Aikidoka: “The Apologetic Martial Artists,” by Stanley Pranin


“Who anyway is the superior martial artist… the guy who’s never been defeated
with a record of 0-0, or a formidable ring champion with a 35-2 record?”

For years I have heard a vociferous chorus of naysayers lambasting aikido as an “ineffective” martial art. Even among those who practice aikido, one can hear criticism of aikido’s techniques as unrealistic. I confess that I too have been among those who have lamented much of what goes on in aikido dojos all over the world, as misdirected and contrary to the basic principles of the art.

I have often felt frustrated with the standards used by aikido’s critics to disparage the art. To begin with, if we wish to discuss the merits or demerits of aikido as a martial art, does it not make sense for the detractor to define what he means by a martial art for the benefit of his audience? Absent this, how can we hope to have any kind of intelligent conversation about the subject?

Let me pick at random the definition of “martial art” offered by an online dictionary, “Merriam-Webster,” in this instance: “any of several arts of combat and self defense (as karate and judo) that are widely practiced as sport.”

Yikes! I can’t believe it! This is a ridiculous definition to begin with. It also reveals an ignorance of the root of the term “martial” referring to Mars, the god of war. Then we are told that these arts are for “combat and self-defense” and that they are practiced as “sports.” I missed something. Just when did combat arts become sports? Unless we are talking about gladiators in Rome, fighters do not normally risk their lives while engaging in sporting competitions.

Another observation. Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba forbade competitions in aikido in the strongest possible terms. Kenji Tomiki, the man who did introduce a form of competition for aikido, became a persona non grata at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo for having taken this egregious step. He also became estranged from the Founder from that point on.

So, if we’re going to use Merriam-Webster’s definition, then aikido is certainly not an effective martial art because it is not a martial art at all! What is there to talk about? Where is the disagreement if this is what we mean when we banter about the term?

Ok, I’ll take my own advice and make a stab at a definition of “martial art” for purposes of this article. I think I have a better definition than the one above, one that gets closer to the way that martial artists use the term “martial art” when they talk about an art’s effectiveness in a “real” situation. Then perhaps we can conduct a meaningful discussion as to whether or not aikido can be classified in this category.

Let me define a martial art this way: “A system of fighting techniques and strategies designed for use in a dangerous encounter.” In other words, if one practices a discipline that can be characterized as a “martial art,” his expectation (real or imagined) is to have some hope of prevailing against an opponent or opponents in an adversarial situation.

Then the question becomes, which of today’s so-called “martial arts” instill their practitioners with the expectation of a favorable outcome if they should find themselves in a realistic scenario. Judo, karate, mixed martial arts, taekwondo, aikido, etc., do any of them qualify? Can we even answer this question in a meaningful way?


Well, let’s put them to the test. Suppose that a martial arts practitioner of (fill in the blank) finds himself surrounded by a street gang armed with weapons in a dark alley. Is there anyone out there that can tell me what will happen in this scenario? How many gang members are there? What is their intention? What kind of weapons do they have? Is the martial art practitioner himself armed? My brain refuses to function when trying to process such a scenario given its entirely hypothetical nature.

Let’s change tact. We’ll make it a little easier this time. Imagine a martial artist minding his own business while nursing a drink in a crowded bar. He is approached by an inebriated man who attempts to provoke a fight. Ok. In this situation, will the martial art practitioner of (fill in the blank) be able to successfully defend himself? What? You still can’t answer the question?

Ok, then. Let’s flesh out the details a little more so that we can better predict the outcome, and by extension, the effectiveness of (fill in the blank). Let’s imagine the “martial artist” is a big, well-trained guy with a lot of rough-and-tumble experience. The drunk is about the same size and strong looking, but obviously not in possession of his faculties due to the effects of alcohol. Then it’s decided! Of course, the martial artist will prevail. And therefore (fill in the blank) is a bona fide martial art! Simple!

Now we can take this one step further and request submissions — the more detailed the better — hypothesizing dangerous situations, describing the art, the protagonists and the setting, and then tabulate the probable outcomes to determine “scientifically” which arts are worthy of being classified as “martial.” Then the argument will be settled because we have an objective standard on which to judge. Argumentum ad absurdum…

My point here is that there can be no rational discussion of the relative merits of different arts because we can’t even come to an agreement about the meaning of basic terms. All we can do is sit around throwing out hypothetical scenarios and supposing the results. These discussions are invariably emotional, visceral, and quickly veer out of control. There can be no consensus.

The undefeated martial artist

Let’s keep a cool head and look at the subject from an entirely different angle. We will now assume that the goal of a martial art, or “budo” to use the Japanese term, is not to be defeated… not to fight. We’ll imagine a person who practices an art for decades, and who never engages in a “real” fight, and therefore has never been defeated. Do such people exist? Of course, they do. I have known hundreds of them, and so probably have you.

Have these “undefeated martial artists” wasted their time training because they have never even found themselves in a life-threatening situation? Can they be called “martial artists” when they haven’t even tested their mettle? Who anyway is the superior martial artist… the guy who’s never been defeated with a record of 0-0, or a formidable ring champion with a 35-2 record? You must decide that for yourself. You are the one who chooses the art, and also the one decides how you conduct your life on a daily basis.

This idea of the “undefeated martial artist” is not mine, of course. I don’t know that anyone can lay claim to having been the first to come up with the concept. But one thing is sure, Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba espoused this principle in the most vigorous terms. This is one of the core tenets of his budo philosophy. Start with this if you wish to explore the subject further.

Ambivalent feelings

I chose the title of this article in an attempt to capture the state of ambivalent feelings of many aikidoka toward the art they are studying. Does aikido really work, they ask themselves?

I think the vast majority understand that they would be defeated if thrown into the ring with a monster mixed martial artist because they have never trained for such a situation, nor is it the goal of their practice. Likewise, they naturally feel fear at the prospect of finding themselves alone and surrounded by gang members on the street at night. But would not the mixed martial artist who could hand the aikidoka his head on a plate in the ring feel fear in the same situation? Would not a police officer accustomed to violence, or an elite soldier be similarly in deep trouble in the scenario described above? Why apologize? Anyone would be lucky to survive.

