“Is My Martial Art Effective?” by James Neiman

So much has been written on the merits of each martial art: there are countless opinions on why one martial art is effective or another is not. Certainly many people have had their attention consumed by technical analyses and comparisons of various martial arts.

I have been teaching martial arts for many years and have trained in several, and over the decades have had a chance to explore numerous areas and put together an image of what it takes to be a complete martial artist. There are no shortcuts, and the path requires great dedication and long-term commitment.

When I hear questions like “Does this work?” or “Is this practical on the street?” in their various forms, I often also witness a form of distraction on the part of the student. I believe this distraction is a misdirection of the student’s attention on the particular technique rather than their own development.

It is tempting to go into a deep dive into the context in which a technique might be used, along with a variety of “what if” caveats, such as “what if the attacker is shorter /taller /stronger /faster/…?” The analysis at this point can be endless, and in my opinion, meaningless. In the intensity of conflict, all that discussion goes out the window, and what is left is one’s training: pure and simple.

I suggest an alternative approach: let’s not get distracted about which art is the best (for whatever purpose the student has in mind). Let’s assume that most of the martial arts out there are excellent for whatever their purposes are. After all, many very talented people dedicated their lives to ensuring those arts would be very good indeed, and can offer countless examples as proof. Let’s instead assume that each person is attracted to a particular martial art because of the complex variations in their humanity and personal history, and leave it at that. My assertion is that it doesn’t matter which art one chooses: it matters a great deal what one does with the training.

I believe this situation is a great opportunity to encourage students to examine their dedication. I would suggest offering students who ask such questions the possibility that there is a more productive question they could be asking: “How effective is my training and martial arts development?” This can create a years-long conversation between the student and yourself.

The conversation could open with personal responsibility, which I suggest beginning like this:

“As a student, do you take full responsibility for your training?”
“Do you objectively assess your skills, strengths, and weaknesses?”
“Do you take firm action to improve yourself either in class or outside of class every day?”
“Do you take full advantage of what your teacher and school have to offer?”
“If you have weak muscles, do you strengthen them?”
“If you are quickly running out of breath, do you work on your cardiovascular fitness?”
“Have you trained the basic techniques 10,000 times each? How about 100,000 times?”

When a student learns a martial art, they don’t just become a clone of their teacher. They eventually own that art, make it part of their mind, body, and spirit, and apply it in ways that are unique and unrepeatable when compared to all other human beings. It makes no sense at all to compare the objective forms, because it is not an objective form that is being hypothetically tested in the mind of the student – it is the person.

I think the answer to the student’s original question is this: “If you fully commit to the training, this martial art will become your martial art, and will be exactly as effective as you train yourself to be.”

James Neiman
4th Dan Aikikai
Shugyo Aikido Dojo website
Shugyo Aikido Dojo in the World Aikido School Directory


  1. Again it’s not the arrows…..it’s the INDIAN.

  2. “The moral is to the physical as ten is to one.” Napoleon
    “You can practice martial arts for 30 years and only be an artist. You can be a samurai right now. If given a choice between life and death, choose death.” Yamamoto Tsunetomo
    “The warrior is different in that studying the Way of strategy is based on overcoming men.” Musashi Miyamoto

    O Sensei said he was attached neither to life nor death and left everything to God. That, however, does not, imo, negate any of his predecessors’ perspectives.

  3. Great article, Sensei! I appreciate how each of your statements points to training, as opposed to just talking about it. There is no substitute for proper training with the guidance of a good teacher. Best wishes for success in your new dojo!

    Dave Bendigkeit

  4. This article rightly addresses a salient question: Why is it only “martial artists” are allowed to be bullshit artists as well and not be held to account as to the real value of what they are pretending to teach?
    You would not expect it from a builder. You would expect your house to stand and be built on solid scientific principles.

