47. The trouble with aikido

Aikido sucks.

Got your attention, aikido folks? Okay, let me soften the blow and clarify my statement. SOME people doing aikido suck. Big time. Majorly. Like a Hoover vacuum cleaner sucks.

I’m not a complete aikido basher. Heck, there we were, me and a small coterie of like-minded friends, minding our own business, and one of us gets an email to a link depicting an “aikido master” who was deigning to give a seminar to mere mortals. When we saw it, reactions ran from sarcastic bemusement to full-on fulminating and foaming at the mouth mad as hell and not going to take it any more. It was bad. Not bad as in ghetto lingo bad is good, but bad as in Lady Gaga in a meat dress fashion gone evil bad.

Now, of the five of us that I counted in this email circle, ALL of us practiced aikido at some time in our lives. And I don’t mean doodled around the edges. We spent a combined several decades’ worth of training in aikido. So I would argue that we have some idea of what we’re talking about. One person went to Japan specifically to train in aikido, and before he left aikido and entered koryu training due to personality and political conflicts, he was one of the few “foreigners” teaching it in Japan to Japanese students, Steven Seagal notwithstanding. Another started training when he was in elementary school, and he learned how to tumble by having to do forward rolls down an inclined asphalt road next to the aikido dojo. If you scraped and skinned yourself, the instructor had not an ounce of pity for you. It was your fault your ukemi was bad. I myself studied under several instructors who were my judo and aikido teachers. At the time, Bruce Lee and the TV series “Kung Fu” were all the rage, so we used to get all sorts of “show me” punks and jerks (all male, for some reason) showing up at the college dojo acting like thugs. My teachers would take them apart and have those miscreants crawling out the door (this was, mind you, before the fear of litigation put a halt to being able to physically show that aikido wasn’t a sissy martial art). It helped that the chief instructor trained at the Aikikai hombu, while also practicing judo under Mifune Kyuzo, and karate under Oyama Masatatsu. He was TOUGH. The other instructor also studied at the Kodokan judo center and the Aikikai hombu for years. I saw them dismantle pugnacious weight lifters, arrogant karate novices who thought aikido was for wimps, and judo players whose idea of judo and aikido was to ‘rassle, not use techniques. Their aikido was smooth, flowing and remarkably, when applied if necessary, deadly.

And then we moved on, for various reasons.

The video illustrated one of the reasons why we moved on. We saw too much of this kind of “aikido” and it disgusted us.

The instructor in the video was reputed to be a highly ranked aikido instructor that was so much in demand she was going to give a seminar soon. She was demonstrating several techniques against a pliant uke, then several uke at the same time.

What I quickly picked up was that, in my opinion, she was bad. Really bad. Her sense of space (ma-ai) and timing and rhythm were off kilter. That was accompanied by a peculiar, odd, klunky way of moving, in which her body below the hips seemed to move like a limp noodle, while her trunk and head was as stiff as a board. As my past aikido teachers, jujutsu teachers, iai teachers, judo teachers, papermaking teachers, karate teachers, tai chi teachers, tea ceremony teachers, paper craft teachers, Japanese gift-wrapping teacher would all say, there was no sense of koshi; no strong center point that kept her entire body physically pliant but strongly rooted. She was, oddly, rooted weakly with her hips and legs, but stiff as an Arnold Schwarzenneger Terminator robot from the hips up.

She got away with it by having very pliant uke. They’d run at her full blast, leaning forward already off-balance, she’d shift her weight and do some “woo-woo” movements with her hands (or not at all, in some cases), turn around like a spinning marionette, and the uke would all faw down go boom.

Call me crude and lewd, but that kind of shit won’t work if the guy was a real punkass looking to cause you harm. Turn around in a pirouette without grabbing the guy’s wrist or body, and the punk won’t fall down. He’ll simply turn with you and hit you in the back of the head. Or worse, if he had a knife, he’d shiv you in the back.

One person in my circle surmised, “Well, I think the problem here is Ueshiba Morihei himself (the founder of aikido).” He explained: a lot of people see videos and illustrated techniques of Ueshiba as an old man throwing people around with a flick of his wrist, and they think they’re Ueshiba. They’re not. Ueshiba spent decades and decades refining his concept of aiki theory to a point where he could do that. Plus, he ended up an old man. If you were an old man and could move like that, great. If you’re a vigorous middle-aged practitioner, that’s like you’re moving like an old fart. And they’re NOT Ueshiba. Where Ueshiba COULD throw someone with one finger, these guys are faking it through the use of a very pliant uke who will fall if you even look at them cross-eyed.

Other people look at Shioda Gozo, my friend continued, the late master of Yoshinkan style aikido. Videos of him depict a very short, wiry little man who could toss big, burly judo players around at will. It looks like fakey stuff on cursory examination. But if you take apart his technique, he had incredible timing, balance and sense of space. And his aikido was scary. If you weren’t ready as an uke, you could really hurt yourself because the force he generated in your disbalancing was very strong. I can see Shioda sensei easily dislocating wrists or knocking people out when their bodies slammed into the mat.

THAT kind of aikido was truly both an art and martial, at the same time. It was beautiful, but carried with it a sense of “martial”-ness. It was not that far removed from its budo roots. It could easily be turned into an art that could serve as the basis for effective self-defense against a non-compliant attacker hell-bent on doing you harm.

