Jun
25

“Youtube and Aikido – Is it really worth it?” by Sam Street

youtube-collage

“Youtube has made it possible for Aikidoka all across the globe to access hundreds of fantastic videos of some of the greatest teachers the art has known.”

The internet has changed so many things for so many activities and past times. If not revolutionised, it has at the very least altered in some way, almost every part of people’s lives, even for the simplest of things. For example I was cooking from a recipe book just the other day, but the temperatures for the recipe were in ˚C, problem being that I have a gas cooker. So I jumped online and found a conversion table for gas marks. Now that may seem to be a perfectly normal thing to do in this day and age, and indeed it is, but it’s just another example of how the internet has changed the way so many things are done. Which brings me to Aikido…

Compared to other things, Aikido is probably relatively unaffected by the internet, but if there is one area where new possibilities have opened up for Aikido, it is the ability to share video footage, primarily on that well known source of pleasures, pains, and futile arguments-Youtube. There are many pros and cons of uploading videos of any kind to Youtube, let alone videos of Aikido. What I intend to do is examine the many ups and downs, points for and points against Aikido videos on the internet.

Let’s get the most overwhelmingly positive point out of the way first; Youtube has made it possible for Aikidoka all across the globe to access hundreds of fantastic videos of some of the greatest teachers the art has known. At the touch of a button you can watch pre-war footage of O-sensei, you can see Saito sensei demonstrating all manner of different Suburi, and Tohei sensei fending off a swarm of ukes. You can also see footage of the All Japan Embukai demonstrations which the vast majority of Aikido students will not get the opportunity to see otherwise. So for an Aikido student who wants to get a glimpse of their art’s history, Youtube is indeed an excellent resource.

Of course these videos only make up a certain portion of the Aikido presence on Youtube. There are of course many more user-made videos which all garner varying degrees of praise or insult. These videos range from teachers giving instruction on how to apply certain techniques, to relatively new students who want to either show the world their new found skills or get some feedback on their techniques, to people who haven’t the first idea about Aikido, but want to produce a spoof martial arts video simply for the fun of it. Whilst many of these videos are beneficial and worthy of praise, it is fair to say that they simply don’t command as much respect from viewers as the videos of the old masters and it is in this area; the ability to comment, where the downside of video sharing rear its ugly head.

If you look around at the aforementioned videos of the Aikido greats, you will find that the vast majority of comments are positive, and those that are critical are almost always of a constructive and intelligent nature. It’s debatable whether these comments come from a genuine respect or a desire not to appear ignorant; I like to think the former. In any case, you will rarely find someone spouting nonsensical hate on a video of Morihiro Saito sensei. However, many of the user-made videos and clips of lesser known instructors I mentioned earlier tend to garner a lot more criticism. In fact criticism is probably far too charitable a term; rage-fuelled hate is probably a more accurate description. Some of the users who post these comments seem to have an almost crusader-like passion, bordering on blindly zealous. Many of them start off referring to a specific criticism of a video, but sooner or later most of them deteriorate into obscenely personal insults with absolutely nothing to do with the video in question. I considered putting examples of such comments in this article, but I doubt whether the editorial staff at Aikido Journal would allow them to be published (and I don’t blame them either!). No matter though as I assume that most people reading this, seeing as you are probably an Aikido enthusiast and are obviously using the internet, have probably seen some Aikido clips on Youtube and therefore will have a pretty good idea of the comments I’m describing.

Some people even say that instructional video clips are in themselves, a bad thing as they render a disservice to Aikido dojos and to the teachers who teach in person. I have to say I disagree with this point of view as I think the vast majority of people who watch these instructional clips are well aware that they are not intended as a substitute to personal instruction, but are merely additional aids to training. Besides that is another discussion for another time.

The question I’ve been asking myself whilst writing this article is, “Are these ‘discussions’ on Youtube ultimately harmless, or are they in fact more serious than they might seem?” I’m unsure of the general opinion of the Aikido community on this matter, but I suspect that it is that these arguments don’t cause any real damage to Aikido as a whole or at least not any kind of damage that matters. I myself held this opinion until fairly recently, but I’m not quite so sure any more. On the individual level these arguments do little harm; for example if I were watching a clip in Youtube and happen to see that there’s the usual comment underneath the video that goes something like “Aikido doesn’t work, it’s for peace loving hippies who are too scared to fight!” (They usual contain a few more curses). This doesn’t bother me too much, I simply ignore it and continue to watch the video and judge it on its own merit and I suspect that most mature Aikido practitioners would take the same approach. However, this attitude is ignoring the opinion of the thousands of people who will watch these videos and haven’t the faintest idea about Aikido. Here lies a far more dangerous problem; it is easy for those of us that have practiced Aikido for many years to watch these clips and think to ourselves, “Well this is clearly uniformed; if these people actually came to a class and tried Aikido for themselves it would dispel a fair few misconceptions about Aikido.” However, many people watching them simply will not have this attitude; potential students who are thinking of trying Aikido may do a bit of research on the art and look to the first Youtube video they can find for an idea of what it’s all about. They may well find a clip similar to the one I’ve been discussing and form their opinion of Aikido based on what they’ve just seen and read, they may even assume that many other martial arts are the same thing; just a bunch of fools in pyjamas that don’t know what they’re doing! With the internet now being accessible to a large portion of the global population, we may come to a point in the future where the general population thinks that Aikido is just a load of old nonsense. I realise that is a slightly apocalyptic view and that it is unlikely but it is still a possibility.

