“Is Aikido efficient? What for?” by Pasquale Robustini

“The hero of American western movies, so popular in the same period,
was the fastest gunslinger, the one who killed them all, the avenger…”

We live times of great uncertainty, tension, worry. Fear of being attacked, robbed or physically abused is widespread. Many feel the urge of learning how to defend themselves, and this request may often be addressed to Aikido teachers.

As I like to put it, Aikido offers very good self-defense basics to practitioners, but this is not its primary goal. Honestly, almost invariably, Aikido training involves predetermined attacks to be countered by predetermined defense techniques. More simply, the attacker is ordered to attack in a certain way, and the defender is ordered to respond with a certain technique that the attacker also knows in advance. The attacker knows exactly what is going to happen and prepares to experience that reaction. Everything is established in advance. This is the typical Aikido training scenario. More than 90% of the time it works that way. But since everyone is free to experiment, there also is “surprise” training, with free attacks and free counterattacks. But why, in normal conditions, is everything predetermined? Why do all attacks appear so false and strange to the unfamiliar observer?  What’s the use of learning how to defend oneself against someone who attacks with his/her “little hand” striking feebly from above, something that will never happen in real life? What kind of training is this if I know in advance that the attacker will come forward with that “little hand,” and I also know what technique I’m going to use to immobilize or throw him/her?

This is what the vast majority of people who do not train in Aikido or train in other martial arts (the latter also laugh about it) wonder about our discipline, maybe some Aikido teachers, too. Comments to videos posted on Youtube often span from very ironic to aggressive and derogatory, even towards highly regarded masters. Many do not understand what the two guys are doing, and what’s the big deal with Aikido since everything is known in advance?

Why is this all happening? I have some ideas about the subject and I’d like to share them here, stating in advance that I totally respect those who have different ideas, and I expect the same towards me. I intend to write about it here especially for those readers who are training with me or who, approaching this discipline for the first time, are asking themselves these kind of questions.

One other thing I often refer to when discussing this subject is the profound difference between the two Japanese disciplines of bujutsu and budo. The latter derive from the former. The former involves combat techniques used by the military (samurai, in Japan’s past), techniques useful to destroy the enemy in war, or to defend oneself in battle in order to save one’s own life. Today it could involve the use of guns, rifles, bazookas, etc. An expert of what the Japanese call (or called?) bujutsu would today be a soldier of the special forces, like a Navy SEAL, a SWAT policeman, and so on. The word bujutsu literally means combat arts or techniques (in Japanese, they are the same). “Bu” is for war and warrior is “bushi”. In English and other languages, the word bujutsu has been translated as “martial arts.” We translate the word “budo” also as martial arts, although “do” means way or path of life. In fact, the Japanese masters who created budo used the same combat techniques (bujutsu) they were so familiar with to transform them into an exercise that will improve the practitioner. The hard work (note that it translates into Kung Fu in Chinese), the infinite repetitions of the same movements, the respect of the martial essence of the gestures and of the correct attitude, ensure that the exercise will go deeper than the physical level, down to our inner being, spurring self-improvement on both psycological and spiritual levels. All this is achieved through the same gestures once used to knock an opponent down. But in Budo, we must completely put aside the original goal, lest the training become useless from the self-improvement point of view, and the risk of hurting someone will grow. The problem here is just the words budo or bujutsu becoming simply “martial arts,” We are usually led to think of the martial arts expert as the “tough guy”, someone you’d better not mess with, or worse, the deadly killer with knowledge of deadly oriental secrets. Given that the aikidoka could also be someone you don’t mess with, maybe it could be worth translating the word “budo” as “martial way” rather than “martial art,” in order to minimize the chance of misunderstanding. Aikido would become the Japanese way of Aiki. Or, on the contrary, we could stop calling combat techniques “martial arts” in favour of “martial techniques.”