Another friend couldn’t stomach the video at all. He had enough technical knowledge of aikido (before stopping the practice) that he sometimes was invited to aikido seminars to guest teach. He couldn’t take more than ten seconds of the video. He kept trying to watch more but he kept shutting off the video because it literally made him nauseous.

Another friend went bonkers. Having been around some aikido people of that ilk, he called such aikido folk in the video “aiki bunnies,” a particularly virulent strain that originated somewhere on the West Coast and fanned outward like a devastating social disease. They turned aikido into a soulless, pretty dance. But that’s all it is to them, he said. A dance. With no martial meaning. Them thar West Coast granola-crunching, navel-contemplating hippie dippie aiki bunny types wouldn’t know real aikido if it went up to them and kote-gaeshi’d them in the arse! Boy, my friend was wound up.

No wonder aikido gets a bad reputation. It’s stuff like this that, when a judo player, MMA player, karateka or koryu person sees, they shake their heads in disbelief, disgust, sadness and/or all of the above. People see stuff like this, and they will rightly say, “That shit don’t work.” It won’t.

REAL aiki, as one of my friends said, CAN stop an attacker instantly, because it’s the combination of the attacker’s movement with one’s own body, at the right moment, at the right angle, at the right distance, with the right intent, and at the right time for the application of MARTIAL technique. Real aiki, he said, is the same as the proper throw in a sumo bout, or the well-timed counterpunch in karate or boxing, or the sudden and effective application of an arm lock or choke in judo or MMA, or the moment the bat hits the ball and scores a home run. Real aiki is devastating, and is apparent when someone is doing real aikido because it’s like seeing a velvet glove hiding an iron fist. But what we saw on the video, THAT was not real aiki, and that was not real aikido.

I still see some real aikido, practiced here and there in earnest, devoted dojo. They don’t do silly ah-kee-doh dances there. They don’t get involved in the ridiculous personality politics rife in the aikido world. They just train hard and develop clean, strong, beautiful but practical techniques. No ego, no trappings or airs. Just good aikido.

So let me amend my first sentence. Real aikido doesn’t suck. But a whole lot of stuff that CLAIMS to be aikido does.


56 thoughts on “47. The trouble with aikido

  1. Ahem, I hesitate to comment, but what the hell… here I go… “Real aiki (aikido/aikibudo) can be/is the same as real judo/jujutsu, real kenjustsu, real jojutsu, real Hsing-yi, Bagua chuan, etc. I “tussled” with – received lots of skillful, powerful throws, etc. (I actually caught him twice) a Tuareg traditional wrestler in his forties at a festival at an oasis in Morocco in 1969 that felt as wonderfully good to me as any waza I had felt in my life. I’ve been at arm’s length and connected to many well-known judoka, Kotani, Osawa, Okano, Inokuma, Geesink, Gruel, Glahn, Gallon, Cates, Bregman, Harris, Campbell, and many others… I know what it feels like. I also know what it feels like to be mangled, twisted, wrenched, smacked, attempted abuse at times by so-called judo seniors and aikido masters/practitioners that didn’t understand what it meant to be connected with proper distance, timing, force, etc. They used pain, speed, and misdirection (if they could get away with it)… and I chose not to practice with them. I’ve had both my wrists mangled to the point that I had to have cortisone injections in the sheaths of the ligaments, etc. every three months. Crap, I even had wrists so wrecked in Paris from some aikido “exercises” that I couldn’t (okay, almost couldn’t) lift a pint of Guinness!!! I’m a smart budoka, I used two hands.

    What separates me from the folks that put up with this sort of practice? (that aikido-l participants in a survey some years ago thought that it was okay to be injured enough that you had to miss work and seek medical care at least four times a year!!!… if you were serious about your aikido practice!!!) What separates us is good sense and the unwillingness to take part in mass abuse.

    Whew!!! I feel much lighter now… and that’s saying something. Kudos to you Wayne and the others for bringing this up. A pox on all these manglers.

  2. Chuck,
    Yep. We talked about sadistic teacher before, and I fully agree. It’s sick masochism to senselessly get beat up by doing martial arts the wrong way. And you also reinforced my point. Real aiki, and aikido, is a masterful concept, an idea that encapsulates the concept of combining timing, rhythm, distancing, body movement and spirit all in one. It’s not about brute strength, or “faking” it and letting someone take a fall for you through crowd psychology. It’s about mastery of an art. Like seeing a Baryshnikov at his best, or the perfect timing of a basketball player like Michael Jordan, or a really, really good aikido person.


  3. Excellent. I actually find the “aikibunnies” less irritating than the ones that think that just adding power and a lot of attitude makes the same practice “realistic”. The “aikibunnies” usually just enjoy the training.

  4. I myself have a love hate relationship with the art of aikido.

    However I also realize it is a big world and I do not wish to control the art of others, nor could I if I wanted to. I think we choose the vibe we are most attracted to.

    The idea Clark Sensei mentioned that many aikidoka think it ok to miss work 4 times a year due to training injuries is abhorrent to me. If we are not learning self defense from our own practice, what are we doing?

    I think I caught the video of the female teacher you were referring to. If it the same one I trained with her and her easy uke crew this year. I thought to myself “that wouldn’t work on me”. She as if reading my mind – and called me up. Did she get the same results off me? No, but she moved me around the way my body was asking for. So I get your point, but I also now recognize that some of these folks still have the skills to back their stuff up when uke just doesn’t fall over for them.

