Jul
20

“Realizing Aikido’s Potential,” by Stanley Pranin

Founder Morihei Ueshiba’s explosive sword in 1954 demonstration with Morihiro Saito

“It is the martial atmosphere of the dojo setting that allows students to develop real-world skills and elevates the level of training beyond that of a mere health system.”

The virtues of aikido

The popularity of aikido both in Japan and abroad is a post-World War II phenomenon. Early students of Founder Morihei Ueshiba such as Koichi Tohei, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Gozo Shioda, Kenji Tomiki and others, followed by their students in turn, were mainly responsible for the growth of the art on an international scale.

What factors are responsible for aikido’s broad appeal? Many people observing the art for the first time comment on the beauty and gracefulness of aikido techniques. The attacker is thrown in a seemingly effortless manner yet suffers no apparent harm from the encounter. The promise of a self-defense art that protects the individual while sparing the aggressor is an attractive concept in philosophical and moral terms in a world where the specter of warfare seems ever present. Aikido’s ethical basis appeals to man’s deep-seated instinct for survival. At the same time, the art provides a unique alternative to the violent techniques of other martial arts—techniques that elicit moral repugnance in many.

On a physical level, aikido has much to offer for the health conscious. The accumulated benefits produced by warm-up, stretching, throwing and falling exercises are considerable. Many practitioners have undergone dramatic physical transformations through aikido training on their way to a fitness lifestyle.

The social milieu that develops in aikido dojos is an important part, too, of the training experience for many practitioners. Aikido tends to draw from a wide age range and students continue longer than practitioners of arts centered on competition, primarily the domain of young people. Also, I think it would be accurate to say that, as a percentage, aikido has a higher ratio of female participants than any other martial art. All of this contributes to a strong sense of community. For many students of aikido, the dojo is an extension of or even a substitute for their family.

Aikido: the non-martial art

For all of the positive benefits of aikido training, the art has not yet realized its great potential as a social force for promoting harmony among peoples. Although the relationship may not appear obvious, I think this is due in large part to the art’s distancing itself from its martial roots. It is the martial atmosphere of the dojo setting that allows students to develop real-world skills and elevates the level of training beyond that of a mere health system. The neglect of the martial side of aikido can be explained in part by historical circumstances.

Japanese society in the postwar era rejected the military mentality that led to the country’s involvement in the Second World War. Given this inhospitable climate where the practice of martial arts was forbidden for several years, the martial nature of aikido was suppressed. As a consequence, what remained of the art that was embraced by hundreds of thousands of practitioners was—with few exceptions—something quite different from the original concept of the Founder. The techniques of aikido retained only the outer form of a martial art and tended to be practiced in a setting devoid of martial intensity. Let us look at some of the factors that cause aikido to fall short as a martial art.

Weak attacks

The root of the problem as I see it lies in the weak attacks that are commonplace in aikido dojos nowadays. Students are seldom given training in how to execute an effective attack, be it in striking, grabbing or the occasional choking or kicking techniques. The situation is further exacerbated by a lack of committed intent or focus during attacks. This absence of firm intent on the part of the attacker affects his mental state and that of the person executing the technique. Both sides are aware—at least subconsciously—of the minimal risk of injury in training under these circumstances. Accordingly, the focused mind-set needed to develop realistic self-defense skills is absent from training.

Neglect of atemi and kiai

A study of the art of the Founder will reveal his emphasis on atemi (preemptive strikes) and kiai (combative shouts) as an integral part of techniques. O-Sensei can be seen executing atemi and kiai even in films from his final years when his aikido had become much less physical.

Atemi and kiai go hand in hand and are important tools for stopping or redirecting the mind of the attacker and successfully unbalancing him. Even if a physical strike is not actually employed, a mental state that preempts or disrupts the attack is a vital component of the aikido mind-set. Yet in many dojos today, the use of atemi or kiai will draw scorn from the teacher in charge who regards them as crude, violent means that have no place in an art of “harmony.” This common misconception bespeaks a lack of understanding of the martial origins of the art and the theory and practice of the Founder.