Who’s to blame for all this? Bruce Lee and Hong Kong movies? Chinese martial arts movies from the seventies created the icon of the violent martial artist, who provides for his own justice through unending fights; hence martial art = overpowering. Schools were overbooked. What is so irresistible about the ability to defeat someone else? The fear of being defeated. It appears that the happiest human being would be the one who can defeat anyone. If such a “champion” should really exist — think about it — he would be the only one to fear no one! The hero of American western movies, so popular in the same period, was the fastest gunslinger, the one who killed them all, the avenger who finally arrived in the small village where the bad guys had abused the dwellers for years by applying the strategy of terror. Basically, this is the same pattern of Japanese samurai movies: the normal people are paralysed by fear and defenseless against the bad guys. Then enter the one who can really use the gun, or the katana (or his bare hands) but on the poor guys’ side; he puts things right by scaring away the ones who used fear to overwhelm the poor guys.

Fear. If we want to learn self-defense so desperately it is out of fear that someone might attack us. I would be scared, too, if a huge guy wanted to attack me, no big deal to admit it! Even worse, if it were a gang, and everyone were larger than me. Even more terrible is the thought that it might happen to my family. The point is I don’t live with this thought. Luckily, I’ve never experienced violence or aggression in my life. My family was not violent, nor were the groups in which I socialized. In general, I’ve never lived with the constant feeling I had to defend myself. As a boy, I also frequented the so called “street,” alongside people who probably would have chosen certain ways of life as grown ups. In middle school, some fellow pupils physically terrorized some teachers, laid their hands on consenting girls (in classroom), and showed them their “private parts” during classes. Being the son of a cop, a shy and polite skinny boy wearing glasses, always doing all the homework and getting the highest scores, I had to work hard in order to be accepted by such a group. I used all my innate aiki, totally unwittingly at the time, to “harmonize” myself with my classmates. In the end, it proved really useful having them on my side when someone else tried to abuse me! But we’re talking about adolescent skirmishes here, from which I learned something anyhow, but that didn’t lead me to live in fear. I lived for years in the countryside with my wife and our little boy. Many people advised me to buy a firearm for protection. We used to leave our door open when we were away, car doors also, almost always. Nothing bad ever happened, and we hope it will always be like this even now that we live in an apartment building in the city center. We don’t live with the nightmare that something awful may happen. Funny how many could think we’re crazy. On the contrary, I believe we are simply serene.

What I mean here, is that if we lived in terror, besides having bought a gun, I would also shut myself up in my house with aggressive dogs and alarm systems connected to the police (like many do in towns like Rome). Maybe I wouldn’t do Aikido, but rather boxing. If you really have the problem of living in a dangerous area (with no possibility of moving out), I think you should ask for police protection, not Aikido. If we are sure someone will attack us sooner or later, let’s seek out professional experts in self-defense and combat, not Aikido. One other thing I would like to say: in case of aggression, it is better to have had some Aikido training in the past than nothing. Would Jujutsu be better? Maybe yes, in such a case, but also Aikido techniques, if we are able to apply them in a way that doesn’t respect the other’s safety, may be really harmful and would leave no way out. But to tell the truth: how many of us do really need anything like this? I remember a story about a Chinese immigrant in Italy. Newspapers reported about thieves, maybe three of them, who entered in his house. They tied him and his wife up and started robbing what they could find in the house. Then it was clear that they were also interested in his wife. The Chinese guy, a martial arts expert, had stood put as long as they were just robbing them. He knew well the hazards of self-defense and, compared to the robbery, it was of no real importance. But when his wife’s life was at stake, he untied himself (he could have done it earlier) and killed them all with his bare hands, hunting the last one on the steet.