But what if you choose to live your life taking care to avoid such dangerous encounters altogether? If you never had to use your skills, even though you trained diligently. Would it be merely a matter of luck, a fortuitous coincidence, or might it have something to do with your training and decision-making abilities honed through your dojo practice? In any event, this was the Founder’s cherished goal for aikido, the martial art of peace.

The next time you’re at the dojo for practice, ask your training mates if they have ever had to use their aikido in a “real fight”. Ask them what their training goals are. Let me know what you find.


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  1. An honest, reflective and thought provoking article. I myself have wrestled with this issue and what I call overcoming the feeling of inferiority. I think Aikidoka and Jujutsuka feel the pressure to defend their art more so because fundamentally the paradigm of budo is different to that of combat sports. But no martial art can make a person invincible or fearless. Even professional fighters feel fear before a fight and a fight can be won or lost in the mind before a single punch has been thrown, if they are not psychologically strong enough to harness that fear and convert it positively.

    I have come to the conclusion that we must all choose the path through the martial arts we want to take. The important thing is to pursue that path with conviction and a peace of mind about your decision. The more I train in Aiki-Jujutsu and develop a better understanding and application of aiki, the more I desire to develop the aiki body and mindset. To me it makes total sense to blend rather than resist with force. To meet force with force seems so illogical and counterproductive to me now. I want to develop my body and mind to be able to harmonize and yield. I don’t feel the need to “prove” my art is better or equal than any other. It is my art and I am developing the skills I want to, which I think are important for martial effectiveness and self-defence.

  2. ken wakeman says:

    About 10 years ago David Brown sensei in Australia taught aikido to the upper hierarchy of a karate school for a period of a few years. This class evolved into an open class to anyone holding a 4th dan or above in any martial art. There were plenty of people coming from many different styles including mixed martial arts.
    The first time he had to deal with a jujitsu artist he found himself wrapped up with a broken rib for his trouble. When he was back a few weeks later he changed the rules slightly. He got a 7th dan in karate to judge when the fight was over based on access to vital points such as the eyes and throat. Aikido was then shown to be effective with the loser unaware how it had happened or when. As such when the fight is to the death or involves serous maiming, aikido works against MMA. If there are rules then it doesn’t work.

    Kokyu allows us inside the attack but what next? MMA people cannot be thrown or manipulated. They train fiercely to stop such things. True aikido is a matter of life and death in my opinion.
    Of course not eveyone is David Brown sensei, but any aikidoka who has trained to be relaxed with correct timing and distance is on the right path.


    • Excellent. Rules tend to take away the timing and distance advantages which aikido normally exploits. Irimi works best just before the bell or buzzer opening the round. Ever notice in “real situations” the absence of audible signals like that? This technique is not unique to aikido. Musashi said something like, ‘Stop the attack at “at…”. Stop the cut at “c…”‘. O Sensei noted that the term aiki is an old one, but will be difficult or impossible in a contest.

  3. Regarding “…mixed martial artist who could hand the aikidoka his head on a plate in the ring…”
    Are you saying Aikido techniques are not effective against real attacks? If the goal of Aikido is simply a state of mind, then why not just meditate? I just started taking Aikido, and I love the spiritual component of it, but I also was under the impression that its techniques had a real defensive capability.

    • I am saying that a match in a ring is not a “real fight.” It is an avoidable event requiring the prior agreement of two parties. It is subject to conditions and rules. Running into a gang on a dark night probably would constitute a “real fight” as there is no prior consent and one’s life may be in danger. I don’t know if you see where I’m coming from.

      • boj dangoy says:

        Totally agree 2 different objectives in MMA the motivation is to win within set rules. In Aikido and Budo, the goal is to survive and hopefully the opponent will also survive by using harmony. They can be both equally effective in the streets.

      • I guess I misunderstood you. I looked at a lot of different types of martial arts before deciding on Aikido, and when I became aware of Aikido, it seemed to have everything I was looking for. I love the spiritual and self-exploratory aspect of it, along with the fact that it is mostly defensive, with a goal of avoiding fights, if possible. I love everything that Aikido is teaching me socially, physically regarding balance and self-control, and in regard to focusing my energy. I happen to take from one of your students, George Jensen, here in Little Rock, and he is great. I also happen to come from a background that has caused me to believe that I honestly need to be able to protect myself and the ones I love from attackers, thus my question, above. In short, I love Aikido – I just also want to know that my training will also enable me to protect myself against real attackers, which is at least 50% of the reason I looked into martial arts in the first place. Thank you for your comments..

        • I will be writing a follow-up article in the near future that will address your concerns. I believe that your motivation in wishing to acquire confidence in the usability of your aikido training will need to address your total lifestyle and mindset.

          • Thank you for your responses. I look forward to reading the article (as I do all of them).

        • Avoiding fights is not necessarily defensive. MacArthur encapsulated his strategy as “Hit ’em where they ain’t.”

        • Great dialogue. I really like the distinctions between reality situations vs. contrived (a competition fight). I too struggled with the notion that Aikido isn’t real, but a sort of ballet between an agressor and a compliant stage prop (uke). No so. In our dojo, we have as one of our instructors a veteran in the police force. He has used Aikido techniques numerous (yes, numerous) times on the street. It certainly helps that he’s about 6-4 and 290, but it’s the aikido technique properly applied that he would tell you makes all the difference.

          As a Christian, I’m not so much into the mystical side of Aikido, but who — regardless of their religion — could argue against being calm with a bent toward peaceful resolution of a potential encounter? Instead of “ki,” I think physics (centering my gravity at a low point in my gut and relaxing) and a calm heart and mind. Semantics and nuance. In the end, I love the discipline and beauty of aikido; however, I’m also confident that as its movements and maneuvers become second nature, I will be able to take care of business if necessary.

