique of martial arts in the 21st century.
 

Flying Crane

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I sometime wonder if the traditional styles will fade away completely. A number of the aikido clubs and instructors I knew have now vanished - many of my old karate buddies are struggling to run their adult classes and are surviving on kiddies classes. A few have turned to opening MMA facilities which they also hire out to other clubs, but even they have a high turnover of members.
Is this a concern you have specifically for aikido, or for all martial methods that are not part of the typical mix that mma tends to be comprised of? Or maybe a better way to define it is, methods and lineages that tend to be disinterested in competition?
 
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Is this a concern you have specifically for aikido, or for all martial methods that are not part of the typical mix that mma tends to be comprised of? Or maybe a better way to define it is, methods and lineages that tend to be disinterested in competition?
Well, the MMA mentality is growing in popularity. Competition and the need to test everything are commonplace nowadays. The internet has given all kinds of keyboard-warriors the opportunity to jump online and talk trash with ease. There are also an abundance of YouTube videos with so-called 'experts' sharing their experiences with an invested interest in influencing the thoughts of the masses. There is a possibility that popularity will win the day. Attention spans are diminishing, and the need for instant gratification is growing.

When I started out, you just went to the nearest club and if you enjoyed the training you stayed. They were simpler times back then. Information was available, but there was not an overload of it. The martial arts boom of the 70s turned into the action-flicks of the 80s (remember the Ninja-craze :D) and nowadays people are looking for functionality.

Just a few more thoughts on the topic!
 

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