“Are Aikido’s combat skills enough alone?,” by Francis Takahashi

“Isn’t the complete legacy of the Founder that which we all seek, and freely acknowledge as the most purposeful and intriguing of challenges?”

The debate continues as to whether the exclusive study of Aikido’s proven combat techniques and martial legitimacy are enough by themselves to satisfy the wants and needs of a serious student of martial theory and application. Contrast this view to the philosophical viewpoint, that the Founder had a much broader brush to paint his vision of True Budo with, including non violent methods and principles for resolving conflict, and for the promotion of true brotherhood amongst nations. Wasn’t this the purpose for building his “Silver Bridge”? The applicable word here is “Diplomacy”, and the reason that we have encountered talented statesmen throughout human history, who have guided us to reap the benefits of peace, without first resorting to war.

Should Aikido really be a “stand alone” solution to any and all questions of survivability, for individual martial supremacy, or even for unquestioned technical excellence, to correctly function as a legitimate and traditional Budo? What part could and should be played by including a compassionate working philosophy for improved social and interpersonal interaction, using an enlightened form of mutual empathy towards forming a foundation for universal harmony?

The clear scope of such questions gets murkier when one digs deeper and finds a veritable cacophony of conflicting interpretations, vague personal epiphanies, privately defined enlightenments, and the apparent need by some “in the know” to have research findings justify or affirm their particular points of view and styles of training. There appears, at times, to be an “open season” by certain agenda driven individuals, who have no authentic provenance or history of serious training in Aikido, or of any legitimate record of doing the exhaustive research necessary, to arbitrarily and tragically reduce the overall discussion of Aikido’s merit to mere fighting efficacy. This unfortunate, unfair, yet persistent misunderstanding flies in the face of the Founder’s oft repeated admonitions to the contrary, that his Aikido was so much more. Doesn’t the world of aikido deserve no less than our combined and sincere commitment to follow his true and expansive vision, and to help complete his noble mission?

I have unfortunately found that most aikido practitioners are far too content to simply train in a dojo setting, sublimely unaware and shamefully indifferent to the actual quality of their training, and for any honest notions for the true pursuit of understanding Aiki Principles. In demanding proof of a history of extensive training with established and noted teachers, and for the actual and consistent demonstration of the necessary technical skills to be taken seriously, we can challenge the current spate of “experts” to elevate the quality of these discussions we are having, and to help effect significant improvements to the Aikido environment we live and train in. We can and should demand that our teachers and mentors appropriately treat currently debated Aikido related matters in a more open minded fashion, and to consistently behave in a more appropriate and respectful manner, and of tone, to new ideas of merit, and for newly emerging systems that appropriately challenge their current paradigms of understanding, and their levels of complacent comfort.

Back to the primary question, “Are Aikido’s combat skills enough alone to accomplish… WHAT?, and under whose authenticated and accepted authority? For many, and probably most, it is sufficient to train in an Aikido dojo of choice (forget organizational identity), for the real benefits of full range of motion exercises, for cardiovascular conditioning, to include basic strength development, tension relieving interaction with mellow people, and, perhaps, a modicum of martial awareness and elementary skills. This is a fundamentally American choice, and should never be an automatic indictment of, or negative reaction to any style or teacher. It is our right to be average.

An elementary skill may well be the ability to honestly define what one can and cannot expect from their efforts and goals of training. To wisely “know when to say when” is a basic survival skill that impacts us all, much beyond the confines of a dojo training environment, and an aggressive mind set. No one has all the answers, but isn’t it the next best thing to actually know where to obtain valid assistance and proven knowledge? Knowing who to ask is far more pragmatic and reasonable than attempting to be a font of all knowledge and wisdom, or to pretend to be a modern Oracle of Delphi. Even if you happen to be a world famous Shihan, or a recognized authority with a long running organization, so what? Who died and made you the next O Sensei, Kano Sensei or Sun Tzu?

GIGO may be a well recognized acronym that states “Genuineness In, Genuineness Out”, meaning that you get value out essentially in proportions to what value you put in. (Some of you may have been thinking of another wasteful version). What is essentially the genuine purpose of training, of the genuine sincerity in training correctly, or by the selection of genuine resources to research and to learn from? And what of the genuineness of the self honesty required to make sense and capital from all investments of time, thought and theorizing that have been expended in the search? These, amongst others, are key questions that the seeker of Aiki Truth must constantly ask along the way of his quest for proficiency, knowledge and appreciation for rare gifts received.

