Recommended reading: “Can Competition Enhance O-Sensei’s Aikido?” by Stanley Pranin

The article below has been selected from the extensive archives of the Online Aikido Journal. We believe that an informed readership with knowledge of the history, techniques and philosophy of aikido is essential to the growth of the art and its adherence to the principles espoused by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba.

Another of the most frequently advocated solutions to this thorny issue is the introduction of competition to add a realistic dimension and provide a quantifiable way of measuring one’s skills against an opponent. The argument is often framed in such a way that the measure of a martial system is based on how exponents fare, or presumably would fare, in a match situation. For example, who would come out on top if fifth dans in judo and karate were to match skills? Is taekwondo superior to kung fu? Can an aikidoka with no cross-training in another art hold his own against an exponent of any of these more combat-oriented martial arts? Such speculation is endless and has failed to lead to any sort of consensus.

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  1. As most will know if they read this article that I agree entirely with Professor Tomiki Shihan’s approach to aikido and have found that from actually partaking in competitive aikido in my past, has most certainly given me an edge where it has come to using aikido in self defence, which I have had to use on many an occasion over the years in my job as a cabbie (amongst other things). We also have a number of doormen working in Winchester who have taken up Tomiki/Shodokan aikido at clubs near by (As I don’t personally have a dojo at present). They have found the competitive element, which has allowed them to put into practice, has actually worked in the street!!
    Anyone who lives in the real world, including so called ‘aikidoka’ would soon find that having the lackadaisical attitude will very soon find them having a shockingly stark ‘enlightenment’ Alas it would be too late at that point!!
    So my advice is if you want aikido for self defence, join a dojo that can back up what they say they can do and don’t waste your time on something you know full well in your heart of hearts is wasting your time!! You’ll know cause you’ll feeeeeeel it!!

  2. Can Competition Enhance O-Sensei’s Aikido?
    Unequivocally NO!
    Real survival is never a “match.”
    Aikido is how to extract the value out of any apparently disadvantaging situation.
    Two wrongs will never make a right.
    Aikido reveals the openings and flow where to maintain integrity and restore harmony.
    Whilst Aikido is creative Budo, it can result in death.
    Sport artists seldom serve in positions of high risk where reality is really real and untrammeled by fake rules and where the possibility of death is often imminent.
    Aikido is the safe way to practice that which when deployed for survival, can often be seriously destructive.
    Soft training correctly effected, exploration of fulcrum and leverage, is not soft on the receivers end. That’s why training must be tempered whereas survival is better unleashed.
    Regular training clarifies the mind, elevates awareness and unlocks natural principles which teach life navigation over and above mere surviving of violence, but in all things.
    Dumbing Aikido down for sporting kills the aiki and it becomes mere struggle.
    Sport aikido is an oxymoron and can not exist.
    Deploying the full measure of aikijutsu as demanded by life-death survival necessity risks death and injury, either way, deepening on whether the skill is genuine.
    Sport contest proves nothing and gladiators are not warriors, never can and never will be; because they imagine proper deployment to be “cheating” and finalization to be a mere injury and not a real kill.
    Warriors do not seek conflict, they deal with it when it arises to bring about restoration.
    Warriors do not brawl and the motivation behind Aikido is the very opposite.
    If you have a need to prove something, nobody cares. Prove it to yourself by sustaining a life of training that will unlock and reveal the secrets of Aikido, Budo and Protection of life.
    Otherwise continue to miss the point and think like an ape. Nobody cares. Unless you attack someone. Then the law will care. And so will you when doing time where if you survive, you may gain some measure of perspective of the law of the jungle. Which is no law but to stay alive at all costs.
    Anyhow, Stan has said it better.

  3. Lot of words Nev…

  4. …if you want competition, Tomiki style is available. why not? otherwise, simply improving the attacks in a freestyle would “raise the bar”…

  5. I am with Tony on this…As Nev is a Aikido Bunnie and never been knocked on his ass and thinks Dojo dancing works…You’re in for a rude awakening.