    I am a firm believer that how you program uke leads directly to the shape and character of the art. Sadly aikido often trains uke to be the victim rather than to have uke be dangerous.

    1. Erik,

      A “love-hate relationship” is a good way of expressing how I feel towards aikido. I love its techniques and ideals. I hate how it’s been interpreted by some people, whether as a toothless dance, a cold-hearted cynical business, or a rite of sadistic passage. Good aikido should be good aikido, period. Opinions may differ as to what “good” is, of course. That’s why we have blogs and people (like me) spouting off. Everybody’s got an opinion, including people who disagree with me. I can deal with that.


    1. Well, Michael, let’s see, I did aikido intensely for four years under teachers who trained at the Aikikai honbu dojo, then another couple of years back in Hawaii under several notable instructors (if you knew about Hawaii’s Aikikai and Ki Society groups, you’d know their names) but gradually pulled away because I felt the atmosphere (the different groups had lawsuits against each other, there were lots of personality power plays going on, teachers were obviously hating each other even in the same dojo…so, hey, bro, what’s this about aikido being about universal love?) was poisonous. If I had known about Glen Yoshida’s aikido group, I might still be doing it. In my opinion, he’s got terrific aikido. So I don’t “hate” aikido per se. I actually love it. I love it so much, it hurts me to see it debased.

      “Maybe go practice Tai Chi or Judo”? Yep, been there, did that. Didn’t do my critical eye towards aikido any good. Studied judo over ten years. I got to train with the 1976 US Olympic Team, not as a team member but as a practice dummy. Two of my judo teachers had studied directly under Mifune Kyuzo, one of judo’s last 10th Dan from Kano sensei, Inokuma Isao, and Kawaishi Mikinosuke. My tai chi teacher is called “older sister” by the current master of the style of tai chi I study because of her length of training and expertise. Did some little bit of Pa Kua too. Karatedo, a touch of kendo, naginatajutsu to dan ranking, and jojutsu. Maybe I missed something there, but…

      “Hating”? More like a very, very critical eye to trying to open up fellow aikido people’s eyes to the potential in aikido that I saw, strangely enough, from doing judo and tai chi, actually. There’s an incredible treasure in aikido that is being squandered, in my own opinion, because many high level teachers aren’t going deep enough. Note that the more emotional responses were from my friends. I wanted to express WHY some fellow aikido friends were deeply troubled, and use it to motivate current aikido practitioners to take a second look at what they were doing. I think I struck a chord in some because of the responses. You may disagree, but if it forces you to think, then good has been done.


      Of course, everyone’s got their opinions. If you want to laugh it off and not address the issue, fine with me. But maybe you could suggest something else I should do? Been there, done that.


  5. Hello, I am new here. My current teacher/friend and son run at small school where I live. His teaching is making sure ki/chi is not forgotten. He can move 400lbs in the weight room with ki. Without turn it on, he can’t do it. He comes from a Aikido and Wing Chun gung fu background.

    Most of the other schools in town are the bunny type. What he teaches has to work on the street. I’ve been lucky to have found combat tested instructors who have manage to have control, and not hurt their students.

    I guess I like the system because it is geared for old men like my-self. I like to get out of the way of incoming.

  6. Eric’s comment: “… how you program uke leads directly to the shape and character of the art” is true. Uke must, with good posture, movement, understanding of target, distance, and timing, deliver an attack that is real with the intent of causing a ‘problem that the tori must solve’ and not take part in then cooperating any further in how the responding waza (solution to the problem) works. Uke’s job is to give force to set up a problem and then receive that force in the form of trying to recover their postural integrity. This last part is ukemi. It doesn’t necessary mean falling as an immediate answer to the waza. It may be necessary to remain safe and recover posture. It certainly isn’t part of the “technique.”

    The teaching method of the teacher/instructor demonstrating a few times and then everyone trying to imitate that is flawed from the beginning. How is it possible for a bunch of lesser skilled people to “imitate what they just saw”???? This leads to people “cheating together” to make what they think they saw happen. This, plus an attitude that leads to a personality cult atmosphere ends up with “unreal” actions/reactions from both participants until no real interaction remains. Often pain, or the understood threat of being a “bad uke” is the determining factor in the waza.

    The answer is in teaching the arts of good posture and ukemi (receiving force while keeping and/or recovering good posture correctly) and then using the sotai katageiko method of training. Different kata teach different principles.

    The traditional way of being uke for a number of years while feeling your teacher’s and seniors’ waza to gradually become like them didn’t work with most foreigners because of their psychological makeup and the fact that most of them didn’t stay long enough for this to happen. This traditional method of passing on the arts was and is still used by most all of the traditional Japanese arts. Funny thing is they became great teachers and even innovators of great teaching methods of western music, etc. but most teachers haven’t applied that attitude to budo. A few Japanese teachers have begun to do this now fortunately and a number of the foreigners that learned in the old way have managed to pass on what they learned in similar ways to learning music. I’m fortunate in having spent significant amounts of time with some of these teachers.

