View Full Version : Stylistic Differences Between Japan/USA

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Jory Boling
05-21-2006, 11:02 PM
Has anyone that trains in Japan AND in the USA noticed any stylistic differences? By stylistic, I'm mostly referring to having a martial quality and lacking one.

From my very limited investigations, which includes visiting various dojo in my area and asking people I know, it seems like aikido in Japan is losing its martial quality.

If Aikido started out martial but is evolving into something else (in Japan), why is that? If Aikido is remaining or becoming more martial in the USA, why is that?

Has anyone observed something similar?


Brett Charvat
05-21-2006, 11:27 PM
In my experience (four years in the States, four years here in Japan; all Aikikai-affiliated), that generalization is inaccurate. In all three of the dojo I have had the pleasure of training with here, I have found the same quality of practitioners as I trained with back home. Some folks come to the dojo to enjoy a social pasttime, some come to the dojo to work on discovering the deeper aspects of the art and themselves. Some come to do both. The only difference I've experienced on this side of the pond is that I make friends in a different language. Of course this is only my limited experience, and others will undoubtedly have different views.

Jory Boling
05-22-2006, 01:47 AM
Hi Brett,

That's definitely my experience in the USA and is hopefully how it is everywhere (human nature). A friend of mind just attended a seminar in the states where the shihan had just returned from teaching in Japan. The shihan was reportedly very upset about the direction he saw Japanese aikido moving (aikikai presumably, since he's aikikai).

When I first moved here, I was looking for a place, that while wasn't a full on brawl, was more than a dance.

Thanks for the reply,

p.s. I'll probably be in kumamoto in October. Any dojo recommendations?

Peter Goldsbury
05-22-2006, 02:49 AM
Apart from teaching at an Aiki Expo and as a visitor at a dojo in LA, my experience of the USA is limited to two years of pretty intense training in the NE Aikikai, several years ago.

I think you could make the same generalization about postwar Japan as a whole, for the country is losing its 'martial' quality and most Japanese I have discussed this with think this is not at all a bad thing.

I am generalizing here, but I think you would find the same breadth of interpretation about what aikido is and what it is for in Japan as in the USA. Both have very large aikido populations with a vast number of teachers who are not limited to one particular interpretation.

More specifically, there is some opinion that the Aikikai has gone 'soft' over the years. I think the jury is still out on this one, but I also think there is an element of romantic nostalgia here for an early postwar 'golden age' that has been 'lost' (i.e., which was never there to begin with). Relevant here is the kind of training a deshi is supposed to receive.

Jory Boling
05-22-2006, 04:15 AM
...I think you could make the same generalization about postwar Japan as a whole, for the country is losing its 'martial' quality and most Japanese I have discussed this with think this is not at all a bad thing...

That's kind of the feeling I got from a fellow student of mine. He's starting at an older age and sees it as just an exercise. He said something to the effect that after the war, the Japanese people don't want to think about killing.

I don't want to be punched in the nose, nor do I want to dance, but I want to feel some pressure or sense, from my uke, that I'm in danger (even if simulated), unless I act accordingly. If that makes sense.

Thanks for your comments!

05-22-2006, 01:23 PM
Hello Jory,
Maybe you would enjoy the Kamakura bunch and the Hake dojo with Seino Sensei, Suzuki Yasu Sensei, Kirisawa Sensei, and Takahashi Sensei.


Ron Tisdale
05-22-2006, 01:27 PM
I haven't trained with the others, but watch out for Kirisawa Sensei...he just keeps smiling as he generally feeds you to the mat! ;)


05-22-2006, 03:28 PM
I would say one has to note that there is not unified "American" Aikido or a unified "Japanese" Aikido. So, depending upon where one is first coming from, I imagine one is always going to find the contrast in an interdependent way. However, there are some general cultural differences and some of these differences lend themselves toward determining some general factors such as martial application. In particular, three stood out for me when I was training in Japan: 1) There is no pressing need in the Japanese popular conscious suggesting that society requires one to know self-defense in order to survive and/or to improve or maintain a quality of life; 2) Training in Japan is more often than not NOT thought of as a life pursuit (by neither those that quit early or that train for the whole of their lives); It is difficult in Japan to train daily, several hours a day. Only a few places offer such training per given area.