  6. It needs either competition or something to get it away from its horribly misunderstood reliance on the concept of non-resistance. Ueshiba didn’t get to where he did by having people lightly grab him and go along with whatever he did and neither will anyone else. It’s an empty road and a waste of time if you’re interest is being able to do some of the things he did.

    Nev: I can’t say that I agree with anything you said there. you aren’t doing Ueshiba’s aiki-do and going by what you said, I’m not sure that you even know what his aiki-do was. All that stuff about aiki being dangerous or deadly might be true, if you have real aiki, but you aren’t going to get aiki doing ai-ki-do as taught today.

  7. Well said oolz…Nev id just full of Bullshido.

  8. I think Nev is maybe getting a little too old in the tooth for doing what I’ve been doing most of my life, so doing what he’s doing now is fine from a health and harmony point of view, but for self defence and being in the real world, it just ain’t going to happen.
    What Oolz says is basically true, Prof Ueshiba was capable only because he trained his body from a physical point of view in that he was well versed in the use of Isometrics, that was and is plainly visible. If you know the trick and are also versed in Isometrics exercise, it’s quite easy to perform what Ueshiba knew and did. Prof Tomiki also knew this and was also well versed in it himself, but preferred not to show off in this manner….
    Unfortunately for the deluded it isn’t a trick and so prof Ueshiba had the strength of ten men or so they thought?….
    The use of evasive movement makes it somewhat graceful when you have a compliant uke, but put it in a competitive element, you will soon find that the “dummy” knife acts as a real indicator as to what could and would happen in a real situation….. Wake up time!!
    In the street there are no rules, granted, so up your training with scenario training to find out. Of course we have to hold back a bit as nobody wants to end up in hospital or dead, but it’s a risk worth taking to know!! Unfortunately for me, the territory goes with the job!!
    As the old saying goes… Those that know…know. The rest are just as deluded as they ever will be and “God” (if he exists) please take pity on their souls as they will be arriving in their droves….

  9. I agree with Tony on this one. You have to have a resisting opponent no matter what the attack if you are focusing on self -defense. Try aiki-do techniques from a Thai clinch this will also dramatically help effectiveness. Timing is the thing being worked in Tomiki and other styles of Aikido that focus on real world or self defense. The drill I listed above is just an example of one type of training. Once a technique/drill etc. had been “learned” then you simply have uke put on gloves, or not depending on what you are working, and a motrocycle helmet and then you have uke come at you full force and in return you go at him full force and see if you can make it work. After months and years of this then you AIkido will be effective. Thats the BIG SECRET! If you want to learn how to fight you have to fight, period. Thanks Tony for hopefully waking a few people up out of their coma.

  10. Yoseikan Budo may be the answer here…

  11. Yep! Some pretty good drills there Taisho, except the helmets and pads do make it safer and that’s a good thing….Ha ha!
    When training my students at a higher level, 2nd or 1st kyu onwards (depending on ability) and whether they choose to do so, we employ similar methods. I make this clear to all prospective students that if going for Shodan within Aikido Habatakukai any Dan grade should at least have the real ability to able to defend themselves in times of need.
    There is no point in allowing someone to have a Dan grade as that is an insult to the level itself if you do not have a modicum of ability. To me Dan grade is where it should be at.
    The difference between Kyu and Dan….
    It embarrasses me when I see and know that people with “Dan” grades are no where near that level and should not be wearing that belt in the dojo…. Outside there are no belts and no one gives a toss, that is where you will truly find out…. Period!!

  12. Hello,

    Before training in koryu jujutsu I studied western fencing, Wado ryu karate and Muay Thai boxing. All three included a competitive element so I can say without reservation that force on force practice is extremely valuable to any budoka who seeks a truly martial aspect to his training. One of our licensed instructors is sensei Dave Nettles, chief instructor of Tomiki Aikido of America. I have found his aikido to be top notch and functionally operating at a much higher level than a overwhelming majority of other highly ranked aikidoka. This is obviously a by product of applying his aikido waza at full speed against a resisting opponent as committed to scoring with his attacks as Dave is to defeating them.