Re-reading this article it seems the majority of it has been devoted to the negative side of Aikido and video sharing. However, when all is said and done, I don’t think I’d change it if I could. I love the fact that I can watch clips from the friendship demonstrations or watch a friend from overseas take his Shodan test as easily as it would be to turn on the television. Whether you agree or disagree with any of the points I’ve tried to raise in this article, I think it’s safe to say that Youtube is here to stay and that as long as it exists, and there are still people practicing Aikido; there will continue to be videos of it uploaded to Youtube…and the barrage of praise and insult that comes with them.

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Comments

  1. David DeLong says:

    You are absolutely right.
    Youtube videos are both a benefit and a detriment to Aikido.
    For the consistent practitioner, the videos can be an important learning resource.
    For committed Aikidoka such as myself, whom circumstances have robbed of partner training opportunities, the videos can serve as momentary inspiration, emphasis on momentary. (I maintain a regular individual practice.)
    The videos serve as a connection for the individual to the global Aikido community. For instance, I love to check in on developments in Portugal or Minnesota as well as Japan.
    Video also can help introduce the practice to potential new audience.
    However, inept efforts may be taken to be representative of the art in general.
    Those of us who have trained a while are able to make a judgment about the level of development of a video subject, and we may find some efforts humorous or exasperating. For instance, I tend to pay close attention to nage’s back foot when he or she is executing a throw. If they don’t maintain their base, well…
    When I see paired weapons practice, I’m looking to see where the partner’s eyes are focused. If their eyes are following their partners weapons around, then I see an ill-trained or uninformed beginner. If they’re just whacking their sticks together instead of aiming at their partners to provide a legitimate attack to parry, I’m embarrassed for them. I’m sure other viewers have their own points of interest in general.
    The passivity of watching a video is totally contrary to one of the basic values of training. That is, actively engaged learning. The student necessarily must remain alert and in the present moment, and practice naturally enhances the individual’s attention span. The student must persevere and does develop a flexible strength and a sensitive toughness that cannot be communicated in a snapshot.
    Aikido is such a broad subject and harbors such a diversity of approaches, a video or two cannot completely encompass it, however, the internet may be the best venue to easily communicate the scope of the practice.
    To paraphrase O’Sensei, Aikido cannot be encompassed by words (or video) alone.
    Paradox is a concrete fact of life.

  2. JsN says:

    There’s nothing in the world you can do about people who want to attack something they don’t like or agree with. Hell, some people will do it just to be an ass because of the anonymous nature of the internet. You can’t let that bother you.

    As far as people getting their first exposure to Aikido through youtube videos, I see no problem with it. Sure, there is a chance the first video they get could be some weak, bad aikido, but there’s just as high a chance that could happen in the first dojo they visit as well. This is more a problem with the current state of Aikido than it is a youtube problem though. In the end, people who want to be practicing, will end up practicing. Videos will likely not persuade or dissuade them.

    In the end the solution to all the problems raised in this article is a return to an emphasis on more effective aikido. The problem with that is that I fear there are too few Aikidoka in the world who care.

  3. I hadn’t really thought much about You-Tube, which is strange. I own several training DVDs (even VHS – no super 8 ;-)). I think the reason is that its search function doesn’t uniformly bring up things in which I’m interested. Probably it’ll take someone like our host, Pranin Sensei, to make it a more usable resource. In the meantime, to the extent that aikidoka communicate online, swapping video clips could be fun.

  4. David DeLong says:

    In regards to the comments below the videos, one can come to understand that there is a continuum of opinion in the world, from the incisive and constructive to the venal and preposterous. I would cite the opinions offered by viewers of training segments by one of my former teachers, Hoa Newens Sensei. He was amazing students and fellow aikidoka back in 1986 when I started and attended his Wed. night class in Oakland. He is one of the most insightful instructors in the Iwama tradition, although his experience is not limited to that curriculum, and is one of the true legends of great ukemi in the history of aikido. His technical series should be considered second only to Saito Shihan’s videos.
    Some of the comments under his videos were absolutely hilarious in their stupidity.
    One can only laugh when confronted with the cluelessness of armchair aikidoka who shoot their mouth off from the safety of their home or office.
    There is crappy aikido on the internet, but that shouldn’t be confused with the 4th, 2nd, or 1st kyu student or Shodan candidate who posts their test. They should absolutely feel encouraged to post their test video on the internet as a demonstration of the growth process in the individual. Seeing the development from beginner to advanced practitioner will encourage viewers to give it a try and encourage beginners to persevere.

