“Aikido is what it is … stop trying to figure it out” by Bruce Baker

Stop .. just stop trying to figure out the founder, picking apart his life, picking apart aikido history as if there was some secret hidden deep in the intersecting coincidences of fate as people come and go .. it is what it is.

Just like looking into a mirror … you have to figure out what you want and who you are.

Who do you want to be? What do you want your Aikido to be?

All this formulation of a caste system to teach aikido and trying to be Japanese is unimportant in light of … what Aikido is. The applications are much more important than the method to learn what is applied.

Sadly, Aikido has become a system of learning Japanese as Americans, and people all over the world, become more familiar with the system of teaching and learning, but if it were formulated in Africa, or India, or even by Eskimos (not to offend any ethnicity) what would be we be trying to learn in light of the ethnic and social customs of those people to learn their version of Aikido? MAYBE we would be dressed in their garb and learning their customs .. you can’t tell until it happens.

Don’t get too seriously attached to being polite and learning the social customs and the methods of teaching from a Japanese derived system of martial arts, but do respect the system as it does seem to work for its goal of teaching. There are some good things in there to learn.

Find the middle-ground where where you are neither head-over-heels in love nor angry and hating your love-affair with Aikido, but find the clarity in the middle. Learn the lessons, apply them to your life, and thank your teachers and classmates for being such good sports.

STOP .. with all this analyzing of the founder’s history, and how the personal lives of people contributing to the success of Aikido might be your ticket to finding the secret that will make you a master or reveal aikido’s secrets. Get a clue! ONLY your training and your mind can reveal any secret! READING words might help, but only training will clarify the meaning of words!

Aikido is what it is … the combination of techniques as interpreted by the founder then interpreted by his students, then interpreted by the students of students and so on and so on …. until it gets to you.

Just like a message the loses its original meaning because it is a story told, retold and retold a hundred times you may have to research the old words and pictures to figure out where and when it got changed and who reinterpreted the original teachings. Fact is .. the founder reinterpreted what he was taught trying to keep the original techniques intact.

Aikido is what it is … figure it out for yourself … even if you occasionally need to ask for help from people around you … realize .. it is you that figures it out.

Don’t get me wrong, human nature is what it is. We talk, we read, we do the things that we tell ourselves not to do, but at the end of the day … what was important? For Aikido … what is important? Can you do the techniques? Do you have the right outlook and attitude? What did it take to give you these things?

I often think … there are so many other martial arts from around the world that have many similar techniques to what we practice in aikido, but they are scattered about and not all used the same way, so why is training in Aikido important? It is only one piece of the martial arts training puzzle, one style that works against a variety of attacks and defenses, but sooner or later… someone will figure out how to neutralize aikido and then what? Will Aikido evolve or remain stale and rooted in the old ways? I hope not. I hope it will adapt and evolve while maintaining the old with the new, don’t you?

For now .. it works. It works as a young man’s training, and old man’s training, let alone it works most of the time in a variety of situations. I just get annoyed when people try to pick apart the life of the founder and the people who contributed to keeping aikido alive when it is the practice and the techniques we keep alive as we remember those who lent their energy and their spirit to keeping it alive.

Ya want to know the secrets? They were all human beings with flaws trying to be better then they were. Some flaws were obvious, some were hidden. YOU need to work on figuring out what your flaws and strengths are and work on becoming a better human being. THAT is the secret agenda of Aikido.

And … in many ways … the only agenda you need to reach for when practicing any martial art.


  1. Amen!

    Relative mind will grasp, cling and push away infinitely. This avocation is fine as long as training continues and we hold the whole conversation lightly. To me, the opportunity is in the moment, the movement, the harmony (or lack thereof) and connection. Excessive emphasis (attachment) to effectiveness stifles development just as good as lack of training. Obsessive social archeology into the roots of Aikido to prove something is often a big distraction from the essence of training. In the actual moment of attack and moving together there is no history or future, all controversy drops away, there’s just the arising moment and our capacity to let go and stay open as we move in the ki flow.

    Good training to all!

  2. Nice. I like the idea of knowing where some of the customs come from so that we can separate what is effective for the art and what was done because that is the way they always did it. And, it is not a bad thing to learn a bit about other cultures, particularly for those of us with an interest in the martial arts as they come to us from Japan. That said, I have patiently listened to many well meaning aikidoka tell me exactly why O-Sensei did this or that and how the people who followed did this or that – based on the history as we have been able to piece it together. Funny thing is, these well meaning stories are often contradictory. Well, off to practice my shikko in case I am attacked in a low ceiling dwelling while drinking tea on my knees.

  3. steve kwan says:

    Aikido is what you train to make you a better person, and you could use Aikido to influence other people to become better persons. There is why Aikido is a Art of Peace. Aikido is also a Martial Art. For those people who argue that Aikido is not a martial art, it is because they do not understand enough about Aikido. The more I train, the more I understand and appreciate the beauty of Aikido. It is a genuine martial art with surprisingly effective self defend capability , and yet, it could also be very gentle if chosen. The true meaning of Martial Art is not aggresssion or domination, but Martial Art is the way of stopping violence and aggression.(the meaning of the Chinese character of the word “Martial”) Aikido is both rich in skills, techniques , philosophy and meanings.

  4. Hear, hear!

    Trouble is this blog will probably invite even more left-brain attempts to analyse the life out of aikido.

    All great truths are paradoxical.

