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The thoughts and viewpoints on this blog are my own and represent my skeptical, critical-thinking approach to martial arts, combative training, film, the field of cognitive science, and random subjects.
Updated: 1 hour 53 min ago


Mon, 2015-07-27 01:49

"Move like a beam of light, fly like lightning, strike like thunder, whirl in circles around a stable center."
Morihei Ueshiba

"When Takeshita Sensei was a Grand Chamberlain he was told by the Emperor to arrange for aikido to be shown to him, so he went to the Ueshiba dojo. Ueshiba Sensei answered, 'I can't show false techniques to the Emperor. Basically in aikido, the opponent is killed with a single blow. It's false if the attacker is thrown, leisurely stands up, and attacks again. On the other hand, I can't go around killing my students.' He refused the invitation in this way, but when Takeshita Sensei told this to the Emperor, he said, 'I don't care if it's a lie. Show me the lie!'"
Gozo Shioda 

I confess.  I love to watch.

And you know what I really love to watch?  Aikido!  It's just so beautiful, graceful and stylistic.  In fact it's downright ethereal.  Ethereal:  I had to look it up.  As it turns out it's a perfect description: "extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for this world".

That's the problem.  Aikido is just too perfect for this world.

Okay, okay...I know what you're gonna say.  "Steven Seagal made it work.  Steven Seagal could HURT people with his aikido skills!"  That's what you were gonna say, right?

Well, it's true.  Seagal's aikido looked menacing.  He was fast and ferocious.  The takedowns looked vicious, and his joint locks looked painful.

But that was the movies.  The bad guys were stunt guys. The fights were pre-arranged and highly choreographed.

I'm not saying that Seagal couldn't make some of those moves work in a real fight.  He is a big man, and in his prime he was one hell of a technician.

I am also not saying that a dedicated, committed, well-trained aikidoist couldn't defend himself or herself in a physical altercation.  If you've read the book Angry White Pyjamas, you'll remember that aikido was the basis for the rather brutal martial arts methods used by Tokyo's riot police.  So, there's gotta be SOMETHING there.

I attended aikido classes back in the late 70s, and I was thrown around quite a bit during randori (free-style practice) sessions.  In fact, I was thrown around effortlessly.  One of my training partners, the sensei's daughter, was one of those who made it look so easy.

But here's the deal.  In some of those same randori sessions I watched from the sidelines as some big, local judoka dropped by, and the beauty and the grace suddenly went out the window.  When the experienced judo guys got a good grip on the aikido guys, more often than not the movements became less about finesse and more about physical strength.  Sometimes the aikido practitioners would evade or do a cool move on the judo guys, but more often than not the judo techniques had too much force and usually defeated the ethereal aikido.

That was not a scientific observation by any means.  I didn't see enough of it to state unequivocally that judo is superior to aikido.  However, anecdotally speaking, I did come away with a firm impression that if I was a bad guy with menacing intent, I'd rather be attacking an aikido student than a judo student.

In the blog "White Belt for Life", the author writes: "Perhaps this is why most non-Aikido martial artists see Aikido demonstrations as being fake. Because they are fake! Because aikidoka are not supposed to fight like the way they demonstrate. The techniques that are shown are meant to be drills to teach the body how to move correctly without thinking about it."

So, while a part of me acknowledges that a skilled practitioner might be able to handle himself or herself in a basic self-defense situation, I nevertheless think that all that tossing about is rather absurd.  The level of cooperation that allows the defender to easily defeat 2, 3, or a half dozen attackers is not even close to reality.  The uke, or willing attacker, if he has genuine tumbling skills and impeccable timing, can make the defender look god like.  

My issue then isn't whether it works for basic self defense. My gripe is that in a multiple opponent attack these skills don't work like they're shown in demonstrations. Aikido practitioners believe they have an edge.  Many believe in the mystical power of "ki." Many of them believe that it is a force beyond normal physics and that it can give them a greater strength than muscles and tendons alone.  Some actually believe that they have a spiritual awareness, like a Spidey sense that tingles when an attacker is near. This magical thinking could actually influence a practitioner and lead to a false confidence.

As a method of learning graceful and agile movement and dynamic balance, as a means of learning active mobility and evasion, as a style that develops an ability to blend one's defensive effort with the aggressive force of an attacker, and as an art that leads to self development, I think that aikido is amazing.  The practitioners whom I've met seem to be kind, ego-free individuals.  They train with little regard for competition and the ceaseless struggle for becoming number one.  I admire their inner calm and their budo spirit.  I also am impressed with their desire for non-violence and their commitment to a peaceful art.

So while I have some pet peeves about aikido and the silliness of weaving in and out of a crowd of attackers totally focused on karate chopping a defender's head (it often appears to be the only attack they know), I nevertheless admire their art.  

I have read some of the works of George Leonard, one of the founders of the human potential movement and a notable aikido instructor.  I like this quote and its truly hopeful philosophy:  "There is a human striving for self-transcendence. It's part of what makes us human. With all of our flaws we want to go a little bit further than we've gone before and maybe even further than anyone else has gone before."


Tue, 2015-05-05 14:28
Everybody does it.  I've done it.  You've probably done it too.  Even if you haven't done it yourself, you've probably seen it done.

You know what I'm talking about...the dreaded martial arts self defense demonstration.

In case you've just emerged from your hermit's cave and don't have a clue what I'm talking about, I'll describe it for you:

One guy, let's call him "Our Hero", stands facing 2 or more bad guys.  The bad guys move in usually with a single a punch, a solitary kick, or an exaggerated grab.  In Aikido, 9 times out of 10, it's a karate chop.

Our hero then responds with the three P's:  poise, power and precision.

The bad guys usually just stand there like a statue, getting pommeled and beaten until finally the coup de grâce finishes them off.  Sometimes they will move in one at a time, but occasionally they'll enter en masse and our hero has to add some balletic turns and spins. 

All of this is done in a school auditorium or at a strip mall.

These demonstrations are pre-planned, pre-arranged, and highly choreographed.  When we watch pro wrestling we always complain about the lack of realism, calling it fake, but when we watch a self defense demo doing essentially the same durned thing we respond with applause.

Let me just say, I hate this crap.  It is unrealistic.  It doesn't show the necessity of running and moving.  It doesn't bring in the necessary elements of cheating and dirty fighting.  Bad guys don't wait their turn.  The attack is probably not even going to be coming from the front, or what I call the Full Monty (full frontal attack).  Bad guys don't follow our rules and are not interested in etiquette or fair play.  Attacks are ambushes.  Attacks are sucker punches.  Attacks have the element of surprise.  Attacks give the tactical advantage to the bad guys.  They are unexpected, unprovoked, and unwarranted.

The neat, precise self defense demo may be beautiful to watch, but that's sort of my point...real world violence is anything but.  It's ugly.  It's messy.  It's noisy.  It's bloody, chaotic and sweaty.

It's the CSI dissection, done in a clean, germ-free science lab.  It's all too sterile.

Watch a real fight, and you'll see what I'm talking about. 

My recommendation?  Forget these types of demos.  Don't include them in your curriculum.  Don't even encourage them in your belt/rank testing.  Forget rote memory.  Let go of the concept of precision.  Don't worry about how it looks--focus on whether it works.  Do what more and more people are doing, heck, what Bruce Lee recommended way back in the 60s...put on lots and lots of padding and safety equipment and make it real.

Embrace the chaos.