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I got a call from a prospective student yesterday. I wouldn't like to give the impression that this guy was being difficult, he wasn't. But he asked a question I get all too often:
"Is this one of those soft art schools? I want something real."
This question always causes me grief. The definition of "real" is slippery at best.
I have students who've defended themselves using Aikido. I've defended myself using Aikido. I've been in situations where my attitude caused people not to attack me and I attribute this to my Aikido training.
Is that real?
Didn't I talk about this before? Maybe, but here it is again.
Aikido isn't about fighting. At best it's about resolving the conflict so that everybody walks away friends. That isn't always possible, but at least it's possible that everyone walks away alive and relatively unhurt. The other guy may be fighting, but I'm not.
Is that real?
Competitions are set up to follow certain rules and last for a certain amount of time either determined by chronology or points or some other arbitrary measurement. The competitive mindset screws up any chance of using Aikido effectively, at least for me.
So, competition, is that real?
Real life on the mat
Can you duplicate real life conflict on the mat? I don't think so. People would get hurt or killed. You lose more students that way.
So how does this prepare you for "real life" conflict? Does it?
Well, it must, or at least the evidence suggests as much. People have used it effectively. More than once. But how does that happen?
First of all, a lot of the training is learning how to move your body in effective ways. This has value in itself. I've seen many people just freeze or flail their arms around innefectually in the face of any attack. With a very little training they start to just move in more effective ways.
Also, there is the whole thing that you can learn to be confident that you can handle the situation. Just being able to address the situation without panic or mental defeat means you are more likely to defend yourself than allow yourself to be beat up.
This is only the beginning, though. A confident attitude will often cause people to reconsider their aggression before they attack. Sometimes this is simple fear, but more often they take your confidence as a good reason to question their own position. If you react with fear or aggression, they have no reason to question whether they are right. As soon as they question their own motives, they often back down either deciding they had it wrong or that it isn't worth the conflict regardless. This has happened to me far more often than having to resolve a physical conflict using Aikido.
What's more, that confidence and non-combatitive attitude will help in non-martial situations as well. Meetings with obstinate co-workers can go a lot more smoothly if you start with the right attitude. Entering and helping someone to understand your own position, or even making the effort to understand their position usually works better than hostile confrontation. Even when confrontation is needed, hostility isn't.
Making the decision
People who are faced with a physical conflict who don't defend themselves often have never thought about what they would do if they were placed in such a position. It's not a case of being unwilling or uninterested, they just don't believe it will ever matter. Sometimes the single most important thing people do when they start training is to decide that they will defend themselves beyond throwing their hands up in an attempt to ward off their attacker.
Of course, there are also the pathological cases where someone believes that defending themselves will only make things worse. And sometimes it will. But allowing yourself to be beat on repeatedly because you are afraid the problem will get worse isn't the right answer either. Maybe Aikido can help with that, although I think there may be other issues which need addressing there.
Yep, this is a "soft" art
If you want to learn how to beat people up, there's a local dojo for another art where they frequently brag about teaching people to do just that. They're rough and tough and people get injured there a lot. Nobody who trains there is over the age of 40.
Me, I'll stick to something that works for me, has worked for me and doesn't lead to broken bones - mine or the other guys.
Edited because one of the comments I got made me realize I'd left out some stuff I'd meant to say.