“Winning does not matter… only survival,” by Tom Collings


“If you can afford to put total focus on
the front, it is a game, not combat”

tom-collings-150pxThis post by Tom Collings took the form of a comment to an article titled Competitive martial arts training: “What you get, what it costs”. I felt the points made by the author deserve special attention, especially for those who encourage competition in martial art sports, or are inclined to denigrate aikido as a martial art. – Editor.

In February, I passed my 25th year working ghetto streets and would like to make it to retirement alive in a few months. Winning does not matter to me, only survival – that is my personal definition of WARRIOR. Most styles of training have a valid focus, and also have their inherent weaknesses. You need to be clear about personal needs, then chose which makes sense for you.

It is true that close quarters combat often goes to the ground, but it is also true that in real world violence, the ground is the WORST place to be. You can easily be cut and it’s easy to get the sh*t kicked out of you by your adversary’s home boys.

No disrespect to MMA, but my old sparring days reinforced tunnel vision, dulled my peripheral vision (my most essential survival tool) and battlefield awareness – AN UNBROKEN FOCUS ON MY REAR.

What has served me well are O’Sensei’s training exercises like Tai No Henko and Kihon exercises requiring immediate turns to the rear or lateral movement out of the death zone (the front.) Multi-directional weapons training like Happo Giri and jo katas requiring continuous change of direction have also been useful.

O’Sensei was opposed to his Budo becoming competitive NOT just for philosophical reasons, but for TACTICAL reasons. He was in real combat and sent soldiers he trained into combat. He knew that sparring of any kind takes the mind out of battlefield awareness (street) mode and places it in GAME mode, that is, focus on one person only… my competitor, and one direction only… THE FRONT.

If you can afford to put total focus on the front, it is a game, not combat. You come to rely on the referee to cover your back and protect you from the others if you go to the ground. I am not opposed to MMA just because it is brutal, ugly and devoid of any Budo ritual or shugyo which brings the mind to stillness and clarity. My opinion is admittedly biased; my grandfather was killed in combat from the side, and my partner was assaulted from the rear.

I CANNOT AFFORD THE TUNNEL VISION WHICH CONFRONTATION AND ALL FORMS OF COMPETITION INSTILLS. I will leave those games to young athletes and the sport fighting fellows.

Perhaps I will go for a trophy in miniature golf!

Other blogs by Tom Collings


  1. I could not agree with you more. This is an excellent article and you can clearly see this man lives by exactly what he has written.

  2. That’s quite interesting to hear your opinion. I study Kokikai Aikido with Sensei Shuji Maruyama and I had a couple of MMA fights when the sport was in its infancy. I still do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and love it for the fitness and a chance to have a good hard wrestle without getting hurt. It gives you a chance to feel the full strength of an opponent and feel those little moments when you try to do something to them and they end up using that moment to their advantage. You also feel the transition in your mind from defense to attack and how even when you are trying to use the aikido principles of going with their energy you end up in an attacking mode without meaning to. It is like you test your ego out and see how you are going. It also gives you a chance to feel what happens when you are taken to the breaking point. The way they run classes where I am training, each time you win a fight a fresh guy comes in after resting to take you on. After winning a few fights in a row you start gassing out and want to give up. You can feel that point where you have the choice of dying and actually accept it just so it is over. I feel ashamed when that happens.

    Having said all that I took 15 years off MMA training and only got back into it when I turned 40 and had a mid-life crisis! lol. It’s been fun, but I took those 15 years off because I was getting confused about how I could do Aikido and MMA at the same time. They are so different like you say in your article. It’s hard to get aikido techniques to work sometimes in a BJJ class. It could be because I am actually using it in an attacking mindset in that context, but I think it doesn’t work because the guys you are fighting don’t have to extend ki in their attack because there is no striking, weopens, multiple attackers etc. BJJ has a large sport focus as you say. Also because of the nature of the competition it’s so easy to fall into attacking mode and the guys you are fighting actually do their own aikido’ish techniques themselves and can set traps for you.

    There is no way that in a real fight you would lie on your back with your legs spread like we do in BJJ training. You’d just tee off on their groin if you were an attacker. Plus you can bite and poke their eyes out etc. What you say though about that tunnel vision is paramount. It really does teach you to focus in on a single enemy and all awareness of what is around you disappears. You train in this comfort zone where the teacher is there and everyone is your friend. Even if you are on top on the groud it would be easy to get smashed across the back of the head if there was someone there. Boxing, Kickboxing and BJJ (MMA) all are super cool and make you tough but I think can be dangerous for real fights if there a multiple attackers or weopens.

    I got attacked by about 12 dudes a few years ago. I was already a second dan Kokikai Aikido blackbelt. I made some mistakes and got a bit smashed up, but kept fighting and did some aikido things that helped me survive. It was like a swirling mess of people everywhere and a lot like the randori multiple attack we practice. I have to keep reminding myself to have faith in my Sensei and the rational, fundamental principles that we guide our aikido training by in the scene of real life and death situations with absolutely no sport or sparring aspects. This principle is actually what makes aikido so pure and different in it’s essence to MMA. If you don’t think about aikido in the way you do in your article it is easy to pin it down to being a ‘fake’. But when you put it in the context of real life and death scenarios it comes into its own.

  3. Tom I agree with all that you wrote and thank you for your comments.
    Larry A.
    3rd dan NY Aikikai

  4. John H. Lester says:

    Excellent article & discussion! I have two sons who see MMA as the silver bullet to all real-life street combat situations. They’ll be reading your material. Thanks, JHL

  5. keithmedic says:

    I respectfully disagree that MMA has no “shugyo” as you say. I understand that phrase to convey austerity and tribulation, and like the poster who talked about being taken to your end by the continuous randori with fresh opponents these trainers subject their warrior spirits to shugyo far more than the average non competitor ever will.

  6. wonderful article. aikido detractors at websites like sherdog or bullshido should read this.

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