  4. Charles Humphrey says:

    I’ll try my hand at it:

    Martial Art: Applies to a diverse body of knowledge whose aim is the systematic conditioning and reprogramming of the three main nervous system groupings – central, enteric and peripheral – to effect a drastically enhanced awareness of subjectivity and intersubjective interpenetration with the surrounding environment. Spinoff benefits of such awareness, when properly cultivated, include: increased survivability in the face of anti-subjective environmental aggression (whether animate or inanimate,) ; increased awareness of the limits and nature of the subjective self ; increased awareness of the network of intersubjectivities which constitute this self (aka: empathy, intuition, zanshin.) Systems usually consist primarily of bodily movements conducted either individually or in partnership with others, running the gamut from very subtle, simple exercise drills of a meditative nature to highly dynamic, athletic maneuvers simulating theoretical constructs of combat situations. While popularly known for its value in enhancing survivability, this attribute commonly considered by practitioners as a door which lures the ego into submission by appealing to mortality-related fears. Martial arts are by no means unique in delivering the above mentioned spinoff benefits and the nervous system adjustments which lie at their root but tend to appeal more readily to people owing to the quirk of providing the illusion of an answer to the most troubling “problem” in the human condition – death and its cousins, decay, weakness and vulnerability.

    That’s my definition anyway.

  5. …Let me tell you a story about one of my students. Jaime is a magnificent martial artist and amazing athlete. He is the most flexible guy I’ve ever met. It is not possible to pin him in such a way as to lock up his shoulder. In fact, if you try, he’s likely to take advantage of the fact you’ve put your center of gravity over his in the process to counter you. You name it, he’s done it, though I think he spent most of his time with monkey-kung-fu in his native Peru. So, what was he doing in my class? It seems he was coming home from work (tending bar) one night and was jumped by three guys. He munched out the first and was working on the second when the third opened up the back of his head with a bottle (shomen, from the shape of the scar). He said he dealt with all of them successfully, but not unscathed. I think he was attracted to the adaptability of aikido for multiple person situations.

    As for contests, the rules take away three elements of real situations, surprise, timing and distance is restricted. This falls, imo, into the general category of Musashi’s “equal contest” in which ‘the fight will be long and costly.’ In the context of Musashi, at some point later in his career a person came to him requesting a match. Musashi was carving a bow at the time and simply hit him with it, then dismissed him with the comment, ‘you lost’.

  6. Having spent many years studying Martial Arts including Aikido I have come to some tough realizations about how Aikido is practiced today. The two largest challenges facing Modern Aikido is the lack of atemi, including use of kicks and defending against punch, knee kick combinations and more importantly what constitutes a good uke. I love to cross train with judo players because they can take ukemi, but do not just fall down as soon as you break their balance. I was instructed by countless Aikido instructors that because of the spiritual nature of Aikido you can only learn by relaxing and following. A good uke was defined as someone who would be thrown over and over again while nage looked like he was walking through the park . Similar to the second person in ballroom dance , you were expected to sense the direction the lead would want you to go and follow along at his or her speed. This all works great until the other person does not know the rules of the game.

    As a black belt in Aikido at over 200 pounds I was invited to a Judo. Club. The green belt who politely ask me to “Play” (this is what they call randori) threw me around like a rag doll, while I could not get off one technique. Nobody wants to feel that what they have put their time and energy in is not what they thought it was. I love Aikido Journal because they often promote the Budo aspect of Aikido. Many contributors much more qualified than myself seem to be saying the same thing. In the general Martial Arts community Aikido
    is often labeled as an ineffective system. The only reason people should care is that this directly effects the future of Aikido.

    • I have had a similar experience. I have trained in Aikido for quite some time, achieving a higher dan rank. In an attempt to broaden my horizons, I joined an MMA gym to gain some insight and experience with striking, as well as experience a rougher form of training and fighting. When I started the wrestling class, I had figured this was at least one area that I might have some hope in. Needless to say, even relative beginners in wrestling were sweeping and throwing me with relative ease.

      However, in just a couple of months of wrestling, my abilities to execute a throw or takedown against a resisting opponent were much improved. This ability to execute technique against a resisting opponent was something I never really achieved even after all the years of Aikido. The live sparring gave me the experience to feel my partners balance and get a better sense of timing and kuzushi than the placid training one typically sees in Aikido could or has ever given. It’s just the way it is; if you don’t train with full resistance, you will never be able to deal with full resistance.

      My question is, why isn’t sparring a part of Aikido training?

      I understand O’Sensei’s rule of no competition, and I think it is logical since rules are inevitably a part of a competition. But sparring, in my opinion, is not competing. True, you are trying to throw your opponent, and there is a spirit of competition. But the spirit is not animosity; there is a bonding between training partners when sparring is done for training and for the betterment of the self. Both training partners learn, and there is no winner or loser. Your awareness of openings and timing are sharpened, and your ability to respond rapidly to openings is greatly enhanced. I have experienced this countless times while training at the MMA gym and in BJJ. Is that not what Aikido is about?

      • This is essentially the view of Tomiki Aikido proponents. Lots of people think in this way.

        • Thank you for your response. I am still curious though:

          If my understanding is correct, Tomiki Aikido has organized competitions with rules and points, which understandably is against O’Sensei’s teachings. Sparring for training, however, is a different thing, at least in my experience. There isn’t a winner or loser, no one who gets a medal or what-have-you. Just the mutual benefit of training and learning. Why isn’t that a part of regular training, when it so clearly sharpens technique, responsiveness, perception of openings, and improves balance taking? Was there something in the teaching method historically that did not include this aspect of training? Or did modern aikido remove it for mass appeal?

          • My personal feeling is that sparring based training carries with it a “ring” type, competitive mentality. In dangerous situations, one may be ambushed and dealing with weapons. I think rings and rules produce a false sense of security and inflate one’s opinions of his own skills. This may be a liability if one’s life is in danger.

  7. Bogdan Heretoiu says:

    This being my first comment to your posts, Stanley, I want to first thank you for your amazing efforts in regard to Aikido… Many many thanks!

    As per your article, I find the judgement of whether a martial art is better than another equally offensive to a higher intelligence as any racial judgement. That said, those who consider Aikido to be of lesser practical value than any other martial art, only project a sad state of ignorance. More so, those who know the real practical value of Aikido, should not care much about those who doubt it.

