Reassessing Aikido in the Modern Age

Taiji Rebel

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The book in question uses the 'principles' of aikido and applies them outside of systems of physical conflict. It would be informative to know how many of you have taken the time to read the book before commenting on the topic. In my experience most people who enjoy the philosophical underpinnings of modern aikido have very little interest in combat, and those who are looking toward competitions and combat tend to misunderstand the philosophical aspects of the art :)
 

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You need to present a case for what something is. Not what it isn't. So if you do philosophy then you need to make a case for it.

You can't suggest that physical competency and philosophy are two opposite things. And so therefore if you are bad at one that makes you good at the other
 

Buka

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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.
I love this post.

Bravo and thank you.
 
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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.
If anything the study of Hapkido has shown me just how fragile humans (namely myself) actually are and I'm far more wary of hostile situations than I used to be. In my TKD days I entered a few tournaments and never really felt I was in serious danger. I agree with your assessment here. As an outsider looking in though I would say UFC and pro boxing occasionally lead to some fairly serious injuries.
 

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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?
Is that why Seagal wanted no parts of Van Damme? Because he didn't want to be forced to use his "lethal" techniques?
One thing is the set of techniques - wristlocks, other joint attacks, throws - brutal and lethal if done properly in right time. In this way aikido is absolutely nonpeaceful martial arts.
Second thing is the way aikido learning and teaching methodology - stiff drill without aliveness. What makes people not to learn right timing, adopting to changing situation etc. What lead to unablity of using techniques nad tactics in actual combat.
 
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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.
I visited an Aikido School on one occasion when I was stationed in South Dakota. At the time I had a newborn and was a low ranking enlisted person and didn't have the time or money to join. I have since spent many years doing Hapkido and I'm very happy with it, I sometimes dabble in other systems but feel Hapkido is home for me.
 

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One thing is the set of techniques - wristlocks, other joint attacks, throws - brutal and lethal if done properly in right time. In this way aikido is absolutely nonpeaceful martial arts.
Second thing is the way aikido learning and teaching methodology - stiff drill without aliveness. What makes people not to learn right timing, adopting to changing situation etc.
Nobody's buying it, bro. Like I said, just leave the rest of us to eff around and find out.
 

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- brutal and lethal if done properly in right time.
I think that point could be made about any martial art. If only it could be applied at the right time, place and skill.

As Ive quoted many times on here, to rate a martial art does it consistently perform against an uncooperative, fully resisting aggressive opponent? I wont mention those Youtube clips again
 

Cynik75

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I think that point could be made about any martial art. If only it could be applied at the right time, place and skill.

As Ive quoted many times on here, to rate a martial art does it consistently perform against an uncooperative, fully resisting aggressive opponent? I wont mention those Youtube clips again
Yes. My opinion is that aikido is as peaceful as boxing, for example.
Good boxer can avoid or deflect all punches without hitting/hurting opponent. Does it make boxing peaceful? No.

If Ueshiba wanted to create truly peaceful art, he wouldn't have included all the methods of breaking bones, smashing heads, etc.

Or maybe he just had a split personality.
 

Hot Lunch

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If Ueshiba wanted to create truly peaceful art, he wouldn't have included all the methods of breaking bones, smashing heads, etc.
Please post a news article of an aikidoka ever doing any of those things.
 
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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.
Thank you for taking the time to respond with this excellent post.
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.
I agree, It's important to remember that martial arts provide many benefits and not all of them are combat related.
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.
I endured 5 assaults in my junior years and 3 since adulthood but I served in the military and for a while was a cop so I'm not sure I'm an example of a regular dude.
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.
It's important not to impose our modern viewpoint on historical figures. Morihei Ueshiba was a person of his time and place. Many people who survived WWII had very strong opinions that we today may not necessarily have. If we look at important figures in any philosophy we see flawed human beings trying to live up to their own ideals. Seneca comes to mind. He was a deeply flawed person in a deeply flawed world but he did his best and his letters are a blue print for stoicism that inspire people to this day.
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?
I lump Hapkido techniques into two categories. The first is a technique that will do the requisite harm whether or not the opponent complies such as a follow through punch to the solar plexus. The second is a technique that will only do harm if I apply greater force or if the opponent attempts to escape and in their struggle the harm themselves such as any of a myriad of joint locks. These techniques are useful because they create a situation where you can subdue and in a sense contain the threat and initiate communication. Usually in the form of yelling things like, "don't move, give me your other hand etc." I often think of my time in law enforcement here. Cooperation is gained through pain, fear, panic, etc. If the person doesn't cooperate then apply more of the first kind till they do or they stop attacking.

As far as how this is applied philosophically to non combat situations in my mind it becomes a conversation about actions and consequence. I.e. "stop harassing me," non compliance, "stop harassing me or I'll notify the authorities", non compliance, "you kept harassing me so I notified the authorities." non compliance, and then the authorities impose legal restrictions like a no contact order or a protection order, non compliance. Harasser ultimately pays a legal price and goes to jail. Compliance.

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.
What is your favorite Aikido book? I think Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere was the book that started my interest in Aikido and led me ultimately to learning Hapkido. Thank you again for your post.
 
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The ability to kill, seriously maim, or do harm, is not really the point here. Untrained people do these things to other people every day. Any person with a sufficiently heavy rock can kill another person. The mark of mastery of oneself and a martial art is the ability to resolve a conflict without resorting to these things.
 