Failure to unbalance attacker

The combination of weak attacks, lack of atemi and kiai in aikido practice lead inevitably to practitioners attempting to execute techniques without first unbalancing the attacker. An uncommitted attacker having foreknowledge of the technique to be applied is not easily brought under control. This introduces an artificial element of collusion into the interaction between practitioners and results in a training atmosphere that is fundamentally different from the intensity of a real encounter.

Use of force and “make-believe” throws

The logical consequence of the above training lapses is the execution of sloppy, imprecise throws and pins. Since full control of the attacker is not achieved, it often becomes necessary for the person throwing to resort to physical strength in order to complete the technique. This leads to clashing and raises the risk of injury.

Another scenario is that neither of the two partners put any serious effort into the technique and the interplay between them is little more than choreographed collusion.

The progress of practitioners taught in a setting in which the “martial edge” is absent and where sound training principles are not observed will necessarily be retarded. What is worse, some who are products of this kind of training environment will entertain the illusion that their skills would be viable in a realistic situation.

Premature physical decline of instructors

I suspect that a certain segment of the aikido population would agree with the above observations. On the other hand, the next subject I will broach will no doubt elicit controversy in many quarters.

In my 40 years of involvement in aikido I have observed numerous teachers pass from their physical primes to a state of declining health and, in the cases of some, to an early demise. All too frequently they have accelerated the inevitable aging process through poor lifestyle choices. As their bodies age, teachers frequently adapt their techniques to compensate for their physical ailments and decreased ability to move. Moreover, they stop engaging in “give-and-take” practice where the roles of uke (the attacker) and nage (person throwing) are alternated. They become “teachers,” but cease to be “practitioners” in the way they were in their formative years of training.

The withdrawal of teachers from partnered training practice whether or not the result of a conscious decision has far-reaching effects on their aikido careers. By no longer doing warmup exercises and taking falls, they undermine their level of body conditioning and flexibility. Focusing exclusively on throwing contributes to a overall weakening of the body structure and muscular tone and invites injuries.

As teachers seldom practice with their peers beyond a certain point in their training, an artificial cap is placed on their progress because their pool of training partners is limited primarily to their own students who are almost always of a lesser skill level.

Remedies

Much of what needs to be done to restore the martial nature of aikido in accordance with the vision of O-Sensei involves correcting the poor training habits alluded to above. Here is a list of concrete steps than can be taken that would literally revolutionize aikido and restore its great potential as a force for social betterment.

Teaching attacking skills

First of all, great attention should be given to teaching aikido students how to attack effectively and with resolute intent. This may require some teachers to engage in cross-training of some sort in order to acquire the necessary skills themselves.

What kinds of attacks should be introduced in the aikido dojo? This will be a personal decision on the part of the instructor in charge. I think that basic punching skills from karate, boxing or other sophisticated systems should be considered.

Students should also become familiar with kicking at least at an elementary level. Although not as prevalent as punches, it is quite possible that one might be confronted with kicks in a real encounter.

Learning defenses against kicks also helps students overcome the common problem of “tunnel vision.” For example, beginners tend to focus their attention on the initial, overt aspect of an attack—usually a punch or grab—and fail to recognize the possibility of a secondary attack. When students realize that they must consider another attack such as a kick may be forthcoming, their state of alertness improves.

Learning how to kick properly will also improve the falling skills of aikido students because falls from kicks are more difficult and dangerous. Care should be taken to proceed slowly because the risk of injury is higher.

Among the existing aikido systems, Yoseikan Aikido developed by Minoru Mochizuki takes this sort of eclectic approach that incorporates elements from several arts. Students of this system are taught basic karate, judo and weapons skills as part of their training.

Beyond this, one might want to introduce attacks involving weapons—both bladed and non-bladed. Training with weapons is a useful tool to teach the importance of maai (distancing) under different circumstances and offers many other benefits. The Iwama Aikido curriculum of Morihiro Saito is an example of a systematic approach to weapons training.

The end result of improving the quality of attacks will be a greater focus during training and the creation of an atmosphere of seriousness and respect for one’s partner. The risk element always present in martial arts training will be recognized and due care taken to avoid behavior that leads to injuries.

Bringing back atemi and kiai

The use of atemi and kiai should be reintroduced and encouraged in aikido dojos. Atemi and kiai are extremely important in that they may allow a practitioner to overcome physical or numerical superiority in a real encounter. They are invaluable aids in neutralizing an attack and unbalancing an opponent. They pave the way for aikido techniques to be applied without force and against little resistance.