Now I think of all kinds of martial artists picturing themselves in the Kung Fu expert’s shoes: what would have I done if it happened to me? I asked myself, too. Everyone shivers in admiration for the “colleague” who commanded respect. We are proud of being part of the limited circle of possessors of powerful oriental secrets. Let’s be clear, the Chinese guy murdered his aggressors. I can even understand that in the terror mixed with rage when we think that someone may hurt our beloved, we could completely lose control. But murder and Aikido (or budo) are are total opposites. But I also think: what are the chances that a hypothetical reader of this article has of being just once in his/her life in such a danger? Maybe they are close to zero. Others have said this before but I would like to repeat it: what is the sense of training an entire life for something that has a 99.99% chance of never happening? I can understand if you are a professional soldier or policeman, if you live in a dangerous urban neighborhood. But if you are simple employees or college students, why are you preparing for war? The issue here is fear, the general concept of fear, indefinable but deeply rooted in human beings. This is just what the typical budo or Aikido training are meant to fight.

That’s what they mean when they say in Aikido we fight against ourselves, against our fears and limits. In theory, years of budo practice should eliminate the fear of being attacked, and consequently the need to train for a combat that will never happen. I’ll say it again, so that I’m not misunderstood: I know there might be someone who really needs to defend him/herself. In that case, you don’t need budo, but bujutsu: defense against knife (the real one), gun, chokes, etc. But take into account all the hazards involved, including that you might face someone good, or better than you, more evil, with no fear of hurting or getting hurt. Being confident of our martial techniques, we might unknowingly face a professional killer while fighting for a parking spot or in line at the bus stop. Are you willing to take courses and earn a black belt?

That’s why Aikido training is predetermined: our goal is not learning deadly techniques to knock an attacker down. We don’t practice surprise attacks (not always) simply because we don’t need to. We are training something else, something barely visible from the outside. The absence of combat and competitions is required in order to reach this goal. It is possible to train the spirit through competition, but in my view it is harder: the risk of being distracted by the wish to prevail is too high. That’s why in Aikido we need constant repetition, changing partners, falling and standing up again, being on the receiving end of safe (but potentially harmful) joint locks. And to sweat! Yes, pointing this out is necessary, since in some interpretations of Aikido it is possible to train without even sweating. Everybody is free to do and think whatever they like, but we sweat, you can count on it! This is the basis of everything.

From there, we aim at much more. We don’t train just our body, it should be clear. If we’d train for combat (the real thing), there would not be many of us left for the next class. Soon the “strongest” would be alone, with no one to train with. What would he/she have achieved? A position among the Navy SEALS? For that the path is different. I’m not stating that combat does not train the spirit, too, but it is not for everybody, not for all ages. One can start aikido when very young and practice a lifetime. It is a path of life, not an easy task. If we were training for combat, to use destructive force, that would be impossible. From the time I began practice — from personal experience — every single time I train even today, no matter how tired I am after the working day when I go to the dojo, after Aikido class, even if the training has been particularly hard, I always feel better than before. Physical fatigue disappears… It happens every time, invariably. The only time this did not happen was when we tried some wrestling on the mat, just to have some fun. I was more tired than before training; it was, yes, funny, but I didn’t feel better than before class. If you like this, I have nothing against it, but I can’t help you, nor can Aikido, lest it loses its own nature. It does not mean that in Aikido we just stand there, gently touching each other while dancing. Training is hard, often to the psycho-physical limits of everyone, which is, clearly, different at 20 or 50 years of age. Sometimes you need to experience that limit. Everyone must give their all, or else this training becomes useless.

One evening, two police officers came to visit during one of my Aikido classes. They were interested in Aikido’s self-defense side. I smiled in surprise, naively saying that for self-defense problems I would have called them. I never saw them again. Did I lose two students? Maybe. Some people would advise me to “sell” a bit of self-defense, even if I really don’t teach it. The ones who approach Aikido for that reason will later understand the futility of violence and we’ll have gained some more aikidoka. They’re probably right, but I am not able to teach self-defense and I’m not interested in it, with all respect for those who teach it. I am may be able to make you “feel” my passion for Aikido and possibly pass it down to you, so that you too will “catch the bug” and enjoy all the benefits of this kind of practice. I know and hold in high esteem an Aikido teacher who also happens to be policeman (on the street, not behind a desk). He is a big guy, built like an athlete. Sometimes he teaches self-defense in his dojo, but he asks the trainees to wear a gym suit, not the keikogi: on those days they train self-defense, not Aikido.