    You would not allow your doctor to misdiagnose you and amputate the wrong leg. (This is a poor example that too often does occur, and much of the medical profession of today have become prostitutes for drug companies, pushers who mainly want to cash in whether many of the toxins they sell work or not – let us hope that will improve.) But if you are half-smart you will select your medic based on his ethics. He will usually be poorer than his pusher brother)
    You would not accept it you your banker lost you some of your money (although they do extort it in fees and corrupt loans) Bad example again.
    Hey, is the whole world going to the dogs?
    Let me think of a good example.
    Your mechanic, if he did what surgeons do, cut things out and regenerate nothing. Chopped out the engine and two wheels and then said “All fixed. you can drive home now and by the way give me more money..”


    If your teacher has in fact survived no field experience what exactly is he teaching? Some theory out of a picture out of a book? Blind leading the blind?

    As Mr. Neiman correctly points out in his own words, unless you TRAIN consistently and with strong dedication, you will never discover what possibilities are available to you.

    Unless you address and hone every attribute relevant to real life success in the field you are striving to excel in, you are a hypocrite.

    I know of people who’ve never been in a situation who read books, look at pictures and watch videos and either have a lot to say or even start a dojo in the vainglorious hope of cashing in.

    Martial arts don’t work in the field, INDIVIDUALS DO, YOU DO! But martial art TRAINING ENABLED YOU.

    “The way of Budo is endless research and discovery as vast and endless as the Universe.” Morihei Ueshiba.

    One lifetime is not nearly enough.

    A martial art is not in any way martial unless it can be put into practice to survive a martial situation with success! It must embody, as some call it, “martial integrity.” In other words aspects of your training must be able to be put into practice should the need arise.

    If you don’t agree with this and are training for other reasons then do not call it a “martial” art. Call it something else! A tiler does not try to be a carpenter and a carpenter should not encroach on the tiler’s work. Where civilisation exists, there are laws in place that regulate this to obviate guesswork and cheating.

    Thank you James for an excellent article bringing our minds back out of the clouds and pointing to reality.

    • Agreed. I’m a greenhorn and I ask questions or question a technique for effectiveness not to question my “dedication”. Granted later in life a technique can be manipulated in a 1,000,000 variations, but I ask now to get “an idea” of how effective this would be in my life. Even though we have such dedicated teachers out there, some forget that Aikido in the States is a service we pay for. Every teacher has to be prepared for students to “question.” That’s why we’re students and you’re our guide to give a meaning to what were practicing. I’m a black belt in Kenpo Karate, and practicing Aikido.

  5. Matt de Groot says:

    I agree with Nev somewhat. I think it is right that a student may question whether or not a technique, if practised correctly, is practicable or even pragmatic in a martial situation. After-all, the roots of aikido do lie in a combat discipline, and a student is a customer.

    I think that students also must consider the scope of their practise and reach some conclusions about their goals. Many martial arts have undergone a transformation to some extent where the practise for use in combat (such as suggested by the jutsu of aikijutsu) is under-pinned by the practise of the art for spiritual congruence (as suggested by the do in aikido). Of course there will be techniques in the latter that will be effective, but the emphasis may not be on the spiritual aspect. It should be known to the student the goal of the instructor so that the student’s goals may align.

  6. Samuel Coe says:

    Aikido is like anything else you have to research and explore any discipline to grow or become good at it. Turning up to class and expecting to become the next O’Sensei is like going to chemistry class and expecting to discover a new cancer drug! Neither of which are possible without hard work luck and dedication.

    However think entering into a marial arts dojo expecting a ‘service’ as a ‘customer’ is the wrong attitude to take. Extending the metaphor then, if you don’t like the ‘service’ the dojo you attend is providing go somewhere else just like if you don’t like a shop you don’t shop there! But it’s your choice to see it that way.

  7. mendojitz says:

    to really know what works and what doesn’t, no matter how long you’ve trained or taught, u gotta get off the mat and into the cage. there’s no cooperation in there. a false sense of security is actually what most martial enthusiasts have. don’t think of the cage as competitive… it’s just another level of training. best not to avoid it.

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