View Full Version : What's a 'style'?

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06-28-2003, 07:43 AM
Hello all; as you guessed from the title; this is a bit of an odd quetion so here goes....

Last night, a friend of mine at work asked me (since I was, as usual, talking incessantly about Aikido) about the separate styles and how they differ. The question got me thinking a bit; as to what, exactly, makes up an Aikido 'style'?
My thinking went something like this: What makes a separate style? Different techniques? Different training curricula/requirements? Different philosophy?
Different styles use different techniques, of course; and those techniques that are shared among styles differ. But... separate dojos among the same style use different techniques as well and perform them slightly differently; especially if the linked dojos are far apart, as they are up here in Canada.
Different styles use different training curricula and have different requirements also; but as before; the same holds true of separate dojos or regions among the style as a whole.
Different philosopies? Well; the result is the same as the first two: in our case we have two superb instructors in two separate dojos who have two completely different views on ki-aikido; one almost entirely non-confrontational, one bent on the defensive aspect. (And I, for one, am rich beyond measure having both of them available to learn from.)
Using these two instructors as an example again; if an outsider were to compare Tony's and Dennis's Aikido; they would be certain they were witnessing two completely different styles - but they're both Shin-shin Toitsu; and both follow the precepts of the Ki Society to the letter. Interesting.
So; the answer of 'what makes a distinct style' isn't as clear to me as might be first thought. The answer is of course; a bit of all of the above, but I'm wondering where exactly along the line of differences one person's aikido becomes so different from his teachers' that it becomes a separate style?
Yii - one confusing question; I hope you have as much fun answering it as I did trying to write it in a legible manner. :)


06-28-2003, 08:35 AM
Hi Dave,

I think the "different philosophies" point breeds all the others you mentioned. At our dojo, it's the exact same: I have a particular spin on things and our other instructor (MikeE) has a different spin. Our technique is certainly different, but not by much. And like you said, the students benefit tremendously.

What is different is how we choose technique. One person may choose a flowing motion whereas another may use a more direct irimi or other jitsu like that.

I think you hit it on the head with different viewpoints; everyone has a different angle on aikido, and some break off to form their own 'style' based on that angle. Shioda, Tohei, Tohei senseis and countless others have done just that.


06-28-2003, 11:25 AM
If two aikido students from different organizations meet and they can practice jiyu waza, their styles are correct even though the styles are different.

But if they can not, one of the styles is right at best. Both are wrong at worst.


06-28-2003, 11:20 PM
'Style', i think is the approach used in teaching aikido by the senseis. you see, this is the unique part of aikido. Aikido, as far as I know, is a flexible martial art that leaves the practitioner to practice what they think is most comfortable for them. For example, Shioda sensei wants to preserve O'Sensei teachings like he used to learn so that Yoshinkan was formed. Even in the Aikikai itself many senseis have different method and approach of teaching.

But as Joe Thambu sensei said, don't look for differences because usually differences keeps you away from each other, look for similarities because from that you can exchange each other. An ikkyo is still form like ikkyo although people call it ikkyo, ikkajo, oshi taoshi, etc.

Hanna B
06-29-2003, 02:05 AM
Quite often, the word "styles" refers to organisations. Everything that has not left Aikikai, is Aikikai... elthough some subfractions certainly are styles of their own, from a technical point of view.

Matt Gallagher
06-29-2003, 04:40 AM
Yes. It's an interesting question. What do we know about a person's Aikido just by knowing their style?

Not much. Their affiliation. Their loyalties (if you like). What their teachers emphasised when instructing them (maybe) and the methods by which they learned their Aikido (possibly).

I have heard people disrespect other styles of Aikido before saying "It's a nice looking style but it simply doesn't work" or words to that effect, but this opinion is always based on limited experience and I always try to keep an open mind, not judging a student by what style they profess but prefering instead to experience their Aikido in training. For all the reasons stated in the first post the ability of the student probably has nothing to do with their particular style.

In our dojo we have a wide range of ability regardless of grade, but we all learn the same techniques, hear the same philosophy from the same teachers etc but because we are all individuals our Aikido ends up different to each others. This leads me to believe that a persons Aikido ability has a lot less to do with the style they are learning than some might think! :)

06-29-2003, 05:51 AM
At first this post did not interest me, but the more I read I realized that it does present a fascinating question.

In ASU we have a number of instructors with unique , distinct 'styles'. Yet we are all students of Saotome Sensei. One of the attractions of ASU is that Sensei allows each of his instructors the freedom to express his own identity through his teaching as long as he adhears to the correct principles.