It should be possible to apply atemi or use kiai at virtually any stage of an aikido technique, not just the beginning. Students should be coached on how to recognize an opponent’s openings at every opportunity. Shoji Nishio has developed atemi skills to a high level and his martial-form of aikido is a valuable reference.

At a higher level, atemi may not even have a physical manifestation. An advanced martial artist can achieve the effect of an atemi through subtle body language alone as long as a mind-set preempting the attack is present. If you watch films of O-Sensei carefully you will see this principle in operation and it is a key element of so-called “no touch” throws.

Keeping the attacker off balance

A fundamental yet often neglected principle of aikido is the importance of unbalancing an attacker and maintaining control from the beginning of a technique to the decisive point involving a throw or pin. I have often observed techniques being taught to students where the attacker’s balance is first taken only to be given back immediately before the throw!

One only has to carefully observe the center of gravity of uke to determine whether or not his balance has been taken. Students should be constantly vigilant of their partner’s center of gravity in order to determine if their techniques are being effective.

Before leaving this subject, an interesting exercise when attending an aikido demonstration is to watch the movements of uke rather than nage. If uke’s balance is being controlled throughout the technique then you are observing a true master.

Posture and breath control

Other areas that are often overlooked in aikido training are correct posture and breathing. Nage should cultivate good posture and keep his balance throughout the technique.

Attention to breathing habits is seldom stressed in dojo training. By pacing your breathing it is possible to create and maintain an internal body rhythm that will reduce fatigue and make it easier to keep one’s composure under the stress of vigorous training. Learning to observe one’s own breathing will also develop the ability to “read” an opponent’s breathing. This is useful to sense the timing and intent of an attack at a stage prior to its physical manifestation.

Instructors should get back into training

The most common reasons given for aikido teachers ceasing to participate in normal dojo training are the limiting effects of aging and the accumulation of injuries. It is certainly not possible for anyone to escape the effects of time and the wear-and-tear on the body of vigorous aikido training.

This being said, there is nothing to prevent teachers from training within their individual limits and at their own pace. As I see it, the key element is to continue to do stretching, warmups and take falls to the extent possible. You either do it or you don’t!

The Founder maintained his suppleness well into his 80’s and was even capable of doing the splits. Also, he can be seen taking falls for a child at about age 79 in one of the surviving films.

In many kobujutsu schools it is the custom for the teacher and seniors to assume the role of attacker and take falls for junior students where required. You will see this if you attend a demonstration of classical martial arts. Imagine for a moment how it would change things if the top aikido instructors were capable of and actually took falls for their students during demonstrations! And what better way than this would there be for teachers to accelerate the improvement of their students?

I truly believe that it is possible to add ten good years to one’s aikido career by adopting the approaches suggested here. I’ll let you know in about 20 years time how this theory works out in my personal case!

Cross-training

I think one of the most positive things that instructors and practitioners alike should consider is cross-training in other arts. Here again we can look to the example of O-Sensei who studied a number of martial arts in his lifetime. He also arranged for the marriage of his daughter to a famous kendo expert and allowed a kendo group to form and practice in the old Kobukan Dojo. At age 54, the Founder formally enrolled in the Kashima Shinto-ryu, a classical school with a several-centuries-long tradition. He drew heavily from the Kashima Shinto-ryu curriculum in developing his aiki ken. O-Sensei also invited masters of other arts to the Aikikai Hombu Dojo to visit and give demonstrations. He was always prepared to “steal techniques” from other experts through keen observation.

One of the prime purposes of the annual Aiki Expo event sponsored by Aikido Journal is to encourage and facilitate cross-training among different groups.

Conclusion

I have attempted to explain how what is accepted as “modern aikido” is really a permutation of the original concepts underlying the aikido of the Founder. Due to the considerable spread of the art in postwar Japan and abroad and the passage of more than five decades, these changed forms of aikido have come to be considered the norm. The assumption of most is that these new approaches reflect the intent of the Founder whereas, to a large degree, this is not the case. Most of the criticisms of aikido today arise because the modern forms of aikido have strayed from the Founder’s main precepts. The suggestions offered in this article would, if adopted by a significant section of the aikido population, produce a major change in the quality of the art and how it is perceived by sceptical outsiders. It is our intention to lead the way toward this desirable end by organizing future events such as the Aiki Expo.

