Recently, a fellow Aikido teacher shared a video with me of a YouTube commentator evaluating Aikido videos.  In general, this commentator expressed incredulity and disdain regarding what he saw of Aikido as a fighting art.  As this was about the 300th video, article, and forum thread I have seen on this topic, and because it occasionally comes up in discussion with my students, I felt it was time to bring a larger perspective to this debate.

The commentator was trying to be open-minded from his perspective, but his core assertion was this: Aikido is an ineffective art against any trained fighter.

As most of you know who are reading this article know, I have rank and experience in a number of different martial arts including competition experience in three (Tae Kwon Do, Judo, and a little Kendo).  I also have rank in two very different Aikido traditions, and have visited dojos and taken seminars from top instructors from every major branch of Aikido today. Let me start right away and say that the commentator is absolutely correct, and here’s why.

If you are just reading this article to justify why MMA is best, you can stop reading now.  However, if you are interested in why none of the points I just made concern me greatly, please continue reading.

First, There’s Aikido, and Then There’s Aikido.

There are more than 1.2 million Aikido practitioners in more than 50 countries worldwide (source: Aikikai Foundation, 2011; Aikikai world headquarters no longer lists this statistic on their website); with this many participants one can expect a large amount of “mainstreaming” of the art as a whole.  There is a lot of variation dojo to dojo, style to style, and my observations above are based on a sort of “collective average” Aikido I have encountered.

That being said, none of those points are necessary parts of Aikido.

Training under the Founder was likely much more martial than it is today.  I have been told numerous times that many of O Sensei’s early students were yudansha (black belts) from other martial arts, who apparently considered that what Aikido had to offer fit on top of the teachings of these other arts, versus being a replacement for them.  O Sensei was renowned for his ferocity, served in wartime and trained military troops, and was an acknowledged genius for his accomplishments in many different combat arts.  O Sensei’s training regimen was severe, and he maintained discipline his entire life.  Certainly no-one would accuse his Aikido of being ineffective or unrealistic against trained fighters; O Sensei faced trained fighters on many occasions.

My teacher, Mitsugi Saotome Shihan, was one of O Sensei’s most martially-oriented disciples; he is known for his weapons work and his talent with multiple attackers.  He has been a consultant with the U.S. Pentagon helping to train and test special operations soldiers.  He speaks regularly at his seminars about the importance of cultivating intense training and a severe mindset embracing the life-or-death implications underlying Aikido practice, and I have written elsewhere about his assertions that studying the “dark side” of Aikido is critical to gaining a true understanding of the art as the Founder practiced it.  He had a reputation for honing his skills against live blades.  Saotome Sensei once told me that “it is the responsibility of every true [Aikido] deshi to discover the weaknesses in their training, and to go out and fix them with training in other arts.”  While one could argue that this is evidence that Aikido is not an all-encompassing art, I would argue the opposite.  for O Sensei, simultaneously having Kenjutsu students in his dojo thinking and attacking like Kenjutsu experts, having Karate students thinking and attacking like Karate experts, and having Judo students thinking and attacking like Judo experts all fit easily into his vision of Aikido.  If the typical dojo today doesn’t resemble that kind of eclectic, dynamic training environment it certainly isn’t the fault of the Founder and isn’t necessarily definitive of the art.

Always imagine yourself on the battlefield under the fiercest attack; never forget this crucial element of training.” – O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba

Aikido isn’t a body of techniques, it is a philosophy, a strategy of mind, movement, connection and redefining the battlespace.  I recently asked Saotome Sensei – “Sensei, a lot of information has been published recently implying that O Sensei actually practiced Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu his entire life, even while he was building the Aikido community.  What is the difference between Daito Ryu and Aikido?” Saotome Sensei simply said “Daito Ryu is technique; Aikido is principle.”  Principle can be applied in any environment, with any tool or technique, and as such Aikido training can encompass ne-waza, kicks, deadly strikes, realistic attacks, conditioning, exploration of battlefield techniques, and incorporation of other arts.  It is the philosophy, attitude and greater purpose that changes and integrates these things into Aikido.

