Reassessing Aikido in the Modern Age

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I"m currently reading: Aikido in Everyday Life, Giving to Get your Way, by Terry Dobson and Victor Miller.

First let me say I'm not an Aikido practitioner, my knowledge of the art is purely academic. Whatever details I get wrong I'm sure the wise among you will correct me.

We are in the age of the internet and combat sports have the spotlight. Aikido has not weathered the modern age as well as systems that are suited for combat sports like Boxing or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It is widely believed (and perhaps rightly so) that unless a system works well against the pressure testing of a combat sport it is without merit.

But if we look deeper, we see that Aikido isn't merely a martial art it is also a philosophy, a way of thinking, and a unique perspective on conflict resolution. Most of us do not face a physical combat danger on a regular basis, in fact, most of us might only face such a danger once or twice in a lifetime. What we do all face are interpersonal conflicts in daily life, such as, a difficult boss, road rage, and strained relationships. Aikido's theories of nonviolence suddenly become relevant here. Conflict resolution, de-escalation, compromise, and diplomacy, are far more powerful tools in daily life than the ability to deal a strike or receive one. The more I study the more I think Aikido's greatest contribution to martial arts isn't martial in nature but instead philosophical.

One tenet of Aikido would seem to be, defend yourself without causing undo harm to your attacker. A win-win where both parties can walk away with dignity is a rare and precious thing. As any married person can attest, winning an argument with your spouse is seldom the road to marital bliss. In fact "winning" is often the road to divorce. We live in a litigious world where causing harm even in the defense of ones person or property can easily land one in jail. Not every situation should even be considered a contest but instead just a situation that needs a resolution that all can live with.

I am a Hapkido practitioner and while some will call Hapkido and Aikido similar, we find on the basis of philosophy they are profoundly different. Our Hapkido school believes in a proportional response and is not unlike the ethics taught in the police academy about the use of force requiring opportunity, intent, and capability. The attackers well being, is secondary to our own. This philosophy is practical in a life and death combat situation but impractical in daily life.

I think Aikido has a place in the modern world and as an art for the practice of civilian daily life its place might be preeminent. In all my years I've never come across another martial art with a philosophy quite like Aikido. I hope this post will spark some conversation on the merits of Aikido and philosophy of dealing with difficult people or situations in daily life.
 

Cynik75

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...

One tenet of Aikido would seem to be, defend yourself without causing undo harm to your attacker. ....
...
Impossible. Many aikido techniques many techniques performed on an uncooperative uke (especially if uke do not know when and how to roll) will end with broken limbs, spine or even with death.
Aikido understood as a set of techniques is brutal nad lethal.
 

Taiji Rebel

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It's a great book and one well worth your time. Not everyone here will agree with the thinking shared in the book. Aikido is much derided by the MMA crowd and seems to take a lot of criticism from other stylists too. For those who have the intelligence to step beyond common stereotypes and simplistic thinking Aikido has a lot to offer, it will hold very little appeal for those who cannot.

Another book of value is Aikido Off The Mat by Kathy Park which you can read about here - Amazon.com
 
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Impossible. Many aikido techniques many techniques performed on an uncooperative uke (especially if uke do not know when and how to roll) will end with broken limbs, spine or even with death.
Aikido understood as a set of techniques is brutal nad lethal.
I realize that could be a practical reality in real world combat. My post was about the ethical reality that Aikido strives for.

Page 34 of the Book Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere by A. Westbrook and O. Ratti says:

"In Panel D, we have the ultimate in ethical self-defense. Neither attacking nor provoking an attack, the man on the left defends himself in such a way, with such skill and control, that the attacker is not killed. In this case he is not even seriously injured"
 
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It's a great book and one well worth your time. Not everyone here will agree with the thinking shared in the book. Aikido is much derided by the MMA crowd and seems to take a lot of criticism from other stylists too. For those who have the intelligence to step beyond common stereotypes and simplistic thinking then Aikido has a lot to offer, it will hold very little appeal for those who cannot.

Another book of value is Aikido Off The Mat by Kathy Park which you can read about here - Amazon.com
Thank you for the book recommendation, I'll get my hands on a copy.
 

isshinryuronin

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I'm not sure of his thesis that, after one learns MA and gains some confidence, he intentionally puts himself in harm's way. I think it's more of a case that he no longer avoids certain common everyday situations due to his fear, such as walking down a dark street or going to a rowdy bar. He can face life full-on with less anxiety. Sure, there is always physical risk in life, but in attempting to avoid too much of it puts one's confidence and opportunities to grow at risk. Of course, false confidence can lead to more danger. One must be objectively honest about their abilities and use common sense.

