“Martial arts practice and the deceived mind,” by Stanley Pranin


“I want to feel safe so I train. Now I have trained and feel confident,
so I voluntarily place myself in a situation where I am in danger.”

This blog has been brewing in my brain for a long time. I have noted what to me is an inexplicable phenomenon in the thinking of many martial artists. Allow me to lay out the scenario.

Although there are many reasons for wanting to take up the study of a martial art, certainly the most common one is the desire to learn to defend oneself usually born of fear. Nothing surprising here. That was certainly the case when I began.

So one takes up the study of a martial art and, little by little, begins to acquire a certain amount of proficiency.

The realization that one has attained some skills often leads to an aggrandized ego, and a false belief that one will be able to handle himself in a violent encounter; this notwithstanding the fact that his skills are untested.

If one reaches the level of becoming a senior student in a martial arts school, in many cases there is pressure on him to begin entering competition. If the school can turn out “champions,” it is very good publicity to attract still more students.

If our hypothetical senior-student-turned-competitor does indeed enter the ring, and fares well, we have an interesting conundrum. Here is a young person who chose to study a martial art to learn to protect himself, to avoid injury. This same person places himself in harm’s way for fame and perhaps monetary reward.

The fear of the inability to defend himself is replaced by the fear of the potential for injury during competition. The novice faced with violence may be in an unavoidable situation. The competitor in the ring is there as the result of an act of volition.

The competitive environment may be far more dangerous that a common fight against an untrained opponent. This time, the adversary is likely to be skilled in various fighting arts, and capable of dealing a deadly blow in some circumstances.

Perhaps it is the illusion of safety promised by rules that deludes the young fighter into believing he is not risking his health and well-being. Or perhaps the lure of fame and fortune clouds his thinking.

Why is there a doctor on hand, and medical equipment, and an ambulance on call? If you play golf or tennis or go bowling–all forms of competitive activity–such precautions are not necessary.

Do you see the fundamental contradiction? “I want to feel safe so I train. Now I have trained and feel confident, so I voluntarily place myself in a situation where I am in danger.”

This is not the aikido way. This is the realm of sports and competition. It appeals to the lust for blood and violence that is instinctive in much of mankind. Those that participate and those that spectate at these events share a common mentality and morality.

What should be the goals of our aikido training?


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  1. Goal for aikido training is to combine your sprit and training to become one

  2. No matter how strong, no matter how skilled, they are still in the circle of threath and attack, fear and aggresion: two different faces, but one in nature.

    Aikido – personally what may come as a result in me – would be anything out of such circle.

    • Yes self protection or personal salvation is the main reason for most. For me personally, it was the meeting and mingling of like minded people who all had the bruce lee dream, and the admiration of others when you mention you participated in the m/arts.

      I now own my own dojo on my property. Several great students train regularly with me, and many pass through our doors. I will always put my students first as i too was at the door of a dojo for the first time. It’s my life, and my passion.

      It does help and can save your life. I have over the years on several occasions used my aikido for my personal survival as well as the salvation of a police man friend under armed assault.

      World peace seems a silly concept, but if you see that one person can influence another, it multiples from there.

      Whoever reads my comment, be with peace, walk in peace.

      Sensei Philip
      South Africa

  3. Gladiators have no martial skills.

    Real life encounters are usually, not always, less damaging to health than gladiator sports. If you survive. If you don’t, it does not matter.
    Better dead than in chronic pain for a protracted period of years which should be the graceful growing of wisdom.
    Martial skills involve strategy and weapons of killing.

    Sport is sport and killing is martial and the twain cannot hope to ever meet again after the Roman Colosseum, which was a sub-human and ghoulish travesty.

    A sportist would literally s**t himself in the battlefield, and a warrior generally laughs at a sportist whilst dispatching him by “cheating,” weapons brought to bear ruthlessly and instantly.

    If you don’t understand or, your brain can not grasp the difference, if you think you have what it takes, try both and draw your own conclusions. Bear in mind, the hard way of learning can be fatal.

    I think the case can pretty well rest.

    • Francisco de los Cobos says:

      Mister Nev,

      I always read your articles and comments, and every single time I have found them inspiring and very much like my own opinion on the subject discussed

      Thank you very much.

    • In the ancient times of Greece, there were two concurring concepts on how to demonstrate martial strength. One was taken by Athens which led to the Olympic Games where athletes compete with each another in disciplines like wrestling, running, spear throwing, etc. And Sparta which forbade their men to participate at the Olympic Games: What you learn to win a competition isn’t what you need in a fight. They used rehearsal or sparring as major means to achieve martial competences. Maybe these different perspectives lead Athens to hire mercenaries to fight for them while the Spartans (more or less) fought themselves for their community.

      My opinion on this is very similar to the Spartans:
      In a (sports) competition you know the place and time, the fighting system and the rules, the duration and often your opponent. And: There is a referee to look after you and ensures that everybody sticks to the rules of the game. While in a fight none of these points are given. The assault may come as a complete surprise, at an unknown place, by a guy you have never seen before using techniques or weapons you have no idea or experience of, and there will be no referee to make it a fair fight. The winner tells the story.

      So, for me in Aikido the randori style of practicing is OK to get some experience of “sudden” attacks. But more importantly, it is to make some basic principles your second nature. You should move or behave obeying them all of the time and not only during practice in the dojo. As an example take the “typical” hanmi-position before starting a technique. If you are accustomed to be first in this stance before you are able to make an Aikido movement, my guess is, you are in a real fight on the ground before you are ready. So practice in the dojo may work in this direction by learning how to move instantaneously without a preparation phase or stance. Same holds for the attacks we need as an impulse. Often I see that we in Aikido attack in a very naive or simple way. We deliver a stroke or thrust and wait until the nage can apply the technique. But, for example, kote gaeshi works best if the uke fails to hit us with the first tsuke and delivers immediately a second one. While he withdraws the failing fist it twists in a way where you can just extend this movement which appears as kote gaeshi.

      And hopefully the best proof that Aikido works that you have never to use it as an observable martial art technique.

  4. Alister Gillies says:

    To win against one’s self and realise our true higher nature.

  5. Heikki Forstadius says:

    Well.. Surely someone who goes in the ring, knows the dangers involved. I think, that so called pressure testing ones skills (one way or another) is a good thing. Training gives you the tools, but not necessarily ability to use them properly in a dangerous situation. Sparring is great way to learn more on how to react properly.

    One should not forget, that you might have to protect also someone else, maybe someone that is close to you and I couldn`t personally forgive my self if I couldn`t do that, becouse Ii didn`t do my best and wasn`t sure of my ability and someone counted on me on that. I´ve trained in aikido several years and think, that some people are quite narrowminded and have forgotten the roots of the techniques.

    After all, we can be good individuals embracing peace and harmony even if we learn the nasty facts of violent confrontation. I don`t train actively at the moment, but my personal goal in any martial arts training is to become a better person and also to be able to protect people close to me. At least, Ii know I`ve done the best I can if I fail.

  6. Great article Stanley… very challenging.

    In my opinion, the ultimate goal of Aikido is world peace.

    Aikido students have a variety of individual goals, but the end result should be to fully experience each and every moment as it unfolds… now!

    Of course, like any spiritual path, there are many obstacles along the way. We can either meet them head on and learn the lessons, or we can ignore them and get stuck. There is plenty of evidence of this in the Aikido world.

    Coming back to the main question, that of competitive behaviour. Some martial arts students openly compete, others do it in a more subtle way. For example being an ‘awkward uke’… some do it deliberately, others just can’t seem to grasp the concept. Either way, whether it is conscious or subconscious, it is competitive behaviour.

    Funny how many students learn how to ‘do’ the techniques a lot faster than ‘receive’ it. This says a lot about a student’s approach to their training.

    Yes, we must learn how to allow our techniques to work against resistance, but resistance should be practised consciously, so we don’t make a habit of it.

    Regarding sporting competitions like mma, ufc, etc. You are right about a lust for blood and violence. But this can be seen in the wider world… wars, fighting, arguing, anger, films, tv programmes… it’s everywhere, throughout society.

    It can only change through individuals, who are willing to let go of ego… one person at a time!

  7. Rob Liberti says:

    Why do you assume the reasons these MMA type fighters train was that they wanted to feel safe?

    • My assumption is that many young people who take up the martial arts want to learn to feel safe through their training.

      My other assumption is that those who become more proficient and are lured into competing, voluntarily place themselves in danger out of a desire for recognition and perhaps financial gain.

      • Tony Wagstaffe says:

        How can you know your true ability without some form of testing? I personally think it is the only way. Those that don’t are truly deceiving themselves.

        Just because one enters an arena does not mean they are of Neanderthal mentality as is suggested…. Not all do it for money but need to find out for themselves……I have met doctors, nurses, legal professionals, etc. who partake in combat sport… As Tomiki suggested there has to be some form of arena to find the moment of truth. Whether one does or not is entirely up to the individual. Those who don’t and are happy to practice for health and harmony it is fine, but don’t expect it to be of any real use in a real life situation.

        I have personally found that practice of a competitive nature does give one an edge on those who don’t. Having used what skills I do have in real life scenarios never ever looked like dojo practice but more like you see and feel in the combat arena. I’ve yet to see a perfectly executed technique as one sees in the dojo!!

        We can use all use dirty tricks of the trade so to speak, that is pretty obvious. But can you do the business if you do not really know? Theory is just theory Stan and nothing else…. Even your own Sensei Saito had to go out on the town to really find out…. Truth, most or many in traditional MA have never been in a real confrontation in their lives and maybe never will. Sorry but that is the truth…… Doesn’t make me or most anyone else in MA a moron who looks for trouble, quite the opposite….Confidence in ones own abilities makes one all that more confident to not get into nasty situations. The ones that bluster, write long novels on how & why, why you should or shouldn’t and bluff are the ones who end up getting filled in. Those who act decisively and enter hard and swift usually win…. He who does not know and hesitates is lost…. Period

        • I couldn’t agree more with your comment: “Confidence in one’s own abilities makes one all that more confident to not get into nasty situations.” So why place yourself in a nasty situation where life and limb are in danger like in the ring? What happens to the health of boxers, American football players, sumo wrestlers, etc. in their old age?

