Strange coincidence? Aikidoka takes down robber with kotegaeshi


“Well, kotegaeshi worked in at least one case. Here is the proof!””

Is it just a coincidence or a quirk of fate that we have this news report of an employee of a Baskin-Robbins Ice Cream store successfully defending himself with aikido? Gabe Sutherland of Portland, Oregon — after having studied aikido for only three months — managed to apply a kotegaeshi on a masked robber who pointed a gun close to his side. Sutherland says, “Instinct just kicked in.” He succeeded in wrested the gun from the assailant’s hand and the man fled the store.

The irony of all of this is that we have just had a very lively thread on this blog about whether nikyo and kotegaeshi–common aikido techniques–can work in a real situation. In this case, it did! Is this man a hero or a fool?!

What’s your take?


  1. Paraphrasing Ikeda Sensei: “Aikido works. YOUR Aikido doesn’t work.”

    I worked as a bouncer for years while I was studying Aikido as a mudansha/white belt. Techniques work if you train them to work. Sparring is different from fighting, period. No one is really TRYING to take you out in a sparring session.

    Techniques I have used in real fighting:
    Kokyunage (classic sokumen and spontaneous versions)
    Variations of shihonage

    Ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, shihonage, kotegaeshi, and iriminage are the basics for a reason. Aikido is a martial art, period. If YOU have made the decision to train in a manner that is not effective in ACTUAL fighting and not sparring, that is your decision, and you should not criticize the art or the techniques.

    Personally, I don’t use Aikido in sparring against strikers and when they ask why, I tell them this:

    We can spar, and you might land your best punch or kick and lay me out, and I’ll get up, recover, and thank you the exercise. But if I pull off MY nikyo or kotegaeshi or what have you, and YOU don’t know ukemi, you’re going to the hospital, and that’s not acceptable to me. They say: “Well then you don’t have to do the technique so hard” and I say “well then you’ll, counter it and say Aikido doesn’t work.”

    Aikido works. That’s my two cents.

    • They say: “Well then you don’t have to do the technique so hard” and I say “well then you’ll, counter it and say Aikido doesn’t work.”

      Great line here..

    • Robert Pruitt says:

      Well said.

    • I have studied Hapkido since 1980 which is Aikido’s Korean cousin and also a descendant of Daiito-Ryu.
      The techniques actually work, I am a retired Navy Senior Chief Master-At-Arms and a retired civilian police officer. During my 25 years of working the street, alleys, ships and just about the nastiest bars in the world, I used Hapkido and Aikido to subdue unruly US Military personnel and civilians. Kotegashi is very effective if applied in the right manner and at the right time, other Aikido related techniques are also highly effective. One of the most useful techniques I used frequently is the “Armbar Takedown”, the law enforcement version is a little bit different compared to Aikido but the principles are the same. The other technique is the “choke hold”, but some jurisdictions have outlawed this as a first target area. During my LEO career I focused on becoming a Defensive Tactics Instructor and I have been certified in numerous versions of the subject. They all have similar techniques and are effective.

      I don’t think this young man did anything wrong, he took advantage of the situation and controlled the suspect, I think his “fight or flight” took over and he was set on surviving the robbery, who knows, the robber may had a notion to shoot someone after he got the money.

    • YES! You are 100% correct on this, Autrelle.
      My friends are always wanting me to show them something, and I always tell them Aikido is not for sport or “show” like some other arts. I don’t want them to be injured because I know they do not know ukemi. I’m thankful that my Sensei encourages and trains us to develop our Aikido in a way that is earnest, realistic, and sincere. He’ll correct Uke for not giving a true and honest attack. I think that is so valuable in how training is conducted.

    • That’s right well said. In street confrontations it’s just you or them… they have made the attack so it’s our aiki training that kicks in. It’s their own fault if they get hurt it’s a long way down to the ground, my friend. Aikido is a dangerous budo art.

      This shop assistant did well. He gave that robber money from the cash register, but he still held that a very close range no doubt in anger / rage or just make an example of him. He would have shot him. in the side and close range he would have killed him… So he took the opinion and thought YES OK
      there’s my chance to really do something here before I get killed. My life is on the line, so he did well. He only had 3 months aikido training but he pulled a technique off. Great stuff!