  5. “The Way is in training” – Musashi. …and we wouldn’t be human if we weren’t curious. Nor would we be human if we didn’t try to innovate, at least just a little. Keeping a tradition alive is a tough balance between custom, form, respect, and discovery. Because none of invented aikido, it’s hard to tell what we can leave out of the Founder’s framework without losing the value of his art…

  6. Unfortunately, historical analysis proves you wrong. For instance, by analyzing history, we find that Takeda taught Ueshiba to be a very good martial artist in a relatively short amount of time (certainly less than 10 years), by teaching aiki. Compare that to the normal aikido training times of 30-40 years and we still aren’t close to Ueshiba’s skill level.

    Analyze the training history of Shioda and Tomiki. Same thing.

    There is a definite training methodology to learning aiki. If your teacher doesn’t know it or isn’t teaching it, then you’re never going to learn it, no matter how long you try to “figure it out for yourself”. Historical analysis proves that.

    Historical analysis shows that Ueshiba had people push on him throughout his life. It was something he commonly did and something that even videos have captured. Yet, rarely in modern aikido do you find this training concept. And when you do, it’s tentative light pushing rather than what Ueshiba showed and did.

    There is a reason history is important. It’s to show that posts like yours are far from accurate. Aikido isn’t about “techniques”. It’s about aiki. About spontaneous aiki. Aiki, the body skill. Aiki, as taught by Takeda. Not “aiki”, the peace and harmony stuff.

    Most aikido training currently runs more along the lines of jujutsu rather than aiki. So, either the teachers didn’t get taught and are doing the best they can with the training methodology they were exposed to … or they do know aiki and just aren’t teaching it. After 10 years of training, and you aren’t seeing significant progress like Ueshiba, Shioda, Tomiki, etc did, don’t you think it’s time to take a real, hard, in-depth historical analysis of just what these people learned, how short a time frame they learned it in, and what they were actually taught?

    Or perhaps, like the post, you can “figure it out for yourself” in 40, 50, 60 + years? How has that been working for everyone so far? Maybe it’s time to change that?

  7. Amen! and Amen!

  8. Agree with Mark…Keep asking…who,what,when,were and why..do accept things as they are or would like them to be..move forward in you thinking about Aikido and it’s future.

  9. Mark, when you’re done with your “real, hard, in-depth historical analysis of just what these people learned, how short a time frame they learned it in, and what they were actually taught”, and you’ve reached Osensei’s level in just 10 years, please let everyone else in the world know. Since I haven’t made it there yet after significantly more than 10 years I will have to blame my instructors.

  10. Bas,
    I think quite a few people have done their research, both historical and hands-on. They’ve begun learning aiki, the “real aiki”. Not some peace and harmony kind. And yes, I do think in 10 years there’s going to be some very skilled aikido people out there.

  11. bruce baker says:

    Let me clarify … you can research and go as deep into stories and history as you feel necessary to scratch that itch, but .. in the end … when you have gotten all that information, all that knowledge … it won’t mean a tinker’s damn.

    There were no names for the techniques as taught by O’Sensei, the STUDENTS made up names for the techniques.

    From my interpretation of what the founder wanted to teach, it was not the names of the techniques .. but that the students were able to use the basics he taught and then be able to do variations on those basics.

    Each person has to take what they are given, use their strengths, learn to recognize their weaknesses, and then learn to teach what they have learned as best they can.

    If by some miracle the practice of Aikido increases your physical skills and opens up your thinking processes .. fine by me … you have gained something you might not have gained by not practicing aikido.

    My point was, and is .. puh-lease … don’t look at the GREAT-TEACHER, the FOUNDER OF AIKIDO, as some God-like figure that will teach you some great secret. The Man worked very very hard to be somebody, to learn something that he could pass on. Maybe it was to make Japan Great, but it morphed and changed into something beyond him, beyond his flawed intentions.

    Tell me, what happens to all your schoolroom learning when you get a job in the real world? Some of it applies, some of it is lost, and some of it … never gets used.

    The REAL LESSON .. is to .. in real life .. not in these threads or in these writings … to be a humble and honorable person. It is the APPLICATION of what you learn that is important .. why else would some people search the historical records and comb through stories of people who knew our Great Teacher of Aikido?

    How many of you .. have met me in person … Bruce Baker of Barnegat, NJ or have gone with me at some seminar, or some class?

    I know I stink at being a good practice partner, but that isn’t important. What is important is what will I do when someone is really and truly trying to beat me up, rob me. stab someone with weapon, or there is some violent event I have to jump in on? What will you do, or what effect will you have on someone’s life around you?

    Your priority is not to pry into every little detail of the Great Teacher, but to use what you learn to make yourself a better person, make life better for not just yourself but also for the people around you in whatever way you can contribute to that positive energy. Hey, there is enough negative energy and chaos already .. no need to add to it.

    I have met so many people who have made fortunes, lost fortunes, some famous and some not, but in the end .. we all must learn to be be better human beings cause death knows no favorites. The GREAT TRUTH is .. we are all children pretending to be adults. Some of us learn to be kind and not make so much of our fame and fortune, we are who and what we are and we do what we can when we can to make the world a better place.

    I guess my gripe is … this new attitude that people deserve to be given things, and this Obama/ Democratic redistribution of wealth is just another plot to keep the wealthy and people in power … in power and wealthy. The rest of us survive by … never mind .. that lesson you have to learn.

    If you want to find the secrets to Aikido … it won’t be in Aikido class. It will be by doing aikido but you will have to study a lot more than the stories about the Founder. That is all I am saying .. figure it out, it is not that hard to figure out.

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