I have never felt fear in tournaments. Yes, there is a chance of injury, but my experience is that it is only slightly greater than in the dojo, and oftentimes, less. When I first started sparring in class, I was afraid of getting hurt, so I was tentative and not very aggressive. I still got hit. So why not be more aggressive? The pain level was about the same and I felt better about myself, win or lose. The same in tournaments.

I did have a fear in tournaments - Disappointing myself with my performance. This outweighed any fear of physical injury. One can be one's greatest opponent. Winning this battle makes all other battles easier to face.
 

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I think that a warriors mindset is one of confidence. Confidence is quiet and humble. Confidence doesnt brag and doesnt need to. In my experience, folk that are confrontationally aggressive or boastful virtually always lack confidence and need to prove something.
 

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First let me say I'm not an Aikido practitioner, my knowledge of the art is purely academic. Whatever details I get wrong I'm sure the wise among you will correct me.
Have you never been tempted to try Aikido? You clearly find it very interesting and participating in it might, at least partially, fill you experiential vacuum and inform and maybe change your analysis.

Ive was once quite cynical about Aikidos efficacy as a combat art because of the way its practised, and found its philosophy to be well meaning but derivative at best (having read a few of its key practitioners books). It seemed to have parallels with Zen Buddhism where Philosophical Zen and Religious Zen run along in parallel and each have their own set of advocates.

But because Aikido is so popular and practitioners rave about it as a combat art, I thought I should try it and see what all the fuss was about. It was very eye opening for me and did modified some of my views.
 

O'Malley

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Hi, Instructor. I've been practicing aikido for 10 years, have been researching the art extensively for years, including its historical and combative aspects, and have experience in other arts, including daito-ryu aikijujutsu and combat sports. I'll chime in.
We are in the age of the internet and combat sports have the spotlight. Aikido has not weathered the modern age as well as systems that are suited for combat sports like Boxing or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It is widely believed (and perhaps rightly so) that unless a system works well against the pressure testing of a combat sport it is without merit.
There are a lot of martial arts with limited combat application but I wouldn't say they are without merit. I'm thinking of kyudo, iaido or performative wushu.
But if we look deeper, we see that Aikido isn't merely a martial art it is also a philosophy, a way of thinking, and a unique perspective on conflict resolution. Most of us do not face a physical combat danger on a regular basis, in fact, most of us might only face such a danger once or twice in a lifetime. What we do all face are interpersonal conflicts in daily life, such as, a difficult boss, road rage, and strained relationships. Aikido's theories of nonviolence suddenly become relevant here. Conflict resolution, de-escalation, compromise, and diplomacy, are far more powerful tools in daily life than the ability to deal a strike or receive one. The more I study the more I think Aikido's greatest contribution to martial arts isn't martial in nature but instead philosophical.

One tenet of Aikido would seem to be, defend yourself without causing undo harm to your attacker. A win-win where both parties can walk away with dignity is a rare and precious thing. As any married person can attest, winning an argument with your spouse is seldom the road to marital bliss. In fact "winning" is often the road to divorce. We live in a litigious world where causing harm even in the defense of ones person or property can easily land one in jail. Not every situation should even be considered a contest but instead just a situation that needs a resolution that all can live with.

I am a Hapkido practitioner and while some will call Hapkido and Aikido similar, we find on the basis of philosophy they are profoundly different. Our Hapkido school believes in a proportional response and is not unlike the ethics taught in the police academy about the use of force requiring opportunity, intent, and capability. The attackers well being, is secondary to our own. This philosophy is practical in a life and death combat situation but impractical in daily life.

I think Aikido has a place in the modern world and as an art for the practice of civilian daily life its place might be preeminent. In all my years I've never come across another martial art with a philosophy quite like Aikido. I hope this post will spark some conversation on the merits of Aikido and philosophy of dealing with difficult people or situations in daily life.
Your mileage may vary regarding frequency of physical assaults. As a regular dude (i.e. not someone whose job is to handle violence) living in Belgium, I got assaulted (unprovoked) about 20 times during my teens and early twenties, which involved various degrees of danger.

A lot of people have found value in the theories of non-violence promoted by mainstream aikido dojos, and I think it's great. If practitioners of the art end up being more stable human beings, with a more constructive perspective towards conflict, more power to them! That being said, I don't really buy into those theories, for a lot of reasons (it can be a long discussion).

