Sport is the new Budo
Hello all, Id like to open a perhaps controversial topic if I may which hopefully will provoke some thoughtful conversation.
Ive practiced Shodokan Aikido for 15 years and for the last 6 Ive also been boxing. In this time Ive got up to a pretty good level and am now a sparring partner for a number of low level professionals. When people ask me questions about the effectiveness of Aikido I always respond that its pretty much like boxing -- my exact words are "Its essentially a sport, but it will give you an edge in a fight". Now, following some of the threads on here, I notice many people getting very upset when Aikido is referred to as a sport, and a number of people saying "MMA and Boxing are sports, not Budo" as if somehow Budo is a level above these sports, but to my way of thinking, is it not better to be a sport than Budo these days? People talk of sport "diluting" martial arts but I believe that these changes are a natural evolution and should be embraced rather than abhorred.
Let me explain, another question Im frequently asked and a thread Ive seen frequently on here is "Whod win in a fight, a boxer or an aikidoka?". Whilst the answer, of course, depends on a billion variables I always favour the boxer and the reason is simply because of the way they approach their training and their attitude. A boxer, when not training in boxing (shadow work, bag work, sparring etc) will be training in other ways. Building up his strength, going on exacting runs to build up his fitness etc How many aikidoka do that? We shouldnt have to I hear you say because Aikido should not rely on these variables but is this not a dishonest answer? Surely of two equally skillful opponents the fitter, stronger one will triumph. If I am unable to grip an opponents wrist with sufficient strength to turn it or am too unfit to fight a man for more than 30 seconds then my technique is worthless. If we do not have the honesty to admit this then we do not train efficiently and we lose the edge of having a slightly more dangerous art.
Sparring is another essential. Believe me when I tell you that to climb through the ropes of a boxing ring at any level takes a tremendous amount of courage and a boxer will quickly learn to control his own fear to some extent. In a street fight a boxer is a tremendously dangerous opponent due to this because you cannot intimidate them. Most boxers will have been in the ring with guys who can punch harder, faster and more accurately than the majority of street fighters and so there fear is controllable to a great extent. How many aikidoka can claim this? Shodokan Aikidoka are virtually the only Aikido faction to practice against resistance and, to be brutally honest, I think it is the most essential part of what we do. In 15 years ive learned that many aikido techniques would be virtually impossible against someone with even a reasonable appreciation of how to keep his balance. But with the right training in a sporting environment (tanto randori) against a competitive opponent, one can quickly streamline their repertoire to the most effective techniques. What Traditional Aikidoka may also be missing out on is renzoku or combinations. Boxers know that to throw one punch is only good to search for an opening, what works best is using combinations so your opponent finds it difficult to know where the next punch is coming from and therefore how to defend it. Aikido is no different, when one technique fails, for effective Aikido you must be able to flow effortlessly from one technique to the next using your opponents resistance in your favour -- this is not something you can just assume you can do, it must be practised hundreds upon hundreds of times until it becomes smooth and fluid with a genuine resisting uke.
Attitude. I read a posting on here the other day that turning Aikido into a sport would bring in an influx of competitive, egotistical types who would have the wrong attitude for the art. I cant honestly say that ego does not exist in boxing gyms, but many of you may be surprised to hear that the arrogance in an Aikido dojo is far worse. In Aikido, stay at any dojo long enough and manage to show a set number of techniques and youre given a belt. The colour of that belt shows how highly you "rank" above other students. Ive seen many, many instances of people of a certain "rank" who have never had a fight in their lives, order around "lower grades", threaten to "put them in their place", refuse to train with people below a certain standard and be generally patronising and rude to people who dont wear a certain coloured belt. In boxing there is none of this. If you want to talk to people like that, youd best be ready to prove yourself in the ring. There are no gradings and no one assumes your skill based on anything other than watching you. A man with 3 months boxing experience can beat a man whos boxed for 3 years and no one thinks anything of it. World Champions such as Clinton Woods, and formerly Naseem Hamed, regularly spar with kids from his gym -- going at their pace and helping those youngsters improve and I would never have reached the level I reached was it not for an extremely patient and giving heavyweight who brought me along gently working me at just above my level even thought he could have easily beaten me with one punch. Compare this attitude to a post I read on here the other day that stated "Why on earth would a sandan train with an orange belt?". In a competitive, sporting environment such horrific ego is not allowed. You are judged on your skills alone and nothing else.
So what are the arguments to still classifying ourselves as a budo rather than reevaluating ourself as a sport? Some may be tempted to say that a sport is for fun whereas a budo should be about life and death. Anytime a boxer goes into a ring he is aware of the fact that he could die. One of my gym mates was left severely handicapped after a fight. Surely then a boxer has more of a "budo" attitude in facing down these fears than an aikidoka who never trains against a "live" opponent?
Budo has no rules? This is no longer true. I read posts on here that MMA does not represent a real fight because it has rules but this is ludicrous -- the street also has rules, called laws. No one wants to train at a dojo where there are literally no rules but no one can seriously argue that a MMA practitioner would be less well prepared for a fight than a "budo" practitioner from a traditional dojo??
Budo is more traditional? Many sports, particularly boxing, have been around for longer than Budo. The only difference is that theyve changed and redefined themselves. Where would football, cricket or boxing be now if there had been no changes to the rules in the last 80 years? Of course each generation thinks that their way is the "right" way but change is the nature of things. My Dad still asserts that the old 40`s boxers wouldve beaten their modern day counterparts but with new training methods, dietary supplements and so on its simply unthinkable -- despite the fact that those guys were all tough as hell and still deserve tremendous respect.
Ill leave you with one final analagy to think about. Swordfighting -- back in the day a fairly regular occurrence but now pretty highly illegal. Take two groups of people who loved swordfighting, one -- realising that they can no longer practice with live blades -- decide to use Bokken so they can keep their speed, still feel that fear and perform all the techniques exactly as they were back when it was legal, just without one man dying. The other group are traditionalists, they wont use anything but the original swords, however as they can no longer cut each other they have to stop each cut 2 inches from their opponent and slow their techniques down so they can be sure they wont cut each other. Who is practising the real art and who is practising a diluted version?
Your thoughts on the differences between sport and budo and why its better to be one than the other please.