If one takes the time to look around, it is possible to find Aikido dojos filled with frightening veterans of other martial arts.  They joined Aikido because it provided an opportunity to continue their training without having to pretend they were still 25, and because it provides a path for them to continue studying insights from their prior arts in new and challenging ways.  They did not surrender their prior arts to join Aikido, they added Aikido to their prior arts.

It’s Not Useful To Compare Strengths To Weaknesses.

First, I think it’s worth noting that the average Aikido practitioner is, well, “average”, and typically older than most MMA athletes.  It’s a strange comparison when one is contrasting the performance of a 45-year old against a 25-year old athlete.  Aikido “ages well” compared to most arts, and that’s one of the reasons so many older martial artists migrate to Aikido.

I have a Darwinian evolution-based philosophy about the origin of every martial art.  I believe that each martial art evolved to be the very best at dealing with the most likely life-or-death hand-to-hand encounter that might be faced in the time, culture, economic and political environment in which they came to be.  In other words, they each are potentially really good at the specific thing that they do.  If you dropped an MMA champion into a jungle with a machete and he tripped across an enraged Kali / Arnis expert, the MMA champion wouldn’t be leaving the jungle.  Alternately, if that same Kali expert was dropped into an octagon or ring with an MMA expert – particularly if suddenly not allowed to do anything against the rules of the sport – the MMA expert would prevail handily.  This is not to denigrate either tradition, it’s just to highlight that it’s pointless to measure arts against each other based upon what one is good at and what the other isn’t.

Aikido has a very specific historic context that evolved its syllabus of techniques, broadly speaking (let’s set aside discussions about Aikido styles and affiliations). Many of its techniques are evolved from the context of battlefield combat, often wherein the combatants were wearing some level of armor but also wherein most combatants were armed; this influenced both the attacks were performed (to penetrate armor) and how defenders responded (going to the ground in the middle of a battlefield is risky). In many cases the techniques were developed to be used in grossly unequal situations, such as against multiple armed attackers, or when one combatant found himself unarmed against an armed opponent.  Aikido incorporates many formal military arts including spear, staff, more than one school of swordsmanship, on top of the Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu from which our modern art has inherited most of its hand-to-hand techniques. These original techniques were developed on the battlefield, and the ones that were passed down through the few major ryu-ha (traditional Samurai art lineages) were the ones that succeeded and whose practitioners survived.  When Aikido is most deadly and applicable as a combat art is when these original roots are considered and explored, and these combat situations are examined.

Let me give a personal example.  I was Head Instructor at the University of South Florida Aikido for many years.  Each semester, we would have to struggle to keep our “slot” in the university sports center’s training room that contained wrestling mats, and each semester we would either have to compete with (for scheduling slots) or be “neighbors with” (having a schedule immediately before or after) some different martial art or martial sport club.  Since our room had wrestling mats, frequently we were uneasy neighbors with some MMA club (these clubs rarely survived for more than a couple semesters, but another club would reincarnate soon after with new members and teachers).  Inevitably, I had to deal with a familiar pattern where (over the course of days, possibly weeks) athletic young male MMA practitioners (sometimes the teacher) would start by loitering in the hall outside our door before or after our class, becoming increasingly bold with deprecating comments amongst themselves about what we were doing.  The next step would be for them to start coming into our room during class, and either trying to help themselves to our mats or stand with their arms crossed looking derisive.  Sooner or later, somebody would eventually challenge us in some way.   At first, my tactic was to invite them to train with us and experience the art before they formed an opinion.  A surprising number of hecklers couldn’t handle the invitation, and would leave never to be seen again.  However, some would, and as I knew that they would spend the entire class trying to “win” against their partners and prove how weak our Kung Fu was, I would use them as my teaching ukes and only let them train with me or a senior student.  I figured, “if my training was legitimate, it shouldn’t matter.”  Unfortunately, the first few times I did this I tried to stick to my syllabus – and if I was teaching shomenuchi ikkyo (downward strike, first technique /arm control) then I was going to take it as a personal test that I could perform shomenuchi ikkyo in a textbook/testing fashion, even though it was against a strong young man who knew what I was going to do and was going to try to do everything they could to stop it.  I am strong, large, and have a lot of experience, so I can say that a) I generally succeeded, b) it was never pretty, c) I learned alot about teaching, and d) I never succeeded in convincing any MMA visitors that Aikido wasn’t worthless.