Firstly, those theories frequently appeal to the moral authority of Morihei Ueshiba (aikido's founder) and his words on peace. However, when one investigates his discourse and beliefs, it appears that he was a religious zealot and a key figure of Japanese fascism at the time, with deep personal, ideological and political ties to domestic terrorists; war criminals; and the militaristic government at the time. The mainstream peaceful discourse was invented by his son to differentiate aikido from the other Japanese martial arts, and it still works today. Actually, the peace stuff might work even better if it were dissociated from aikido's controversial founder, but there's a trick: the Ueshiba family created a personality cult around the founder and pushed the idea that "aikido = Ueshiba" so that they could retain a monopoly on the federations and their affiliation system, which is their main source of income.

Secondly, the principles underpinning aikido's conflict management skills are said to be derived from the physical interactions and techniques. From dealing with idealized physical attacks, you are supposed to understand how to generally manage conflict ("aikido off the mat"). At the same time, practitioners recognize that the physical training requires cooperation and does not function against an uncooperative attacker. Then, if I apply this off the mat, does this mean that aikido's conflict resolution skills do not work in a conflict where the other person does not cooperate?

Thirdly (there are more reasons but I'll stop there), the head of Aikikai, the world's main aikido organization, the great-grandson of the founder, who holds the title of Doshu ("Guardian of the Way"), is a poor example of peaceful conflict resolution. The Aikikai does not hold competitions but there was a small organization in Russia (unaffiliated with the Aikikai) that organized aikido competitions at a local level. Competitions have been going on for more than half a century in various lineages of the art, some while the founder was still alive IIRC. Anyway, the current Doshu lost his **** and published an open letter declaring that anybody that organized aikido competitions was not doing aikido and should stop immediately. I don't think I've ever seen the head of a cultural federation publicly give orders to another separate federation. Of course, this is once again about money: the Aikikai was applying for funds from the Olympic Committee and was afraid that federations that do organize competitions (which are palatable to the Committee) would compete for those funds. So much for peaceful conflict resolution.

Impossible. Many aikido techniques many techniques performed on an uncooperative uke (especially if uke do not know when and how to roll) will end with broken limbs, spine or even with death.
Aikido understood as a set of techniques is brutal nad lethal.
Depends on the technique. Some can be quite dangerous but a lot of aikido techniques are used in competitive arts such as BJJ, Shodokan aikido and sumo.
I realize that could be a practical reality in real world combat. My post was about the ethical reality that Aikido strives for.

Page 34 of the Book Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere by A. Westbrook and O. Ratti says:

"In Panel D, we have the ultimate in ethical self-defense. Neither attacking nor provoking an attack, the man on the left defends himself in such a way, with such skill and control, that the attacker is not killed. In this case he is not even seriously injured"
It's a popular book with beautiful drawings but I wouldn't rely on it at all for technical analysis. The authors did not have much experience with aikido, let alone with fighting.

Stan Pranin's (RIP) work on aikido history is priceless, and he was one of the greatest contributors to our understanding of the art. Yet, this is a very weak piece IMO. It's full of misconceptions about the mindset and motivations of people who compete in martial arts, and the reflection is superficial at best.
 

Cynik75

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Depends on the technique. Some can be quite dangerous but a lot of aikido techniques are used in competitive arts such as BJJ, Shodokan aikido and sumo.

.....
Yes and no. During BJJ match you respect the tap. Durig the street encounter you do not respect the tap and break limbs or choke people out (even to death). With the same technique.
Aikido as a set of techniques is as brutal or even more brutal than BJJ or Judo. Quite opposite to peaceful way.
 

Gyakuto

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Yes and no. During BJJ match you respect the tap. Durig the street encounter you do not respect the tap and break limbs or choke people out (even to death). With the same technique.
Aikido as a set of techniques is as brutal or even more brutal than BJJ or Judo. Quite opposite to peaceful way.
Is it fair to point out that there are a few Youtube clips (for what theyre worth) showing Aikidoka fighting practitioners from other arts and not faring very well?
 

dunc

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Most traditional arts have something similar to the Aikido goal being able to control the situation without anyone getting hurt
I feel that the problem with Aikido is the idealistic overemphasis on this
It seems to me that a) in practice there will be many situations where it will be necessary to cause injury etc in order to stay safe &/or protect others, b) in order to attain this level of skill you have to go through various levels below that, all of which require varying degrees of physicality and c) the curriculum has been sanitised to such a degree that it has become largely impractical
 

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When its brought up that Aikido isnt doing well in the modern age, but its philosophy still has value, I cant help but feel that its isolating the philosophy from physical practice.