    Please forgive the length of this comment but that phrase that Eric used turned on the flow of my passionate desire for others to understand how important this is in trying to do what they have decided to spend their time and passion doing together…


  7. Hi Wayne, thanks for a great blog – I eagerly anticpiate every update!

    I agree completely when it comes to aikido and would elaborate on O’ Senseis part in this “aiki- dilution”. I think what one discovers is that “true” aikido may be too difficult for our modern “quick relief”-society (the same can be said for typical koryu arts). The “hard” styles of aikido often maintain a certain element of martial effectiveness but lack – or are weak – in the aiki-aspects and tend to rely on brute force. The softer aikido-styles are quite opposite, they may have some understanding of aiki-principles, but often lack the martial POV and would be utter useless in real combat. However, I have personally experienced both sides of the spectrum and have (luckily) seen individuals on both sides embody both aiki and martial prowess.

    With so many other things in life that gets commercialised and brought to the “main street”, the art becomes diluted – luckily there are still a koryus around (I know they also get diluted, but probably less so…)

    Thanks for some great insights into the budo world!
    Regards from Denmark,

    1. Stig,

      Thanks for the thoughtful note. If anything, I’m glad if my rantings caused such a really perceptive and insightful discussion!


  8. My teacher instructs us in a Aikido that works for anyone regardless of size. He stresses KI/Chi from his teachers of Japanese and Chinese background.

    The techniques work on the street because it retains the martial beliefs. No dancing allowed.

  9. Chuck,

    Your comments continue the discussion into really interesting, serious questions about teaching pedagogy in martial arts–several of them, worth greater consideration in length each! –And I’m still working through the problems myself, so seriously, it’s a work in progress.

    In many koryu, the higher ranked person is displayed as uke, especially in embu. –Not always, but enough to make me think about it when I first began training in different koryu after decades of judo, aikido and karatedo, when demo’s and “performances” focused on the higher ranked person tossing people around. I realized some time later that not only is it a difference in emphasis vis a vis group dynamics, but it’s a common teaching methodology, per what you note. To properly “draw out” the right technique for the right attack, “uke” in many ways needs to be better versed than “tori” in the concepts of the system.

    “Imitate what they just saw” is another problematic teaching method. People with strong kinesthetic learning ability (like professional dancers) can quickly internalize what they see of other people’s body movements and replicate it. Lesser mortals like us have a harder time. No doubt, the weeding out process in old, “traditional” schools got rid of people who struggled to learn kinesthetically, but it’s not the optimum teaching methodology. It’s a good start, though, since we don’t have much else, but the best teachers I had also were quite able to verbalize, to conceptualize and break down the movements so that those of us (most of us “modern” folk) can use our conceptual, logical minds to help us learn. Tai chi also offers a clue to another way of learning, in which movements are slowed down so one feels each articulation of the limbs, and then speeded up only if necessary.

    I just sent around a link a friend sent me about learning and taking notes. The author opened up a discussion about note-taking, the fine points of which were debated all over the place, but basically, he makes an argument for note-taking as a memory crutch. It helps us to remember things not just because we can refer back to the physical notes, but because the very act of taking notes forces us to cogitize WHAT it is we are noting (if we are taking notes the proper way; thinking about what is important and then writing that down, not just jotting down every word by rote), and to replay what we need to learn in the act of writing. An argument was around whether it was better to take notes during the event or to force your memory to recollect the important points right after. In martial arts, I’ve done both.

    Going back to your comments: Yes, I see it as much too easy to develop a personality cult if all the instructor does is throw someone around and then walks away, leaving us to wonder how he/she did it. It’s a common, old practice in aikido, especially. The saving grace is if the teacher then wanders around and tries to help the students work through the technique, especially if the teacher works on both sides, acting as both uke and tori. Maybe “old school” aikido does it in that restricted manner, but I’m not sure why it can’t be changed. As long as the techniques themselves are conveyed, why not try to innovate in the teaching method?

    A senior student to me in one of the koryu I studied once visited me. We trained in open parks, and at one time, at a clearing next to the University of Hawaii. After training, he walked over to the university’s bookstore and came back dragging bags of English-language martial arts books. I was somewhat perplexed, and I told him I’m sure he could get better martial arts books in Japan, in Japanese. His reply was interesting. He said, of course he could, but that would be from the same, Japanese cultural perspective, so he wouldn’t learn anything new. Since more and more of his students were coming from outside Japan, he wanted to see how other cultures adapted martial arts, not just in techniques but in teaching methodology. He had books that went from Donn Draeger to Bruce Lee ot Bruce Tegner. I told him that the last author’s books were pretty silly, but he said, “Yes, maybe, but maybe he has some insight into how other people learn that I can discover. People have different ways of looking at martial arts. I need to understand where they are coming from so I can understand how to teach them.”

    In other words, just because you learned something one way in the past doesn’t mean it is the best way or only way to teach. Maybe it is, or maybe it can be modified depending on the situation, culture and individual learning methods.

    Being locked rigidly into one teaching methodology is not just a problem with aikido. It’s all over, in all sorts of martial arts and other learning environments. Sometimes I’m sure we’ll find that some aspects of kata geiko works really well, even hundreds of years later. Sometimes I think we can apply different learning strategies.

    I can also see the danger of the common aikido seminar way of teaching, in which the featured teacher only performs as tori, throws the person around in a mystical way, and then walks off, maybe deigning to give one or two pointers as students struggle to replicate the action…often badly. It’s not just pedagogical. It can easily lead to a cultish personality worship, or even allow for sadistic, absurd behavior on the part of the sensei, akin to the abuses seen in some religious organizations gone bad.