Once I heard an aikidoka say: “Aikido is useless, but it’s so beautiful I can’t quit”. It sounded like a contradiction to me: if it is so beautiful but you can’t stop, it has been very useful, indeed! It is a widespread belief that a martial art that “works” is one that allows you to overpower someone else. Aikido is constructive, not destructive. I repeat, Aikido techniques can really hurt. But what’s the point of hurting people? Aikido should ensure the attacker’s safety. The ideal technique would be the one that leaves our aggressor in awe and unharmed but safe. He/she might be prompted to begin the path of Aikido, resulting in one more person free from violence. Dreams? Yes, I don’t think this is really possible, but the theory is completely correct. I think that in order to be able to defend oneself in that way, using Aikido only, one should have reached indescribable skill levels. Daniel Goleman, in his book “Emotional Intelligence,” writes about an aikidoka friend of his, the late Terry Dobson (1937-1992), among the first westerners to train with Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. He was in Tokyo in the 60s to train at Hombu Dojo. One day he was in the subway when a large man reeking of alcohol stepped on the train. He was harassing everybody and tension was rising. The young American was in his best shape and was beginning to evaluate the situation in order to neutralize the big guy with his Aikido techniques. As soon as he’d made up his mind, a little old Japanese man — whom I invariably picture as Morihei Ueshiba — stands up between the two, similing at the big guy. He started to talk to him sweetly, explaining how he understood him, how he knew life must have been hard on him, etc. When Terry Dobson got off at his station, the guy was weeping in the old man’s lap. The American understood he had just seen real Aikido in action and how he still had a lot to learn.

The author used this as an example to explain the concept of emotional intelligence, something that was highly developed in the old Japanese man, but less developed at the time in Goleman’s aikidoka friend. That’s the skill level at which we can defend ourselves with just Aikido: we should acquire a very high emotional intelligence quotient. Who has reached this level? Isn’t it easy to think of how to rip an arm off of someone who’s threatening everybody for no reason? It could also happen that the Aikidoka would apply an ikkyo by surprise, immobilizing the unfortunate one with no effort, fascinating the attacker to the extent of beginning Aikido him/herself. But this is probably a less refined solution and a much easier one to apply. Let’s say that a younger Ueshiba would have applied the latter, the older Ueshiba the former. Only beacause he would be older and weaker? Or maybe because he would be further ahead on the Path, and therefore free of certain behaviours?

I’d like to make this clear: one thing is the old man feeling too weak to use a physical technique and, regretting not being young any longer, he is forced to use other abilities; a different thing is the old man who, thanks to his experience, is convinced that some methods are useless, so he avoids physical clash, not for fear of being weak. I imagine Ueshiba this way, but wouldn’t it be better to reach certain levels before the old age? I admit it, I am no aiki saint, I can lose my temper — not easily, at least! — and sometimes I wish I could use my hands; sometimes I daydream about what I would do if someone threatened me or my family’s safety. With my back to the wall, even I would wish my hands could become lethal weapons. But this is something that most likely will never happen to me, and I really hope so!

Aikido is of a different use, and I need different things. Aikido has surely helped me in my life, even in creating the family I have now, and achieving the job I dreamed of. A certain way of life has always been innate in me, a way of behaving and doing things, which Aikido has certainly supported, moulded and improved. Aikido’s philosophy and spirituality have nothing to do with it. They say not even Ueshiba spoke about those things on the mat, and nobody has ever done it with me. This is all about practicing hard, in a certain way. Automatically, the physical effort reaches deeper parts of our being.

In order to reply, once again, to those who claim Aikido is false practice, if we’d train to win a cage combat, none of this would be possible. Aikido is practiced by people who have family responsibilities, work duties, school or college deadlines. None of them could afford not to live up to their commitments because of injuries caused by “real” techniques. A bodyguard has other responsibilities, this is a different matter. We need a kind of training that will make us feel well in both our body and social relationships, at work, at home, at school, among friends, or at the shopping center. This training is possible with Aikido and that’s what I try to convey during my classes.