    Back in the day, the great Ali could defeat his opponents by footwork alone. By the time he was done moving, they were done breathing, and gasping for air. Therefore, over and over again, it is the work and skill of the practitioner that shows the value of any martial art.

    I do understand your points, and are very valid. I just think that the outsiders’ “naysayers” – as you call them – opinion is truly irrelevant. At least to me, as a practitioner.

    I have studied and practiced Goju-Ryu for about 25 years now. Aikido for two years (20 years ago) and since last year again. Fought maybe twice outside of the Dojo. I did not put in all those hours (and they were long and hard hours, I promise) just to prevail in a fight. Eventually, even if I was a morph between ALI and LEE, someone would have been better than me at some point.. To me, the study of any martial arts in today’s society, is not about surviving a mob. Finally, we can say (for the most part) that we study any martial art as a learning tool to discover and better ourselves.

    The efficiency of the techniques inside the Dojo (controlled environment) reflect our ability to use our whole body in the most efficient way in regard to a partner, or partners. The efficiency of any technique from any martial art outside the Dojo is reflected by not fighting at all.

    All this of course does not apply to those whose profession goes hand in hand with being daily in harm’s way.

    So is Aikido effective on the street? If I was attacked now and attempted to use only my Aikido skills, I would lose. If I was to employ all my accumulated skills from everything else I studied (including running), my chances would go up a bit.. The moral, in my opinion is simple: nothing is just black and white.

  8. Jeff Walters says:

    “More confused than ever!” First, I want to say thank you Pranin Sensei for all the great work you are doing with the Aikido Journal. After reading this article and the comments, I have to say there is some great insight. However I still am confused. I have studied Aikido for 20 years now and it is the only art I have trained in. When I first started, I had this idea that it was the art to end all arts. Naive, I know! It just made so much sense to me and really defined who I was as a person.

    Why do we get in to the martial arts? Let’s be honest, it is usually to win a physical confrontation. If you’re attacked, you want to win even if running means you get to live. If there’s a wall behind you, then running is not an option. Some get into martial arts because they were born into it. I love Aikido for many reasons, but I want to know if what I am doing will work when it matters. I know that as you elevate your level of training, it becomes more about relaxation, mushin, and heart much more than trying to do a technique (yes there’s more to it also). I am not going to stop my training in Aikido even with my mixed feelings.

    I have had moments in my training throughout the years where I can absolutely say yes the principles work. I have never been in a serious fight in my entire life even though I have had a knife pulled on me and a few incidents amongst strangers. I have always been able to use silence, a long non threatening stare, and no sign of fear (even though I was afraid) to survive these incidents. I don’t believe in violence, yet I recognize a violent world. I don’t want to go out and prove Aikido works. I just want to know somehow that it works, otherwise to be boldly honest, why would someone continue their whole life to study something that has false pretenses. I didn’t say Aikido is false! (I know you have to believe in what your doing or it won’t work. I got it. I’m just writing an honest comment) I look at it like someone who can’t sing, but has the passion and the heart, but in the end still can’t sing. I mean no disrespect with these comments. I just wonder if the higher dan’s are at such a level, that they know something inside that I so strive for. Eventually I will stop beating myself up about this. I guess then I will understand the true meaning of Aikido!

    • Judging from your comments, you are undefeated as a martial artist during the 20-year period you have studied. You have avoided physical confrontations during this time. This is O-Sensei’s ideal and stated goal for the art. I don’t think this is a small thing.

      • I agree entirely. As per your accumulated skills over 20 years (congratulation on such a passion), I believe that martial skill works like water under a mountain. Here and there, you see peaceful springs, but when the storms hit, that water becomes lethal.

        • Well stated, Sir!

          • Jeff walters says:

            Thank you Pranin Sensei. You’re right, the true goal is to not fight at all! Sensei Heretoiu, I like your comment about the peaceful springs. Very nice!

            These thoughts that I have been having about the effectiveness of Aikido surfaced about two weeks ago. A few years ago a friend of mine that started just before I did in Aikido stopped training because he got into a real fight and lost. He was a natural. Training came easy to him. I was not a natural and I always looked up to him because he was gifted and humble. After he quit, I thought if he couldn’t use Aikido outside of the dojo, how could I? Then a couple weeks ago, a veteran MMA guy verbally ripped apart what I do, and worse so I began to defend myself. I guess he hit a sore point. Looking back at all the evidence regarding my friend, I remember him mentioning over time that he used to get into some rough scraps with his other friends. Regarding the fight he lost, he once confided in me that he couldn’t apply any techniques or get under the other guys center. It just occurred to me that he has been trying to prove his skills over the years and not living budo. Aikido has no competition on or off the mat!! You must practice mushin and trust within yourself and your ability. We train for real. We train for life. We train for a better world, especially the one around us!

  9. Charles Humphrey says:

    Actually I was just pondering this a bit and it brought to mind a scene from that show Human Weapon where they go to the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program (MCMAP) training centre. During a full-contact simulation (wearing lots of protective gear) exercise at the end of the show, at the end of running through woods fighting with bayonets and clubs, they are near the end and are ambushed, unarmed, by two fellows who also appear unarmed.

    When the MMA trained fellow went to ground to deploy his usual skill set, the trainer-attackers pulled plastic knives and began to stab them both repeatedly in vital organs while they continued to think they were “winning” by punching and trying to apply locks. The “refs” declared a kill and they were informed they’d both been stabbed repeatedly in kidneys, liver and throat while they were still under the impression that they were winning by landing punches to the face. The reaction of the MMA-trained guy was classic “But I didn’t see the knife! I didn’t see the knife! Hey, I never saw the knife!” as if he was complaining to a referee and would have the round declared a draw or something for violation of the rules. You could just see he wanted to yell “Hey, this isn’t fair! You never said he’d have a knife, I want a rematch! Unkill me ref!” Never was there a better moment to illustrate the limits of sport training.