          I’m all for severe dojo training in a controlled setting, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. How can you test yourself in the ring without running the risk of a debilitating injury? Is it wise to place oneself in harm’s way unnecessarily? We should we not frequent bars and altercations with drunks instead to test ourselves? It would probably be safer.

          I think we’re talking about two different things and we must agree to disagree.

          • Tony Wagstaffe says:

            You cant…. Risk is everywhere and Ueshiba knew that by his own experience….. Anyone who engages in some form of combat will soon realise that…. If you cant accept that, best not to do it…… Why do you think Tomiki came up with his theories? He was the one who said that aikido will lose its teeth if it carried on in the way it has. He was right….!

          • Delroy Markland says:

            I believe if you train properly for MMA with the proper attitude and don’t compete for a long period of time there are some major benefits in competition if not made to become a life time pursuit. If made a long time pursuit to compete at high levels It can be damaging to your body, but if trained in a proper environment properly it can be a very worthwhile pursuit.

            I don’t believe competing constantly is good thing, but training well with someone who has been there and done that (and still continues to learn) is a very high thing to do and will majorly advance your training

          • Tony Wagstaffe says:

            I can do that and know…. This debate will go on ad infinitum. You will not know until it happens, that is the end of it.
            It never ceases to amaze me that those who do the all the novel bit, reams and reams of it, must be the ones that don’t. I would hazard a good guess that is the case…. But as always it can’t be proved one way or the other. I’m just so glad that I do know and will die happy in knowing I do so….. Peace brothers….

  8. Jose Arves Santos says:

    I am only reflecting and expressing my view after 6 years of practice: These fighters apparently place themselves in danger for financial and self-gratification as their main motives. That is their objective and seemingly reflective of the objective of most in this day and age. The success achieved by winners in these events is temporal but very attractive to those that seek it.

    In comparison, Aikido practice can be very difficult, but the apparent gains through practice in my opinion is subtle, but profound and longer lasting. There may initially be an appeal to the latter motive as we train but then in my experience there is a tendency for a sense of justice to be developed. Having said this, my training objectives and goals tend to develop and change and follow a natural course, and is dependent on the challenges presented in the dojo and in life situations. I believe too that if somebody trains seriously in any martial art without the above objectives as the main driving forces that they may agree with what I’m saying.

  9. Jason Rhodes says:


    I agree with you that learning to defend oneself is the reason most people start martial arts. I also agree with you that once people reach a certain level in some schools they may be pressured into competitions with other skilled practioners. I believe that going too far one way or the other is bad. A martial artist should not hide behind “well, we don’t do that” because of some philosophy and they also should not place themselves in “harms way” like competitions or UFC type events.

    Most people will defend themselves if their family is attacked or they are in eminent danger. As Aikidoka we should try and find a balance. I believe that every so often having uke glove up, put on a face shield (optional), and really try and hit and resist nage is good for upper level students. They get to work on their techniques under a more stressful scenario which will help them learn to remain calm and see that sometimes techniques fail and you have to be able to flow with uke in order to find a technique.

    This is difficult, but I believe necessary for students to see that you don’t get it right the first time, all the time, and that uke will not just stand there and not hit you back. This will help to develop heart, timing, distance, irimi, tenkan, etc. under a more modern setting all the while keeping to Aikido principles of doing as little damage “as possible”.

    In the end for me it comes down to trying to stay in the middle of these two things. The training methods, conditioning, etc. of competitors can be used by us to further our Aikido without having to compete in a ring or tournament. Finally, you say at the end “this is not the aikido way”. I agree that philosophically this is not what we strive for as Aikidoka, but if there is not some element of danger in our training at some level, then we are merely pontificating about what works and doesn’t, and we stop being martial artists and become something else.

    At some point in our training we have to have a person really try and hit us and that may mean getting hit. This helps us understand how we react and helps us remain calm when our body internally is freaking out. Yes, we can still have the philosophy and all that, but that wont do you any good when some grabs your kid to put them in a van while another person tackles you. Thanks!

  10. Niko Huffman via Facebook

    This is a common perspective, and while certainly valid in some instances, I don’t think that it is always a contradiction for martial artists to desire to enter the ring to test (or perhaps better said, understand) their skills. I personally have a desire to enter the ring – I have no interest in fame, and won’t acquire a fortune from it by any stretch.

    My interest is in gaining a better understanding of myself – my mental, emotional, and physical capabilities and limitations – in particular in the face of an opponent who has genuine intent to do me some degree of harm – a situation which is difficult if not impossible (and frankly, usually improper) to achieve in the dojo.

    A situation which many years ago, in O’Sensei’s time, did not have to be manufactured artificially in a ring or cage because it was simply a fact of life. I enter the ring with no illusion of safety (there still is some degree of safety, of course, just not the degree of safety one enjoys when training in the dojo with ones friends). I do this because no matter how hard you train, you don’t know how you’re going to react to a real attack – not just the physical attack, at the speed and unexpectedness of real life, but the emotion that accompanies it… until you’ve experienced it.

    Are you capable of continuing when you’re tired and hurt, in the face of a genuinely angry opponent who will give you no quarter? That’s not a question that can be answered intellectually or analytically – only by experiencing it in the moment and reflecting afterword on what you were or were not capable of…

    • If the desire to test the validity of one’s skills comes into play, one still voluntarily places oneself in physical danger with the risk of serious injury, and perhaps a chronic injury that degrades the quality of one’s life.

      It is for the individual to decide if the risk involved is outweighed by the potential to find out the limits of one’s fighting skills.

      • Jason Rhodes says:


        If getting injured is part of the criteria as to not do something then why train at all. Everybody gets injured to some degree or at some point when training. Also, I agree with you that it is for the individual to decide the risks. Why then criticize that person for doing it? Pressure testing doe not have to mean sport and the mental, emotional, physical and psychological gains are a huge part of advancing to becoming a better person and martial artist.

        This is what I am saying. Martial artists cannot hide behind “it’s sport, we don’t do that,” etc. Usually the person willing to step into areas of training that are more demanding end up better people and martial arts in the end. As aikidoka, we cannot continue to say we don’t do that because end in the end it is fear keeping us from trying.

        • My point does not address serious, martial training in the dojo. My observation is that entering competition against skilled fighters in the ring, regardless of the motivation, is a high-risk activity. That is why emergency medical assistance is made available. Is the potential gain from engaging in this sort of activity worth the potential harm that one risks? Only the individual can answer that question.

    • oh my. trying to disentangle the dimensions of deception in martial arts practice is daunting.

      let’s start with the first one, the translation error of self-defense.
      at least as far as i understand Japaneses martial arts self-defense is not an objective, in fact martial arts themselves are sometimes looked upon with disdain. “Why should you train in martial arts for thirty years? Even if you master them you will only be an artist. You can be a samurai right now. If given a choice between life and death, choose death.” (Hagakure, Yamamoto Tsunetomo) or – “…not only warriors but…lowlier folk have been known to die readily… The warrior is different in that studying the Way of strategy is based on overcoming men… By victory… we can attain power and fame… This is the virtue of strategy.” (The Book of Five Rings, Musashi Miyamoto). granted O Sensei had a more nuanced and difficult interpretation, but bringing oneself willingly to the fight then leaving it in the hands of God isn’t exactly congruent with a Western notion of self-defense either.

      moving on to the idea that there’s no competition in aikido; certainly there’s no formal competition, but to pair up young males in a martial context and to say there’s no competition is, at best, unrealistic. the informal competition which naturally emerges on the mat isn’t a whole lot less dangerous than some formal competitive systems. as usual, O Sensei had an answer which he incorporated into his classes. John Smith, who studied with him told me he once asked, “Why do we do suwari waza?”
      O Sensei replied, “Well probably nobody will get hurt and you might even learn something.” i have the strong feeling that a lot of our training forms embody that philosophy.

      and, if that’s so, then are we deceiving ourselves about the utility of aikido in an applied situation? to some extent, i believe we are. just as the karate-ka who always trains with light or no contact, the safety measures applicable in dojo training might easily get in the way if things got serious. disabling those safety measures in training, however, requires a HUGE degree of trust. that trust might not ever reliably be available in a commercial setting. there’s always the classic of the senior student being munched out by some beginner. the beginner either didn’t understand the nature of the situation, or, deliberately took advantage of it to “score”. deception is a basic martial technique.

      – charles warren

  11. Maybe, re-read and study the videos and books containing O’ Sensei and his teachings on the principles of Aikido? Maybe re-discussing the principles of O’ Sensei’s aikido with the past/present direct-students of Morihei Ueshiba too?

  12. I understood that Aikido avoids Judo style competition because our techniques have not been homogenized. This should mean we have the freedom to push ourselves in other ways that would be “against the rules” in many competitions ie multiple attackers, attackers with weapons. Padding does not protect someone from a hard impact to the elbow or neck and there is no type of body armor that protects the major joints of the body. Ukes don’t need to leave a senior student feeling untested.

    My own elbow was broken in Aikido practice. I found it ironic that Shotokan Karate that works on “one strike, one kill” actually has fewer practice injuries. No one needs to fall, and as the strike is considered lethal, contact isn’t made. I got into Aikido because I needed to be able to restrain people for work and I didn’t want to cause them injury. I ended up having to respect that Aikido comes from Daito-Ryu, a very lethal art. The techniques aren’t what makes Aikido an art of compassion, it’s still our inner selves.

  13. I will take a UFC?MMA/JUDO?BJJ guy in a street fight over any Aikido guy Dojo’s dancing guy every time.

    • My question would be how the ufc-mma man would fare in a street fight if he were recuperating from an injury suffered in the ring?

      • Jason Rhodes says:

        The same can be said for an injury suffered in an Aikido dojo. In the end, it s not the art or techniques or risky activities that win fights it is what’s inside the person who’s fighting to overcome injury or whatever other scenario we can think up. It is up the martial artist to adapt and overcome. By the way, would we be studying Aikido if O’Sensei had not engaged in “risky” behavior to “prove” that what he said would work? Again, UFC is a sport but some of there training methods are excellent to use. If Aikido is going to continue, we must be able to use it more than for just demonstrations and against unskilled people simply because more people are trained nowadays and it will make us better people and martial artists. Of course, there is a counter point to what I have said but arguing over risk, injury and all that nonsense still leaves the fact that unless you are willing to endure some type of training that involves higher risk in your Aikido you will always be behind the curve.