    Now, there is obviously a downside to competition. Competition is frequently allowed to become the tail wagging the budo dog, which leads to the distortion of technical abilities and the aggrandizement of ego. However, properly implemented, competition functions as a means to an end, not an end in itself. It should be no more than a technical and emotional test which challenges the abilities of the practitioner in a unpredictable venue outside the safe harbor of cooperative partner training.

    In TSYR we don’t have “competiton” per se, but we do employ various forms of force on force training which culminates in a type of shiai where you must bring all you talent to bear, or be physically and mentally “owned”. It is very challenging both physically and mentally. Without this sort of challenge my teacher believed budo training was in danger of degenerating in budo dancing.

    Flowery talk from anyone dismissing the numerous benefits of intense shiai demonstrate that they have never experienced the adrenal stress and panic one feels with the inevitability of being choked to unconsciousness against your will or being hit so hard you can barely maintain any body control. If you’re seeking martial effectiveness in your budo, isn’t such a challenge what you want to experience among your trusted friends in a dojo instead of at the hands of a stranger attempting to assault you?

    Tobin E Threadgill / TSYR

  13. Well, if you’ll permit me my two cents, I have an observation or two to make. I was fortunate enough to interview Tomiki Sensei on two occasions at length. I attended three tournaments where I watched demonstrations and competitions of Tomiki Aikido for hours on end. There were some excellent athletes in fine condition participating. I saw almost no aikido techniques being applied. I saw lots of strategy including intimidation of one side by the cohorts of the other from the sidelines. For me, it was a fascinating experience, but I don’t think the Founder valued this approach or would even consider it aikido.

    The type of training that Toby and others describe I’m sure has its place. However, I think it very difficult to practice such things safely. If you’re talking about applying full power using techniques designed to destroy the body, how can practice be conducted safely? The rules introduced for competition are there to “save” the body from irreparable harm and injury. But as soon as you introduce rules, you’re no longer talking about reality. It’s just as fake as any contrived situation because no one fears for their life.

    Also, if you’re talking about applying force on force, I don’t consider that a terribly high level of martial arts execution. For me, the best practitioners have an extremely light touch and work internally. What you’re describing seems more like brawling–perhaps with a somewhat higher level of technique–but brawling nonetheless.

    After 48 years of training, I would consider such training as a step backward. I think “my aikido” works–perhaps I am merely deluded–because I have never even once had to use it although I have been in several delicate situations. Mine is perhaps a minority point of view, but there you have it.

  14. Hi Stanley,

    Maybe my terminology is creating a misunderstanding. When I say force on force, I don’t mean strength against strength. TSYR, as you have observed is very light and subtle in execution. This is why I frequently teach seminars for aikidoka. Our application of body dynanmics and physical principles is absolutely consistent with those in aikido.

    In our shiai Takamura sensei stressed that our techniques must be applied softly and subtlety against an attacker that is using as much resistance or power as he can muster. We believe it is against very strong resistance and powerful striking attacks that proper jujutsu principles most convincingly demonstrate their practicality and effectiveness.

    As for Tomiki competition, yes I’ve seen it and its not very pretty…Sometimes its downright ugly…but, the experience of training for that type of conflict has the same net effect on some Tomiki practitioners that our shiai has for us. When Sensei Nettles executes his aikido techniques as kata, they are clean, precise and very effective. The process of applying technique against a resisting adversary forces the practitioner to employ and inculcate the proper application of physical principles. If he doesn’t, the technique fails. We both know how often we observe aikidoka flying around the room at the slightest provocation? It’s nonsense that does not reinforce the proper application of aiki principles or technique.

    My biggest problem with competition in all forms of budo is one you brought up. The tail starts wagging the dog and ego aggrandizement rears its ugly head. Tomiki aikido’s Seiji Tanaka and I once talked about the issue of competition and he acknowledged it was an uphill battle to keep competition in its proper place within the Tomiki paradigm. For this reason he instituted a rule that any student competing in shiai must also compete in the kata section. All to often students were over-emphasizing the competitive element of theior training to the detriment of the greater art. To these students competition had become an end unto itself and not a means to a greater end.

