“A Modest Proposal,” by Charles Warren

“Some stylistic things don’t contribute much to efficacy.
They’re distinctive, but not obviously functional.”

charles-warrenThis revolves around three headings:

1 – no “dojo system” completely captures O Sensei’s art
2 – mistakes are easier to see and emulate than “real aikido”
3 – as we expand beyond whatever “dojo system” we started in, how do we evaluate the new material?

I come up through Iwama teachers. Morihiro Saito Sensei specifically said that his system was a means to an end. The end is Takemusu, or spontaneous and inspired, aikido. The three main systems with which I have any familiarity are Iwama, Hombu and Shingu. They have commonality but also distinctive differences. Then, in the last few years Noriaki Inoue Sensei’s work was publicized through Stanley Pranin Sensei’s video and yet another perspective came out. Daito Ryu is a related form with less commonality, but a great variety of techniques, many of which are unknown outside that school. Among all of these none seems, or pretends, to completely capture O Sensei’s genius.

My experience (since 1974) is that it is pretty easy to emulate mistakes, or to make mistakes in emulating real and valid techniques.

Among the things which are easy to emulate is “style”. Thus looking at young Koichi Tohei (thanks again Pranin Sensei) I see him emulating the style of O Sensei, a much older man. This is not a put-down. Tohei was awesome, and without his efforts, aikido might not have been available to me when I started. It is just that all of us find superficial things which bear some resemblance to our everyday physical frame of reference easier to see and emulate. The really effective things do not bear obvious relation to how we are accustomed from birth to move and act. We could get mystical and digress on ki, or we could refer to structure. Whichever, when we attempt to “do it,” it seems mysterious. After a while it becomes more familiar, but still not especially obvious.

So, after a decade or three, if you are like me, you start to branch out. Some branches are obvious. If you come from Iwama, how’s your “Hombu impression?” Can’t go wrong there. I find Inoue’s style challenging, but again, that’s pretty close to the source and there is authority for “doing it his way”. Daito Ryu poses a question. Why did O Sensei and his successors edit and abbreviate the techniques? I have some thoughts, but won’t go into that at the moment.

There are some moves and ways of moving which are not found in any style. Some just don’t work. For that matter, some stylistic things don’t contribute much to efficacy. They’re distinctive, but not obviously functional. Because aikido isn’t obvious, I hope they are retained simply for further study.

Now, as to the unexplored but apparently effective, I would like to propose two additional tests.

Is there a history in any martial tradition you know? Does or can the variation come back to a known aikido technique?

I propose this as a self-evaluation system. I find it tedious and unproductive hearing people commenting negatively from the sidelines, “Oh. THAT isn’t aikido.”


  1. The only way to stop the public commenting on anything is to not put it out there for critique. If you are comfortable in what you do, critique should not bother you. It may very well point out something thart requires more focus and study on.

    I agree that, after many years of study, you should be performing a style of Aikido that suits you specifically based on your sex, size, strength, mindset, and most importantly your current level of understanding and expertise in Aikido.

    But, we all must still follow the true martial way of not being in any danger at any time, and remain in total control of your attacker whilst performing Aikido techniques.

    If they can touch you, they can punch you, they can stab you, they can possibly kill you.

    That is not a martial art, in any sense of the word, if the above is at all possible whilst performing Aikido techniques.

    Of course there is a deep spiritual side to Aikido, but do not forget that Aikido is a martial art first and foremost, and do not fool yourself into believing otherwise.
    Mutually agreed and pre-practiced Aikido techniques, for the sake of a good looking demonstration, is only a mutually agreed gymnastics display.

    Aikido is many things to many people.

    Enjoy the journey


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