    • Tony Wagstaffe says:

      Ditto…. They will never see it Taisho, unless they have been there….. No point in making them realise this as it’s futile, you will be assimilated….

      We all want peace in this world but I don’t see it coming for an awful long time yet…… It’s funny really but when it comes to the crunch all the ones harping on about peace and harmony, without real life experience, are the first ones to capitulate when it gets beyond words……

    • I have competed and mma is great for sporting purposes, one on one. But in a real life situation with multiple attackers, iit;s a risk that I will not take.

      Aikido is far more effective.

    • There are a lot of aikido dance schools. Many are dedicated to world peace. What’s interesting is how many of those have cliques within them and are very judgmental about other forms of, even aikido, practice. The judgmental thing, of course, isn’t limited to the “dance schools”, but seems incongruent with the asserted goal of world peace.

      I would be happy for a modicum of internal peace. I think I may be onto a few “tricks” in that department garnered over a variety of martial practices. Shooting and archery are dependent on internal harmony. Anybody can pull a trigger or draw a bow. Hitting what you intend to is a different problem. Once I have some stillness in those relatively static practices, it’s easier to recognize when taking it into motion in aikido.

      Timing, direction and distance are major techniques in aikido. They are taken away in the octagon. They are key elements in the most obvious attribute of aikido, multiple person attack. And in a “real situation”, please never assume that you are in a one-on-one fight. I know an incredibly strong fighter who had munched out two out of three assailants in North Beach, San Francisco, only to garner a scar on the back of his head when the unseen third got him with a bottle.

  14. The young student often enters a dojo to feel safe. But after learning some skills, is his sense of security increased or reduced? It is very common to start thinking potential scenarios where one is put to test (what if I am attacked in the street and I’m with my girldfriend, what if they are two, etc). There can be no rest for this way of thinking simply because there is no end to the possible scenarios.

    So the myth of the competition-test seems to offer a relief (If I am world champion I can be sure I can take anyone in any situation), which is, of course, false. (the movie is JCVD, not Karate Kid, although both are movies) It is a common place to point out that they have little to do with a real fight. In the old days, the training was a preparation for combat, and hopefully survival. I don’t think there is a replacement for the experience of surviving a truly deathly situation, and I’m not sure whether this, in turn, would bring a sense of security after all.

    The miracle found by O’ Sensei is that violence can be countered with active non-violence. I agree with others that the purpose of the aikido practice should be the defusing of all violence, starting by our own.

  15. Andrew Bedford says:

    This from my opening statement from my previous post on building a bridge between heaven and earth.

    “Yesterday I came to the heartbreaking decision of closing my dojo. The reasons are simple ones, nobody wants to hear it, see it for what it is or no longer has the stomach for persistent, consistent daily discipline, that does not involve rearranging someones face.”

    To read the the rest of this here is the link: http://blog.aikidojournal.com/blog/2011/07/18/building-a-bridge-between-heaven-and-earth-by-alister-gillies/

    Andy B

  16. Stanley Sensei,

    You have made an excellent point with regards to the “purpose” of martial arts training, as well as selecting the appropriate tool (weapon/art) for the job (self-defense/self-preservation).

    I would extend your original point to the aspect of teaching these “skills” to children. Unlike most of the kicking and punching arts, teaching BJJ or MMA to young kids is equipping them with all the wrong tools for dealing with conflict. Arm bars and submission holds are not suitable for playground scuffles. They can result in permanent injuries and possibly worse. I’d tell you this, the first time I get called to school (or the hospital) because my child has a broken arm resulting from a submission hold, God help the other kid’s parents…not to mention the legal action that will ensue (regardless of who started the altercation, mind you.) There is appropriate response to conflict, as well as inappropriate. To expect a 7-12 year old to know the difference is sheer ignorance on the part of parents and their martial arts teachers.

    My father was on the Orlando Police Department and Orange County Sheriff’s Department for many years during the 70’s and 80’s. I remember him demonstrating his police “baton”, which was basically a tonfa-styled weapon. He would show us basic techniques he was taught to “subdue” a perpetrator with this weapon. While the entanglements were “fun” to show my brother and I, looking back I seriously doubt it would have been effective in a pressure situation with an unwilling adversary.

    The tonfa was clearly an inappropriate tool for the job. It was a weapon primarily used for striking an attacking sword, or the person wielding it. “Submission” techniques were not in the main design of this weapon. It was intended to strike, incapacitate, or kill…so the user would not be killed themselves. It was no more appropriate a weapon for law enforcement then, as are MMA-style techniques for kids (or most adults) today. Both are inappropriate tools for their intended purposes.

    Most of us remember the 1991 Rodney King beating here in the US. Mr. King’s guilt or innocence aside, had the LAPD “equipped” their officers with a heavy cargo net that night, they could have easily apprehended this man and let him exhaust himself trying to get free. Once exhausted, he could have been easily carted off to jail. An appropriate tool for the situation, and no one gets hurt.

    Excluding law enforcement, military personnel, and other specific occupations that require the use of deadly force, most law abiding citizens simply don’t require such extreme options for conflict avoidance. New students to my dojo are asked, “why do you want to practice?” If their requirements concern any of the aforementioned occupations, I tell them they are in the wrong place. First, I don’t want them to be injured or killed through some false sense of “martial art prowess.” Second, I have found that students looking for “realistic” training tend to carry with them a tremendous amount of personal baggage. They are constantly challenging others (students and teachers) and their participation doesn’t make for an effective learning environment. We simply don’t need them, as there are plenty of other dojos that teach “practical” Aikido in town.

  17. For many it’s not about learning to defend themselves, it’s about personal affirmation.


  18. Niko Huffman via Facebook:

    I have a strong and passionate opinion on this subject, so please excuse the lengthy response (or simply pass it by :)

    @Tony – I absolutely agree. The ring is far from real life – but it’s closer in some respects than the dojo. I would treat it as just another tool in the training toolbelt. It doesn’t give you all of the unexpectedness of real life (although again, I would argue more than the dojo – in the dojo, with a few rare exceptions, you know the general form in which the attack will come, because you know what’s acceptable in terms of types of attacks, speed, etc. – in the ring you could be facing anybody). My main point is that it gives you the opportunity to experience the real impact of a relatively unexpected attack with real emotion behind it – and by that I mean not just the physical impact, but the emotional & psychological impact of it. Having personally been punched and kicked harder – with and without pads – than I once imagined was possible, and having experienced some small level of anger in an opponent, I can only assume that it’s the tip of the iceberg with respect to someone REALLY intending to do you harm. In short, I think experiencing it helps you know yourself better than NOT experiencing it.

    @AJ – In my experience (for whatever that’s worth, which may not be much, although I’ve trained in a number of different martial arts and fighting styles, and trained with a few people who consider themselves more fighters than martial artists) your assumptions are probably for the most part valid, and I don’t think you’d necessarily be skewered in the MMA community – they’re all fully aware that it’s a sport with rules, and that it’s dangerous, and many are drawn to it for fame and fortune. With respect to O’Sensei, I’m not sure one can really make the comparison – his art and attitudes changed over the course of a lifetime – he lived in a time when defending one’s well-being against an opponent was not a voluntary act, and he no doubt maimed and killed a number of human beings – I have no doubt that in his later years he would frown on competition just as other masters of his era did – but this is a different era. In his younger years maybe not…? He joined the military and went to war – he injured human beings and took lives – Aikido philosophy is no doubt heavily influenced by that fact.

    @Clifford – I would agree with you in principle, but at the risk of sounding argumentative, I would suggest that (relative danger of techniques aside, because there are a lot of other things outlawed in competition that are both more and less dangerous than aikido technique – just as an example, it is against the rules to put any body part inside any orifice – whether that’s an eye socket, a mouth, an ear, or an anus – all of which are highly effective techniques of differing levels of danger) the WAY in which Aikido is taught in many dojos (in my experience almost all, in fact) is much more removed from real life than any competition. That having been said, one of the things I absolutely LOVE about Aikido is that with the right training partner, and at a certain level of proficiency (on the part of both uke and nage), Aikido technique CAN be executed at full speed, with full intent, with less danger of injury than just about any other art (Systema being the only exception that I know of – the level of both offense and protection taught in Systema is even greater than Aikido)

  19. Whose minds are deceived, actually? The one that steps in the ring, or the one that cannot understand why another would do that, yet ascribes their own reasoning to it?

    We must be careful in projecting onto others our own thoughts, understanding – and misunderstandings, illusions, capabilities and lack there-of.

    Within the martial realm, many aikidoka seem to have trouble with this.

    • The article expresses one writer’s opinion on the subject. It asks for the comments of others. It also asks the opinions of readers as to what the goals of one’s aikido training should be. Thank you for expressing your opinion and adding to the discussion.

  20. The purpose of Budo is to learn how to manage life’s difficulties by training one’s character. Budo techniques are tools to achieve this purpose. Everyone is different and has different needs, hence the means must be different. To someone, the main challenge is to get himself to the dojo until it becomes a habit, to another it’s to take ukemi until he becomes comfortable with it, to another it’s to discipline himself to manage his emotions when dealing with various types of uke, etc..

    The intention behind the desire to compete is what will determine the outcome. If I look at my opponent (whatever his own purpose may be) as someone who will help me train my character, I will benefit tremendously (whether I win or lose). If on the other hand I look at him as an obstacle to eliminate in order for me to achieve fame, money, whatever, it will be the type of delusion Mr. Pranin is mentioning.

    Ueshiba Sensei was challenged several times in his life. So was Mochizuki Sensei. They knew that they had to win. What was their mind set? Is there a perfect and final answer? What can we learn from that?

    Patrick Augé

    • oisin bourke says:

      I think this is a wonderful post. It should also be remembered that Budo is a spiritual discipline that has been developed and refined over centuries. MMA is twenty years old? There are certainly worse things one might be doing than MMA, and they both start in the realm of physical contact, but ultimately, I think Budo and MMA lead to two different paths.

      • I think MMA started with an attitude much closer to budo study than what it has become – it attracted advanced practitioners from various arts who desired to test themselves. Those early fights looked like randori: they were respectful, sincere, determined, and controlled. I remember watching one kung fu student coming up against a jiu jitsu practitioner and being defeated – there was a look of surprise on his face when he was swept and pinned, then a look of appreciation on his face at the end. I felt glad for him, watching that and imagining how the experience would improve his training thereafter.