  5. Have found through experience that new students who look at you-tube as the only means of understanding Aikido, or trying to, tend not to stay long in class when they take the plunge and arrive at a dojo. There are of course exceptions but not many.
    As we all know Aikido is a long and often hard journey but in the age of the all conquering net some people have a blinkered view of what to expect in a proper class. Qualified instructors will show them the same as what they have seen, of course allowing for experience and skill level, but the expectation that they will somehow ‘ get it ‘ after one class is a bit of an eye opener when they don’t. The thought of not getting it straight away as it looks so easy tends to end training for those individuals whom dojos are not the places to be at that point in life. The reality of practice is very far removed from life on the screen. When watching the masters or even someone with good Aikido one can only understand the years of practice and devotion that went into their Aikido when you have experienced training for yourself. I’m sure these Masters and Aikidoka have little intrest in comments posted on sites as most of the dvds are posted without their knowledge or permission.
    Best place to criticize a Master is on the mat at one of their courses and then take your chances and lumps in equal measure!!!
    Although there is a lot of poor Aikido on the net there is far more excellent Aikido on there too. Problem is when you have not practiced Aikido or any art how do you tell the good from the bad? Answer? The old fashioned way of finding a dojo and seeing for ones self. Failing that look at dojo web sites, books or dvds by Aikido instructors. Better still this site with all the knowledge which it offers to everyone not just those of us involved in Aikido.
    As for you-tube there is a lot of good info out there when you know how to separate the good from the bad and by just watching even a new student will see the difference.

  6. Chris Howells says:

    Hi,
    I think this cartoon says it all. http://xkcd.com/202/
    I think many of the comments found on You-Tube should be taken with a grain of salt

    Chris

  7. Taisho says:
  8. Matt says:

    As a relatively new student (just over a year), I’ve found YouTube to be a good resource for training outside the dojo. In particular, I’ve really found the old training videos of Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei handy. I certainly don’t consider them a replacement for training at the dojo, but it does provide me with some “food for thought” around the techniques we practice.

    As for the “haters”, the unfortunate reality of YouTube (or any system that doesn’t allow for comment filtering) is that people can say whatever they like, without fear of reprisal or any requirement to back up their argument.

  9. David DeLong says:

    Re: Taisho’s post.
    I watched a clip of knife defense by a 1st Dan on the lineup under “real aikido”.
    It’s good. Obviously the guy has talent and is well trained.
    I would guess this teaching lineage is through Yoshinkan.
    However, the attacks are still the basic attacks, which are “abstracted” from the infinity of possible attacks with a knife. That’s not a bad thing.
    Once again, we’re confronted with the subjectivity of meaning of a word like “Real”.
    In “reality” it’s highly unlikely we will ever see “real” aikido in a video. That’s because a “real” attack is unlikely to be committed in front of a camera. (Then again, with the proliferation of security cameras everywhere…)
    Anyway, the person being attacked may not get advance warning of the attack. He will probably be surprised. That’s why aikido stresses training the body in such a way that it can have a chance to respond optimally when the victim doesn’t have time to “think” and decide about a response, but is essentially a “passenger” being driven by his adrenalin and fight/flight instincts.
    Even cage fights are not “real”. I’ve never seen anyone rip their opponents windpipe or gonads out or gouge out their eyes, etc. There are rules.
    Then there are the qualifications of “real” as being “more violent” or performed by more “athletic”,physically powerful (masculine) persons, or being more involved in a semiotic of dominance/submission.
    The comments serve to highlight the inescapable subjectivity of conceptual understanding (words).
    Some would say “real” aikido exists on a continuum from “more combat relevant” to “peaceful resolution of conflict” One could categorize the various stances along the continuum from “commando training” to “aikido for police officers” to “health and happiness”, etc.
    What are the basic principles that all of these share?
    Maai, not a “shell of invulnerability”, but a “sphere of influence”.
    Mindfulness of the present, of the situation, sensitivity to one’s own state of being as well as to that of the other, one’s attacker.
    Kokyu, an extension of energy from the center, through the base and into the ground, and out into the hands, and to the partner.(attacker)
    Connection, direct and physical communication with the other.
    Awase, the blending with the attack. This may be spit-second and sharp, or languid and flowing.
    Zanshin, the continuing awareness of the situation and the environment surrounding the participants.
    These elements, of course, might be expressed in a different way by others, and there are many approaches to the physical training to these ends.
    But one might argue that where these things take place, “real” aikido is occuring.

  10. Charles Humphrey says:

    Good news – natural selection – the idiots who take random troll comments on youtube as reliable well-formed opinion won’t show up in your dojos or other training groups. Less idiots to deal with, more time for thoughtful, dedicated people to work on practicing without wasting time on wafflers. Yay youtube!

  11. John says:

    I honestly never read the comments, seldom comment, and if I ever posted anything I would set it to no comments. I don’t care about the trolls.

  12. I think youtube is both a boon and bane to almost everything, not just martial arts or Aikido in particular. I think the fact that the internet has given rise to the terms “keyboard warrior” and “troll” is endemic of the problem of using the internet as a forum or arena for meaningful debate and discussion. I wish all comments were disabled on youtube because the amount of petty arguments I read is just so depressing. I don’t understand why anyone would waste their energy arguing with a close-minded stranger who most likely is using a pseudonym anyway.

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