“Aikido and Injuries: Special Report,” by Fumiaki Shishida

“Brutality and death in aikido dojos in Japan”

Editor’s comment: This article was originally published in Aiki News back in 1989. On a recent trip to Japan, I had an opportunity to meet again with Professor Shishida. The subject of injuries and deaths in aikido again arose in our conversation and I was appalled to learn that the type of incident described in this article has continued unabated in subsequent years resulting in more aikido-related deaths. In one extreme case, Professor Shishida related that two deaths occurred at the same university within a relatively short time span. He also mentioned that despite the fact that parents of the victims have sued the concerned universities on various occasions, the courts have consistently found the schools blameless. I feel this situation is intolerable and would encourage readers to post their comments on the Aikido Journal bulletin board with an eye toward exposing this horrible situation in the hope that even a single life might be saved!

This section of the complete thesis was printed in the Nihon Budo Gakkai Gakujutsushi. (Scientific Journal of Japanese Martial Arts Studies) was published in Volume 21, No. 1, 1988. The bibliography has been omitted.

Professor Fumiaki Shishida

Chapter Two: Cases of Serious Accidents Resulting in Death and Serious Injury

The cases contained in the documents in Chapter 1 and other materials and testimonies offered by the individuals in question such as alumni who responded to my requests for data are listed in the table included. I chose to reproduce all information in cases where data was limited and attempted to select information for its instructional value in those cases where space limitations caused me to omit details where the data was ample. I have omitted the names of the victims and universities in consideration of the persons involved. I have assigned numbers to the cases according to the date of occurrence of the accident.

III. Proposals for Countermeasures for the Prevention of Serious Accidents

(1) Recognition of Danger—Inherent Characteristics of Kata Practice Method: In aikido in general, a training method is adopted where the uke (person taking the fall) and tori (person throwing) practice a predetermined technique. This kata method was also adopted by the Japan Aikido Association which employes the randori method in competition. The method appears to be safer than the randori method used in judo since it requires less physical contact even though methods of kata practice differ slightly depending on the school. What about the case of aikido?

First, I would like to mention the fact that out of the cases of serious accidents in the chart of Chapter 2, all except 3 and 4 occurred in sport clubs affiliated with aikido schools which do not practice the competitive randori method. The schools involved in cases 3 and 4 are not known because of a scarcity of documentation. This writer who has experience in both the Association kata and randori method considered that the randori method was much more dangerous than the kata method. Hence, I was extremely surprised by the nature of accidents cited.

Why are most of the victims physically weak such as university freshmen or sophomores or female students? Why weren’t the senior students or leaders able to prevent the accidents? Naturally, we must seek the reasons in the descriptions of the accidents. However, I believe that there is a common cause to the accidents in all 11 cases. Therefore, I wish to point out the inherent danger of the kata method of practice which is a conclusion I have arrived at as a result of an examination of the cases….

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  1. There are NO EXCUSES in a non contending (no contest) training methodology to ABUSE TRUST given in good faith to vent spleen and cause gratuitous damage through the use of unnecessary force.

    In the street people will not hand you their body, a sacred trust, to violate.

    They will defend themselves as best they can.


    In my dojo we are taught, as I was taught by example by my teachers of true Budo, to MODULATE to the most junior person.

    Every person has their own level of coordination and the PRIMARY OF AIKIDO IS TO HEAL THE BODY-MIND CONNECTION – NOT DESTROY IT!

    I have trained with sociopaths in other dojos where bullies in dojo prove cowards in the street.

    Such people are criminals and cowards of the LOWEST grade of humanity.

    At least an honest criminal (excuse the oxymoron) will take his chances in the street instead of cloaking behind the pretense of “training.”
    Whether harm is the result of complacent unconsciousness or deliberate desire to cause harm, my policy is to press criminal charges against the perpetrator so they can get a taste of their own medicine in jail. And learn the lesson as finally as it can be learned.


    Finally no “instructor” can be called that, if he is not capable of PREVENTING mishaps in advance.
    There are no “accidents.”

    Bumps and thumps are natural in the course of training but these are not of such force as to be lethal.

    We train ki, id est, intention. We know damn well what we are doing!

    How dare anyone allow perpetrators to be excused!!

    Jail them.

    Let them find out what it feels like to be bullied.

  2. Also, perpetrators should be stripped of rank, named, shamed and followed up in the courts of law.

  3. Kata training was devised to provide PREDICTABILITY when executing techniques designed to cause serious harm.

    Predictability not only enables training to be safe but trains the practitioner to cause harm, preferably lethal, in the battlefield.

    Salient to the aiki-jujitsus is the fact it also enables safe restraints and arrests modulating to the situation at hand.
    Reasonable behaviour.

    In ancient times training was always safe in within the clan precincts as it was to be as lethal as possible in combat.

    Aside from the fact each individual was a critical component of the community was the fact that dickheads who are complacent, uncaring, not empathetic, careless, and disregarding of REAL RESPECT as defined by actions rather than faked obsequiousness (that came later) were sorted out by seniors, as in my days.

    If they wanted to play hard they were given a taste of it. Yamaguchi and Shioda, for example, had a method for sorting out dojo bullies which tended to be permanent.

    Dojo cretins are a liability to the group welfare who deliberately misuse the PREDICTABILITY provided by dojo training. Make no mistake of that. They know what they are doing.

    On this basis, there are no excuses.

    When there were authentic wars, the method for dealing with scum was simple. You did not watch their back in battle and nature would take its course.

    In today’s world some badly wired individuals cannot discern between friend and foe.

    It then becomes a legal matter.

  4. Japan has recently made “martial arts” mandatory for junior high-school students so that they will “learn the spirit of Japanese sports, including respect for others”.
    NHK tv aired a documentary pointing out that most schools would choose judo as the only other choices (kendo and sumo) required expensive equipment or a special ring. (Aikido apparently wasn’t considered.)
    The documentary reveals that judo has had six to seven times more fatal injuries than any other sport taught in schools and pointed to concerns that making it compulsory when there were insufficient numbers of qualified judo instructors could be dangerous. Statistics quoted there had been 114 deaths and 275 severe injuries in school judo over the past 28 years. Most were head injuries on beginners and did not necessarily involve the head hitting the mat. Maybe it’s just as well aikido was not included in the compulsory classes. One school, wisely, said it would use the relatively small number of judo classes per annum to teach only ukemi and focus on strengthening children’s neck muscles. Others were hiring retired judo instructors to help the inexperiences phys-ed teachers. Let’s hope the so-called “spirit of Japanese sport” is not achieved at the cost of more fatal and serious injuries.

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