    Humor ameliorates this problem somewhat. Having really good, realistic techniques that a good teacher can pass on with measurable and decent results lessens the mysticality of the teacher. The methods are attainable, not supernatural. It does bring down the teacher closer to the ground, closer to the students. For some teachers, that’s not a problem. As my own teacher said, “Being a sensei is no big deal. We put on pants one leg at a time, same as any of you. I’d hate to be put on a pedestal.” For other teachers, being the focus of a cult is an important part of their psyche. That’s sad.

    I remember training with Donn Draeger and Quintin Chambers, two among the early Western budo masters of the postwar years. I was in awe of their knowledge and experiences. But you know, doing jo with them…they usually served as “uke” to me. They allowed me to “win,” in order for me to learn. It wasn’t about them. It was about passing on the ryu. They still scared the bejeezus out of me. Even as “uke,” their presence and strikes (carefully calibrated to my meager level) were incredible. But they were human beings, not gods from on high.


    1. Wayne, I think it’s worth noting that there’s a kind of reliance on visual presentation and context ingrained Japanese culture which contributes to the difficulties of transmission in the West.

      If you think about how much Japanese language relies on the listener knowing what’s going on already — the lack of pronouns, the homophones, vagueness with numbers — then I think the “just watch me” method of teaching makes sense. Makes sense for those who grew up in that culture, always observing, because the important stuff was not always (usually?) said, and what was said was not always (usually?) what was meant.

      It’s like the teaching exists in negative space, and in the West we’re culturally not attuned to the parts of our surroundings that don’t stamp their feet for attention (and even less so, these days). Good teachers can provide a translation — not a literal translation of words, though that’s necessary as well, to the degree it’s possible — but of body language, and can draw the art into the positive space. Just enough, so what’s important becomes visible.

      1. Beth,
        Really interesting observation, one I didn’t consider. It may be that better Western teachers can interpret what they learned, culturally. Lesser ones simply imitate, and sometimes poorly, how they learned from a relatively nonverbal teacher and environment. Odd, though…because the best teachers I had even in Japan were able to verbalize as well as demonstrate, and also point me to further literature. They could teach to many intelligences, not just the kinesthetic. Aikido tends to kinesthetic teaching (watch what I do then do yourself, physically), although one aikido teacher who I am in awe of, who trained at the aikido hombu, is able to actually explain what exactly he is doing while he’s doing it, reaching people who learn by listening.

  10. You description about teaching method of some people, brings up a comment I heard from my teacher. The American born students saw a unique hand movement the teacher did before a technique. They practice what they saw and got better results. Later the teacher noticed students preforming the same methods. He got mad and said who taught them that. They said they learned it from him by watching. In essence they had to steal it.

    1. John,

      That brings up an old, time-honored learning method. Once, my iai sensei showed me a kata he wanted me to learn. He demonstrated it several times, then he said, “Did you notice anything about my fingers?” I was so concerned with getting the general gist of the form that I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. He showed me what I missed. Then he said, “These are some things that a teacher won’t ordinarily show you. You have to learn it yourself because it’s the teacher’s own special ingredient and he won’t or can’t tell you what it is. So you have to ‘steal the technique’ (waza o nusumu). A good teacher, if he sees that you ‘got it,’ will be happy that you have the insight and initiative. A bad teacher will only feel intimidated.”

  11. Ha! You just wanted to get your blog hits up….

    I must confess I think that some koryu jujutsu suffers from the same kind of …aikido-itis. Couple threads on E-Budo this past week have explored that as well.

    It is unfortunate that this kind of aikido has been the base for a great deal of police defensive tactics training. It is part of the reason that “wristy-twistys” have a bad rep in cop-land.

    But I for one think that this may be an exciting time for the aiki-community. While the rantings at places like Aikiweb get tiresome, I think a significant group of seniors is starting to take a hard look at what they have been doing and looking for more.

    So that maybe aikido will end up being a study in how to kill, and then how to revive, the martial in a martial art.

  12. Thank for your wonderful honest opinion about Aikido. I often wonder if the “Harmonious nature” or “Non violence martial art” label has done more to damage the reputation of Aikido than promote it. I think the rep of Aikido in the 60’s and 70’s were quite vigorous and effective. Once the “new age” and ” Energy readers” got a hold of Aikido their ideas permeated the art unfortunately. I also wonder if it is more the Uke making Nage look bad. Some of these guys go flying at wave of a hand. Aikido is definitely bad in our extremists and revisionists but then again this is a common problem in martial arts.

    1. jaco,

      Yes, I agree with you. My criticisms, while directed at aikido, is also true for all sorts of martial arts. The trick is not to make it become sadistic, but also to give it a backbone. It’s the middle road.

  13. Wayne, I am loving your blog and musings on budo.

    This reminds me so much of some of the side-shows that are submitted as real budo in the U.K.
    It’s a sad state of affairs and it just destroys my morale at times, seeing good arts be massacred in such a way.

    It’s like a Parisian waiter with a tourist; “Please, I can speak English just fine! Don’t massacre my language!”

    1. Steve,

      Ha! I remember being with an American tour group eating at a “fine dining” experience at a restaurant in Paris, and one of us crass Americans asked for a Diet Coke. The look on the waiter’s face was classic. Like we had asked for ketchup or something to put on the foi gras. Then somebody else asked for decaf coffee. The waiter sniffed and said, “Decaf? Decaf? We don’t serve DECAF anything here, only REAL coffee!”