  10. Charles Humphrey says:

    The trainer there put it perfectly: “If I were to step into the ring with Randy Couture of one of those guys, I’m pretty sure I’d get my ass kicked. But if they were to step into my world, I’m much more sure I’d kill them.”

  11. I still believe in the Basics as practiced in Iwama. I just want to add more atemi, including legs and combination strikes. The exaggerated haymaker style single strikes should not be the only type of strikes we practice we should do. The atemi should be just a tap. This will control the ego factor. Ukemi is another area we might consider looking at. In many schools the practice is not really spirited or mindful. The uke can easily fall into a hypnotic stupor while nage takes his 3 or 4 turns. A seasoned uke can sense where his partner wants him to go, like driving a car and ending up at a destination while not knowing exactly how we got there. If we consider going back to the prewar Aikido,it would be a good start.

    The word competition seems to have all sorts of baggage connected to it. It can be more than the general I win and you lose thinking. What if we train with the mutual goal to improve our training. Again we can take a page from the Judo Player. They start with partner practice. I go 4 times then you go four times. I do not resist because I am working on my technique. Then when they do randori which is usually every class, whoever get the throw gets the throw and you start again. Many of the rules are structured to prevent injury. You only fall when you have no choice. It is not considered a bad thing if the throw fails, you just keep training. I don’t want to be Tomiki or Judo. I want to expand on what we already have.

  12. I would also like to add a sincere thank you to Mr. Pranin for providing a viable venue to have a dialogue. Your commitment and dedication come through loud and clear. It is possible that Aikido is a fluid entity as an art. If this is so then it must develop and evolve if it is to prosper in 2013 and beyond.

  13. Dear Pranin Shihan and discussion participants,

    I have enjoyed reading your discussions. I too have listened, for over 20 yerars, to the relentless attacks on Aikido’s “martial effectiveness”. Although I have never been a competitor in a “mixed martial arts” competition, I have been involved in countless “real life” altercations, both empty hand and with weapons, both in the military and in law enforcement.

    I can assure you, without hesitation, that Aikido is not only an extremely effective martial art in terms of self defense and martial application, but it is also without a doubt, the single most powerful and effective discipline for anyone seeking self mastery. I believe that the martial aspects of Aikido (effective as they are) constitute only about 10% of the true value of the study of Aikido. Through the practice of the principles of Aiki, we can learn to transform our lives, and the lives of those around us for the better.

    The wisdom of compassion and understanding that can be developed and applied as a direct result of the study of the Aiki Arts is priceless. There is an old Irish saying “For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; and for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible.” When we engage in a discussion about the “martial” effectiveness of Aikido, we engage not only in an exercise in futility, but we also reject our own philosophy by staying on the line of attack and using a hard block when we should simply remain silent as we tenkan and offer our hand in an invitation, not to an argument or competition, but rather an invitation to visit our Dojo and join us in our journey on our path…


    In Aiki,

    Steve Sr.

  14. Most Aikido styles are not street effective. We should not fool ourselves.
    The more street effective ones are the very soft styles. This is counter intuitive.

    I was at Dunken Donut in 2007 in Lawrence, MA, when four young men surrounded me and asked me if I knew how to defend myself against 4 assailants. They asked me if I taught Aikido. How did you know ? I said. Your cap says Aikido, they answered. I had forgotten that sensei had given me a dojo hat. I explained to them that I help teach but that I am not the main teacher. They asked for the Dojo address, then shook my hand and left. But for a few seconds, I wet my pants.


  15. G’day Sensei Pranin

    I have a lot of respect for your articles and contribution to the art. I live in Auckland NZ, and practice Aikido Shinryukan, directly linked to Aikikai. I have deep respect for my sensei who is a 7th dan shihan. The quality of instruction has a major effect i think, but life experience and ‘mind/psych’ factors are there also. An attack doesn’t have to always be physical.

    Before I got into Aiki, I met a guy who was an ex. NZ soldier -a Chef when i met him- and he thought he could take on 10 assailants at once sitting in seiza -lol. This guy trained with different arts, some realy ‘hard’ styles of combat, but he always thought of Aikido as his ‘base’.

    I recon it’s fate that chooses our path in the end. Have a nice day sensei.


  16. Dear Sensei,

    After reading the invaluable discussions, I wonder if we started forgetting that all the martial arts are for personal perfection. There is no specific martial art style being better than the others; just the matter of practitioners. There is always a higher mountain. I always chuckle when thinking of the title “World Champion” of some sports when we are just compete against ourselves. We choose a specific martial art style because we love its philosophy, theory. We also venture to the other styles because we think the current one did not completely provide us all the answers. The grass is always greener on the other side. Every style always has something to offer if we pay our time and energy.

    Thanks for posting.

    Nga Pham

  17. My belief is that while aikido should be practiced with great sincerity, it is, as noted by Mr Pham, a transformative art of self development. I truly believe we will virtually never be in a fight with a serious martial artist. Why?… Because they at at their own dojo training.

    We will never in our lifetime be able to satisfactorily defeat all of our external enemies, whether they are real or imagined. Our greatest enemy will always be ourselves. I have so much work left to do with myself that wondering who else I could defeat is just a silly distraction.

  18. I was at a county fairgrounds participating in an aikido demonstration in 1980 or 1981. My Sensei at that time was Dennis Tatoian. While we were demonstrating Jo techniques, a young man from the crowd yelled out. He asked to be allowed to attack Tatoian-Sensei with the Jo. Tatoian -Sensei got a big grin and invited the young man up and allowed him to take a Jo. As the man grabbed the Jo and prepared to swing it like baseball bat, Tatoian-Sensei entered irimi and easily removed the Jo from man grasp. The man complained that Sensei hadn’t allowed him to strike with the Jo. I guess you can’t please everyone.

  19. I have an unusual circumstance for which the ideal of loving protection is more than sentiment. I have 2 severely autistic sons. They have periodically throughout their lives had meltdowns. The are extreme fits of rage caused by overstimulation, confusion, and fear. They are very hard to handle even now, and they will be bigger and stronger than me in a couple of years when they hit puberty.