A mother taking her son to the dojo says the kid’s asthma problems have notably decreased since he started training. A practitioner’s boyfriend, after some trial classes, chose to start training in Aikido instead of continuing with his beloved soccer. A girl discovers she can’t be without Aikido; another guy says it’s gotten into his blood. These are results that make me happy; I don’t try to be those people’s sensei, but I only do whatever I can to allow Aikido to be worth as much to them as it has been to me. I happened to train in schools that displayed a newspaper article reporting that one of their practitioners had neutralized a robber with a knife. I don’t say the guy wasn’t good, certainly not, but in this article I prefer “advertising” as I did above.

A practitioner my age says he’s finally found the activity he enjoys doing. He tried all kind of sports and then he quickly quit… always. The new passion for Aikido induced him to buy a katana, which he has on display in his office. One of his clients, a Jujitsu practitioner, immediately spotted the sword and soon, because of his attitude, he understood the guy practices Aikido, in his words the most beautiful martial art…

Because of his attitude…

Perhaps I am on the right path?

Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence, Bloomsbury Publ.
Terry Dobson on


  1. I don’t know what kind of conceptual idea about “aikido” some people are practicing but I’ve always found Aikido to be deadly and so dangerous that restraint is usually necessary to minimize harm to even really bad attackers. Does anyone realistically think that being nice to a potential murderer will get a result? BTW the Chinese fellow who was protecting his wife did not commit “murder.” Please look up the definition. They attacked. He killed them as an solder would have done. Pest control is a valid attribute of Budo and nurturing and protecting society. Let’s not be hypocritical. As for Aikido being “ineffectual,” you should try practicing the BASIC TECHNIQUES instead of fluffy duffy prancing. Some years ago a student of a student effected a shihionage against one of several knife wielding assailants and tore half his body out. When the police arrived they thought he had been run over by a truck. Aikido can be as necessarily ugly as it can pretty.

    • Don’t worry, Nev, no one here is practicing any “conceptual” aikido. Rest assured that our practice is really hard. Many stop practicing that way because they can’t stand it. And all this by practicing basic techniques all the time – no dancing here…

      Aikido = deadly? Yes, it may be. But should a real aikidoka be willing to kill someone? That is my article’s point. I’m not stating that aikido is “ineffectual”. I’m stating that it IS effectual in many other aspects of life than just combat. Specialties like jujutsu are more focused on self defense and combat. Budo uses combat techniques with a different focus. It is not just my idea, many others wrote extensively about it.
      Aikido has been effectual on my life, it allows me to live it better. Each of us has his/her own reasons for practicing aikido. Those who do because it is deadly have their own motivations. But I imagine Ueshiba wanted to go further than that.

      The chinese KungFu expert didn’t kill like a soldier. He was not at war. He was defending himself and his girfriend. In fact he was indicted for having exceeded in self-defense. It is one of the different kinds of murder one can be accused of. Maybe US law is different on that matter.
      Again, I’m not arguing on whether he did the right thing or not. I also wrote I understand the rage that can overwhelm someone in his situation.
      The emotional intelligence example is one I wrote of as a goal we should trend to. I don’t think I will ever reach it. I’m not even suggesting we should smile to a potential murderer. I know it IS ideal. Putting ideals into practice is often impossible.

      I admit that if attacked with a knife I’d like to be able to defend myself. If I’d be so damn good not to injure the attacker I’d also be proud of myself. Personally. I don’t think I am that good. I would probably be so scared I’d try to damage the attacker as much as I could, like the guy you wrote about. I’m not sure how proud I would be of that. But I’m sure that if I killed him I won’t ever forget it for my entire life…

  2. I would disagree with you in some regards. I train with a police officer, his reports of aggressiveness have decreased and his ability to neutralize people have increased. Those are all martial.

    Also, navy seals train all the time without hurting each other as well, you don’t have just the strongest navy seal survive.