Later, I got a little smarter.  I realized that “anything that ends in ikkyo is still ikkyo”.  This was immensely liberating, and by taking away the challenger’s knowledge of what I was going to do made it much easier and more successful for me.  My Aikido improved, but I observed that a) I still never convinced any MMA visitors that Aikido wasn’t worthless, and b) refer to point a).

I finally gave up, and by dint of frustration discovered a final strategy which worked like a charm on two or three occasions (until we eventually left the University).  When our MMA visitors worked up to coming into our room and started throwing attitude during class, I would stop everything, hand shinai (practice swords) to three senior students, have them surround one of my petite young lady students, and just say “attack!”  I would let the visitors watch a full-speed weapons randori for a while, and when I stopped I would just gaze politely and inquiringly at the visitors, inviting comment.  Every time, their comments were gone, and they would leave never to bother us again.  Say what you can about the ferocity, power, and effectiveness of modern MMA, it was always clear that MMA training wasn’t going to prepare them to look good or do well in a situation involving multiple, fast attackers with weapons.  By showing one of the strengths of Aikido, it removed the visitors disrespect of Aikido.

(As a side note – if these groups had been more respectful, we would have happily cross-trained with them, as we had with the Kenjutsu and Tae Kwon Do clubs.)

It Is Very Compelling To Be Pulled Into An Opponent’s Strength.

About twenty years ago – I think I was shodan in Aikido – a friend who practiced a striking art (I forget which) asked me to spar with him.  Always up for training, I said “sure!”, thinking the engagement would be informative – and it was.  We stepped together and immediately, all my warning instincts fired up – and then the sparring started.  In general, I remember it was all I could do to hold my distance, and I relied on falling into a lot of my old Karate patterns to accomplish even that.  After a break, I thought about it, and realized the problem – my opponent was used to all of his training at a certain sparring distance, and I let him define that distance for me.

Why in the world would I do that? I was playing his game, the game he was good at.  I was throwing out all the effective principles I had learned in Aikido, like ma-ai (distance control), de-ai (timing, and working with partner’s triggering of intent), irimi and tenkan, in order to plant myself toe-to-toe within range of my opponent’s weapons, tactics and techniques.  When we re-engaged, it was an entirely different interaction; while I only touched him a couple of times, they were quality touches, and it was clearly very frustrating for him that I wouldn’t “stay put” and just fight with him on his terms. I use the term “fight” in italics, because I have come to feel that the deeper meaning of “fighting” also signifies “to maintain or reinforce a struggle,” and my experience with my friend made that meaning clear.

When invited to spar, inevitably we are being invited to spar on the terms of the inviter, and there is a very insidious and compelling force that draws us into doing so without critically examining what is happening.  Unfortunately, this same thing happens when we get drawn into online (or in-person) debates about the merits of various martial arts; we start using the terminology of the person on the other side of the debate, and measuring our art against what they value and easily understand while simultaneously forgetting what is important about Aikido.

Sometimes we find the lure of defending our art in these online debates irresistible, because we hold in our most secret of hearts a deep insecurity about what we have been taught, and whether or not we could “measure up” if we had to.  “How dare you impugn my training!” I think it’s important to be aware of our motivations for responding to debate; Aikido doesn’t need to be defended on this front, and if we were truly confident in our training and convictions, we wouldn’t feel the need to be defensive.  It’s up to us to discover if we have that insecurity, and as Saotome Sensei said, “go out and fix it.”

Aikido Is About Living.