    I have already had to use some very controlled techniques and restraints with them just to keep them safe from themselves. Aikido’s goal is to render the attacker harmless without harming them. This is paramount in my situation. I’ve known other parents whose kids have had to be placed in residential facilities because they could not handle them and they were getting severely hurt. In conclusion, it is no less than the goal of keeping my family in tact.

    That’s why a striking art would not be for me. I don’t want my first reaction to be a strike. I want it to be an evasion, entry and control. Aikido is perfect for this, I realize this is an unusual situation, but not really that different from say someone who is working in a psychiatric facility, a body guard or a police officer.

    So yes, for me aikido signifies the epitome of living protection. Now of course you can turn the dial to 10 for some random attacker if necessary. That’s what I like about it.

    • Mark Matcott says:

      Thank you for this, Lynne.

      People get sucked in instantly by the phrase ‘self-defence’ because it includes the word ‘self’. But your case reminds us that one is not always the self that needs protecting in a violent situation.

      One of my instructors, an ex-policeman, offered another great scenario. Your brother-in-law is in a melee in a pub. You reach in to get him out. He’s had a few and his testosterone and adrenaline levels are up. He takes a swing at you. Your sister is not going to thank you for decking her husband!

      Aikido asks us to figure out, under pressure and in an instant, what harmony might be. The moment we push the word self into the discussion, we start to lose sight of important things.

      Yes, learning to do effective atemi is great. Yes, some cross training in other systems can open our eyes to lots of possibilities. But once you choose to do Aikido, you should at least ask yourself what it is.

      Here’s another anecdote. One day a ‘Brazilian ju-jitsu’ dude came to my class. Needless to say, after my class was over, there he was on the floor choking out one of my students to show how clever he was. I looked down and saw a flip-flop shoe, and considered walking over and tapping him lightly on the forehead to point out to him that beating one guy means little when there are two guys! I wanted to say “And that’s Aikido” as I tapped his forehead. I never did it, because I assumed he wouldn’t see my point. Always wondered if I should have done that tap!

  20. thanks again and again to Stanley Sensei for your tremendous contribution to the Aikido world.and to set off this discussion about effectiveness.
    And effectiveness is relate to what we target, it depends on what we aim in one’s life : to defeat or survive or gain in peace ?
    In the same time, the reality remains : whatever the technique, it has to be exercised and sharpened again and again. under one condition : to fit to the principles.and never veer out of them.
    God bless you.

  21. Sports – They are games. We set height, weight, environment, one on one, no weapons, gender classes, some rules for safety and some out of dogma and some out of a need to appeal to the public. Sports also are geared towards Fair Play and no one ultimately getting deliberately hurt or maimed or killed.

    One thing Aikido could possibly claim is that we don’t have the rules, so we can work past that.

    We don’t have the mindset to kill or injure. We don’t train to fight in formation or in a group. An ex-ranger I spoke to told me about his martial arts classes: “If you are ever close enough to use this crap, that is a failure of leadership!” What martial artist thinks like this? We certainly aren’t acting under orders either, which the soldier is.

    I agree the terms need work – I see students who don’t understand training for health, for combat, more martial, more athletic, more deadly (A personal favourite – “more deadly” implies we can be more dead. Dead is dead. It’s still on all the book jackets.)

    Still, to say we are a spiritual not a martial practice? Many Aikido students are more ignorant of O Sensei’s religious practices than his martial ones.

  22. Bruce Baker says:

    When examining what O’Sensei said about not fighting it must be looked at in the rear view mirror of history. Pre-WWII Japan with its military might, its training its citizens for war, and even the memoirs of O’Sensei wanting to be a soldier to serve Japan then growing old, sick, seeing how destroyed Japan reset the violent tendencies that were the underlying cause for Colonialism and Japan’s conquering of nations for territory and resources. In the light of what was necessary for the Nation to heal itself, Aikido was O’Sensei’s preservation of the Daito Ryu that Ueshiba had learned, along with other techniques, but the spiritual road towards a practice the sought to teach a peaceful path. The modification toward Peace was it’s saving grace with the Occupation of American forces.

    There is and always will be the rash young spirit of those that seeks competition and violence which inevitably leads to conflict and war, accept it… it is the natural behavior of the human race. The only mitigating factor is that there are always those better trained who can show the violent a more peaceful way to live a full and productive life. There must always be the Older, Wiser, and More experienced who point the way towards peace, yet leave enough room for the young to get enough experiences to learn violence is a miserable way of life.

    You won’t always find that in training as eventually, as I have grown old and my body has maladies, you too will modify what you learn in Aikido and modify it to be part of your life. So too you will Modify the many martial arts you will study, if you really are interested in the study of martial arts, and modify techniques of aikido to fit other other styles, and modify other styles to fit into your Aikido. There is so much in the short-hand notes of what you will learn from either Kata or mat practice… at some point you will have to use your brain and study on your own to find all the secrets hidden there. Big circles become small circles and small circles become big circles. Two way action with three or more movements occurring at the same time… which you will see when you grasp the bigger picture.

    For our conversation…. what I have seen in Aikido is a study of martial arts that can leave a safe practice plus the notes you will need Should you study beyond what aikido teaches you, to use this safe practice for it deadly battlefield uses, which if you are a moral person you will pray you never ever need or want to use, you will much more than you bargained for when you search deeper. Just like an old spagetti sauce commercial… IT IS IN THERE!

    What is more important is that even for someone who grows old, grows sick, whose body is not the youthful warrior can practice and continue to use this practice not just for its martial roots but movements that enhance your life, hopefully enhance your health… and as many of us older people say… ENHANCE YOUR QUALITY OF LIFE.

    When you train in the dojo.. you are a student of aikido, practice aikido. When you are not in the dojo, take what you learn and add it to whatever you might find as you study. If I can say one thing that will be your guide… INTEGRATE AIKIDO INTO YOUR LIFE… Don’t make Aikido your life.. (unless you want to teach and make it a business, but then very few of us will do that, or be able to do that.) To be able to practice with Joy, to be able to balance your life outside Aikido with your practice time on the mat… oh my goodness… if you can do that… your life will so full, when you look back… you can’t help but smile.