        It doesn’t look like that anymore, but that’s not to say that MMA didn’t start with promise. It just turned to profit and ego – as do so many endeavors that pay too little effort into developing and practicing a clear philosophy.

        And either way, I don’t think the age matters so much – aikido itself began from a handful of tributaries from pre-existing arts and their students, just as MMA did. The difference, I think, is not so much the art but its leadership.

  21. Francisco de los Cobos says:

    As everything in life we should strive for balance, and not go to any extremes:

    – Train too soft and it is useless.
    – Train too hard and you will get hurt and be rendered useless.

    The “path” to find this balance is so interesting and I believe it’s worth the time, and like anything worth of time and effort, it is NOT going to be easy.

    The possibilities to find good ways of testing ones skill and harder training without injury are limitless, we just need to dedicate serious thinking and imagination and good friends to help us in our trials.

    Thanks to everyone for contributing with their opinions, this feedback makes the “path” a little bit easier since now we have more input from different points of view.

    Thanks Stanley Sensei.

  22. Louise Wilkinson says:

    As a young fighter myself, I have designs to compete in grappling tournaments. I believe the eagerness for competition among youth is more than an insecurity: it is the new generation contextualizing aikido to their age. To me, modern, competitive martial arts such as Brazilian jujutsu or judo offer new perspectives on the familiar practice of grappling. I eagerly delve into the many facets of jujutsu in homage to O Sensei’s spirit of experimentation and cross-training. To paraphrase philosopher-poet Basho, “Seek not to follow in your elders’ footsteps. Instead, seek what they sought.”

    I choose to focus on grappling instead of pure MMA because of grappling’s theme: position before submission. Position may be simply avoiding the sites of conflict as Stanley has pointed out. It may be the confidence to walk away when you are confronted with verbal belligerence. In the form of martial technique, it is sound maneuvering of your partner into mutual prosperity.

    The way of gentleness differs significantly from sports-fighting, but that is not to say it would not be benefited from competition. Before practicing aikido, I was trained in the Greco-Roman tradition of wrestling. Competition was compulsory and, in my mind, essential. When I began aikido, I was at first shocked at the absence of competition. I did not know of the Tomiki school of aikido, the theories of Shoji Nishio or the close relation between aikido and jujutsu. Now that I am more well educated (thanks in part to Aikido Journal Online) I am eager to reintroduce competition to my regimen. I hope to do right by my seniors by evolving with the times and safeguarding the martial integrity of aikido.

    • I appreciate the intelligence of your post and polite tone. My impression from your comment is that you will not be competing in a context where you are likely to be exposed to a debilitating injury. If that is the case, then I think what you’re doing is wonderful, and an intelligent use of cross-training.

      • My thoughts on the topic are similar to those of Louise Wilkinson. Instead of a spectrum of competence that runs from fear and the desire to self-defense to a degree of martial competence, I see three different dimensions of comparison:

        1. Competition.
        2. Discovery and Development.
        3. Fear.

        Like Louise, I have a strong interest in some of the competitive grappling arts. In particular, I feel that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a very interesting (and orthogonal) complement to Aikido training. It offers a degree of informality and — frankly — fun that is sometimes lost in the serious practice of Aikido (along with being a killer workout!).

        The root of BJJ is ultimately *competition*. In “Heart of a Fighter” Sam Sheridan takes a participant/observer role in exploring the world of the fighting arts (Muay Thai, Boxing, and BJJ). Ultimately he realizes that the reason he fights is not to win but to learn about himself through both training and competition. He notes that the almost universal affection that fighters feel for each other following a bout is due to their mutual agreement to suspend the normal laws of society (and adopt others) in order to test themselves against each other. The affection is a form of thanks. According to Sheridan fighting is not about fame or success; it’s about the need to compete.

        Injury is, of course, part of fighting. It’s also part of any extreme sport. The risk is worthwhile simply due to relationship. A mountaineer typically doesn’t have the benefit of talking to the mountain (although altitude can do funny things) and the big wave rider can’t do a training camp with a wave from the past!

        *Discovery and development* is something different. My passion for a martial art comes from its gradual unfolding. As we continue training we internalize systems that we then apply to the rest of our lives. It’s really an amazing and rewarding experience. In the dojo environment, we also have the opportunity to share this experience with others.

        As rich as the experience is, it does not generally meet a desire for competition. We test against ourselves, not against others. Indeed, we must repress our feelings of competition. But — as you mention — can we really know ourselves without the external threat? Without focusing our training on a specific event? It’s hard to say.

        *Fear* is something different again. Sheridan notes that it’s only an inexperienced fighter that walks around wondering if they could “beat” anyone on the street. To the trained fighter, it doesn’t really matter because there’s no game or competition to it. The experience is similar for martial artists: either the confrontation happens or it doesn’t; it’s hardly worth worrying about.

        There are, however, fields of study that are very effective for self-protection. Krav Maga, for example, is a far more practical — and easily learned — art for self-protection than pursuing elite levels of performance as a fighter (MMA, boxing, Muay Thai, etc.), judoka, or other martial artist!

        So how does this all work in the real world? Many Aikido dojos also offer training in judo, BJJ, or an Okinawan art. Are these dojos somehow abhorrent or they appealing to the different dimensions? I know someone who takes his Aikido training seriously yet thoroughly enjoys grappling with his friends in open mat sessions on the weekend. He also attends bi-monthly Krav Maga seminars with his wife. He originally attended to support her desire to learn a practical approach to self-defense but now he’s hooked. Is he an anomaly or has he simply found balance in his training?

        Thanks for the opportunity to consider your question and think through my own ideas.

  23. Good Work SP….I think ~ The purpose of Aikido Training is to polish the brass that is your soul., ever mindul of the disparities between a Martial Art (Aikido) & a Sport (MMA, …etc). Sports have rules, while good Aikido lives in the balance of conflict Life & Death…ergo a purpose to Live & not die. The Harmony is layered tantamount to the universe itself., as it is many things to many people. But as for me, I like the Fact that we can put our differences aside & learn something on the Mat or in the Dojo….somewhat similar to Foghorn v. WilE.Cayote cartoon….;-)

  24. Surviving real violence in an enclosed space, where there are no refs or rules can prove troublesome. If it’s one person and he’s younger, faster and stronger, it can be a bother if you try to fight him back. If more than one, really troublesome. If you use what’s available to you strategically, you may, if trained, increase your chances. If he/they are armed, you thank the delivery boy for providing an implement you can use to finish the job, if you have what it takes. This has been test run and proven by many for a long time, so I’m not spouting opinion. If any of the theorists here want to catch up with reality, then arrange for an enclosed small room and 2 or 3 fighting attack dogs, with you wearing light armour. This is a splendid training, because unlike humans, dogs don’t know any rules, they are naturally armed, have millions of years of accrued survival instinct, and they are not competing, but ganging up to kill more effectively than 2 or 3 men, ever could hope to. (Aside from some special forces trained individuals with high tech weaponry on a mission.) Read up on Gavin De Becker’s methods of pre-training “interviews” of his prime security staff, using a small room and attack dogs. Only the right stuff gets the job. Bottom line, any survival relies on a particular state of mind, the ability to unleash and the additional ability to RETURN back into society without becoming a psychotic danger to the very people you have worked to protect in that society. Not everyone born is of this caliber. And anyone gratuitously looking for a fight of any kind is a god damned fool of the highest order. One day such as these find the fight that will be their comeuppance.

    Translating real, multifaceted survival variables into practical application requires what is often called “the right stuff.” Either caliber or just plain insanity. To find out if you have the right stuff, get a job in any emergency service where almost daily you put your life on the line to serve society by saving the lives of others. When the job ceases to be exciting and putting your life at risk to save that of others becomes another ordinary chore you get paid for doing, just a job; and when the risk factor at your employment, is more than a paper cut, and you retain equanimity, then you may say you are approximating the mere beginnings of an awakened state of Budo/protection of life consciousness. Spare a thought for all those professionals that daily place themselves at risk to keep you, in your suburban lifestyles cosy, comfortable and safe. They often wrestle with forces greater than one, reasonably friendly, single, half-naked person.
    Saving and protecting life, nurturing, caring; and this against imminent death dealing risk and high odds, is Budo, applied. Anything else is mere talk, or light exercise, and neither cook the rice. But we can all use training skills to work daily at mastering ourselves and getting closer to an improved state of body, mind and soul and such strategic skill, where as a society, we have and can implement the skills of contributing our share towards making violence less possible, and lessening avoidable, undeserved suffering for many others.

    That is the pinnacle of Budo and in my view the goal of Aiki Budo. In regard, we as a species, have a long, long way to go, but we do have the tools, and most people the common sense wherewith to make a good start.
    If two individuals have nothing better to do than to proclaim their immense personal insecurity in a ring in front of other people, they are harming no-one other than themselves. Let them at it. When the pain is enough they always stop. Hopefully they may also learn that there is more to life. Such as constructive activity improving of the lot of others, of us all, society and the world. No-one would desire to go back to the cave era and lose all the commodities we now enjoy. Think about it. And that as a goal implemented, is far more demanding, more challenging, more frightening at times, yet more rewarding in the long run for all concerned.

    Varied training methods can be nothing other than good for you. However, nobody lays down in the battlefield and this for good reason. Wrestling is paramount ki training, keeps you fit, generates a range of skills and is useless in real combat. Nobody lays down in the battlefield. Only the dead. The oldies are going to hate me for this, but in today’s high tech, asymmetrical warfare it no longer needs to remain a secret. The katana is the length it is because it is designed to reach a supine individual. The stand up fighting was mostly conducted using jujutsu; the standing variety and no lower than suwari-waza. Kodachi was weapon of choice as it is by far more dangerous than a katana which was mostly for intimidating the peasantry who understood not combat. Tai jutsu waza; atemi, kansetsu and kusushi etc were combined to effectively lock, or at least down an opponent, the kodachi to finish by inserting in the inevitable openings all armour contains. Hitting each other’s shield or swords, whilst quaint in the movies, is a nonsense. That’s not how anyone fights. Real combat is brief and deadly. Long duels are ridiculous and suicidal in reality. Particularly the melees of real battlefields where often thousands engaged and died. The stench must have been unbelievable.

    Sport is sport and battle is battle.