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a lot depends on the mindset. of any martial art. You could go brutal or gentle with most styles. in training, it's important to recognize a technique to use vs an exercise to teach principals. Then at some point in the course of learning the uke has to actually punch at you (you know it's coming, if you get hit it's your fault), or grab or shove and control your posture or movement.
 

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One tenet of Aikido would seem to be, defend yourself without causing undo harm to your attacker.
I'm under the assumption that this is misunderstood. If you look up "undue harm" it's not about being peaceful with your enemy, it's about not going overboard when kicking butt.

"You give what you get" falls more in line with "Use your opponent's force" than does. "Don't harm your enemy" and "Use your opponent's force."

If I give you a strong attack then when you use my force, that strong force will be returned to me. This is why when I don't give too much force when someone is showing me a technique. Ask @Tony Dismukes lol. When he was trying to demo certain techniques, I just went with it. lol. I've been in enough class demos to be able to feel where the technique is going without having to deal with the force that I put in it.

But if your attacker attacks strong but does not get his own force back in return, then it means you have absorbed force, which is counter to Aikido principles of flowing. I don't see how "defend yourself without causing undue harm to your attacker" could mean anything else. I personally think this gets lost because most people who take Aikido focus on the zen way more than the application.

This is what being peaceful to your opponent looks like. This is also what absorption looks like.


This is what flowing looks like. This is also what undue harm looks like.

Sprawls are also flowing and meet the definition of Undue harm.
 

JowGaWolf

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The mark of mastery of oneself and a martial art is the ability to resolve a conflict without resorting to these things.
Not buying it.

The mark of mastery of oneself and martial arts is simply the ability to successfully do a technique when needed as needed. A person who can resolve a confect without resorting to martial arts is just skilled in conflict resolution, which is not a martial art, it's a negotiating skill.

The fact that martial arts have techniques and weapons that can cause great harm is contrary to your statement. Don't confuse "Conflict Resolution via de-escalation and negotiation" with "Martial Arts."

 

isshinryuronin

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The mark of mastery of oneself and martial arts is simply the ability to successfully do a technique when needed as needed. A person who can resolve a confect without resorting to martial arts is just skilled in conflict resolution, which is not a martial art, it's a negotiating skill.

In swordsmanship there is a saying, Saya no naka no kachi which means victory while the sword remains in the scabbard.
This is a concept ingrained in MA. Sun Tsu said that the best victory comes without doing battle. If one army has superior position, moral and has effectively massed superior force, the battle is over before it begins, causing the inferior army to withdraw or surrender, saving many lives.

A fable from The Way of Chuang Tzu (I've adlibbed a bit since I read this decades ago): The Emperor hired a trainer to prepare his bird for an upcoming cock fight. After a week he asked the trainer how the bird was doing. "Not ready yet," was the reply, "He aggressively jumps to and fro and screeches madly when confronting another bird." Another couple of weeks goes by and again the Emperor asks if his bird is ready. "No, your Majesty, it still ruffles its feathers and hops with anticipation when facing another bird." Two weeks later the trainer returns with the Emperor's bird. "Your bird is ready at last. He stands like a statue without ruffling a feather. Other birds will take one look at him and run!"

Another story on the subject (I can't remember the source and, again, some liberty is taken with the text): "A tea master had gotten on the wrong side of a Samurai warrior and was forced to accept a duel. He went to a friend, a Samurai as well and noted sword master, to ask for advice since he had never even held a sword before. His friend told him to maintain the same spirit as when he makes tea. At the appointed time and place of the duel the Samurai and tea master face off. The Samurai looks at the tea master and takes in his calmness, confidence, his readiness to accept any fate, his mushin, and decides to withdraw from the duel.

One of the philosophical concepts and goals of TMA is that one's bearing, of not being a victim, of being of stout in mind, body and spirit, can dissuade potential attackers. The best part of embracing these concepts and knowing how to fight is that it can help you not have to fight.
 

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The best part of embracing these concepts and knowing how to fight is that it can help you not have to fight.
Yep key phrase "Knowing how to fight." lol.

A person who doesn't know how to fight will not be able to fool the person who does know how to fight.

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Predators recognize predators.




 

JowGaWolf

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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?
I don't think it's possible to understand the philosophy without understanding the application. I'm just basing it on my experience with kung fu. A lot of things didn't make sense until I started learning how to apply the techniques.
A lot of martial art philosophy is a reflection on application.

There's poem that is often seen in Jow Ga schools that speaks of conserving energy and striking at the right time. Sounds basic right. I thought so, but as I learned to apply the techniques, This poem now seems to be talking about timing. Having good timing makes it easier to conserve energy. This is different than "Striking at the right time" which often refers to things like, Strike when they lower their guard. Timing on the other hand is much different. And as most of us know. An efficient throw is a well-timed throw.

Even when we watch professional fighters we talk about knowing when to hit someone, that's basic. However, we are more likely to have long discussions about someone's timing. I don't think one can get this type of distinction without learning how to apply a technique.

The understanding of someone who applies fighting techniques doesn't sound the same as the understanding of those who have never applied the fighting technique.
 

isshinryuronin

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Yep key phrase "Knowing how to fight."
Yeah. If you're trying to stare down a psycho thug this skill is very useful. To radiate power there must be a power source. Hitting the other guy with the "look" is no guarantee he won't try to kick your butt anyway, just for the hell of it. You can hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
 
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