The biggest point that gets lost in these debates is that Aikido isn’t about winning a street fight, it’s not about winning toe-to-toe against a training fighter, it’s not about winning a sporting match or duel. Aikido is about exploring conflict to learn how to live life better, learning how to be a better and happier person, and how to gain insight into how martial training can be applied to all aspects of life, family, career, etc.   I didn’t stop training in Judo because it wasn’t effective, I left because I realized I needed something more in my life; that the rewards of winning at a competition every 2 or 3 months didn’t justify the time and energy and money I was pouring into training. I realized that most of the competitors I encountered never had the introspectiveness to examine why they felt the need to prove themselves over and over.  Don’t get me wrong – I have written in other articles that there is some real warrior value in stepping into the ring, and I have met and trained with numerous devout followers of the Way in these arts.  However, it seemed to me that a lot of the men I faced were driven by some need or deep insecurity to “measure up” in a way that was never going to be fulfilled no matter how many matches they won, and the attitudes they brought to their training and matches (win at all costs, never lose, cheat when the judge can’t see, intimidate opponents whenever possible, never show weakness, etc.) were going to serve them very, very poorly when they manifested as reinforced personality patterns in their work, family, and other relationships.  This is the michi (spiritual path) that Aikido offers, that MMA does not.  You can tell me about sportsmanship and cultivating integrity and how bad sportsmanship isn’t representative of everybody, but I was there, and I didn’t develop these impressions from reading books or watching videos or wearing TAPOUT gear.

So, I often read questions like “why aren’t there many Aikido practitioners in MMA competitions?” To me, the question can be turned around, “why aren’t there many MMA practitioners practicing Zen sitting meditation?”  Because one is about winning trophies, and the other is about winning peace and happiness.

“The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. Those who seek to compete and better one another are making a terrible mistake. To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter — it is the Art of Peace, the power of love.” – O Sensei Morihei Ueshiba


27 Responses

  1. The spiritual aspect of aikido is noted, but the current path of the aikido is doomed. Aikido IS a valid martial art when it’s done with aiki. Why do MMA people slam aikido? It’s all technique, technique. Looks pretty. It’s cool to throw students, but throws with NO power, only muscle and strength? And zen? Very few students I’ve encountered in the states have any idea what that means. Just rank and promotion and socials. I’ve visited your group and others in my country and the USA. Where is the Shugyo? There is none. Just show up for class and hope you learn something. Worship an Asian Shihan (who yes is the real deal) and hope you eventually understand what he is trying to teach you- but you are chasing a false premise. Aiki. Where is the aiki?

    1. Thanks for weighing in, Heiji. I don’t disagree with anything you are saying. You bring up a few solid points, including sensei worship, which are worth a deeper discussion over drinks. Certainly Aikido worldwide is filled with the expectation that if you show up enough, you will “get all the goods”; I even recently read a quote from a Japanese shihan stating that simply by doing Aikido long enough your way of thinking will change and you’ll experience the spiritual benefits. I don’t think that any of the potential benefits of Aikido are automatic, even after decades of “showing up to class.” But as a final note – If you have attacked Saotome Sensei, you have felt aiki. It is not hard to experience aiki, but it does require a sincere attacker.

    2. I agree with heiji. In fact I am here because I am loosing faith. I am starting to believe that MMA fighters understand aiki more than aikidokas.
      The truth i see is we have been sold a product from saito, pat Hendricks, saotome, yamada and all the rest.

      The truth is alot of followers have never practiced martial arts and will never understand o sensei’s vision. The same people hold 3rd Dan’s and have there own club.

      Aikido has gone the same way as jeet kun do. A philosophy lost in technique, technique, technique.

      I would argue that boxers understand blending better than a 5th Dan aikidoka because the truth is it’s a cult and this essay is here to defend the faith.

      I match heiji.
      Where is the aiki?

      Your not going to attain it in hour long sessions.

      Give your life. Career. Body and soul to it then maybe but that doesn’t fit our 21st century lifestyle.

      Let me learn it from it from YouTube and start my own club. Never have it validated. grade people who are never validated and let them carry on the cult.

      This is a product you’ve paid alot for. How could it be wrong.

      Validate your skills then lie to your self about how your opponent didn’t attack you in the right way. Or how if you did it slightly different it would of worked. My teacher could of done it.

      Ive been there.

      Aikido isn’t weak. It’s a philosophy. It’s not the weak Jujutsu sold in classes.

      Again where is the aiki.

      I don’t mean to bilitle any one. Most of these comments are my own thoughts on my own training.

      Go out and fix them. I will always keep trying but I believe that aikido probably won’t be found in an aikido dojo.