And the problem I see with that is: Okay you find value in this philosophy. Thats great. Now how do you plan to actually implement it when physically assaulted?

The ability to subdue a threat without hurting them takes skill, and that skill isnt achieved through mere belief. Therefore, its not a convincing argument to say: Go try Aikido because of its philosophy. Because if someone is assaulted, theyre already at a disadvantage because theyre mentally caught off guard, the opponent probably has the initiative, and if theyre unskilled (while the opponent is skilled) and must then care about the opponents well-being on top of all that. Thats a lot to ask for. That's a giant tower of layered disadvantages stacked against you.

The second problem I see with this is: Okay why should someone learn Aikido to exercise this philosophy when it can be practiced through another martial art? If its merely the philosophy that someone finds value in, could they not simply apply that to a martial art such as BJJ?

As a disclaimer, I have attended some Aikido (Aikikai) classes before, but thats it. The biggest value I got out of that experience was learning how to roll forward and back, learning how to fall. That skill set stuck with me for the rest of my life.

I currently practice a Chinese martial art where the cultural mindset behind it is all about unfairness. If you are playing a fair game with the opponent, youre doing it wrong. But that being said, it would be very simple to be pacifistic because the art is very good at controlling/manipulating/tricking the opponent.

Now, there are aspects of Aikido where I raise some eyebrows such as the overhead strike:

1708611881332.png


When I took the Aikido, the instructor (along with instructors on the internet) never mentioned whether you are expected to actually hit someone like this. Or, if this is only when someone is holding a weapon because that would make a lot more sense to me. That seems like something very important to clarify to the students that I don't see occuring. If any of you can clarify this for me, I would appreciate it.

Because the overhead chopping attack does not seem like a tool I would use to attack someone barehanded. And in an era where people don't attack with you swords, isn't there too much emphasis on this particular atemi?
 

Hot Lunch

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Is it fair to point out that there are a few Youtube clips (for what theyre worth) showing Aikidoka fighting practitioners from other arts and not faring very well?
Every art has their place in the world, and aikido's certainly isn't "I'm just as badass you! Hell, I'm more badass than you!" No one saying that is convincing anyone. We should simply be left to eff around and find out.

By the way, I have dabbled in both hapkido and Hakko-ryu jujitsu. My understanding is that if you throw aikido in there, they're all three styles of the same art. My personal assessment is that they're very valuable as a supplement to traditional striking arts, but I wouldn't want to use them on their own. I believe that in the case of hapkido, there are far more TKD dojangs that teach it as secondary art than there are stand-alone hapkido dojangs. And that makes perfect sense to me.
 

O'Malley

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Now, there are aspects of Aikido where I raise some eyebrows such as the overhead strike:

View attachment 30709

When I took the Aikido, the instructor (along with instructors on the internet) never mentioned whether you are expected to actually hit someone like this. Or, if this is only when someone is holding a weapon because that would make a lot more sense to me. That seems like something very important to clarify to the students that I don't see occuring. If any of you can clarify this for me, I would appreciate it.

Because the overhead chopping attack does not seem like a tool I would use to attack someone barehanded. And in an era where people don't attack with you swords, isn't there too much emphasis on this particular atemi?
The strike can represent a vertical weapon strike but the classical version is different. In Iwama aikido, tori (the partner doing the technique) is the one that initiates by striking straight at the eyes of uke (not downwards). Uke covers from the same-side (e.g. right hand vs right hand, called ai hanmi in Japanese) which leads to the position for the basic pin ikkyo:


Every art has their place in the world, and aikido's certainly isn't "I'm just as badass you! Hell, I'm more badass than you!" No one saying that is convincing anyone. We should simply be left to eff around and find out.

By the way, I have dabbled in both hapkido and Hakko-ryu jujitsu. My understanding is that if you throw aikido in there, they're all three styles of the same art. My personal assessment is that they're very valuable as a supplement to traditional striking arts, but I wouldn't want to use them on their own. I believe that in the case of hapkido, there are far more TKD dojangs that teach it as secondary art than there are stand-alone hapkido dojangs. And that makes perfect sense to me.
Aikido, hakko-ryu and hapkido all derivate from daito-ryu aikijujutsu, as they were founded by students of Sokaku Takeda.
 

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