    And Budo is the opposite of bujutsu, which by acting with foresight and preparedness instead of folly, reduces the possibility of social meltdown, whether from internal conflict or external invasion.

    Daily training improves the individual and may make him useful.

    It also may not.

  25. And varied training methods can be nothing other than good for you. Wrestling is paramount ki training.

  26. Kit Leblanc says:

    How exactly does aikido live in the balance of conflict between life and death?

    Neither does MMA – no argument here – nor other competitive arts. Judo – a budo- probably creates more injuries than MMA… none is “life and death” other than as a conceit of its practitioners. Do we want to be combat sport? Budo as Love? Or a truly martial (professional, armed fighters) discipline? Once again, who has the deceived mind between what they are actually practicing and what they really want it to be?

    LE and military are often conjured as standing against the competitive aspects of martial arts – “that’s just sport, not combat!” They would sh*t themselves.”

    What of those of us within those professions that do not agree with the idea that competitors are deluded? Not all of them, at least. That think that some martial arts are in fact packages of martial delusion, and that men like Brian Stann – UFC fighter and Silver Star winner is at the same time a warrior and a sport fighter.

    It isn’t as simple as some want it to be….


  27. To me this issue is all about risk vs. reward. Everyone must make their own decision whether the risk of catastrophic injury in “almost anything goes” all out MMA fighting is worth “knowing” or “learning” if your practice has been valid. For me, it’s not worth the risk, for others it is. This doesn’t bother me at all. (I’m a 44 year old guy, 5’9″, 150lbs soaking wet.) Aikido is not the only thing I do (Wing Chun, mt. biking, rock climbing, wood working), so to “test” it and risk destroying part of my body that would make me have to give up another part of my life makes no sense to me.

    The reality is that the difference between a win and a loss in that arena is either luck, or who makes the first mistake that the other fighter capitalizes on. This is assuming the fighters are roughly the same size, weight, skill level, conditioning, etc. which is how the MMA fights are structured. If the fighters are not well matched, it doesn’t last very long. To me, that’s the whole issue right there. In my mind (I am not an historian), martial arts were invented (everywhere) to create a skill differential between two fighters, the goal being to negate a size/strength/speed/conditioning advantage in the other (untrained) fighter. The more skill one has, the larger a deficit you can negate (theoretically). If you are writing here or reading this, you have probably done some martial arts training. If you have attained an elevated level of skill in that art you have probably trained with beginners. One thing that beginners do for us is show us how someone who knows nothing about our art (or perhaps any martial art) reacts to our techniques. You probably have been amazed at how easy it usually is to work technique on them since they have no idea what’s coming. Each time you get a beginner, you get a little tiny “street” encounter. Obviously, the intensity is not any where near a street fight, but the skill vs. size/strength data is still in there. This is still not enough to “know” if your art works, but it would be foolish to ignore data. To get more data, you make sure that the intensity of your training increases and includes stressful experiences. If those experiences include MMA type fights, good for you, you must need more data to satisfy your question.

    Another way to get more data is to crosstrain in another art. I personally have been training in Wing Chun (Hung Fa Yi lineage) for the last 3 years. This has closed many holes in my Aikido and dramatically increased its effectiveness. This comes from the content of the HFY style itself, but also the type of training. The attacks are much harder and real than you will see in pretty much any Aikido dojo I’ve ever seen. Also, once a certain tool is learned in the system, you progress to what’s called the “skill challenge” stage. At this point, the drill for that technique might start the same as earlier, but your partner now looks for and exploits any distortions in your execution. If you screw up, you end up with a fist in your face (usually a controlled touch, but sometimes you get smacked). This type of training is extremely valuable, but still pretty safe in terms of catastrophic injury. The worst you might expect is a fat lip or black eye (I’ve had both), no big deal, keep on training.

    So, am I deceiving myself in terms of my skills? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not worried about it enough to go out and get pounded to find out. I don’t need to know that I can beat up everyone I face, because that is an impossible goal (for anyone) over time. I do know for a fact though that if I get attacked by a random person that sees a skinny guy who should be an easy victim is in for a very nasty surprise. I have dramatically improved my odds of survival through my training, not ensured it. But I’m ok with that.

    • Jim, your post was very interesting for me to read. I never thought of a beginning aikido student as representing a “mini” street encounter. Unique perspective. Your input here is excellent and I learned a lot from reading your post. You are also a very good writer. Please contribute often.

      • Thank you for your kind words Stan. This is a topic I have given a lot of thought to as I established my own dojo over the last two years. I have written a number of other articles in this vein and similar ones on my website. I would love to hear your feedback on some of them. My practice and direction of Aikido has been shaped to a large degree on the Aiki Expo and Bridge seminar concept that you have been advocating for years. I have attended a number of such events since the first Expo in Vegas. I think the topic of this thread bears some on your experience with these events and the philosophy behind them. Thanks for all the hard work you do for the Aikido community!

    • Scott B. Evans, MSW says:

      Regarding the notion that working with beginners on the mat presents a mini street encounter rings true for me, and I would go a little further. The purpose of ukemi waza is to simulate the dynamics of a fully committed (mentally and physically) attack by an attacker that is unaware of how the attack will be responded to. The mini street encounter available with beginners, I think, is of limited value as a training tool because training with beginners must be undertaken at a speed that is safe (slow) for the beginner, whereas advanced aikidoka can create this simulated street encounter at more realistic speeds.

      In essence, the value of aikido training in the dojo is directly related to the level of quality of ukemiwaza. I have told my students innumerable times that aikido training is the ultimate 3D simulation. By entering into an agreement with uke, nage can experience in realtime a particular attack for which a particular defensive technique can be practiced (uke must physically and mentally commit to the attack and permit his mind and body to respond as if unaware of what will happen), while at the same time uke has also entered into an agreement with nage, and therefore at some conscious and/or un/subconscious level uke knows and is confident that nage will only perform the technique that was demonstrated by their sensei (which facilitates uke’s commitment to the attack).

      These are the best tools aikidoka have available for approaching “reality” training in the absence of competition. The professional competitions that Stanley described to start this thread of comments are not mirrors of reality, as there are many rules that dictate what can and can’t be done (which vary according to the form of competition (i.e. boxing, K-1, and cage fighting), whereas in the street, no such rules exist. The competitors are only testing themselves in the
      limited-circumstance rule-governed reality of the fighting competition style they have chosen to compete in.

      As such, I do not think long-term aikido training in a dojo in the absence of competition places aikidoka at any disadvantage, as compared to martial artists that compete under the circumstances previously described, so long as ukemiwaza is performed correctly.

  28. O’Sensei intended Aikido to be an EFFECTIVE martial art–not simply a showy dance routine. He was also clear that there is no competition in Aikido–there is an agreement of mutual learning and increased harmony of all involved. Martial arts competition per se is not wrong or bad. It suits some peoples need to test themselves.

    I have chosen to bring my children into Aikido at a young age and apply Aikido verbally, physically and internally in a continuous way every day. They still enjoy sessions on the mat with strong Ukemi—they are kids–it is fun. As for MMA, I distinguish it from UFC. Gladiatorial blood sport is wrong. I have many friends who have engaged in sports in their youth who now in their 30’s and 40’s have permanent disabilities which they have to cope with for the second half of their lifespan.

    I have a particular aversion to head injuries having had quite a few myself (not on purpose and not in Aikido). I, and most of my law enforcement friends, consider a blow to the head to be lethal force. Some things should not be played with–our brains are a prime example–just ask Mohammed Ali. Traumatic Brain Injury is poorly understood and the cumulative effects of concussions not studied. There are effects–it doesn’t take rocket science to know that getting hit in the head a lot has long term consequences. It is not a good method of testing oneself. It is a bad idea–take it from me–I know…I just don’t remember everything I used to.

  29. Keith

    Hey brother, LE here as well… decidedly NOT an aikidoka though many people I train with and share thoughts with are.

    One thing I will take people to task on is this “injury” thing. I can name multiple people right now with years in aikido with debilitating injuries, especially in older life. Some left the art because of it. Stan has a blog here on his back injuries and his struggles with it in his aikido.

    Keith’s head injury point is valid, but MMA is less injurious in that sense than boxing or kickboxing is. Playing the injury card muddies the whole thing and does not approach this discussion completely honestly, in my opinion.

    Personally I think this entire debate is far too conditioned on “Us’ vs. “Them” and not understanding (or even honestly wanting to??) one groups motivations, or bothering to explore deeper than ones own personal opinions.

    Where is the harmony in that? I know only a handful of people that I have seen at aiki, BJJ, and MMA seminars getting to meet people and train with people of different types to share experiences. With BJJ/Aikido I think many people on both sides would be very surprised at the commonalities there. I mean “traditional: gi BJJ, not “BJJ for MMA.”

    Is it about being turned off by or even frightened of young males with tattoos, from lower socio-economic groups and lacking social polish? That attitude seems to be in operation here: They are deluded. They are deceiving themselves. They are insecure….

    Who is insecure here, actually? Seems that edge cuts both ways, but for very different reasons, no?

    Some of these guys are thugs to be sure, that guys like Keith and I deal with on a daily basis. They aren’t that scary.

    Some of them are absolute gems of people and more personable, friendly, and self-assured than many aikidoka I have seen, at least on the mat.

    Just trying to flesh out my original comments some more….

    • Jonathan Petersen says:

      You can’t separate yin for yang. As noble as the founder’s vision was or the other reasons he had for non-competition, competition is part of the human experience.You can’t expect those who enter a martial art not to be competitive, be it for self-defense or for the spiritual abstracts. The founder was a very competitive young man when he first started marital arts, it was many years of experience did he later come to his Epiphany. Young men taking up martial arts if they are proficient will naturally want to test their skills. When looking upon Japan’s martial culture, it is more than apparent the importance competition has. When it comes to martial arts, competition is a strong force that can’t be plucked out. The drive to compete is deeply rooted in the human experience. The idea not to compete often is a result from competition; experience of it, the fear of it, or the inability to compete successfully. Wisdom comes from experience.

      • Tony Wagstaffe says:

        The idea not to compete often is a result from competition; experience of it, the fear of it, or the inability to compete successfully. Wisdom comes from experience.
        Naturally, when young of course!! Avoided when old, sensible…. Avoiding it when young and able, fear…. As always Old masters sometimes contradict themselves…. It happens throughout human history, Holy books not withstanding!!