    Roy Suenaka was a student of O’Sensei and was later requested to open a dojo in Okinawa, the birth place of Karate. He was challenged several times by karate students and successfully retained his dojo presence. This to a very martial aspect and application of Aikido.

    And as a last statement I would like to suggest is a quote from O’Sensei that “proper Aikido technique is 90% Atemi”. As we know, an atemi is definitely martial.

    I believe that true Aikido should be a unification of the martial and spiritual elements.

    • Ok, let me quote O’Sensei myself:

      “Budo is not a means of felling the opponent by force or by lethal weapons. Neither is it intended to lead the world to destruction by arms and other illegitimate means. True Budo calls for bringing the inner energy of the universe in order, protecting the peace of the world , as well as preserving, everything in nature in its right form.

      If your opponent tries to pull you, let him pull. Don’t pull against him; pull in unison with him.

      Aikido does not rely on weapons or brute force to succeed; instead we put ourselves in tune with the universe, maintain peace in our own realms, nurture life, and prevent death and destruction. The true meaning of the term “samurai” is one who serves and adheres to the power of love. ”

  3. HI all,

    Lets face it, if don`t work or can’t be used in self defensive situations, then it’s not AIkido, you’re practicing and teaching something else.

    After 18 yrs of practice and teaching Aikido, I find this type of airy fairy nonsense deeply insulting. Do people really think Ueshiba`s Aiki was fake and did not work? Do people think the Japanese government would have held in so High esteem such an individual leading up to WW2 and have that person teach at nearly every major military institution including the Nakano Spy School, if it were not brutally effective?

    In fact, Ueshiba`s technique was brutal and left injuries so bad they would bleed and fester for days and weeks later (read about Saito Sensei`s Knees).
    Why do you think in the UK, the royal Marines learn self defensive techniques that come directly from Aikido? because they don’t work? Not effective? Yeah right!

    Not only does this sort of rhetoric damage the reputation of Aikido as a very effective Budo (martial arts), but damages the reputation of every single teacher out there doing their best to keep there students motivated, strong and safe.

    It’s about time teachers woke up, and if their Aikido does not work, then stop calling it a martial Art because Aikido it is not! Unbelievable honestly.

    Andy B

    • What I find unbelievable is that my article has been interpreted as stating that Aikido techniques are not effective. I wrote at least once that aikido techniques can really be damaging.

      What I believe is that focusing the practice on self defence or even offence may be misleading, since Budo is not for fighting external enemies but the internal ones – combat should be called bujutsu.

      I perfectly know that armed forces learn aikido techniques because it is very useful for them, even in combat. But is aikido’s (or budo’s) real goal another one?

      I wonder why the word “working” is only referred to combat.

      • Andrew Bedford says:

        No, working means it works. That is my interpretation.
        The confusion here seems to be, if a “do” is as effective as Jutsu?

        Well, for Ueshiba Morihei, whatever he was doing was effective and sometimes brutally so. It just so happens that his art ended up being a “do” a way to improve ourselves through Budo, so we hopefully do not get into strife, but if we do, the situation must still be controlled or lest being laughed off the street, pub or any other arena we fail in our art.

        This is not to say in later life he preferred not to cause injury and say that Budo is a means for defeating oneself and the enemy inside, it does not mean that it cannot be used effectively in self defence, on the contrary I have read stories of Osensei telling people what they are doing is not Aikido, read Homma Sensei memoirs of being an Uchi Deshi in Iwama and Osensei waking in the night and directing screaming shouts and admonitions in the direction of Tokyo that they were not practising Aikido

        I think people forget the BU part and concentrate on other things. First and foremost it should be martially effective that is Bu, to be able to stop the violence completely or at least stop it from escalating. If a so called martial system cannot do one or either of these it’s neither do or jutsu in my honest humble opinion.

        The goal for Budo is twofold, to make oneself a better person, by avoiding getting into unnecessary strife because of the respect one has not just for the opponent, but the respect for the art and ones teachers and not to bring what they have been taught into disrepute.