I am told that nutritionists identify Four Basic Food groups. An arbitrary stance to be sure, but one that may be useful here. Say that training in Aikido, or any other established martial discipline, identifies different methodologies, philosophies, and claims to authenticity. Instead of a useless internecine battle of no consequence, perhaps we can group these often divergent groups into “food group” parodies, which can then all enjoy equal status of being included without prejudice, relative value or meaningless and undermining rancor. People can now choose from their desired “food groups” and combine those elements that best suit their respective appetites, value systems, concerns for pragmatic applicability, and for artistic expression and goals.

Further, perhaps we can even designate Aikido itself as a single “food group”, amongst the many other choices that exist, that then affords us the amazingly welcome ability to “mix and match” as we see fit, and to accept or discard as we learn and grow. This then dispenses with the perceived need of many to “be true” to their primary discipline, style, mentor or organization. After all, to me, pursuing an identity in the martial arts is the most selfish thing one can appropriately do for the self, as this is the essential genesis for building oneself into a resource that can truly benefit others in ways unimaginable, as well as mutually beneficial and satisfying. You truly become uniquely, one of a kind.

When we examine the life history of the Founder, along with those of many other martial arts giants, how do we not appreciate the fact that their varied experiences and life altering encounters indelibly changed and fundamentally impacted their final developments and personas? Didn’t this process continue throughout their respective lives as well, where they continued to be green and growing, and refused to become ripe and rotting? Isn’t this the example we should seriously choose to emulate, and not simply to foolishly attempt to become “wannabe clones” of these respective Masters, and of what we fantasized and wanted to believe that they actually were?

Isn’t the complete legacy of the Founder that which we all seek, and freely acknowledge as the most purposeful and intriguing of challenges? For me, it will never be the dubious pursuit of his repertoire of martial skills, or theories of being One with the Universe, and thus, becoming invincible. No, rather, it is using his wonderful example, being fault ridden and human, and of pursuing the Principles of Aiki to become a complete person, just like him.

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  1. Thanks for another great article. I always enjoy reading them as you seem to be able to strike a balance on every topic. In these times where every issue has extremes on both sides and people screaming at each other over disagreements, it is refreshing to see someone that advocates chudo, the middle path. I try to instill this in my students, and your writings are a big help. Thank you Sensei.

  2. Thank you Takahashi Sensei for this great and thoughtful work.

    In training Aikido combat skills, we may not always be able to defend ourselves or our loved ones. In a real attack there is no time to think, only to react and our regular training during years will help us a lot, because our body will automatically react. But most important is what we get by training Aikido’s combat skills is that we are also developing our mental abilities, our calmness, our strength, self-esteem, of course we will continue with human faults, we can work on them with the principles of Aiki. And I too hope that people who train aikido will open their minds to appreciate the different “food groups”, learning and taking the best of each to grow and harmonize with each other.

  3. My take is that no particular single “style” of training does more than confer SOME advantage. Sufficient training takes a person beyond form or style. At that point, most routes to that level of expertise will yield functionally effective martial ability. I quote Inagaki Shigemi san to the effect, “All martial arts work. Aikido works as well as any and gives an advantage in multiple person situations.” The important thing in doing aikido training toward martial efficacy is to be very honest with oneself and partners. One of my mantra is that each technical move is based on or immediately follows atemi. Most aikido schools are weak on atemi, but in my opinion they are the foundation of efficacy.

  4. Are Aikido’s combat skills enough alone? Well, no, and I’d be the first to readily admit that to Aikido’s detractors, while pointing out the same is true of any martial art to some extent. Why aren’t they enough? Because certain techniques are taught in a given way. The question then becomes ‘why’? Why has Aikido taken its current form? Why did Ueshiba himself develop the art the way he did? Why are there different schools and interpretations of Aikido?

    It seems the true value of Aikido is only obtainable by looking under the surface, by research and study. By recognising Ueshiba, Takeda and even Deguchi did things a certain way for a reason, and attempting to understand what those reasons were.

  5. Thank-you Takahashi Sensei for another great article. But most of all, thank-you for making us think.
    Mark w

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