  14. You make interesting points both in the body and the comments. I think it really comes down to ability in all arts. Most dojos (of all styles) have their students who can, and those that think they can. In my old Kenpo dojo we had students with disabilities who had middle and upper kyu rank. The chief instructor there once stated that “we will train the individual to the best of the student’s ability, not some absolute standard of the art”. My current Aikido sensei has noted the Japanese tradition of rewarding those that regularly attend and keep making an effort; you know all those little books (attendance records) most of you carry around that people keep getting signed off. So basically, all systems and styles have their deadwood and less than compelling practitioners.

    I do think a lot of the problem is that, for many, the only art they know is Aikido, a martial art without attacks. So if your experience with strikes is limited to Aikido atemi you are going to be really surprised when an MMA student whips out a real right cross. My role as uke is to train my partner, my partners get to play with jabs, crosses, hooks, uppercuts, shutos, elbows, knees, kick, head butts (carefully), double handed strikes and a mélange of other more esoteric stuff.

    Most of the videos I see online make me gag a little. If I see one more upper dan put on a demo where uke is holding his hand out in front (like a hatchet) and running full bore right at them…well you can call it martial but I think of it more as presenting a handle to the nice acrobat.

    As to injury, if your wrists are still getting injured and torqued, up then your nage is unclear on the concept. Pain is a bonus not an objective. If your technique requires pain to complete then you don’t have control, you just have pain, a very unreliable technique in and of itself. At shodan and above you should be able to do all your arm arts off the forearm (you still get to use joints though); over pinning and over torque of the joints shows a less than adequate understanding of the art at hand.
    I could go on and on and on but I have a class to get to.

    1. H,
      Interesting comments. I especially like what you said about “pain is a bonus, not an objective.” Good pithy statement.

  15. I have not yet had a chance to take Aikido. I am 20, and the extent of my martial arts experience is long-forgotten karate somewhere around 7-10 and high school wrestling where my inflexibility prevented me from being passionate or successful.

    Philosophy classes in late high school sort of awakened a spiritual philosophical outlook on existence an perception, and it’s somewhere along the lines of nihilistic relativist existentialism. The thing is, there are traces of it everywhere. From Christianity to Nietzsche to my Public Policy class and longboarding. Aikido is no exception.

    I have found spiritual resolution in Meditation as a form of acceptance of existential relativism that is considered by most to be unforgivably paradoxical. I however, see no such paradox! There is but one direction! Forward! Any other direction, backwards, up, down, sideways, that is only forward with another perspective! The only truth is change, movement, or lack of truth! The only truth is that perception holds no truth, and needs no complete definition and there is no complete understanding. Only acceptance. This is something that is seemingly touched upon in many aspects of life, but the divine simplicity of it is too often overcomplicated and unaccepted.

    My stumbling on aikido came simply from a desire to start learning martial arts of some sort. I had heard of krav maga and was interested because the punch line I heard was “instinctive counterattacks” and I liked that idea, in a different way from how I now like aikido. Never got around to it. Saw Aikido and looked it up do to ignorance of the name and was completely astonished at how philosophically pure the concept is behind the practice. I’ve been researching it for a couple days, watching people call it useless. Watching alternatives. Reading stories. Videos on Krav Maga teaching pro mma fighters who have complete lack of self defense against a prison yard rush. Looked up jeet kune do, which has a similarly pure philosophy. Comparing modern MMA experts like GSP to the the martial arts master Bruce Lee, trying to decide how to compare the two, then remembering that MMA fighters can’t fight, only compete.

    What I have decided is that Aikido is something that I must invest some time in, for the simple reason that it seems to have such stirring ideals. Your article is basically the culmination of everything I have managed to decide on my own, nice and neatly summarized for me.

    I believe in ki, entirely wholeheartedly. There are many names for it, and your various natures of “aiki” listed hit the nail on the head. It is nothing magic, merely the workings of the cosmos. It is pursuit WITH happiness, and there is no true form about it. It works its ways fluidly through the insubstantial network that is existence, and your ability to be a conduit, primarily relies on your deepest contentment at this Reality(or lack thereof). Aikido, conceptually and philosophically, would then presumably be the meaning of existence, in all its various forms.

    Interesting stuff to think about, hardly scratched the surface, but then again it’s too simple to need carrying on with. Can’t wait to start Aikido. Great article, was a pleasure to read. Definitely the most sound writing/opinion/criticism/analysis I have read of Aikido in my searchings.

  16. Simply Aikido will get you killed in the streets…if you are taking it for self protection stop now…you will get a false since of security that will hurt you in the long run….I seen it first hand…

    1. …For that matter, so will a lot of “combat…X,” such as “combat jiu “jitsu,” “combat karate,” “combat judo,” “combat quiltmaking.” Nearly ALL give you a false sense of security. The “streets” are not a dojo with soft plastic covered mats and sports-oriented rules. If you are taking ANY martial arts solely for self-protection, stop now. Especially those that advertise themselves as “combat oriented.” Then pick up books by Ellis Amdur, Rory Miller and Dave Grossman, read them thoroughly, disabuse yourself of all self-inflicted machismo stereotypes, and start all over again with that free, simple, basic judo club down at the local Y. Or the nonprofit aikido group. Or any group that makes no bones about their real motives and goals. Aikido is not alone in its false hyperbole.