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Comments

  1. Abu Haider says:

    I would agree with everything here.

    In addition to Saito Sensei’s weapons curriculum, you mentioned Nishio Sensei’s Atemi development and Yoseikan’s training in fundamentals of other arts. Nishio Sensei was highly skilled in Karate and Judo. There is a common pattern here: cross training. Saito Sensei trained in Shito-Ryu Karate, if I remember right, so did Saotome Sensei. Even now i see him deliver lightning fast punches!.

    My primary art is Karate, and every time I attend an Aikido class or seminar, I can feel a disruption of the normal atmosphere because of my presence. As much as I try to hide my Karate aspect, it can be helped!

    I feel that Shingu Dojo’s emphasize in subtle connection to an attacker’s center, and mental Atemi right before the attack materializes, deserves a mention. It is a very high level of blending, Kuzushi and Atemi.

    Thanks for your efforts.

  2. wuwei says:

    It had to be said!

    Thank you for speaking out. Great men have said it before and they were ignored- maybe some instructors will heed your advice… It is not only the instructors though, too many practitioners choose Aikido because they think it requires neither sweat nor tears nor blood nor effort. Hence the decline of martial spirit in our art.

    “Instant samurai” is what they are after and many schools cater to that ignorant assumption.

  3. …Something to consider is that ukemi is also a martial technique.

    In aerial combat it would be called “distancing” or “energy fighting”, preserving speed while getting out of range before trying to give it another go. The antithesis in aerial combat is “stall fighting” sacrificing speed right down to the bare minimum necessary for control in order to maneuver for “the shot”. In hand-to-hand, Greco-Roman wrestling and possibly judo ground work are more analogous to “stall fighting”. This “hit ‘n git” strategy probably derives from the relative weight and method of employing the Japanese sword.

    Another martial aspect of ukemi is that it’s the heart of aikido countermeasures. The good countermeasures start surprisingly far into the technique. If you can’t hang in with that, you also won’t be much good at kaeshi waza. Correspondingly, while kaeshi waza, at least basics, start as forms, pretty quick it gets confusing. There are EXCELLENT reasons why they aren’t normally tested below nidan, nor form any routine part of training. It’s also probably true that without a thorough understanding of kaeshi waza the practical utility of aikido is limited.

    I think it’s fair to say that ukemi, therefore, is as important as multiple person attack in developing a well rounded aikido repertory.

  4. Andy Wood says:

    “Aikido’s ethical basis appeals to man’s deep-seated instinct for survival.”

    This statement gets to the heart of the matter. The distinction between competition vs. cooperation in the evolution of man. It is clear that cooperation is more effective at improving us as a species in our long and continuing evolution. Not destroying our attackers gives them pause to consider their actions, makes a statement that our professed moralities are not just words, and sets an example for our betterment.

    I agree whole heartedly to your observations and suggestions. Thank you for this thought provoking article!

    • Emile Swain says:

      Thats a really good point.

      The problem with cooperation is that some misinterpret it, for example by providing poor attacks in the belief that they are helping, rather than attacking with honest intent at a level that is suitable for the nage to develop with.

      So i’m glad to have read this article, as it that supports many of my own thoughts and feelings, one being that my attacks aren’t as good and honest as they perhaps should be.

  5. L. Novick says:

    A very well-thought out and articulated article, Stan. I agree with a lot of what is said here about the elements that are lacking at the content level of training, and thereby limit much of Aikido’s “martial responsibility”, effectiveness, and potentially its depth, if not necessarily its “value” for many people (a relevant point, but perhaps beyond the scope of this discussion.)

    What I would add in terms of your point about elevating Aikido etc., is a perspective of the process behind the content, from the notion that where one sources one’s Aikido from determines its limitations as well, perhaps ultimately more profoundly. As one progresses in one’s training and proficiency, this can be a very important dimension to consider.

    If one sources one’s Aikido in strength or power, then the limitations of strength, etc. will define one’s Aikido and determine how far one can go in its full realization.