  30. Goju says:
    The root of BJJ is ultimately *competition*.

    Dan Dease says:
    teaching BJJ or MMA to young kids is equipping them with all the wrong tools for dealing with conflict.

    There are SO many misconsceptoins about BJJ in this blog.

    “The Jiu-Jitsu that I created was designed to give the weak ones a chance to face the heavy and strong. It was so successful that they decided to create a sportive version of it. I would like to make it clear that of course I am in favor of the sportive practice and technical refinement of all athletes, whatever their specialty may be, as well as good nutrition, sexual control, avoidance of addictions and unhealthy habits. The problem lies in the creation of a sport-oriented Jiu-Jitsu, based on rules and time limits, which benefits the heavier, stronger, and more athletic individuals. The primary objective of Jiu-Jitsu is to empower the weak who, for not having the physical attributes, are often intimidated. My Jiu-Jitsu is an art of self-defense in which rules and time limits are unacceptable. These are the reasons for which I can’t support events that reflect an anti Jiu-Jitsu.”

    Helio Gracie

  31. Scott B. Evans, MSW says:

    In my opinion the goal of aikido training is that set forth by O Sensei, to overcome the only true opponent-one’s self. Additional benefits include physical and mental health/integration, knowledge of conflict management strategies, self-defense capability, and the friendship of fellow aikidoka.

  32. Sparring is a form of training like any other form of training. Even the most brutal MMA matches are not fights. They are sparring.

    As with any form of training, the questions are: What does it get you? What does it cost you?

    Every kind of sparring, from light to no contact “tag” to MMA matches serves a purpose.

    Tag type sparring (light to no contact)
    What you get: You learn control. You learn to put your fist or foot or elbow where you want it to go.
    What it costs: Very little.
    The non-physical dangers: But the student has to be certain they understand this is far, far from any kind of actual fight. So don’t get cocky because you’re the school “tag” champion.

    What you get: You improve your stamina and strength. You learn range, speed, combinations, positioning and…you learn to take a heavy hit (or several) without stopping.
    What it costs: You can expect to always get bruised up, and occasionally there will be more serious injuries.
    The non-physical dangers: For safety reasons there are lots of rules with kickboxing. These limitations on what you (and your opponent) can do make this EXERCISE a very unrealistic imitation of a fight. As before, don’t get cocky because you can do this well.

    Grappling & ground fighting
    What you get: Practical experience and a “feel” for grappling, joint locks, throws and so on, for people of different weights and sizes.
    What it costs: Like with kickboxing, expect bruises and abrasions. And, unfortunately, the occasional injury.
    The non-physical dangers: Some Jujitsu consider themselves to be the toughest guys around. That doesn’t count for much if you’re ground fighting your assailant, but his friend is kicking you. As will all sparring, it’s an exercise.

    With any of these exercises (and many other variations), always remember what it gets you, what it costs you and remember the non-physical danger that you might start to think that’s how fighting works.

    Whether any of these is worth the risk, that depends on each practitioner, and how prepared they want to be if they’re attacked, and what risks they’re willing to take for that level of preparation.

    In many cases the more dangerous kinds of sparring can be done for a while, until those particular lessons are learned, and then one can move on.

    Early on, one of the most valuable things that a beginner can learn in sparring is that you CAN continue even if you have the wind knocked out of you or a charlie-horse. That is a critical lesson to learn for self defense. If you don’t learn it, should someone unexpectedly hit you hard in real life, you’ll crumple. You won’t know if you are hurt badly or not. All you’ll know is that you’re hurt more than you’ve ever had to deal with before. And when your life depends on it is NOT when you want to learn to handle that.

    Once you HAVE learned that (painful) lesson, there’s no need to continue getting the stuffing beaten out of yourself.

    As for sparring competition, that’s another matter. It’s not a bad thing to spar for sport. No worse than playing football or rugby. But it’s not about preparing to defend yourself. It’s just a different animal.

  33. Dean Beaty says:

    There are some excellent responses in this area. Having trained in the Arts for decades has allowed me to mature in a wonderful way. The Arts were created to help those to protect themselves. Having the heart of a warrior is one thing. The other involves acting like a warrior and this will eventually turn into something egotistical in nature. My Hanshi George Anderson once said ” There always will be someone stronger, faster, quicker, smarter and more resolute than you on any every given day. The first thing to learn is respect the next is honor. One day one will see the path that each has traveled and learn how to prevent the ego from clouding ones travels in life”

    Thank you for your work Stanley!

  34. It’s lurking fear and doubt about ones ability and self worth that drives these fellows to compete. It’s an ego-centric /narcissistic mental illness. It’s wanting to “prove” something unprovable.

    The Founder made clear, “Avoid fights at all costs. If you find you are in a position where avoidance is impossible, them do your best and leave things in the hands of Kami!”

    Then again there are those individuals who are active in The Founder’s other recommendation to “Nurture, care protect and serve life…” Not as mere rhetoric but actively.

    These place themselves in harms way to protect those who can’t.

    Yesterday Australia was beset with major and uncontrollable bush fires (you would call them forest fires)’. The professional firefighters did a good job. Many people being comfortable but not aware, failed to put into place preventive measures lost their homes and some their lives.

    The pro firefighters then did their best at immense personal risk to save people and property. And most they did succeed. (Fire is a quirky and dangerous foe.)

    Prevention is as simple as, being aware of the factors, redesigning structures and placement and removing fuel.

    Likewise, there are other professional fields of service where educating people (removing another kind of fuel) in society and effecting high risk security work in the line of service places warriors at risk.

    Professional protectors require mental stability to qualify. And are multi skilled preferring prevention as a primary technique. This is something decidedly lacking in the relatively unskilled “ring” fighter.

  35. Andrew Vitiello says:

    I honestly don’t know why I train. Every time I try to think of a reason, another equally valid, contradiction surfaces. All I know is that I am drawn to it, whether it be physically or mentally. I don’t know if I should thank or despise my Sensei’s for the Pandoras box that is Aikido.

  36. At Integral Martial Arts we’re looking for a third way – a middle way – between Tradition and Sport. As a result I’ve begun building aliveness (sparring) into our Aikido training – including with multiple attackers and weapons training. For the time being I’m calling this “mixed martial aikido.” It is an evolution that respects the original intention of Budo as self-defense and self-development while incorporating all the most functional means of controlling an opponent without inflicting injury. For me, anything that can be used with the spirit of aikido to attain the goal of aikido becomes aikido. I don’t think we should have to make a false choice between being spiritually minded and physically effective. Besides, aliveness has more aiki qualities in it than we might think – one’s which may be healthier in the long run both physically and mentally! In addition, Integral Martial Arts combines training aikido on the mat with psychospiritual development off the mat – regular meditation and shadow work practice. If you’d like to follow along, please check out our videos here: http://www.youtube.com/user/IntegralMartialArts and/or like us at http://www.facebook.com/integralmartialarts

  37. Eduardo Alsina says:

    Exposure to risk, ability to assess, critical thinking, meaning of today’s martial way, these elements are all necessary to elaborate an answer to the question Pranin Sensei bring to us.

    I would like to make another distinction in this discussion, because I sense the answer depends not only in what we think, but what we have.

    We all have different ages, and with age come different motivations and mindsets. This is important because we cannot compare the motivations of a young man/woman passing into adulthood, that the motivations of a full grown man/woman.

    In many tribal societies, It´s (was) necessary for young to expose to risks as a “rite of passage” in order to earn acceptance into his society as an adult. We can see the traces of this behavior in modern life, because it has deep meaning in our psychology as social beings.

    As we become adults, we more or less have earned our place. At the same, as we acquire more responsibilities (like a family, or roles into our community) our vision toward risk changes, because the cost of risk increases since it may not only affect us, but also other people who depend on us. The adult can expose himself to risks and death, but these dangers are not in any way the same, because of his/her awareness.

    In a martial way we can say that the young want to cross the marubashi, but the adult can see it clearly.

    I hope this distinction add to this discussion.

  38. Jun Penolio says:

    ” Furuki o tazune atarashiki o shiru”
    Study the old to understand the new

  39. With experienced and great instructors, one does need the competition to test oneself. In our dojo we gradually increase the “intensity” of the attacks. Which i think is safer since it allows tori to adjust at a safe pace.

    For example:

    1. Uke does a tsuki with no second attack.

    2. Uke does a tsuki with follow up attack (punch, kick, elbow, tackle. whatever)

    3. Uke does kick with no second attack

    4. Uke does kick with follow up attack.

    5 Uke attacks randomly

    6. Uke uses jabs, and tries to set you up for getting in an attack on you.

    Of course, each step have as many “levels” as required, everyone is different.

    Observe that i don’t think that this is not the main practice. It’s advanced black belt practice. Before even thinking of be able to counter properly, you need to learn the taisabaki, kuzushi, atemi etc! If you dont know the basic, there is no meaning.

    I would very much like to see MMA practitioners continue their practice until they are like 70 years old. I don’t think their bodies would hold together.

    One good example is that in our dojo we have Aikido, MMA, Karate etc. The ones who, by far, are injured most frequently is the ones practicing MMA. Several have had to quit after a couple of years due to major hip injuries.

    Remember that self defense is not only defense against an aggressor, you also defend against injuries, sickness etc. Most people get their biggest “injuries” not from other people, but from sickness (not taking care of their own health), obesity, getting old and stop exercising. Well I think you get the idea.

    Sure, a 20 yrs old MMA practitioner may or may not be able to beat a 20 yrs old Aikidoka. but what about when they both are 30? 40? 50? 60? 70?.

    Humans have a lot longer lifespan than the MMA practitioners career (20-30 yrs). Well, say -40 to count high. In your 40s your Aikido career is still in the very beginning of its journey 😉

    Still, the validity of your Budo techniques can only be confirmed in the light of other Budo/martial arts. Dont get lost in the dojo with only friends who know how to take ukemi.


  40. Andrew Bedford says:

    All training begins with Tai no henko, Kihon and Ki no nagare!
    This is the goal of Aikido.
    To blend to such a level with uke, so there is no real distinction anymore between attacker and defender.
    Indeed, the blending movement makes the standard roles ineffective i.e. attacker/defender.
    Do this on all levels. Bending without the thought of making your partner fall or hurt.
    This restores balance, with the help of harmonious movements, in turn achieves peace.