    1. “d,”

      I would venture to say that your impressions are from one class you visited. Not all aikido groups are as weird or cultlike. I know a number of really sane and good teachers who have incredibly good schools teaching good, old-fashioned aikido.

  17. aikido is a very effective martial art when taught properly and with realistic attacks.one school i went to was one of those private schools not linked to aikikai,or iwama etc,the 7th dan sensei was very knowledgable in terms of technique,but i think he’d get clubbed on the street,because of the non martial dance he insisted on doing in class.

  18. Wayne, I am thinking about starting a martial art but the only classes in my area are aikido and krav maga – I am leaning towards aikido but I would like to hear more from you about how to tell the quality of a teacher. Don’t want to waste my very tight college student budget!

    1. Jessica,

      I have sent you a private message to your personal email as listed. But others can also chime in if they like.
      –Wayne Muromoto

  19. Very good article, thank you. A long time Yoshinkan style practitioner with only four months of Aikikai training (thank G-d) I always smile when I remember my sensei at first say: right, no waza against a straight punch but no one limits you to your own ways of striking back within the kokyuryoku principles… I smile again when after a reunion some 3 years after that talk my sensei now had a waza against a boxing style punch using a sort of ikkajo. My thinking is that the principles passed down by Gozo Shioda and, say, Kenji Tomiki are a valuable gift and the real aiki is incredibly fast, well-timed and powerful. I recommend everyone to also read the books by Ellis Amdur. Oos.

  20. I agree soooo much! I have been training Aikido for more than 10 years now and most of this time was spent on avoiding the high grade Aiki bunnies who think they are the best this martial art has to offer

  21. I agree, although, Aikido was never made to be practical. It’s like complaining about Kendo and how you’ll never get into a sword fight. It was made to target armored samurai, whose wrists were often unarmored while the rest of the body was.

    1. Timothy, actually, I have high regard for aikido as a “practical” system, if one understands that it’s more theoretical and generalized than specific. So in a way, you’re observant, but I think it is not as clear cut as it seems. Also, I understand your analogy, but it doesn’t quite work well. The kote was heavily protected, like the kote of kendo, and the upper side of the wrist was not an optimal target when fighting armored samurai. In some koryu, therefore, attacking the kote meant striking the underside of the wrist, where the armor was lighter due to it being where the binding is wrapped, with less armor. But you aren’t supposed to hit that part in kendo.

    1. Can anyone out there help Philip? …In the case of where I’m at, I would say that probably two or three dojo are excellent, superb, wonderful. And the rest may be sub-par. And there’s a lot of dojo here. But for particulars, I’ll leave it up to any aikido folk out there.

  22. Im visiting a dojo at Mullen’s Karate kickboxing and aikido. That is the same place that trained rampage Jackson. And also an aikido class at Memphis martial arts center. I am from Memphis, TN. If someone could tell me what type of training I should expect, at a decent dojo that would be nice. I want to learn it and still be able to apply it well if I was in a real life altercation.

  23. A good answer would be what type of training methods the instructor would use, if it was a good dojo. Training methods that make the art effective for the practitioner.

  24. If you’re doing Aikido and it doesn’t hurt then you’re not doing Aikido. I agree that there are far too many “Aiki bunnies” in Aikido today. They don’t realise that it’s a MARTIAL art to be effective must be trained as such. I’ve been to Aikido dojos where teachers can’t even put on a nikyo effectively. If they can’t how on earth will their pupils?

    To know you’re doing Aikido, you really will be slapping your thigh when your partner puts you in a move. You should be feeling the pains in your legs from the warmup stretching. You should have sore hands from ukemi. You should have sore wrists from all the locks. You should have pains in your pressure points. Aikido hurts for me, because it’s teaching me that if you don’t hurt your opponent, the how are you going to defend yourself in a real life attack?

    I agree fully with the OP. You must look at Aikido for what it is – an effortless way to disable your opponent. However, that takes practice and a lot of pain.

  25. Wow, great conversation. My 9 year old was in both karate and gymnastics. His gymnastics skills grew with unbelievable and amazing progress. HIs gym training was teaching him how to “fly”! The clothing he wore in gym was shorts and a gym shirt. He called his by his first name. His coach was always there to spot him, train him, push him. HIs coach took him to his breaking point and then further on a regular basis. My son’s level of respect for him is amazing. He was being trained and was very capable.
    Now, down at the old dojo, he had to wear those robes and achieve the belts for a false sense of accomplishment and bow to people whom we had no reason to bow and call his coach Sensei. His skills only progressed moderately as he moved along the belt colors. He moved slowly, not because it was so difficult to learn, the kid is an amazing athlete, with determination, natural ability and mental strength, but because it seemed to be about something else. I never quite put my finger on what it was, but we left after 1 1/2 years. Too many self indulged and starry eyed people and too little progress to stay for.
    At gym he became 2nd in the state competition, in the dojo, he learned nothing of value.
    His physical and mental ability was honed in the gym, not the dojo.

    I want him to know a real form of self defense, without all of the false worship, eastern weirdness and white folks with an Asian complex. It’s a set of skills, right?