    If one sources one’s Aikido in technique, then the limitations of technique will define the same. Not as limited as simply sourcing in strength, but limited nonetheless.

    We can say the same about movement, flow, posture, alignment, atemi, even kuzushi (and even the more subtle notion of Ki), really any of the fundamental elements of the form of Aikido. These are important things, no doubt, and some of them, and their subtleties, have been lost or almost lost in many people’s training today. But these elements remain at the content level, like notes and scales on a piano. Imperative, but “not music.”

    The answer for me is at the “process level” – that ultimately, if one sources one’s Aikido in a real and palpable spiritual connection and experience, then there is, in a sense, no limit to how far one can go – and in that deeper process, Aikido can be fully “realized” and elevated to its highest potential.

    This isn’t an “easy” thing, nor is it necessarily for everyone. I believe that O Sensei, in his life development, progressively sourced his martial arts, and eventually his Aikido, in deeper and more subtle and profound elements, step by step, leading him to his sense and experience of “Aiki”, and ultimately sourcing his Aikido, and his life, in his spiritual connection – which is why, in the end, he was who he was, and his Aikido was what it was. This is, to me, his greatest gift, and his greatest legacy.

  6. Mike Moyer says:

    Stanley,

    Thanks for the honest observation as I can’t agree more. I am also an ex Karate guy who switched to Aikido a number of years ago. My Karate foundation has held me in good steadfast, but I’ve been faulted for being too martial in my training and teaching. It also provided me the understanding how and when to use Kiai. I was once told by one of my teachers (ex hombu dojo student) that Aikido is a ‘Martial Art’ not a ‘Dance Class’. But, unfortunately most teachers stop their own training/development once they reach a certain level which waters down the ‘True Martial Art’ over time.

    I thought for a number of years that people were too hard in their practise with me, until I was fortunate to started training with my late teacher who had spent 18 years training in Japan and is very martial. He was able to improve my ukemi and he showed me proper uke technique/placement which helps you to take more martial technique. This has helped me improve my technique and appreciation to the what Aikido should be….not what is the norm by most dojos.

    I understand soft Aikido has its place, but remember if you research most great Shihans who appear soft today were in there younger years VERY martial. Soft Aikido only produces bad uke and increases body injuries.

    Thanks for the insight and honesty!

  7. tom collings says:

    When you first wrote this wonderful article “The Virtues of Aikido” several years ago – truly one of the best and most honest critiques of modern aikido ever written, I made 50 copies for students and friends.

    I would leave a copy at each dojo I trained at and a few lucky students would get to read it before the teacher removed it. Why would they do that? Was it shame, embarrassment, or do these observations threaten their “master” status?

  8. Well researched, objectively documented and long time coming of an excellent synopsis of Aikido’s identity today. Kudos to Stanley Pranin, his assistants over the years, and to the single minded persistence of one man, acting perhaps as Aikido’s Don Quixote, or perhaps its Carl Sagan.

    The journey has just begun, and although missing the Founder’s presence, and his irreplaceable counsel terribly, those who would pay the awesome price of continuing on the path of Aiki, will discover yet undetermined dimensions of what Aiki, and of what Ueshiba Aikido can reveal, and to deliver.

    I cannot agree, however, with the notion that “it is the martial atmosphere of the dojo setting that allows the students to develop real world skills and elevates the training beyond….” The physical dojo is but one of many laboratories available for the serious student of Aiki to test, to question and to break fresh new ground in the search for Aikido’s endless store of potential. Ultimately, it is in the mind itself, where the keys to unlocking the myriad of discoveries made over a lifetime of training and personal research, will be found.

  9. John says:

    I agree with much of what you say. Cross training causes some of its own problems.

    If I see people referencing something like Brazilian Juijitsu as an example of a “real” martial art, I expect an Uke who is eventually going to get stepped on, or a Nage who is going to reflexively going to drop to the ground to control or throw. It is a very martial practice, but we like to fight multiple attackers so staying upright and mobile has a purpose. In Canada, with icy streets for so much of the year, I know of one Sensei who did teach sutemi waza, but I don’t know if he was borrowing techniques, creating new material or if this was traditional Aikido.