    So, perhaps that’s where competition in aikido deserves genuine criticism and commentary. When people start cheering and jeering the competitors at any aikido competition I believe the dignity of budo is compromised.

    I once attended an international Kendo competition and was dumbstruck at the flawless etiquette displayed. There was no cheering or outrageous displays of celebration for the “winner”. In fact, you often couldn’t tell who the winner of a particular contest was because the competitors remained so stoic after the winner was announced. The event was the epitome of dignified restraint with serious budoka competitors displaying a level discipline every budoka should strive to emulate.

    So, maybe the problem isn’t related to competition itself but “how” competition in aikido or any form of budo should be conducted? If the event starts reminding me of a football game instead of a dignified respresentation of budo, I do have a problem with it, and it’s a big problem.

    Warmest regards,


  15. “As for Tomiki competition, yes I’ve seen it and its not very pretty…Sometimes its downright ugly…but, the experience of training for that type of conflict has the same net effect on some Tomiki practitioners that our shiai has for us. When Sensei Nettles executes his aikido techniques as kata, they are clean, precise and very effective. The process of applying technique against a resisting adversary forces the practitioner to employ and inculcate the proper application of physical principles. If he doesn’t, the technique fails. We both know how often we observe aikidoka flying around the room at the slightest provocation? It’s nonsense that does not reinforce the proper application of aiki principles or technique”

    Thank you Toby. Although we have never met, I appreciate very much your input to this still thorny subject. We all have our own experiences and I, for one, am glad that my grounding was in Tomiki/Shodokan aikido. I have had the opportunity to practice aikido on many occasions in other styles, as my way on my own journey if you like, and have felt that in all honesty there are very few that can actually do the business…. I unfortunately have had to resort to the physical on many an occasion in my occupation. Believe me I do not look for it, but it has the habit of finding me!! Whether I like it or not! Anyone who thinks they will get through it unscathed is completely delusional, but I found I had the spirit to win through and survive!
    The police arriving at the end of it and the usual visit to the local nick to argue out who was right and wrong. I have never been arrested yet, so figure that one out!!
    As I said earlier it’s all to do with gut feeling and feeeeling!!……

    Regards Tony

  16. “After 48 years of training, I would consider such training as a step backward. I think “my aikido” works—perhaps I am merely deluded—because I have never even once had to use it although I have been in several delicate situations. Mine is perhaps a minority point of view, but there you have it”

    Dear Stan,
    I’ll say that training in any style of aikido is fine, but as Toby has implied, without training to find out if you are effective under real stress and pressure, and I’m not talking about a bit of an argument with some half wit, how in the hell will you ever know?

    I’m not suggesting that you do that now as you are probably getting a bit old in the tooth, (as I am ha ha!!) but my own training has saved me from incredible harm. The only way you can absolutely find out is if you have actually been in that type of predicament or you train to some degree in that enviroment.

    I believe that your Teacher and mentor Saito Shihan in his younger days went out on the town to see if his aiki worked…. Please correct me if I’m wrong, so there you have it….?

    Warmest regards


  17. Both Mochizuki and Tomiki sensei felt Aikido was lacking and needed a lot of improvement for reality based self defense and can be found checking AJ’s archives…If you never had to use Aikido for real…you just don’t know.

  18. Stanley Pranin says:

    You are correct, but you’re missing a critical point. Both Mochizuki and Tomiki were reacting to what aikido had become in the postwar era under the leadership of the Second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and Koichi Tohei. Their actions, of course, were not an implicit criticism of O-Sensei’s aikido.

  19. That explains plenty and I would of thought exactly…..
    They both knew that aikido was in danger of losing it’s credibility so there we have it again….
    Either you know or you don’t and the deluded can dream on…..
    That’s life!!
    Take care one and all….

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