  23. Simon Selby says:

    An interesting article. Having served 26 years in the British Police, three on what people wrongly refer to as ‘the riot unit’ , I would say Aikido would be my ‘Martial Art’ of choice ‘ when faced with unpleasant situations. While I am still relatively new to Aikido I have studied various other styles and what really stands out is the ‘intelligence’ underpinning Aikido. The awareness it promotes recognises the need to measure and blend/deflect hostile intent to achieve a successful outcome. It almost aims to educate the aggressor, rather than simply destroying them.

    The benefit of this ‘awareness’ should not be underestimated as I frequently found that the police colleagues who regularly got assaulted, or who ended up rolling about on the floor with idiots were often those who lacked communication skills and the ability to blend/diffuse hostility, instead of unwittingly meeting it head on.

    So from my experience I believe I can say with a degree of authority that Aikido is not only effective, it is the method most likely to result in a good outcome and to enlighten the aggressor.

  24. If to be a practicing martial artist is to mean to if what you learn in the budo put it to use in finding if it works or not in let’s say a bar room fight. We who practice martial arts as a form to get in shape and to have self control if the chance does come true that we have to use our skills to defend ourselves that we must take into consideration that who is the wise, one who talks his way out of a fight or those who use their skills to diffuse to situation. In all my years as a martial artist I have never had the chance to use my skills to defend either myself or a loved one. If you do hurt somebody you are liable and the law considers you a weapon.

  25. Dear Pranin Sensei,
    Your articles bring forth a lot of viewpoints and I love reading them. Thank you.

    My 6-year-old-son can hit me on the back of the head whilst playing, and defeat me by accident. No martial art is infallible. All you can hope is that it may give you a chance of survival in a life and death situation, should one occur in your lifetime.

    We do what we want in life, because we have the freedom to choose. I chose Aikido back in the 70’s as it fascinated me how easily a skilled person can control whoever attacks them. I am still fascinated all these decades later, as I evolve in my knowledge, skill, and understanding of this fine art. I really do not care what people think of Aikido. Why should I worry about whose art is better, stronger, more effective? You do what you do, and I do what I do. Enjoy the journey.

    As for effectiveness, I have no doubt. Sadly, over the years and countries I have lived in and traveled through, there have been the odd occasions where I have had to defend myself from aggressors. I have found Aikido to be my most treasured friend, and my friend has helped me out when I have had to defend myself. I am happy with what I know, I am happy with the positive changes in myself as a human being from studying this fine art, I am happy with my style of Aikido. Who cares what anyone else thinks?

    Enjoy the journey
    Paul Araki-Metcalfe
    Perth, Western Australia

  26. James Sawers says:

    Good day: I am not out to change anyone’s opinion. Just a few comments on some of what was posted here.

    Re the definition if a “martial art”. I am reminded of what Dave Lowry had to say of the subject. He started off by saying, for example, that karate was not a “martial” art, but rather a folk art, as it did not come from a “martial” or military background. So, with this definition in mind, how many arts out there can be considered “martial” arts?

    As for some of the mention of “cooperative”, non-resisting ukes, I usually remind beginners that both nage AND uke are doing aikido. Uke is taking ukemi to protect himself, not to just be helpful to nage. I can only hope he is being “non-resistant”. Training can also be done with resistance of varying degrees, but that does not mean it is not aikido, just a different training option, refining technique, and so on, but eventually uke still needs to take ukemi safely.

    I second the mention John mentioned about “If you are ever close enough to use this crap, that is a failure of leadership!” My military hand-to-hand- instructor was quick to mention that engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the enemy meant that something went drastically wrong. He also mentioned that you should never hit someone with your hands as your hands are too valuable to risk injuring them.

    Just thoughts……

  27. Hi, all. A lot has been going on here since I last visited. I concur completely with everybody who wants to see better atemi. Watch the ukemi from kicks. Can be tricky.

    The only thing I can add is the concept of “the life giving sword”, a tenet of Yagyu-do. Seems paradoxical. So does aikido. The best “real world” example I can think of is the estimate of successful self-defense in the USA compared to violent crime. Most of the numbers relate to the gun-control argument and suggest that self-defense, frequently without firing a shot, is about 10x more common than crime. At the end of the day if you aren’t killed or crippled in a fight, you won. I think aikido is responsible for my health and fitness. Sort of basic. If you don’t have some of those, forget unarmed self-defense. Even armed self defense gets iffy. So, may everybody finally meet a death which is satisfactory to them, having had a long, happy and healthy life first.

  28. richard tabnik says:

    Anyone who has seen Imaizumi Sensei’s dvd of Aikido Techniques
    for police would not feel aplogetic or confused.

    It may currently be out of print but I remain hopeful.

  29. Hello to all,

    An observation/ question…is Aikido judged due to the kihon exercises that we do to capture “principles ” (Tai Sabaki, Kuzushi e.t.c ) during training? (We do focus on that quite a bit for beginners).

    In my own experience, coming from a grappling / Military combative style back ground, it took me awhile (2-3 yrs) to trust some of what my Sensei was having me do during class. I saw a lot of folks come and go during that time, who later told me that “Aikido isn’t effective”. Now (9yrs later) some of these same folks have mentioned things like “your timing is really good” or similar.
    I feel that most of the disparagement comes from those who are impatient or who come with their “cup full” and are unwilling to empty it.

    I have seen most of those who left go to other arts that tend to “reward “progress a little faster than Aikido.

    Gambatte !


  30. Simonn Yorke says:

    Just take a look at Daitō-ryū Aiki-jūjutsu, Aikido can be watered down but the real point is Ki. Harness the
    power and oh dear, if it comes from unconditional love, they will still fly but not get hurt, all will be imbued with universal love.

  31. Gail H. Skinner says:

    I sort of approach the discussion from this place. I have been in Aikido for about 42 years now. I began my training a couple of years after coming home from serving in the military during Vietnam. I met my Sensei while in college. After about 5 years, I relocated to Tucson, Arizona to live and work with my wife. I began to teach out here. Over the course of the years that I have lived out here I have had several situations that brought to the point of being prepared to “practice” Aikido. I have been able to resolve these situations without having to resort to “hands on” application. So, from my perspective, I have done Aikido correctly.