    Depending on the style of Karate, the cross training student will stop their punch an inch before actual contact and they will solidify their stance and posture rather than move with a potentially damaging technique. They’ll focus on withdrawing their punches more than on actual impact if they’ve decided a boxing jab is a “real” punch.

    I know of several ways to generate power in a punch and I am grateful my Sensei taught me something of punching, but with so many ways out there, which would I teach a new student is an Aikido punch? My Sensei also trained in multiple arts, albeit quietly.

    We have Aikido koshinage, but I know students who have gone to Judo classes to study koshinage in part because they feel they haven’t learned this well enough in an Aikido dojo. Now, techniques resembling Judo O Goshi, Seoinage and Tsuri Komi Goshi appear in Aikido tests but I don’t know if they actually are traditional Aikido techniques.

    In my experience, senior students of other arts are able to function in Aikido and learn something new, but it’s difficult to train with the people with several yellow belts whose bodies are in a state of continuous confusion. Even worse are those who start to argue with everything they are being taught, whether or not the argument is out loud or in their own mind.

    Of course, this isn’t just true of martial practices – I know of students who borrow their spiritual practices from Yoga, Zen and other sources and rewrite (truthfully, fictionalize) their own understanding of O Sensei’s spiritual beliefs.

    In cross training, the goal still needs to be making better Aikido students rather than platypus martial artists. The real question for me is has it all truly been lost? Does Aikido only move forward by reinventing the wheel or is there still a body of knowledge that we can point to as O Sensei’s?

  10. Joe Peterson says:

    Let me begin by saying this comment was influenced greatly by the practice of Aikido. “Modern Aikido” which is a term that has creeped into becoming one of those silly words, at least for me. Why? is because it hides it allows the acceptance of the deterioration of Aikido to being something on its own. It is the “new” buzz word often used by many on the internet those afflicted with a poor Aikido approach. I will go into more detail about that later. Yes, I agree with Mr. Pranin’s blog, he has been pointing this out for years! How many have really been taking action to correct the current state of Aikido practice as outlined in Mr. Pranin’s blog?

    Modern Aikido is a state as I see it of lots of talk and not enough dedicated effort to getting it right. There are too many interpretations of everything. There are too many poorly trained instructors not having the tools they need or understanding required to teach proficiently, again I point to the blog. There is the misunderstanding of the right attitude toward training. Like anything it takes elbow grease and sweat; you have to work at it. Skill doesn’t come overnight and there is no room for complacency. An attitude that incorporates a real commitment and dedication to practice. A hunger and sacrifice to achieve an impossible goal. Let’s not forget a healthy dose of aspiration, not settling for the mediocre. Aikido just because of Osensei’s philosophy doesn’t mean the practice of Aikido should go soft. Osensei’s attitude and commitment didn’t go soft. He kept up his practice improving as he got older. His commitment and dedication, his practice didn’t deteriorate as was expected as a budoka and defined by budo. Why should our’s be any different?

    In more of a relatable explanation relating to budo. “Modern Aikido” because of the current attitudes and approach to the art has failed as a budo. Aikido is no longer “martial.” Not in the way of harming others or a tool for war, rather as I said before in terms of approaching practice and training as a budo; hard work, dedication, and a solid commitment. For example, the same effort and attitude put into staying physically fit at the proper BMI. Taking the same mental approach that is required to lose 100 pounds, and succeed.

    In part, “Modern Aikido” because it has gone soft has become overly cerebral. Knowledge as important as it is, has become more important that skill. It has come to the fact in Aikido teaching is the ultimate goal and aspiration. You are more valued as a teacher than the type of practitioner. Everyone aspires to teach. To have their own dojo. To be seen as a teacher rather than a budoka of Aikido first. Right now there is countless posts on the internet that beat to death the “how to” do a technique or how it should be done. There is even more on the number of subjects and topics of Aikido. It is a modern skyscraper of Babel. Something I am guilty of too, as I am contributing right now to the babel as well. Nevertheless, approach, perspective of being overly cerebral has overdominated the importance of physical skill; being able to pull off a technique properly as a result of working at it. It is easier to talk, recognized for being knowledgable, than being appropriately skilled.