        Second to be a warrior. When push comes to shove and there is no way out be as equally uncompromising and brutally effective to make sure the violence is over and does not have a chance to escalate, with as little injury as possible, if this means using a sankyo lock to put a guys head into a wall knocking him out so you don`t have to kill him so be it, at least it’s over. No real harm done.

        Bottom line it’s got to work, if not it’s not a martial art.

        Andy B

        • Andrew Bedford says:

          I just wanted to add this from you article.


          “One evening, two police officers came to visit during one of my Aikido classes. They were interested in Aikido’s self-defense side. I smiled in surprise, naively saying that for self-defense problems I would have called them. I never saw them again. Did I lose two students? Maybe. Some people would advise me to “sell” a bit of self-defense, even if I really don’t teach it. The ones who approach Aikido for that reason will later understand the futility of violence and we’ll have gained some more aikidoka. They’re probably right, but I am not able to teach self-defense and I’m not interested in it, with all respect for those who teach it. ” End Quote.

          Because when we talk about self defence, we are talking about combat in a very real terms, you have had to defend yourself against somebody who will not be talked down and you cannot escape from, and as Aikido is generally agreed to being a more self defensive art than an overly aggressive one, then self defence must be a central theme. It means just that. As Mr Miyagi put it “rule number one karate is for defence only, rule number two first learn rule number one”.

          I would say if someone is supposedly teaching Aikido, but then says they cannot teach self defensive techniques, then it really is not Aikido.

          As Saito Sensei says (I can’t remember which book but it was in the old Takemusu Aiki books near the beginning) it does not matter if your opponent is holding a sword a Jo or is unarmed, or if there are more than one of them, the situation must still be controlled.

          Andy B

  4. Thank you, Pasquale, for the thoughtful article. I’m a high school teacher and live in a safe Oregon town, and, as you mentioned, in all likelihood, I will never experience (I hope) a violent situation that requires a martial response. Yet, I use my aikido training all day long.

    I use aikido in a roomful of freshman algebra students who’d rather be anywhere but in a math class. I blend rather than confront, redirect rather than force. I maintain my center when a student tells me she’s been cutting herself. I stay relaxed when a student tells me his best friend tried to commit suicide. I connect when a student’s parent dies. I use aikido all day at work and at home with my two teenage daughters, with my wife, staying calm and centered to the best of my ability in the emotional flames.

    As I understand aikido, I’m on a path to learning how to transform violence into love. So I practice ikkyo again and again, each time striving to relax more, to use the least possible force.

    At my dojo, we are constantly questioning ourselves. Are our attacks genuine? Are we truly breaking our uke’s balance? Does our aikido work or are we just fooling ourselves? Are we responding in the most natural and relaxed way possible?

    I don’t know if my aikido would work in a ‘real’ situation. I know it works in my job, in my family, in my day-to-day life. We train as best as we can for reality. And strive always to make ourselves and the world a little more peaceful and filled with love.

  5. Well, it beats me why this issue of Aikido being fake keeps creeping up… ALL Aikido training and demonstration is “fake” in the sense that neither Uke nor Nage apply the full 100% power of the techniques they do. It’s called control and it allows for continuous practice and continuous evolution of skill..

    So yes, Aikido is fake in that sense, and so are ALL martial arts, in terms of training and demonstration..

    We don’t see 10 students entering a GOJU Dojo, but only 2 going back home intact, do we? Does that mean GoJu is fake?

    We don’t see 20 elders practicing TaiJi one morning, but only one finishing practice with all limbs intact, do we? Does that makes the entire family of TaiJi styles…fake?

    I find the discussions around the efficiency of a style – any style- to be simply silly.. Efficiency is a reflection of practice and fine tuning, not of style or technique. More so, “efficient” is an end result. The end result varies from style to style, from teacher to teacher, and from student to student. And on top of it, “efficiency” is posture, control, attitude, values, etc – all at work during any technique being executed.

    Therefore, efficiency is truly a non-issue when equated with an overall style.
    At least that’s what I’ve learned throughout my life.