      Now staying with this story there’s another one like this where a robber was wielding a knife at a bank clark somewhere in America. This bloke was there getting his money inside. This robber says to him GIVE ME THAT MONEY NOW I WANT IT, threating to stab this guy. He says to him DO YOU WANT MY MONEY HERE TAKE IT, and he just laid this attacker out with a elbow kicks and punchers. He turned out be a martial arts expert in karate. You should have seen attackers face all battered and bruised!

    • Ben Hegenderfer says:

      Well said. Most of the “I gatta bleed to know it’s real” guys never get the non competition way of Aikido.

  2. I can’t really improve on what Autrelle and others have correctly said in the earlier thread; and Ikeda Sensei really sums it up with “Aikido works. YOUR aikido doesn’t work.”

    If Aikido doesn’t work for you, then I suggest either quit and take up less “strenuous” noble pursuits such as philately or macramé.

    Otherwise, get serious about Budo and using the Self Correction the Founder pointed out as being the basis of Budo, learn to make them work by putting in the work.
    Also, as the serious do, get a job in an industry requiring application.

    There are no shortcuts in Budo.

    Consider: A thousand years of R&D went into the making of Aikido.

    To dismiss it because of one’s own inadequacies is an insult to both oneself and the art.

    Advisable it is to first get one’s own house in order before making a fool of oneself commenting adversely on something which has continuously proven itself in real application by people in professions requiring this skill.

    There are numerous success stories that far outweigh those of acrimonious excuse making. If people in the industries requiring this skill had the time, they could fill an encyclopaedia of success anecdotes such as this one.

  3. Well, I take it that this is in response to the previous article about nikyo and kotegaeshi. Clearly this incident shows that they can work.

    I think the previous author still has a point about wrist locks being ineffective in and of themselves against an opponent with no regard for the pain (s)he is feeling and the damage being done to their wrists. Clearly that wasn’t the case in this instance.

    My reply to the previous author, which I haven’t got around to writing yet, is that to me kotegaeshi is just a variation of sumiotoshi, and nikyo is just a variation of irimi. If done well, they should not rely on the wrist locks at all. All the wrist manipulation does is to enhance the connection between the people. It is the rest of it that unbalances and disposes of the attacker.

  4. If I do Tanto Dori in class tonight and the knife gets knocked away rather than held and I don’t end up pinning my partner face down on the ground, I know I train with uke who will act like they think my technique didn’t work. Success is a very different animal than clean practice, and that’s a good reality check.

    The previous author did mention he did Hapkido, which uses a number of joint locks but also strikes and kicks. There have been a number of articles on this site (including I believe by Sensei Pranin) advocating the use of atemi in techniques. I know a dojo where I trained briefly ten years ago would make rigid distinctions between striking and applying a Nikyo, but for others an atemi is not separate from applying Nikyo. Perhaps the author was saying he would feel most comfortable hitting someone as an opening move rather than opening with a wrist lock – a sentiment a number of practitioners would otherwise echo.

    I am impressed with the overall tone of the conversation in regards to that blog entry – we have been much better and more mature posters than the average Youtube-master-of-all-in-their-own-mind. No one has been insulting, though several letters did come close to asking if the author just didn’t know Kotegaeshi or Nikyo well enough to apply it correctly and at the correct time despite his time in practice. As the one Yoshinkan practitioner noted, we don’t know how the individual actually does his Nikyo or Kotegaeshi without some video. There are many variations. Some variations involve breaks and strikes, some schools insist true Aikido would avoid causing harm. We would all agree that trying to do a specfic variation no matter the attack or circumstances might work, might not. Tunnel vision is bad.

    I have had teachers do very effective Nikyo and Kotegaeshi techniques that never put my fingers in jeopardy – the broken finger sounds like the finger was the focus of the force and not the author’s center.

    After a discussion in class months ago, I wrote this in my own blog on Yonkyo. I hear even more people question the effectiveness of Yonkyo. I have small hands, and I have come across Uke with enormous wrists I have difficulty affecting. I like to train it anyway. Some fo the same points already covered, and I know there is no new information to some of the posters here. Comments welcome. Sorry if this misdirects the conversation.