    Lastly, using Osensei’s spiritual tack and his vision for how Aikido technique will be employed has become twisted, and exploited for personal purposes. There are too many people who use the spiritual pillar to make excuses for not working hard at Aikido. There are too many people exploiting the spiritual side to mold Aikido into something that isn’t what it is. Aikido isn’t something that is ductile or malleable that can be tailored as a person pleases. Granted the spiritual can get difficult to understand, but the basic message is unmistakable. Aikido isn’t a lump of clay that can be molded anyway a person sees fit. There is a strong framework to Aikido that is too often ignored by many practitioners of Aikido. Disagreeing with the framework established by Osensei, or thinking that framework can be manipulated isn’t a reason for personal interpretation turning Aikido into something or for an excuse.

    When using Modern Aikido in a sentence makes me cringe, because such a think doesn’t exist. What is called Modern Aikido is a tangible result of the failure of practicing Aikido as intended, as a budo. Avoiding the required dedicated practice and proper training attitude. Aikido is talked about too much and value it highly when we do. There is not enough commitment and dedication to the practice, in obtaining proper skill. People are not getting it, and for some not wanting to get it right. Until that changes in a few we will have a laundry list of names will be calling Aikido.

  11. Peter Howie says:

    Dear Stanley,

    Well done!

    My sensei is regularly pointing out how my actions do not resemble those of a person in a real fight, especially as uke. Never having been in any real fights apart from play-ground scuffles, I am ignorant of that area. He is not.

    He focuses on maai and whenever I am too close points out how he could kick of punch me. Firstly by simply waiting until I work it out, then by lightly demonstrating, then if I haven’t got it he taps me on the head and scowls. He also points out that when a person is pulled down they immediately try and get up and also try and not lose their balance. All of these reactions are used in aikido as part of our training. However as an uke in my early days, when pulled down I would stay down, and when pulled I would lumber around like a wooden person. Oddly enough I was very flexible at times, but not flexible like a person in a fight. White belts have this kind of flexibility, sort of a ‘kitten’ flexibility.

    I like your mention of kaeshi-waza as in Shodokan Aikido they simply do not work unless the attacks and responses are committed. Without uke really trying to throw me I am unable to make use of their force at all. As uke I don’t much like them because I know what is coming and it is more of a shock and much harder break fall than usual. This is where practice, practice, practice helps.

    On first reading your article I thought many areas are covered by Tomiiki’s Ahodokan style, but on reflection I thought that the same problems can turn up in this style as well, if the instructors are not careful. The lack of strong attacks, the lack of practice of appropriate maai, and others you mention. However in our primary series of 17 throws, the first five are atemi, so I don’t imagine atemi is going away any time soon. I have noticed that the atemi are often the most difficult for new students to learn as so many people are reluctant to push things towards the face. And then teaching them to move away from the hand, to look after themselves properly so that tori can a reasonable go at delivering the atemi. It is a long learning process. As a budo, learning to go against my ‘natural’ inclinations and look after myself, rather to respond to an attack, staying upright, keeping eye contact, maintaining good posture, using ukemi for self-protection and to allow tori to learn, are all lifelong practices I imagine.

    It is so different from my other life and give me so many lessons about learning, myself and teaches me humility. Every lesson sensei adds in some aspect of the method that almost completely changes my understanding. I love it.

    Cheers and thanks again for such a great read.

    Peter Howie
    Brisbane, Australia

  12. Alex Rusinko says:

    Hi Stan,

    Great article could not agree with you more. I have for the last twenty five years been preaching to the choir about these same issues. Read my web page if you like (aikidoartsinstitute.com). Because as a result of how I stand on Aikido, being a martial science first and an art form second, I began to have my students learn striking arts and kicking arts from Muay Thai as well as GoJu and Wing Chung to give stronger attacks when Uke. I taught them to attack on balance and fall with the skills needed to take the real throws and how to counter a weakly applied technique. I also stress Nage using atemi and kiai as well but also performing a good aikido technique and not just relying on the atemi.

    What I got for my efforts were insults and blacklisted from most of the aikido community. (Mainly because we apply the technique like we practice it.) I just wanted to welcome you to the one per center club. Finally someone else is talking about the four hundred pound elephant standing on the mat. (Making Aikido a Martial Science Again.)