That said, for me, in my own experience, Japanese Aikido was "less martial," but I left for Japan from a dojo that was ran by one of Chiba Sensei's graduated Kenshusei. Since I have returned from Japan, I have now been more exposed to Aikido outside of the (then) Western Region of the USAF, and I have seen many examples of Aikido in the states that is definitely a lot less martial than what I was doing when in Japan.

Brett Charvat
05-22-2006, 07:33 PM
Mr. Boling,

I hope you are able to make it to Kumamoto. It really is a lovely prefecture. You'll just miss me, I'm afraid. I'm finally heading home this August. If you make it here in October, I can recommend an excellent Aikikai dojo (the one I'm currently training with, of course). It's called the Shohei Juku, and is headed by Honda Sensei (7th dan) under Suganuma Shihan (8th dan), who is based in Fukuoka City. Training is in the shiritsu taikukan (city gymnasium), which is conveniently located just off of the Kumamoto City tram line. Also, if you're looking for something a bit different, Sunadomari Sensei's Manseikan is located downtown, just off the main shopping arcade (very convenient and well-known). That dojo is the hombu dojo of Manseido, as I understand. I have seen their dojo (small, but very nice and traditional), though I have never had the pleasure of training there. If you'd like any more information, please don't hesitate to ask. Good luck with your plans.

Gabriel Weiszman
05-22-2006, 09:27 PM
I might be starting a new thread here , but I think it depends on your own opinion about what "martial" means .I´ve trainned at the ASU summer camps for 4 years in a row and I also trainned at Hombu as well .In my opinion ,once again just in case , in my opinion it depends very much on the Sensei you´re trainning with and your own concept of "martial".For instance you wouldn´t say Saotome Sensei is not martial oriented as you wouldn´t say either that Watanabe Sensei from Hombu is not martial oriented , even when the latter moves half the speed and half the distance than the first one .Principles are always there , some people can see them and some can not .
PS maybe that´s why I have to wear glasses ....

Rocky Izumi
05-26-2006, 07:52 AM
Martial or not martial is a matter of intent and intent is matter of case by case situation. I can use a frying pan martially or not depending on the situation and my intent (though some might consider some of my cooking to be an assault on their person). Yes, in policing, a frying pan can be considered a deadly weapon if used in that way.

The intent of practicing techniques in Aikido is not for the sake of the techniques themselves. The techniques are demonstrations of certain principles such as the 90 degree rule, awase, attacking the centre, holding centre, ki-no-nagare, etc. Each technique tends to emphasise certain principles more than others though almost all principles can be seen in each technique if you look hard enough. For that reason, we have curricula which works on a progression of demonstrating certain principles. Those techniques show up again later on in the tests when the principles being emphasised change. That is also why in the earlier tests, the emphasis is on kihon and the development of power. As you progress through the ranks, the emphasis changes. You move from kata to waza as you progress in the demonstration of the principles.

The tests are not about whether you can demonstrate facility with a particular technique but whether you can demonstrate the principle that the technique emphasises at that point in your development (at least when I am grading). I will fail a person even though they can do a technique if they are unable to demonstrate the principle they should be demonstrating through that technique.

When you are able to demonstrate the understanding and application of the principles, you can begin to apply those principles in your own inimitable style so you develop your own "style" of Aikido by the time you are Sandan to Godan. That style often depends on which principles you tend to rely upon to execute your techniques.