    I realize that, at some future point in time, I might have to apply Aikido directly. At that time, I will either be successful or not. If I am not successful, I will collect some bumps and bruises. If I am successful and control the situation with hands on application of techniques, I still believe that on an important level, I will not have been as successful as I would have liked.

  32. Perhaps it is me but I find Aikido students very defensive to the extreme. I don’t mean physically I mean mentally. After years of studying Karate and Tae Kwon Do I realize it is not the art but the student and his or her teacher who makes or breaks the student.
    I am currently studying Aikido and am at the very beginning stage and already I have noticed the students like uneducated children bragging of how they could defeat Karateka and other martial artists.
    While some are too busy worrying or even thinking about which is the best and being brainwashed about the power to beat, seriously injure or even cause death, others are happy to learn multiple martial arts.
    When I retired from being a public servant and being involved in many fighting situations, I realized it was time for me to study what I now wanted to be involved in. I don’t study Aikido to become a gang fighter or terrorist. I study for a fun activity and one that I may in the future be able to adapt to the styles I have diligently trained in.

    I laugh at those who walk around wondering which will win, or as stated to me lately from an Aikido black belt that he wanted to fight a Karateka or Tae Kwon Do black belt so he could seriously injure them. Is this what I am to look forward to. Come on grow up.
    If it is a real challenge you want go to areas of large cities where they will be happy to challenge your ability. Perhaps you may not be such braggarts then.
    I have been in fights where I was shot at by a 308 and thank God I had the training I did. Was I was lucky… I say no I say a power much higher than I helped me to study the arts and get through this life threatening situation.
    I am not certain what is happening in our martial art society lately, but I am troubled when someone is offended or at a definition of Martial arts. There are so many other areas of he arts we should focus on.
    I wonder if Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba or Funakoshi would have troubled themselves with such dissecting of another’s perception.
    If I felt for a moment I was wasting my time in this art (Aikido) I would not stay. I enjoy it my Shihan and I talk a great deal about the positives of both arts but NEVER place one over the other.
    The art is what you can absorb and take from it that makes you a better person. Because a person is good with a gun should he have a shoot out?
    When I joined Aikido I went to a Wushu master to purchase a uniform (Gi) where I have always purchased the uniforms.
    He had heard I had stopped teaching Martial Arts and was surprised that I wished to buy a new uniform. When he discovered I was to begin the study of Aikido he investigated and asked why. I disclosed I always wanted to learn and that I enjoy instruction in all arts. He asked if I would wear my black belt in class and I informed him I would not, that I was starting over and would wear a white belt. He shook his head and said that I was a master of masters.
    Now I don’t look at myself as any such thing I just enjoy learning. I must admit I wish to stay in some shape after retiring.
    My instructor of many years was very surprised to hear I was also following the same path and warned me of those who would try to deface me.
    My current instructor is a 7th. Dan, a very humble and open minded individual and one whom I have come to respect. He constantly helps me to move forward and for that I am pleased I have made the decisions I have.
    All martial arts have their place and not all are for everyone. One art is NOT better than another it is the person who makes the art NOT the art that makes the person. My initial instructor always told me it is the empty can that rattles the most.
    Stay happy, healthy and safe.

  33. Hello,
    I read this article with an initial feeling of trepidation, and ended it with one of relief and a sense that there are others out there that carry the same thoughts, concerns and conclusions – if there ever is a conclusion to these thoughts and concerns. I have studied aikido for 20 years under a highly respected sensei in the UK; studied kendo and iaido also for nearly 20 years, and read and discussed the budo arts at length with a variety of colleagues and students. My conclusions over the years have ended in the same as your article; but we have never met and do not know each other. To my mind therefore, budo is universal, the teachings of all the great masters, regardless of the budo study end at the same path. All journeys are different, and along the road there are many diversions. Each individual’s journey is never the same. But if the direction is the same, all will converge on the same point or conclusion. Our masters, friends, colleagues and family members – or strangers – can send us down varying roads, which ultimately enrich our journey, teach us lessons and perpetually propel us to the conclusion. I believe that students of budo more fully understand the conclusion, and through study learn what is right and what is wrong in a universal manner. Sometimes we can misread situations, we are not perfect and mistakes, hardships, negativity happens. But through study we are able to press on and learn, this is the journey. Those who don’t learn, get stuck, perhaps step of the road and don’t return – is this not their journey. Sounds religious or bordering on cult theory, but it is not. But I believe that budo is a belief, it is something serious students become embroiled in and absorb it into their daily lives. I was once told to “not live to do budo, but for budo to help you live”. This sums up budo. I no longer use the word ‘martial art’ because of its negative connotations, but prefer to use ‘budo’.

    I was once attacked in the street, late at night by 3 drunken attackers. I had knowledge of aikido but didn’t consciously bring it to the forefront of my thoughts. I remember turning to face the attackers. The first to make a move kicked at me, so I caught his foot and then dropped it, the same person the threw a punch, and my reaction was to sway clear of it, and I remember slapping him on the back of the head. Why I did that I don’t know, but it knocked him over. I then stood over him. At this point his 2 friends ran in. I turned to face them which seemed to stop them dead in their tracks, they grabbed their friend and took him away. There was no verbal exchange from me, just one of surprise that I hadn’t actually hit anyone and the situation had concluded safely. No conscious thought of technique, no irimi nage, no tenkan. But, I believe that my training and study was so in-grained that I just did what came naturally.

    So I guess continuos practice has it benefits and the tenets of aiki prevail.

  34. Brad Taylor says:

    I started my Aikido practice in 1995 and reached the level of Shodan. I have only dabbled in the martial arts since then. I am a security professional who works in a corrections setting and though I am quite sure that the principles of Aikido have helped prevail peacefully for most of my career, I am also confident of my ability to use the physical principles to defend myself in physical conflict as well. There is no question.

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