Hooker Sensei is quite original, built like a bull, short, powerful, direct but now leaning to gentle almost to a fault. McPeck Sensei is also short, but is very slight, and though equally powerful is an amazing escape artist. Big men have a really tough time doing his aikido. I am tall, big, powerful and from a background of other fighting arts - and that comes out in my teaching as I focus on what 'works' and don't dwell on mysticism and mystique.

Each of us is different yet we are a distinct 'style' that is ASU. If anything could be said to unite us it is that we all adhere to Saotome Sensei's principles.

06-29-2003, 04:25 PM
Quite often, the word "styles" refers to organisations. Everything that has not left Aikikai, is Aikikai... elthough some subfractions certainly are styles of their own, from a technical point of view.Some might call Aikikai a style, but others may consider it an organization which has many different styles. Witness Iwama Style, which is part of the Aikikai organization but given a distinct identity.

Another way of looking at style is by calling it hard - linear motion, or soft - circular motion. In the Chinese Arts it could be distinguished by geography, e.g. Northern or Southern Style.

While some people would consider a unifying principle or philosophy the distinguishing identity for different types of Aikido, that is more a reflection of the person making the distinction. The person who uses the word style should be questioned more closely to reveal what is the basis for this judgement.

07-01-2003, 06:59 AM
Thanks all for your replies; it seems this was one of those 'obvious' things that pop up from time to time that, when examined, seem to be less obvious than expected. Cool. :)

Doug Mathieu
07-09-2003, 12:47 PM
Hi Dave

I came upon your post and wonder what you might think about a couple ideas I have had in the back of my mind.

There are titles that identify a type of Martial Art, the main one I can think of being "Karate". Then there will be styles under that? Eg: Shotokan.

Would Karate be a system of martial art and the sub groups styles or would Karate be to broad and generic a term to be called a system?

I think Aikido could be called a Martial Art System and the various groups such as Iwama, Yoshinkan, as styles of Aikido.

This application of style is at a broad level compared to individual stylistic differences by instructors.

I think each of the recognized groups such as Iwama maintain the principles of Aikido but had a founder who decided there was at least one fundamental difference in how they would go about practicing or teaching Aikido from any of the other titled groups. Ki society focus more on teaching Ki for example. This difference would have to be more than a superficial one.

Instructors within that group may have personal style differences but have bought into whatever made the group identify themselves in a special way and will maintain the Aikido principles and whatever the groups sub principles are.

What can be confusing might be a Dojo where they say they belong to a group such as Iwama but their practice doesn't follow any of the direction given by its head eg: Saito Sensei.

At a personal level style reflects body shape, interest in aspects such as Koyunage techniques over pinning techniques.

Lastly, I wonder if there is a point where a style of Aikido no longer is Aikido because of the direction they go. Would competition mean its not Aikido because O'Sensei said there was no competition in "Aikido"? Perhaps its just in the interpretaion of what did he mean by competition.


Dennis Hooker
07-09-2003, 01:50 PM
What is a style? Let's see, I seem to remember an old old song about putting on the style

Young man driving a carriage driving it like he is mad, with a team of horses be borrowed from his dad

He cracks the whip so lively to see the ladies smile and every knows he is only just a putting on the style

Young man home from collage making a big display, using a giant jawbreaker he can hardly say

You know if ain't Webster's it at all worth while and everyone knows he only just a putting on the style

Sweet 16 and she goes to church just to see the boys, she laughs and she giggles at every little noise

She turns this way and that a way and then this way a while and everyone knows she is only just a putting on the style

Some sensei say I got the only right way only my way is true, don't listen to what the other sensei have to say to you

Then he throws this way and that a way with a cocky little smile and everyone knows he is only just a putting on the style

Ok I added the last part.

07-09-2003, 02:06 PM
Sweet 16 and she goes to church just to see the boys, she laughs and she giggles at every little noise

She turns this way and that a way and then this way a while and everyone knows she is only just a putting on the style
I used to go to church to look at the girls. I can't do that any more now that I go to church with my wife. :) She's a really pretty girl, though, so I don't mind.

Cute song, Hooker sensei!

As others have said, style seems to be about what aspects of the art the instructor chooses to emphasize.



Hanna B
07-11-2003, 02:01 AM
And about methods of pedagogics, I'd say.

Jesse Lee
07-14-2003, 05:25 PM
LMAO, good job Dennis! I play that song now, as I am just learning to play guitar. I'll have to try it with your lyrics!

Charlie Huff
07-15-2003, 08:12 PM
According to the late John Hartford (musician, raconteur, and riverboat pilot):

"... your style is determined by your limitations ..."