    • I do need to make an addition.
      Aikido is not the only martial art whose end result is a transformation of Uke into a peaceful individual. I believe that most martial arts – at mastery level – strive towards non-violence and peaceful resolution based on mutual respect.

      It’s not like “Oh, if I apply a Shotokan technique I will damage my opponent, but if I use my Aikido it will change my opponent’s mindset…” The exact opposite can very well happen. On my end, I do not place any form on a pedestal. It is my personal use of the form that will always reflect my essence. The form, Aikido or something else, is entirely irrelevant..

      Story (told in a dry way but hopefully still fun and educational):

      Two martial arts masters meet. A swordsman and a karateka. The swordsman challenges the empty hand master to a duel. The karate master agrees under one condition: to first square off against a tree.

      The swordsman agrees, confident of his success.

      They both begin chopping off at an old tree, but the karate master keeps ripping the tree apart with his bare hands, while the swordsman struggles to chop at it..

      After a few moments, the swordsman yields his sword and bows to the other master: “Thank you for sparing my life”..

      Well, these were my two cents :)

    • Good observation, Bo.

  6. My take is that bujutsu are the quick-and-dirty things which can be learned in a short period of time before deploying for combat with some hope of having them work when needed.

    Now, a lot of people who do military or paramilitary service are done with it when their tour of duty is up. This is not to say they become pacifists, or even ineffective fighters, but they’re done. They go on to a different walk of life, craftsman, merchant, professional, priest…

    Then there are those of us who came up in a threatening environment. I was bullied because I was skinny, weak, uncoordinated yet a smart “aleck”. Some of that was just how I came. Some of it I earned. But living with threat is just a given in my world view. Never giving in is another. So, how do I cope? Locks? Alarm systems? Guns*? Well, a little of all of the above, but not through fear, but rather utility. Any of those can be tools for a practitioner of budo, but it is fighting spirit which is central. O Sensei said it, but so did Napoleon, Grant and any number of others. O Sensei transcended the concept of victory and defeat in a novel way which is a challenge to any of us who follow him, but his path is common to all of us who, for better or worse, consider ourselves warriors.

    As an example, after Saturday class at Aikido of Diablo Valley sometimes everybody goes out to lunch. So, there we are after a couple of hours of steady discussion of conflict when I observe to the table, “We ARE different. Look around. There are folks watching sports on the tv. Others are chatting up the cute waitresses. There’s a couple figuring out whether they’re in love. What are WE doing (for hours)?” Well, we weren’t out looking for fights, but if one had come looking for us it might have been surprised. Budo – if it’s your karma, it’s your life.

    As for aikido techniques, at almost any level of expertise they are effective when employed. Their subtlety is difficult to master, but even at a crude level, they’re good jiu jutsu. Saito Sensei had a three step plan: static basics, flow, and spontaneity. There is a term “ballistic movement” which is to say something which has been practiced so much it is done without thought. Walking is an example. Using eating utensils is another. Over the years practice of our techniques they become automatic. Keep working on the subtlety and they even improve. In my opinion a really good shihonage should do little damage to the limbs but may break the neck or fracture the skull… depending, as O Sensei said, on the attack and attacker.

    Getting beyond that, however, is part of what I’ve been working on. At the basic level there is awareness. Pay attention to your “spider sense” and you will avoid MANY situations. Is it REALLY important to go down that dark alley? At the next stage when a situation is developing, the attacker normally has an objective other than simply killing you (robbery, rape, torture). They also have a plan. The plan involves a script. Mess with the script. Defeating the enemy’s plan is better than defeating their army. That is a level of mastery.

    But what about all that bizarre stuff O Sensei spouted about being one with the universe? Well, my take of the moment is that O Sensei left instructions for that too, ‘Aikido is not a religion, but it can lead your religion to fulfillment’.

  7. Thank you for your thoughts. They have provided potential answers to questions I have begun to form. ‘Desiderata’ is relevant. Aikido draws such internet scorn that I think it is brave to speak so openly.

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