    First and foremost, I am very happy the young man is okay, and I am happy for the success of our Art.

    We all know better than to recommend this to everyone, to believe that Kotegaeshi would work every single time before the attacker’s finger twitched. This attacker was trying to intimidate – he would have behaved differently if his only thought was to kill our hero. The attacker never needed to get this close to pull the trigger effectively. At some point, this young man (or the next target) might face a now smarter attacker, a man who feels he is being made a fool of in the media and will be angrier. Or, the attacker might have been intimidated enough that he never obtains another gun with that $100.00.

    If the young man had been killed trying a move he only started learning three months ago, what would be the tone of this conversation? Would we even post it, or would we dismiss his death as irrelevent to the conversation because he hadn’t trained long enough/hard enough? “Yellow Belt gets killed trying to use his martial art after X number of lessons.” We’d be sad, some of us would laugh at the stupidity and we would make him an object lesson to our own beginners. The wrist strength gained from all the ice cream scooping would be a factor in why this man’s Kotegaeshi was effective. The young man’s state of mind is the product of the rest of his life and not the results of the handful of classes at his dojo more than likely.

    We can’t take all the credit.

    • Sorry, I went back to the previous blog entry and I now see that the broken finger wasn’t from an attempted Nikyo. Sorry for my confusion.

    • The only observation I have in reply to this excellent post is that the robber already had the money and approached the young man with who knows what intent, perhaps even the desire to shoot him. The young man acted instinctively and not on a premediated basis. Maybe his instinct saved his life. We’ll never know.

    • Skywalker says:

      John says:
      July 10, 2012 at 10:52 am

      The young man’s state of mind is the product of the rest of his life and not the results of the handful of classes at his dojo more than likely.

      I think this is a perfect point. Regardless of training, experience or strength, some people tend to have a different SPIRIT which allows them to act extremely relaxed and peacefully under stressful conditions. I am unfortunately on the other end of the spectrum, and I am not sure whether if I will be able to respond calmly under a life threatening situation. I know my aikido would work IF I would be able to control my nerves, excitement and adrenaline…

      • But, Skywalker, you know what sort of person you are. I’m sure your self-knowledge (as well as the Aikido training) would help you to control your nerves, excitement, etc.

        I am a bit of a coward, and very much a slow, methodical, meticulous thinker. (Lecturer in philosophy!) Nonetheless, the training, and confidence that it works (never doubted it) has enabled me to deal spontaneously with one or two sticky situations without freezing in fear or spending all my time contemplating alternative possibilities.

  5. Skywalker says:

    I can not say I am experienced enough to talk about the effectiveness of Aikido techniques (since I have been practicing only for 9 years) however, from my practical experience, different uke might have extremely diverse FLEXIBILITY on their elbows, wrists or ankles. And in this situation where our brave brother applied kotegaeshi so effectively only with 3 months of training, I am suspecting that the physical features of the robber might have helped a lot. Some aikidoka with very tense forearms and not-so-flexible joints experience a lot more pain compared to others during even the ‘softest’ kotegaeshi applications during practise.

    Regarding the efficiency of Aikido, I have to second all comments above. Aikido WORKS. And it works VERY SEVERELY. It is all about DEVOTION and following the path correctly, taking Aikido seriously, enduring the pain and the sweat and the blood for many many years.

  6. Keep in mind that this was used as a disarming technique, I’m assuming the robber wasn’t thrown to the ground. I think that is a different aspect than the other article was discussing.

  7. Earl Rogers,Jr. says:

    In 1961 I was in the Army overseas with the 51 INF 3RD ARB/7 Army when I got into a fight with a GI who pulled a knife and attacked from the side with a yokomen-uchi. I used a Tenkan Irimi-Nage movement which to this day I can still see it play out. Yes, aikido works.

    1SG Earl Rogers,Jr. US.Army (RET)

  8. Only one thing I think deserves to be added to this thread.

    An acquaintance of mine broke up a gang fight trying to protect his kid. He is a very skilled martial artist, and put five armed people in hospital.

    When the TV cameras showed up on his doorstep trying to interview him, he refused and kept anonymity as much as possible. With as much information as was given, we now know:

    1. Baskin Robbins in Portland Oregon has only one staffer on Sundays if we want to knock over a store.
    2. I was able to find Gabe Sutherland in Portland Oregon on Myspace and Facebook. If he uses the Facebook location app, I could locate him very easily.