  2. Probably the best essay you’ve written, Guy.

    I’ll only add that I’m sorry you met so many judo fighters in the competitive mode. There are a lot, I well know, but there are also many who understand the way, and blend the fight with the happiness, instead of stacking one over the other.

    Nicely done.



    1. Sensei Jeff, my comments weren’t portraying only judoka, and not every aikidoka is lovable either!

      My articles often are written for an aikido audience, and from the perspective of my current place in training and life. Unfortunately, it sometimes results in the impression that I value and appreciate my past arts less than I actually do.

      Judo came along at a point in my life when I really, really needed the challenge, the brotherhood and sisterhood, the complexity and subtlety, the opportunity, and the new way of looking at myself and the world. I deeply cherish my training in judo, and I have a deep awe and love for how subtle and beautiful and life-building the art can be in its michi form; the vision of judo as “the gentle way” as crafted by jigoro kano sensei and revealed to me by vern sensei changed me and I wouldn’t be where I am today without that experience. If I had unlimited time (and more confidence in the durability of my joints and spine), I would probably succumb to the draw of returning to judo – probably zenjudo. Without a doubt my time in judo still is reflected in my technique and expression of movement.

      In the end, there is only one michi path.

  3. I feel those who desire victory over others are acting out of the same perpetual suffering defined in Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths – something you duly point out in your excellent piece – as even satiating a desire only leads to more desire. So desiring to win a fight just leads to more fights. As head instructor at Cleveland Aikikai, we rented our space to a BJJ club who trained after us most nights. One evening a drunk wandered in during Aikido class and said he wanted to fight. We told him “Sorry, we don’t fight,” but the BJJ guys love to and if he came back after 9:00 PM he would surely find someone willing to fight him. That seemed to satisfy him so he left saying he’d be back later. I never saw him again and never heard anything from the BJJ instructor on the subject.

  4. Two quibbles, neither of which go to the heart of your main points.

    1) What Morihei Ueshiba studied and taught was primarily and overwhelmingly Daito-ryu. If we accept that Sokaku Takeda was the creator of Daito-ryu then it really can’t be a battlefield art (he did see a battlefield when he was ten years old…). OTOH, if we accept the oral history that’s commonly given then… it’s still not really a battlefield art. Of course there was some influence on Morihei Ueshiba from various weapons schools, but no real formal training, and he himself talked about how he had changed and adopted what he observed to his practice of Aiki.

    2) Daito-ryu is entirely principle based. Yes, many folks practice it as a repetition of technique or kata – but the same could be said of most modern Aikido. Just as Mitsugi Saotome struggles against the perception that many people have of Aikido as being all about the techniques, there are instructors in Daito-ryu who are in the exactly same position in terms of their art.



  5. I want to thank all my commentators; I really appreciate the opportunity to see the topics I presented from other well-articulated, experienced perspectives. I think it’s worth observing that stereotyping different arts is no different than stereotyping different human ethnic populations (and I speak from my graduate degree in anthropology here); the differences between groups are sometimes blurry, and traits vary more statistically than as absolutes (all subpopulations overlap, some more or less than others). Similarly, I don’t want people to think I’m asserting that there aren’t people who follow similar ideals to Aikido or their own Budo / Michi path in their own art; Aikido by no means has a proprietary ownership on higher ideals, nor are their practitioners immune to emotional pitfalls and shortcomings (stay tuned for future articles). Respect to everyone who has the willpower, determination, and grit to sweat their asses off day after day in the pursuit of excellence.

    Also, it’s clear I need to fix the RSS on my comments box.

  6. One important facet is the standard of “effectiveness”. For competitive martial arts and martial sports, of course defeating the opponent is the standard. By contrast, Aikido’s standard can arguably be described as to not be defeated. On top of which, we have the ethical principle of doing the least amount of harm allowed by circumstances. It’s unsurprising if people trained to try to win tournaments underestimate Aikido. In fact, they are simply unprepared to understand what they are seeing unless someone explains it to them.