    Alex R
    Aikido Arts Institute

  13. Chuck Warren says:

    I’m glad to see the numerous cogent comments since I was here last. I’m also happy to imply that some folks actually attract students and “pay the rent” in the pursuit of “real Aikido”. I say pursuit advisedly. Probably nobody today can do what O Sensei did. Part of it is that in O Sensei’s development there was probably very little room for play acting or make-believe. Budo is “warrior’s life”. Outside special operations in our armed forces there are probably few venues which provide the intensity which forged his art. The interesting twist is his late orientation to applied spirituality (or ethics). Spirituality (or ethics) is tough enough without putting ‘em into a martial context. There are any number of side-tracks, the attraction of which are multiplied. Winning and losing is a side track, but losing is more definitive. Living and dying is the path, but you will obviously only continue to develop on this plane while you live.

    The training dilemma is how much sincerity can you put into training at any given point of your technical (and spiritual) development. Too much and you accumulate too many injuries. Too little and you go down the “dance class” sidetrack… perhaps looking at other arts for more practicality. Tom Smith studied with me once upon a time. A friend of Bill Witt, he got to 1st kyu at Hombu and was on speaking terms with O Sensei. Once he asked about suwari waza, of which many were heartily sick. O Sensei said, “They probably won’t hurt each other and might learn something.” The beauty of Saito Sensei’s contribution was in preserving and providing techniques, accessible to any skill level. The side track there is thinking that those techniques encompass the total of aikido. Even Saito sensei said otherwise.

  14. Tom Huffman says:

    Hi Stan,

    This seems to go along with other articles you have published numerous times in the past.

    One of the worst things I have observed over time is no fail tests. I’ve seen black-belt tests where the nage is clueless and they are passed regularly. Nobody ever fails. I think a cause of this is not having a legitimate grading system. It does not need to be complicated. Nishio Sensei’s system had, Good = circle, Pass With Mistakes = triangle and Not Good Enough = square. He also had testers watching and grading from each corner as well as the main table.

    I failed my first shodan test. It was my fault and I knew it. I had not done enough practice with my uke cause he could not show up regularly. I should have been just grabbing anybody who could take ukemi and practicing my routine with lots of different attacks.

    Another thing I have recently observed is something I call “Dead Picture Techniques”. This may get a lot of flak. The Nage moves through the technique and hits all the points that match the pictures for correct positioning, but he or she does not have real control of uke or uke’s weapon. The primary throw happens and uke goes down, but from what I observed balance was never fully taken. The point I’m trying to convey is there is not real life in the attack and response. This means that later on when uke is not compliant, the technique will really not work. I call this bad practice. If it was one of my students this would be a “Not Good Enough to Pass” = square. I’m somewhat ashamed to say I think this is a fault of the instructor.

    I was just in a seminar taught by Aviv Goldsmith and he said something very interesting about Iwama. “Ukemi was not really stressed or taught.” You learned as you took the falls. The point here is too many places stress teaching ukemi, how to take wonderful falls to make the instructor look great. What horse crap! When I get someone in who takes a dive without me throwing them, my response is “Sit-down!”
    This beautiful ukemi is false training and it cheats nage from knowing what he or she is doing really works or not.

    People don’t study the bones and how the body works and what is just enough to effect uke without hurting much or injuring. There is too much going by wrote and not getting true techniques. You also use the bones to keep uke from being able to attack and from keeping his or her balance. Study the videos of Nishio Sensei. He was continually stressing and testing small, minute movements to keep uke at bay or off balance or both. It will look like nothing, but it’s important.

    Well that’s my blab in here along with so many others.

    Tom Huffman
    Aikido of Gainesville
    Gainesville, Florida

  15. Nikola Rachev says:

    Thank you for this article! Couldn’t agree more with the above.

  16. Dr. Glass says:

    I totally agree. The martial dimension serves as an ultimate reality check on the quality of the art; without such check we have a virtual reality art form which is just for entertainment and modelling.

    I am not sure about kiai: in a small close space a dozen people yelling every 15 seconds may be not that great.

  17. What would be left today for us to learn if Ueshiba Sensei had studied and practiced only art forms from the beginning?

    Patrick Augé

  18. Bill Trimarco says:

    What wonderful insight. I couldn’t agree more. Thanks, Stanley. Please keep posting this article every now and then to remind us.

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