When you are able to apply the principles to your Aikido techniques or to anything else (for instance the 90 degree principle is suitable for aerial combat, chess, management, or groundwork) when you need to make use of that principle in combat, you will be able to be martial as need be since it will be a natural extension of your movement. So whether your practice looks to be martial or not is moot. The important question is whether you are working on making the principles a part of your repretoire. Then, you can practice later on, in the dojo or not, to toughen yourself up to be able to take the shots so that you will have an opportunity to implement what you have learned. (Being able to do a nasty Nikkyo is no good if you do not have the flexibility, speed, or strength to avoid getting killed before you are able to put on the Nikkyo. Nor is it any good to be able to throw the heaviest punches if you have a glass jaw. Nor is it any good if you have a tendency to panic under stress situations. In other words, being martial is about taking as well as giving so if you want marital training, go do something like landscaping in the hot sun or go have a class doing nothing but taking ukemi for everyone and have them throw and hit you HARD! If you have a good handle on the principles, then have your uke put on full resistance and full power to their attacks with the intent of injuring you or stopping you from doing anything. Then, practice seeing if you can apply your principles. Just don't do this during class and waste everyone else's time, especially that of your instructor who is trying to teach you the principles. You don't want to disrupt the class and ruin everyone else's practice. Martial practice should be done individually and not in class. Maybe you can practice during full contact American style football games or during a rugby game. Or, go join the military and volunteer for combat duty.)


05-26-2006, 08:23 AM
Nice post Rock.


Ron Tisdale
05-26-2006, 08:47 AM
At the risk of sounding trite;

Yeah, me too...nice post.

Ron (it's such a fine line we walk...it really drives me crazy sometimes)

Rocky Izumi
05-26-2006, 08:22 PM
Thanks guys. I guess I do have a tendency to rant sometimes though. I will try and keep it to a minimum. It is just that sometimes I get so upset at what people write. I know, I am supposed to be calm and harmonious but that just isn't quite my style. So I rant. My apologies to those who find what I write to sometimes be a little off the wall. But all this talk about having to have Aikido look martial to be martial drives me nuts. The last person who really beat me hard was a 70-some year old man on a mountain side in Hong Kong who did Tai Chi. His practice definitely did not look very martial but his body was hard and flexible and his strikes were hard and inflexible. I was going to go easy on him because of his age but after about 15 to 30 seconds, I was quickly disabused of that notion and had to go all out and not pull any punches to keep myself from getting killed or thrown off the mountain.

Rock :drool:

George S. Ledyard
05-27-2006, 11:08 AM
Yes, nice post Rocky,
My big objection to the folks that are moving Aikido in a direction that is less martial, isn't actually the lack of effectiveness in their technique, but rather it's the lack of content in their Aikido period.

In other words, when Aikido becomes just a dance or is just an exercise system, it loses it's heart. I am not very interested personally in Aikido as an "applied" self defense system. I am far more interested in the subtle theoretical element which come out when you have a controlled environment. It's rather like Physics... there are folks who spend their lives researching theoretical physics and their are folks who work in applide physics. They use the same principles but the latter usually have some sort of market driven practical application which dictates the direction their work takes them.

But although I come down firmly on the side of those who aren't too worried about fighting it is precisely the pursuit of good martial values in ones training which will lead you to discovery of the deeper principles of how teeh energetics of the art work. I have never seen anyone who didn't have a good solid background in the martial aside of the art who is any good at it. Period.

If you take a look at someone like Mary Heiny Sensei, she is not interested at all in the fighting application of the principles within the art. But her training was with Hikitsuchi Sensei and it was very martial and quite severe. She did not achieve the understanding of these principles by doing dancelike Aikido.

Budo entails the understanding of the connection between ones training and the issues of life and death, which are the fundamental issues human beings deal with. Budo is about how one chooses to live ones life and what kind of character one develops along the way. If you lose the martial you don't have Budo. O-Sensei didn't call Aikido yoga or a health system, he called it Budo. It's quite amazing to me to see how folks who seem quite sincere about pursuing the values espoused by the Founder will eviscerate the art he created by sucking the life out of it. Once you do that, you have no idea what you know and what you don't. The martial aspect of Aikido is what provides that constant feedback as to whether your undertsanding was correct.

Ability to defend oneself is a byproduct of correct training. It doesn't have to be the central focus of what we do but the foundation of what we do must be martial or their simply no point to it. Remove the martial aspect and Contact Improvization is a better and more interesting art than watered down Aikido.

05-28-2006, 07:37 AM
Thank you Senseis.

I needed to hear this from you.