    Another angle: Aikido’s battlefield art pedigree does not begin with Takeda Sokaku Sensei, since he had – paralleling O Sensei in the next generation – adapted the art he received to his contemporary circumstances. The further roots of Daito ryu and Aikido lie in the arts practiced by the upper echelons of the Takeda clan for centuries, including prior to the relative peace of the Tokugawa era.

    In that light, with techniques designed for survival under adverse battlefield conditions, of course they are softened for dojo practice. One whose aim is martial effectiveness needs to train with awareness of the difference between careful practice in a dojo and application under attack, simply enough.

    Yet even those who train in the mentality of aikidance, as some call it, are likely to benefit under attack if their footwork and ukemi are good. Consider O Sensei’s pivotal experience when challenged by a swordsman: he took up no weapon, and did not attack, but simply evaded each cut or thrust until the swordsman conceded. Thus even the most basic elements of Aikido may sometimes be sufficient for effectiveness.

  7. Just wanted to chime in and thank you for writing this piece. I stumbled onto it from a friends’ facebook share, and you’ve eloquently put into simple to understand words the inner-struggle I’ve been having for a long time in my Aikido practice.

    Whilst I’ve also long found my solution instinctively, I could never reconcile the apparent differences with what I was taught and felt Aikido should have been, what my practice in it was, and why I felt that my search for complementary arts was necessary. Reading your many anecdotes helped me contextualise my own experiences, and helped the puzzle click into place.

    Once again, thank you.

  8. I have experience in MMA, Kickboxing, Jiujitsu, Wrestling and Aikido. The biggest difference that I’ve noticed between traditional Martial Art styles and combat sports isn’t technique but strategy. Sun Tzu stated in his book titled The Art of War that all warfare is based on deception. In combat sports we are taught to always initiate the attack and go on the offensive. We often set up our opponents using deceptive attacks which provides us the opportunity to apply a technique. Miyamoto Musashi the author of the book of 5 Rings spoke about the importance of offense and said by initiating the attack you can forestall your opponent. He refers to this strategy as Ken no Sen. Modern Aikido today in the dojo does not train with strategy because we only train by receiving or reacting to attacks. Before WW2, Morihei Ueshiba wrote in his book title Budo that Shomenuchi Ikkyo Omote is practiced with Nage initiating and striking Uke. Stanley Prainn from Aikido Journal before his passing away spoke often about how the founder of Aikido would initiate the attack in Shomenuchi techniques. Kondo Katsuyuki a student and now teacher of Daito Ryu said in a old documentary video that Sokaku and his son both concealed and hid their true martial technique from the public. They would only show the effective techniques to their closest and most trusted students. Since Morihei Ueshiba was one of the longest students of Sokaku Takeda I would think he would have hid his true technique from public view. Perhaps the correct way is for Nage to initiate Shomenuchi ikkyo omote and not uke. Bruce Lee wrote about the 5 ways of attack, or strategies of engagement to your opponent. The 1st method is called The Single Direct Attack, 2nd. The Attack by Combination, 3rd The Indirect Attack which means to attack after faking a strike by which it draws out your opponent’s attention. The 4th is Attack by Immobilization and the 5th is Attack by Drawing In. The attack by drawing in means to expose yourself by which you bait your opponent to attack. Since you know what attack is coming because you have baiting or invited him to do so, you can move after he has attacked. Miyamoto Musashi called this strategy Tai no Sen to wait for your opponent to strike before moving. I believe most Aikidoka are unaware and have a misunderstanding concerning this strategy. Most Aikido students think that by waiting for the attack they are practicing their intuition and ability to predict a particular attack from uke. There is value in the intuition of predicting things, but if that only becomes our default action then we will have difficulty resolving a violent attack peacefully in the real world. The founder of Aikido spoke negatively about introducing competition into Aikido and I believe that many do not understand the huge difference between sparring and competition. The difference is weighted by our intention of outcome. Sparring is a training tool designed to refine our technique under stress and the relationship between both people is supportive. Competition however is about wining and defeating another human being for the purpose of glory and pride. Both can be merged together and looked at as if they were the same thing but, competition and sparring can be separated by our intention. If Aikido is a Martial Art then wouldn’t it have offensive strategy? What good is our defense when we have no offense? In the real world we might have a friend or love one be attacked. What good would Traditional Aikido be at that moment? Miyamoto Musashi said you can only fight the way you train. In my opinion I think any person can make Aikido a Martial Art however, the way it is commonly taught today clearly shows it is absolutely not.

