by Steve Coleman
Over the years, on my journey I have encountered several people who’ve said that Aikido is ineffective as a martial art. When asked why they say this, they say they watched it in a sports hall or that they’ve seen a video clip online, maybe they attended half a dozen or so lessons. They seem somewhat put out when I smile, and asked them a couple of simple questions:
Do I have more faith in your 20 minute YouTube search, or in 800 or so years of Samurai history?
Were you even aware of who (or even what) you were watching?
So how are you able to make such a statement with such little information?
Of course on the back of such a long history there are naturally countless other questions about Aikido, some of which are relevant and as old as the art itself, others are just plain ridiculous and there are countless ones in-between.
It is fair to say that these days many Aikido clubs are watered down versions of what the founder would have wanted. This was even mentioned by the late Chiba Sensei.
Some modern dojos are light, soft, even choreographed in some cases: Tori should move this way, and as Uke you’re supposed to move that way! There may be a time for looking in depth at these things, such as when we are teaching beginners the basic movements, but these sessions will not help you to become effective as a more experienced and knowledgable student. They will not cultivate ones’ technique in the same way as committed keiko will.
Going through the motions without energy or vigour, raising ones’ hand instead of striking with intent or moving without purpose cannot be considered to be martial training. The more experienced you become, the more you should be aware of how to move Uke without them being compliant to you as Tori.
I have personally once attended a dojo where I was reprimanded by the instructor after I threw one of his Shodan to the floor “Oh no no no, we don’t throw at this dojo, as Aikido is a peaceful movement”. I asked him if he was serious, he said yes, so I walked off the tatami and left. Never to return.
I have heard so many similar anecdotes that it’s hardly surprising that the reputation of Aikido is tarnished. It saddens me that this is the case.
That said, it’s important to recognise what’s actually happening in different demonstrations. There are so many video clips online that it’s hard for someone who doesn’t know what they’re looking at to understand what’s going on. Many of these videos simply show the principles of movement rather than effective, martial techniques. I have seen videos of people who have really nice looking Aikido and I’m sure they’re great at what they’ve been shown, but as to whether these movements are martial or not is another question entirely. One can’t blame the student for practising only what they’ve been taught. Problems like this occur when “form” is put before effectivity, and when the students aren’t shown the full book, so to speak.
So how do we fix Aikido’s reputation? The answer is simple: martial techniques, understanding our history, entering the dojo with commitment and sincerity, staying humble and simply trying hard-what ever your grade happens to be. There’s always something to learn. There is so much great Aikido out there so don’t be afraid to look around for a dojo that can support your martial requirements. The art works, trust me on this. “Old Samurai get old for a good reason” is a quote I heard a long time ago and it makes perfect sense.
There are many quotes from the O’Sensei’s original students, including Morihiro Saito, Kazuo Chiba, Gozo Shioda and plenty more who all freely give their experiences of hard, really hard keiko, with plenty of spirit and very real world experiences both in and outside of the dojo.
The Aikido that was brought about by the founder is not seen in many dojos today and the discussion as to whether or not this is a good thing will go on for a long time to come. For me, primarily any martial arts purpose is to protect the practitioner while subduing their foe. Aikido should be no different - if it’s not effective, then it simply isn’t martial. Advanced training will enable you to see openings and how to exploit them as well as being able to stay focussed. So keep training, trust your Sensei, and trust in the art, after all old Samurai get old for good reason, remember!