    This is my goal, to blend.

    Domo Arigato,

    Andy B

  41. I have read your articles and every time I am left with a slight negative taste due to some comments on the article… Is it not wise to not place such definitive labels on people?

    I really just want to make a note here. Sport is Martial at its high levels. We do sports so we don’t have to kill each other. Like Budo, Sports too have evolved to include our values and goals.

    I am writing this simply because I feel that if any novice reads such absolute judgements, they may be inclined to learn martial arts with such approach.

    Budo today is very much like sport, THANK GOODNESS!

    The spiritual journey of a human can take place in a ring, on a track, or in a Dojo. That said, Aikido itself has no goal; only its practitioners.

    Aikido is simply a form. Not better not worse than Karate, Jogging, or Swimming. Each human does what they can and know to improve themselves. They do that in “forms”.

    Some search for balance, peace, fitness – all in one – be that Aikido or Chess…

    I dislike judges. I was one quick to jump and judge, and it took decades to learn that we all do what we can and know.

    Martial Arts are a journey of learning, of betterment, and of harmony. And that applies to MMA too I believe. Everything is a stage, and mean that as level not as in theater. All stages are like steps, and all human “stages/steps” are part of the same ladder.

    You may be the first or the last step on the ladder, but all make up the ladder. The highest Master or Guru is just that. A stage. If you are trying to climb, the Master is the ultimate stage, yet indistinguishable from all other stages. If you’re trying to climb down the ladder, the Master is only the first step. All indistinguishable.

    Too much bitterness makes everything taste bad Mr. Nev, and this applies to cooking as well as to Budo.

    To all the beginners out there, I offer a simple advice: apply yourself honestly and the martial skills will reflect who you are. All the time. Whatever that reflection might be, it’s a just a step on a ladder. Not worse and not better than any other step. Just different, yet equally valid, equally important, and equally necessary.


  42. I agree with mr Nev, but the question remains what is the purpose of training in aiki? As a beginner I see it a all encompassing form of formation spiritual and physical. Although aikido can also cause a lot of damage in a real fight, let’s say street fight or something. The purpose I see in it, is a martial way of life full of peace and tranquility.

  43. “To merge mind and body and become one with the Universe is the ultimate purpose of my study.”

    These are not my words, Tohei Sensei said them. They are the closing words of the motto of Wadoki Aikido. But I do not think I can do any better.

    Am I there? No, of course not. But I can see that as a goal that sets Aikido apart from other martial arts. There is a reason O’Sensei refers to it as “The Art of Peace.”

  44. Aikido is a Martial Art. MMA is a Sport. The disparities are infinite in spirit,scope & purpose…

  45. SecretDiatribe says:

    Interesting article indeed. I myself am a practitioner of boxing and have found the reflex and body movements to be highly beneficial but am open minded to see the many benefits that martial arts in general can have on one’s ability to protect themselves. I tend to agree with your viewpoint in regards to the sort of contradictory nature of “I want to feel safe so I train. Now I have trained and feel confident, so I voluntarily place myself in a situation where I am in danger.”

  46. Keoni Ronald May says:

    There are many people, who find Aikido, of great value, when they are older.

    There people, who have been dojo tested, ring tested, street tested, jail tested, prison tested, and war tested. And, there are some people, who have done the full rainbow of testing.

    Aikido still allows older people to train.

  47. The Japanese understand better than anyone the relationship between martial arts and warfare and combat. There was a time when martial arts, the koryu, were a matter of survival… your own, and even your clan’s. But with the advent of the firearm it became apparent that training was really about something else. The battle of Sekigahara in 1600 was the end of notions that superb skill with traditional weapons could prevail over troops with a fraction of the training armed with guns. Yet, as soon as the Tokugawa Shogunate had solidified its position, it banned firearms and became pretty much the first and only example of a society purposely stepping back from a technology of warfare that they possessed.

    Why did they do so? Because they understood that the foundation of their society, one ruled by the samurai class, was based on the supposed ideals and character of martial training. Even when Perry forced Japan to open to the West and the Japanese had to arm themselves with Western style military technology in order to compete, they still preserved their martial systems. Certainly, they were no longer about pure survival in combat. But the lessons that came with training in the martial arts, the development of the strength of character needed to be a leader, the ability to maintain ones own sense of center in a rapidly changing world, the sense of connection to a group that membership in a dojo provided, and many more benefits, caused the Japanese to keep their martial traditions alive. They adapted the old traditions to the requirements of the new society and created modern forms of the classical styles which made martial training available to the wider population. Even the school system incorporated Judo, Kendo, and Naginatado into their curricula.

    The purpose of the “sportified” versions of the martial arts was to provide the kind of physical and moral development that the traditional koryu had done while offering a relatively safe practice that promoted mental and physical health and the kinds of values that would make a good citizen. The ethos of the new sport martial arts was not that different than the old ethic of the “amateur athlete” we once had in the West.

    But we live in a Capitalist society and one of the natural consequences of this is the drive to “commoditize” everything that can be. The “amateur” in most sports is a thing of the past. The amount of money involved in sports, even at the high school level these days takes competition to a different level. In the martial arts, the advent of the Mixed Martial Arts changed everything. One can see MMA seven days week on prime time cable. Interest in traditional arts has declined as interest in MMA has grown. In the next couple years MMA will be a billion dollar industry.

    Martial arts has become another form of gladiatorial combat. The participants compete for fame and money while destroying their health. At the top professional level steroid use is endemic and many if not most of the fighters have some level of issues with pain killers. Only minimal effort has been made to make the competition safe by removing targeting that would produce serious injury or broken limbs on a regular basis. I have a couple massage and chiropractic people who I see and they have told me that they are seeing young men in their twenties who have managed to do in 5 or 6 years of MMA the kind of damage that it took me almost 40 years to do in Aikido. Clearly, as competition, this isn’t sustainable. I think that, over time, we’ll see people returning to more traditional forms of training because their bodies simply won’t allow them to continue doing what they have been doing.

    MMA also isn’t really about the kind of character development which traditional martial arts were intended to foster. Just as boxing was a sports of poor men striving to get a break and escape from whatever ghetto in which they had grown up, MMA isn’t about training future leaders. You do not have the future elite of America doing MMA seriously. The folks at the top of their game are simply modern day gladiators whose efforts are making a lot of other people wealthy, just as boxing used to do. You don’t find an Admiral Takeshita or a Teddy Roosevelt doing MMA. It’s a bunch of bald guys with tattoos who have a community of fighters not unlike that which the skate boarders have. Not the stratum of society from which we are pulling our leaders or managerial class.

    Old timers often comment that the way modern judo or sumo have gone has largely distorted the intended principle of “shiai” i.e. competition as a way to prefect oneself, not primarily was a way to win trophies or money and attain fame. How much more so would that be true of something like MMA? Frankly, I think rock climbers have a better understanding of “shiai” than most martial artists these days. Climbing really is all about oneself, the rock isn’t actually doing anything, it’s all about your effort and your skills and you are alone in the effort even if you do have partners looking out for your safety.

    Anyway, Aikido I think is virtually the antithesis of what MMA is. Aside from Tomiki style which does have a form of “shiai” modeled after Judo, we do not have competition. One trains just to train. There’s virtually no money to be had and fame is, at best, a highly localized element within a very small community. So, you train because you love to train. Training in an “aiki” art (and I am talking about good Aikido here, not what is too often done) is about learning not to “fight”. The whole notion of “fighting” the way most people would envision it makes “aiki” impossible. Aikido requires “not fighting”. Aiki isn’t about what you do to the other guy, it is about what you do with your own body. It is the study of how to use your intent to increasingly gain control over your own body structure and how by doing that, you gain control over an opponent.

    While it is clear that the Founder felt strongly that Aikido should be a functional martial art and would, I think, be appalled at much of what passes for the art today, I do not think he saw winning in a martial confrontation as the purpose of the art. I think, in his world, martial capability was a byproduct of proper training but not the central focus. The purpose of Aikido training was primarily meant to be a trans-formative practice for personal development and by extension the betterment of society. Training in Aikido is meant to be a form of misogi or purification, a kind of moving meditation which develops an understanding of he essential “connectedness” of all things. This has virtually nothing in common with sport martial arts, especially not with the MMA which is so popular today.

    The “risk” in Aikido is directly proportionate to the amount of energy one puts into an attack or a response. The techniques themselves have largely been redone from their combat antecedents to make it safe to execute them full speed and full power (with a partner who is properly trained) and everyone walks away just with no injury. Of course the operative phrase is “properly trained”. A moment of in attention in Aikido, a break in communication with the partner, an instant of resistance when there shouldn’t have been and serious injury can result, even with the “user friendly” techniques of the modern art. So, Aikido has risk but it is largely up to the partner how much risk he or she wishes to take on in the practice. Since the core goal of martial arts training of almost any sort is losing one fear, this being a prerequisite for the intended personal transformation process, the fact that one largely decides how much risk, how close to the edge one wishes to go, in our Aikido practice, does allow people to simply keep their practice within their comfort zone for decades and avoid the discomfort involved with pushing the envelope.

    It is up to the practitioner himself or herself with the help of a good teacher who can direct their practice properly to constantly seek to up their game over time. What level of commitment that entails is different for each individual. I think this would also be true of just about all traditional martial arts. It is not very true of martial arts which are sports and involve competition if your are serious, anyway. Once you introduce competition, you don’t decide the level of commitment you wish to make, your opponent does. If he or she has more strength, more speed, better technique, stronger intention, than you just lose. Over and over. Most folks who don’t want to push it hard enough to hold their own in a competitive art just quit because losing all the time isn’t much fun. Aikido requires much more personal responsibility than almost any art I know.

    There is no system of transmission that will produce another Yamaguchi, a Shirata, or a Saotome. The system of transmission, such as it is, does no more than provide the outline for ones practice. One really had to do the serious work oneself. Otherwise you have what Saotome Sensei bemoans, “Twenty years of practice and no real improvement.” This wouldn’t really be possible in a competitive art. One way or another, until injury forces retirement, a competitor will keep getting better with more experience unless he or she takes the easy way out and only competes with people who aren’t better than they are.