    1. Assuming your query was not rhetorical, I would say it depends on which Dojo, and what my role is. When I am teaching, my first responsibility is a safe dojo, then the needs of the students – to help them reach their potential and goals, while being grounded in a serious (and fun) martial mindset.

  9. Hi ,
    I would like to say ,
    when I practice a variant of battlefield technics, in this case aikido, I learn and become aware of its potensials, witch is and has deadly strikes, dangerous spirals and twists, even with no wapons. yet in a regular dojo i dance classical waltz and try to be tensionless and flexible as much as i can be awar of. and at the same time I realize the other side of the coin,witch in this case is a deadly side. also ipractice it personaly. I have been attacked by knife and cut in trought while defending a girl friend. fortunately i had lotsof fighting experience, i knocked him out after being cut.
    I want tosay the nature and nature of human, the world is not a safe place and not kind , often no mercy.
    Are we battlefield excersizer or what? i prefer to do , no practitioner, aikido. yet at the dojo i do classical waltz dance with no tension, if u just fart at me i will respond, depending of the direction and intensity of the fart i may roll or fall back or do a high jump.

    though, I will show no mercy to a rapist or murdere nor pedofile, when I c a scene with a or more opressors, I can and willnot lay back.
    I just like to avoid fight and hurting self an others,


    I have no grades, yet i am more capable in defending agaist a or multiple knife attack , more effective then my most instruktors ,some have 3 dans. I care a lot about each of them and would risk my life if they found high danger.

    I follow O’Senseis wish and try to understand and know his way , his opinion and his wish about what to do with aikido. certainley not imbaress him and aikido by not knowing its potensial and applications, even the psychological aspect of it. aint I learning the art of battlefield. there is no rules in a battlefield nor in a war. I read much history 2.

    I would like and ask the Sensei Guy to enlighten me if he wants to . I know I am wrong in many cases, but hey, by going the wrong way I become aware of the right one.!!

    thank you very much

    cheers and peace

  10. Outstanding points within this article. Though I am not an Aikido practitioner I have a very strong respect for the spiritual and life
    principles offered within michi and O’Sensei’s teachings in Budo
    and the Art of Peace. Your articulation of the deeper principles offered within Aikido is well done and needed in today’s martial community. Very informative and refreshing! Thank you for sharing your perspective and knowledge.

  11. Very interesting article…
    When I did practice Aikido (I have hip injury nowaday) we used to show the opening in shite’s work from the start … to teach beginners where their body was safe and where it wasn’t… having experience in other arts was helpfull as it let you see opening where unexperienced fighter did not (at some point I had experience in judo, ninjutsu, vietvo dao and a little capoiera…)
    I have unfortunately seen very few dojo where teaching the technique by “closing the opening” is done and sometimes it was badly resented (by hitting the body of an “experienced” aikidoka you can also hit is ego…) so after some time I switched (when practicing outside) and only visualized the attack (you could said I was sending “sakki”)… it was very interesting to see that tense people did not sense anything (so I was actually cooperating) while humble and cool people often were feeling something was not right and sometimes interrupted their training and asked me to show them was was wrong…
    As far as I am concerned I have never been angered when countered and always thanked my partner for showing me my error…
    Aikido is polishing the ego and purification… it is at his core… but this just does not work if you only cooperate… neither the fighting skill nor the polishing…
    Last, when I had to utilize Aikido to save my life, I have never used an clean Aikido technique but always applide the fundamental principles:
    1) do not wait (i.e. always lead)
    2) do not be open (or you’ll get hit)
    3) do not look at your partner (or you’ll be caught in his anger and the fight will go on)