    1. Shelby,
      In some ways, I can sympathize and understand where you’re coming from. In other ways, you might have failed to see that aikido (and perhaps McDojo style karate) are not quite similar endeavors compared to aikido. Many karate schools in the West are much like Western gym and sportive activities. In other words, they clearly address, as you say, mental and physical training. But they do nothing to develop spiritual and attitude aspects of a discipline. This has not much to do with Westerners trying to ape Asian culture. It has to to with trying to use a method of Asian training to inculcate certain spiritual and philosophical aspects through mental and physical training. It’s quite alright to be in a Western sport and focus on winning awards, accolades, etc. And modernized, Westernized karate classes are also of that inclination, along with many other modern budo sports, such as judo and even kendo. Aikido has no contests per se. Belt ranking is a kind of sense of accomplishment but it is not really supposed to be the ultimate aim. Here you and your child, who seem very goal-oriented, may have erred in seeing it as the only goal in a very nebulous endeavor that seems to have no other “goals.” The real goal, actually, is beyond technical. As I understand aikido, besides physical and mental training, it is to develop a certain attitude, a spirit of cooperative learning, and of spiritual flexibility in confronting adversity.

      Now, of course, as my diatribe implies, I’m not all that certain that many aikido schools work that way, and indeed, the trappings may befoul the goals; some adherents may be attaching too much to what is basically a budo and making it too softie-New-Agey woo-woo wave your hands in the air pseudo weird. That’s a danger in what people call a lot of “internal” martial arts. They are prone to abuse and disinformation by people with agendas. But it can also be quite an effective martial arts if it walks a proper path, in between the weirdness and the sometimes sadistic false machismo of some people who abuse aikido in both ways. I know many aikido teachers who are wonderful exemplars of athletic and martial endeavors, who teach in a down-to-earth manner. You may have encountered not a bad art, but a bad dojo.

  26. i grew up in Romania, and my start was in kodokan and shotokan. we just did not have a wide variety available in 1982. in 1987, i moved to US with my mother and was not able to find a suitable dojo in Atlanta. i have only encountered half assed financial institutions focused on money and one even offered to alow me to wear my prior rank for $1500 fee. i saw my first Seagal movies and was intrigued. i searched high and low and eventually after i joined us forces, i met one of sensei Seagal’s students. he was by no means a big marine and he managed to impress me with his dedication and technique. i found myself fascinated by the ease of his movement and seemingly effortless efficiency. i was a skeptic. he told me he will teach me some basics but asked me to promise only to practice with others versed in ukemi, and warned me that i might end up inflicting injury upon others, if i don’t. before i met him i practiced mostly with thugs, pretty much beating the hell out of eatch other and braking 2 foot long 2×4’s just to sow off. marines play “combat soccer” so you can imagine what sparing looked like. no protective gear no gloves, and did not shy from bringing realism into it. one day i was asked by a friend to show him what the aikido guy showed me, and after i had clearly asked him to roll with it, he decided he will test and see if it works. to this day he still has problems with his right shoulder. thorn several ligaments in his shoulder and i have felt bad for over 20 years about it. however , that cleared my skepticism and i was converted. i did not focus in training in traditional aikido and focused strictly on practical elements usable in real life. now i am older, martial arts has taken a secondary role in my life, but from the day i have first encountered the little marine, to this day, my go to techniques when my ass depends on it, are aikido and not karate or judo.
    one thing i forgot to mention, the marine explained to me clearly that while he is not an efficient brawler, he can teach and follow the more spiritual traditional side, and be just as happy.
    i don’t know what aspects of aikido are considered to suck, but considering the traditional and modern more practical forms are available, don’t write off aikido before you give it a try.
    if you follow the traditional path and are not dedicated, you will most likely get bored and give up or think it sucks. if you want practicality i offer you this. most disarming techniques used by modern military and police are based on aikido, no matter how much others claim ownership. the most efficient disabling strikes are closer related to akido than most think.
    aikido had one sole purpose when it was created. efficient hand combat against armed opponents. i am pretty sure that even people that think aikido demonstrations to be fake, not understanding that you just cant dislocate joints, brake bones and brake necks to make it realistic for the skeptics, can understand that special forces world wide won’t use aikido techniques or based on aikido, if not efficient.

  27. I have heard this kind of thing may times. “Real” aikido is effective. “Real” aikido is practical. The trouble is, most of what purports to aikido is not “real” aikido, but “fake” aikido.

    My question has always been, why bother? If real aikido instruction is so hard to find, why not take up another proven martial art where quality instruction is readily available? Why seek high and low for the one in a million decent aikido school?

  28. Aikido has been watered down, few strikes and follow through. And most do not practiced it full contact and full speed. However, Budo means the way of war, not fighting with yourself or others. War and Peace are opposites Yin and Yan they exist in balance. At this balance between peace and war, there is non violence. To blend with conflict is one thing, peace another, peace does not mean non violence, it means peace. It means eliminating conflict inside and out so that state is you and is outside you. Or the less conflict you have with the environment, the more peace you will have. Yet the more out of balance Yin and Yang are the more violence there will be. The amount of violence in Aikido depends largely on the amount of conflict confronted. So a lot of training is on eliminating this conflict, verbally mentally and physically. And, yes there are hundreds of strikes and counters in Aikido. Goal of Aikido is actually to develop well rounded human beings capable of responding to any situation that confronts them. As I understand.

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