    I hope that we see a return to an interest in more traditional approaches to martial arts training. I think it is the job of the folks who have spent their adult lives pursuing these arcane practices to articulate why they still exist and why someone would wish to training in them. Perhaps more importantly they need to walk their talk and embody the principles of the art they pursue in a way that makes the benefits of training readily evident to anyone with an eye.

  48. Not every ring fighters went in an arena for fame and fortune, that I agree, but to test one battle skills in competitive combat sport certainly wont achieve the purpose. In my dojo, we analyze and research the techniques to find efficiencies and the most effective way to harm our opponents, with some considerations:

    1. This is practice, so all risk of injuries should be minimized, for we also consider how ambulance and paramedic are not around.
    2. There are no rules, and cheating is allowed

    So all of my kohai, really understands the danger of simulating “real” violence encounters. Other things in “real fights” most practitioners often forgot is the surrounding environment, battle skills are evaluated on how we also utilize our surroundings: how many opponents, how many exits, are there any weapons available around, are we alone or we should also protect one person or two. These kinds of things are unavailable in competitive combat sport ring, sport is sport, no matter how bloody it is, and still it is not a proper tool in testing one’s battle skill.

    One of my kohai is one person who works within the world of gang crimes, and he founds out how scary his methods have become after he joined Aikido. To me, this kind of person is a kind of person who tested out his battle skills, because he done it in life or death situations, in real-life surroundings, and more than one bloodthirsty opponent, and as much as my respect goes to ring fighters, my kohai is the type of person who laughed at them, and these kinds of people (as I have more than one people with the same violent mind in my dojo) for now, is the purpose of my training, to get them to realize how negative is bloodlust, and to show them how scary it is to practice out these kind of stuffs, and perhaps to get them in peace with themselves.

  49. >>Do you see the fundamental contradiction? “I want to feel safe so I train. Now I have trained and feel confident, so I voluntarily place myself in a situation where I am in danger.”

    No, what contradiction? Lest we forget the only constant is change. The thought to start training gives rise to the training. Once training for a period of time gives rise to other thoughts, some influenced by what is read, seen, heard and/or experienced over time. So what? That is the essence of life and evolution of our lives. I can in no way feel exactly the same about the initial thought at the start of my journey as I do now about thoughts that I have some time later. Everything has changed including my body, mind, perspective, filters, society, information, etc. At any point in time I have a choice, implicitly or explicitly. If I want to voluntarily put my self in some form of conceived danger to test myself, that’s my choice and mine alone. No one can tell me it’s right or wrong (for whatever conceived or contrived reason) because it isn’t. It simply is what it is. Not one of us should be judging another as to their reasons for doing anything – that is a higher ‘spiritual’ point of view than deciding what is right or wrong for others to do anything. What you decide to do for yourself is always right, always, in all ways. (Some of you may known where that came from …). It may not be the optimum choice, but then again you have the choice to change that at any point in time, even possibly by the perceived wisdom of others.

    Variety is the spice of life. Without it we would all be the same. How essentially boring, limiting and de-evoluting that would be. Nothing can ever be the same. If some want to do competition, MMA, whatever, that’s great. If some don’t want to and choose to train in the dojo only, never even entertaining the idea to compete, that’s great. It’s all great. It’s great that we have all these styles, sports, martial arts and avenues to explore life to the full. We are truly blessed as a species to have all these wonderful opportunities to train and be safe or compete and be injured or fight and be killed.

    We do not even know exactly know why we are here, why we doing what we do or why we live our life the way we do. Sometimes we do or we think so (mainly again influenced by what we have read or been told).

    Just because O-Sensei chose to not have competition doesn’t make him right for everyone. There will never be another who has walked his path exactly or will walk it again exactly the same way. Those circumstances were unique for him and possibly drawn to him by his personal thoughts, desires, goals, ambitions, etc. His vision of some sort of world peace via Aikido is a grand ideal, goal and equally… dare I say it … delusion. It’s absolutely great to have that desire, and to strive toward it but as far as I can see it, it can not and never will happen – but that’s off topic. There are as many reasons for starting Aikido as there are people practicing it, and most if not all will change their reasons at least once if not many times over their training career.

    So if you want to compete, go compete, if you don’t then don’t. If you want to get spiritual, then do what you think is necessary to walk that path. Try not to judge anyone for why they walk theirs. Try not to be righteous, try not to think you know everything or why anyone does anything. I say ‘try’ because I think one can never say never or don’t. You can strive to but you have an ego, and it will kick in at some point.

    Train Aikido for whatever reason pleases you – fitness, health, self-defense, combat, spirituality, whatever. In your training strive to expand yourself, try not to be mediocre. O-Sensei planted the seed, for you to grow in whatever direction you choose. It was not a growth that was meant to be pruned, trimmed, controlled, watered-down, reversed or deluded.

    … And if you have no idea why then just train a little longer for hopefully inspiration will come to you at some point. Most importantly enjoy every step of the way, because if you are not enjoying it then why do it at all? Nobody said you had to!

    • Interesting take. Thank you. My point is that this sort of violent, competitive approach is in opposition to the principles espoused by Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba. Call them “deluded” if you will. I do not.

  50. Charles Humphrey says:

    Whew. Been a while going this one eh? I would simply say that deficiencies in both lumped-together training modalities are at the heart of this. The dojo/art style tends to get a bit effete and drift away from the purpose…the ring/sport style of training tends to get just a little bit…well…crazy…and maybe a bit shortsighted. I find in young MMA trained types a great deal of very apparent fear and anxiety….in dojo/traditional types a lot of smug complacency and arrogance. I do my best to walk the line between those two. Traditional folks need to hit each other more and have less faith in their techniques as anything more than training/familiarization tools rather than end-products….sporty folks need to realize what they’re doing is more destructive than they realize at 20-30 years of age and chill the f out. Thats it.

  51. Allen Kelly says:

    From an Aikido perspective, it makes no sense to seek out a fight of any kind, especially by jumping in the ring with someone who has trained to fight. But, Aikido is more a defensive art. Its very nature goes against violence to begin with. That is one of the reasons I chose to study Aikido. I wanted to be able to defend myself in a way that did not involve direct confrontation. I don’t think I have ever seen an Aikido practitioner in a cage fight and I don’t think Aikido lends itself to competition anyway.

    That being said, other arts are not that way and they are based on direct confrontation. While my mindset is one of non-confrontation, other people are very confrontational and I can understand the need of some to test their skills. Unfortunately, the only way to do this is to fight. I would argue that cage fights are more sport than martial art. Even though that does not make the danger any less real, it is strange to me to hear so many people talking about risking injury as a primary reason not to compete.

    Football players risk injury every time they step on the field but they have to play games to see who the best is. Should we then make the same argument that football players should not compete because it is dangerous. I am sure some people compete for fame and fortune, but others compete for the thrill of competition. I do not understand the need to fight, but I am sure that want to fight do not understand my need to stay safe either.

  52. Benjamin Hegenderfer says:

    I agree totally. There was this question that always burned in the back of my mind while I was growing up, and have only been able to fully understand and prepare myself for recently (at 43 years old). If someone is learning a self defense “art” to protect themselves and their family, then why is it that every one of these “arts” involve hurting yourself in the process? I had friends who learned Karate and Judo, but they where always getting hurt themselves in the process of defending themselves.

    1. I recognize the lure of competition to test your skills, but as Sensei Pranin stated, in the end, the fearful civilian becomes the fearful contender and places himself in greater danger, so what is the actual advantage of learning the art in the first place, if it will cause you greater harm in the end?

    2. Aikido students like myself with just a few years of experience are challenged mentally with the ever present question of whether or not the skills will in fact be able to protect without being harmed personally. I believe that it will always be an issue with the Aikido practitioner, especially the younger ones.

    The people we practice with can flip and fall to avoid an injury. They allow you to conduct the technique, but the question about a real fight still lingers. Can anyone share some insight on this? Thanks!!

  53. Learning Aikido today by the modern society can hardly be compared to the traditional koryu of old. In the schools of war, martial arts as it were, were instruments of destruction. One taught to practitioners of war. One learned the martial arts in order to survive in battle, to live another day for another battle and ultimately the war.

    But I can see the difference with Aikido compared to traditional arts. It’s much more like Judo than Jujitsu really. Where Kano Sensei saw the need for modernising Jujitsu so that it can be safely practiced competitively thus keeping the traditional arts alive and ‘real’… Osensei saw a more distant future. One where martial arts must transcend its warlike roots.

    The art of peace so to speak. A martial art that is practiced in times of peace and to keep the peace. What a complex but worthy goal! Thus, the aikidoka may wish to delve into this martial art in a very diverse scale. One that could be for spiritual and physical development, or to seek balance, or curiosity, or for knowledge sake, or even to learn how to fight. Isn’t that great? That Aikido can be whatever you wish it to be?

    Notwithstanding that Osensei believed none of his students are practising his Aikido, they are however practising theirs. Right or wrong. At the end of the day, whether you drill the techniques so that you can do the throws and locks in a technically proficient manner, or seek the depths and mystery of ki and aiki knowledge, or just ponder away the spiritual elements as the keyboard warrior in the cyber world, Aikido works for you.

    So, a person may throw himself in harm’s way doing these competitions. They may choose to do so for financial gain, and glory. Or perhaps even to challenge their abilities and find progress in their training. Each painstaking step you take, makes your Aikido yours. It’s neither our right to judge nor prevent. We may choose to not take that step, but for some it is a necessary journey.

  54. I support the use of randori or freestyle competitive Aikido using only Aikido throws, with no points or winners awarded. Simply the practice of randori for its own sake, without throw limits, and for the purpose of developing your aiki, is what I recommend.

    All of the motives that Stan stated are true. The only functional use of any freestyle is where there is no victor declared, and the metaphor should be strictly adhered to — no double leg or single leg takedowns in randori. They’re effective, but too easy to do. And no ground and pound; it’s undignified and unhealthy.

    Remember the reasons you chose Aikido. You can take it from me, the most effective thing you can do in a fight is eye gouge, anyway. Use only aiki techniques, and do randori to learn to apply them effectively. You should be as lofty as possible in your strivings for randori, and make it beautiful.


  1. […] those goals by changing direction later on. In this article by Stanley Pranin, he explains how people often join a martial art to avoid injury and harm, only to compete when they’re competent…. Quite deceptive, really. So what should the goals of aikido be? Are there a set number? If not […]

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