  12. My apologies for joining this conversation so late, I realize this thread is over 2 years old. This is one of the best essays I’ve seen in regard to aikido and budo in comparison to combat sport. The way you differentiate between, shall we say, “old school” aikibudo and modern aikido is spot on.
    I started training in karate and Okazaki Jujutsu in the early 80s. I was active duty military and found myself in Misawa Japan, looking for a jujutsu school or at the very least, a really “hard core” karate dojo. Instead, I happened upon an aikido dojo that looked nothing like the wispy, flimsy, passive aikido I had seen in the states. This aikido was simple, harsh and painful, much like the dojo it was practiced in. For me, this was the turning point from competition-based fighting, which in the end has to do with building the ego, to budo. Budo is all about destroying ego; once you do that, you have no desire to fight.
    I trained in several aikido dojos after I returned to the states, but I never found one that suited me after my experience. For the past 12 years, I have had a dojo in my garage where I teach principles in karate, aikido and jujutsu. When people ask me if I felt like I could step into an MMA ring, my answer is always “No, not without training in MMA.” There is combat and there is combat sport. The minute you “square up” with some dude, it ceases to be budo and becomes sport. Competing with other people is not sustainable; challenging yourself is something you can do for the rest of your life. Thanks for the article.

  13. In my Aikido classes I used to get fed up because I had a boxing background, and I would be constantly told not to make the moves quickly. If aikido would be taught at a fast pace, without scripted attacks, it would be quite lethal, as it would take a very slight change in force to throw someone on their head, instead of their back, which is totally opposite of the spiritual teachings of aikido 🙂

    1. I think it’s important to train slow, to break apart the movement and understand our physical, mental, emotional weak points and then reassemble – and then increase speed until both partners are just out of the comfort zone. Awareness of, and access to, dangerous and lethal points should be present, but perspective should be maintained (mental and physical perspective) for the bigger picture of threats and non-violent resolutions.

  14. Georges St. Pierre is multiple UFC champion and one of the all time best in MMA. He has background in karate but he has also been very keen on training with the Canadian olympic wrestling team and he also has black belt in brazilian jiu jitsu (a belt twice or three times harder to get than black belts in budo or traditional martial arts).

    If you listen to him talk a while you’ll realize that he represents the modern day bushido and personal growth in martial arts. He does the kind of things today that Jigoro Kano and the likes did 100 years ago whereas those who blindly follow o-sensei, Kano or someone else are just copying a dated form of thought and a dead form of fighting.

    Philosophy and wisdom are not japanese furniture, kalligrapy or dojo-design. It is a process of thouhgt . There’s much more zen for me in vacuum-cleaning my house than in meditating in an excotic dojo. Seeking growth in martial arts is a path of evolution and search for a better way. Not in tradition that is merely an external form. That’s why kata is the worst. I much rather listen to St.Pierre (or wrestler Alexander Karelin btw) to learn something real about martial arts than worship some old budo-cult governed by people afraid of change.

  15. Hey Sensei Guy, I don’t know much about aikido so first off I want to thank you for a beautifully written article. Since I’m a huge UFC fan, my first question was “do any UFC fighters have a background in Aikidoo”? Then after staying patient and reading through the comments I saw “aikido isn’t about fighting, it’s about not fighting”. That hit me hard!

    I’m so glad you opened up this conversation. Really cool to see the different thought processes when it comes to martial arts.

  16. Ex -Aikidoka, stopped 20 years ago because of knee injury.
    Simple point I cannot get myself to go to the formal schools of the west as they:-
    1) Do all the errors mentioned in this article
    2) Are full of pacifists. Too het up on the soft philosophy of an old man and not the fighting art of the young one.
    3) I believe no one should learn Aikido until they have retired from being an expert fighter in other fighting systems. It is merely meant to hone their abilities and then ADD the non violent philosophy
    4) Either Aikido should stop calling itself a martial art and call it self a health art like Tai Chi, or it needs to be practised by serious fighters away from these weak dojos where actual attacks take place against only the effective techniques of the art
    5) No one who has not done Martial arts or boxing / Wrestling before should be taught aikido. And it needs to change from the choreographed nonsense people laugh at to something that isn’t beautiful to look at but is fight worthy. It should evolve into an art willing to remove many of its existing techniques and adapt new ones from other systems or people’s actual experience. This does mean violence has to be a part of it. Otherwise it will die as the new generation laugh at the hippies who want to wear eastern warrior clothes but are too weak willed to fight and carry on making excuses for it.

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