    At least several websites offered to give me his address for a very small fee. As there are four Gabriel Sutherlands coming up, it might be a tiny bit more effort.

    If this theft was part of a gang initiation, his life could be more difficult for the press given to this.

    Quite apart from Aikido, try not to go public with this type of information if you are ever in an altercation.

    • John,

      Your points are I think very important and have indeed been overlooked!

      • James Brazell says:

        I do not know what the Baskin-Robbins policy is on self-defense. Most corporations prefer to lose the money rather than risk loss of employee (and gain possible liability for a lawsuit). Mr. Sutherland could well have been fired for his action. Corporate shodo-o-seisu is not very forgiving.

  9. My current analogy is baseball. The pitcher pitches the ball. In the subsequent interaction, there are possible outcomes, a strikeout, a hit, a walk, etc. If the batter misses, do we say that baseball “doesn’t work”? If the batter hits the ball, do we say that baseball “doesn’t work”? What about a well hit ball that the fielder catches? A home run? And so on.

    Aikido works like baseball works, the outcome is disconnected from its effectiveness.

  10. This is beautiful all the way. I’m sorry I missed it the first time around but coming in here I get the whole wonderful thread. I’ve used kotegaeshi successfully. I’ve heard of others who also have. If it doesn’t work out like the ideal dojo technique, well, it worked out. If you want better, train more. Hard to argue with Ikeda Sensei.

  11. I never second guess anyone’s behavior who was placed in a dangerous situation. There are literally dozens of elements that determine someone’s decision, if we were not there we should not judge. That holds true of cop shootings, as well as a civilian’s behavior when facing danger.

    Yes, it is tempting – and usually easy – to take a gun away from someone foolish enough to hold it on you within arms reach. That does not make it is a wise decision. Real life combat is ALWAYS unpredictable, regardless of your skills. Your decision to fight, to engage in violence, better be worth it.

    The general principle I have followed working the mean streets of New York for a long time is – no money, jewelry, equipment, keys or property of any kind – is worth killing or dying for. A thief wants to get something and immediately flee. A predator, on the other hand, attempts to MOVE YOU to some other (remote) location.

    That is a very different story. In that case choose your moment and attack!

  12. Greg Wilson says:

    Aikido training from my wonderful teachers (including Senseis Sorrentino, Claiborne, and the late Kevin Choate) has gotten me out of two dangerous situations on the street. The first was from a brawny, drunk college kid who had climbed onto our balcony and started banging on the glass door. What Autrelle wrote is correct. I wound up putting the guy into a kotegaeshi and because he didn’t know how to escape it or go down safely he just froze (and cursed at me and my roommate)! After a few moments he dropped to his knees and begged me not to break his wrist.

    Aikido works (duh!) because it is a budo that emphasizes bringing conflict to an end! So many MMA lovers and YouTube geniuses forget that before the Octagon became about trading blows and separate rounds there was Royce Gracie–about 180 lbs soaking wet–using nothing more than JuJitsu with a tackle and some heel kicks to the kidneys. Well Aikido is absent of competition and in that sense it is even more of a battlefield art because it teaches to finish in a composed position prepared for the next attack–upright, in hanmi, with zanshin. Aikido is an art of non-resistance and that principle encourages composure in the practitioner.

    Everyone in this thread knows that kotegaeshi will work (especially at the proper angle that locks uke’s shoulders into his center). What Gabe has shown us is how composure on the battlefield is among the most useful weapons in anyone’s arsenal. When the gunman came in, Gabe didn’t resist by panicking. When the gunman demanded money, Gabe didn’t resist. When the gunman approached him, Gabe didn’t resist what “The Gift of Fear” was telling him inside but he acted! And when the gunman resisted, Gabe and his THREE MONTHS OF TRAINING kept going until the battle was won!! Then John tells us that Gabe had even more challenges once the TV cameras and the notoriety died down that he probably maneuvered with similar composure….in the spirit of a balanced stance and with a prepared awareness for the next challenge of life.

    Brings new definition to the value of training with beginners, doesn’t it?!

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