Perception of an Attack
In Aikido, most students aren't really good attackers. In fact, I think in most Aikido schools, we're trained to be sloppy to let the other person learn the technique. Unfortunately even at the dan levels, due to repeated 'training' of sloppy attacks, we never quite learnt how to do a proper attack, getting further away from practicality.
Yep, Aikido attacks, executed properly, IME end sparring matches (not had cause to try them out for real) pretty much instantly.
The problem is that Aikidoka see the kata ("techniques") as being Aikido but don't see the attacks as also being Aikido, even if we commonly use them in kata. For instance in shomen uchi kaiten the defence against shomen uchi is morote dori. Ushiro ryote katadori is near as damn it irmi nage ura. Very rarely though do we attack with the same intensity that we defend.
You can't expect to apply Aikido to every attack
When I swapped these sloppy attacks with more realistic quick punches, you realized that there are punches that you can't do a technique on (for example a crisp jab), while others which give u a window of opportunity to do something (for example hooks and crosses). When practicing with my students who had little training of any sorts of punches, even when they were trying to punch quick and jab, I managed to complete techniques against these.
For crisp jabs, it was basically learning to keep a distance and circle (much like CMD) while deflecting them with non committal slaps. CMD talks about occupying the space with jabs, while Aikido has it all out there ALREADY occupying this space putting you in an ideal position to redirect non committal attacks without sacrificing defense. Perhaps this is a manifestation of ma-ai.
You can't expect to apply Aikido kata
to every attack. People like to say "Aikido techniques don't work" forgetting, or just being plain ignorant of the fact, that there are no techniques because the kata were never intended to function as techniques.
People also forget that the attacks are also kata and that tsuki is not a punch it is tsuki, a thurst. IME the best way for training against jabs in Aikido is learning from fore foot irimi shomen because in all important respects it's identical to a jab.
Realistic Sparring changes your Mindset- you can't always be passive
CMD also introduced me to realistic sparring where you don't really know how the other guy is going to attack. Aikido randoori or jiyuwaza isn't really 'free' in that there are still predetermined attacks and...holds....
It's one mindset doing jiyuwaza and another where there is a real danger of being punched and where it's accepted to get punched as part of the learning process. In an Aikido dojo, if you don't 'pull your punches' and actually connect with someone, you're labelled as a violent person which leads to overcompensation with fake, unrealistic attacks.
When approaching jiyuwaza with this mindset, you actually develop a more pro-active style, moving in before the person has fully gotten up and pre-emptively striking right before he strikes if his posture is weak.
It no longer is an elaborate dance but resembles a realistic scenario where you're really thinking about how to protect yourself. I think this is what many higher dan Aikido masters have found when they mentioned that in a real life situation you need to take a lot more initiative rather than waiting for an attack to come to you.
In fact you unlock true 'jiyu' where you remove the rules of what's acceptable dojo sparring and are free to innovate.
Yep, I learned that you have to obey the principles taught in the kata and get in ASAP. Being a good uke is actually more practical than being a good tori I've found. If you can attack really well, if you can make morote dori and ushiro ryote katadori and all the other attacks in such a way that you immobilise and off balance your opponent technique becomes a doddle if you even need something complicated enough to be called a technique.
I wouldn't say that pulling punches is universal in all Aikido dojo, in ours if you pull a punch you get told off. We have yuyo as a safety feature not punch pulling.
Atemi is super important
Atemi is the act of striking your opponent. Now are often told that atemi is a distracting move and there are even some Senseis who see atemi as sort of a cheating move.
I don't see it that way but as a necessary extension of what Aikido is. In fact, I believe O-Sensei advocated the importance of this. In real life, your opponent is not going to be compliant or stationary and you need a surprise jolt to buy yourself enough time to get into position for a technique.
Training counter-punching in CMD is VERY relevant to the proper application of atemi. The timing and applying the necessary force to disorient your uke is an aspect not trained.
Too often in regular Aikido training, atemi is an afterthought, done poorly and more of just a movement that in the heat of a real fight, it's often forgotten or done ineffectively.
A proper atemi hurts. Imagine getting your face smacked by a fist or being punched below the ribs, and most people will be to disoriented to resist your technique.
Again, it depends where you train.
Some techniques remain a mystery to me
Still some Aikido techniques continue to be a mystery to me and seem only applicable against a crazy guy charging at you giving you full committal. For example, certain versions of kokyu-ho seem incredibly unrealistic unless the guy continued to hold your hand throughout the movement. This is obviously ridiculous in a real life situation.
However I do see a point in learning these techniques as it does teach you the proper flow and extension needed to execute throws but this should be made clear from the beginning rather than passed off as a 'technique'.
A technique that can only be applied on a compliant uke, is not a real technique to me. It's a practice drill.
Kokyu-ho means "Breath power exercise." A lot of what goes on in an Aikido dojo is a total mystery to most Aikidoka. Excersises for kata are taught as kata, kata are regarded as technique, weapons work is thought of as being seperate and different from body art.
Aikido is in a mess.
Aikido against a trained fighter
Now I have to admit, Aikido against a trained fighter will probably have very limited usage. An experienced fighter who just does a little research on Aikido can easily see what an Aikidoka is trying to do and easily prevent it.
Aikido does rely heavily on the element of surprise. In fact I'll be quite confident if I had to spar with someone who only knew Aikido.
Aikido has no place in the octagon/professional fighting as much as BJJ has no place outside 1 on 1 fighting.
However, the majority of the guys you are going to face are untrained fighters or people who aren't actually expecting you to resist in such a manner. This is really in most cases a true self defense scenario where you're going to be caught by surprise and the attacker isn't expecting you to fight back.
Just imagine getting yourself into a boxing stance when faced with attackers, it immediately puts them on notice that you know how to fight and they react accordingly.
The great thing about Aikido is that you can still assume a non threatening stance and yet be ready to explode into action. It builds muscle reflexes where if someone grabs me, I immediately instinctively move into a throw (yes I once threw my ex-gf and almost threw my Japanese tour operator). It is also very final and yet non lethal. Sure a punch in CMD should end most fights but a proper pin or throw has a certain finality to it perhaps only less as compared to a BJJ choke.
The great thing about Aikido is it's explosiveness. We can just charge people down. I think of it like this: BJJ shoots for the waist and below, Aikido shoots for the waist and above.
I use the power of the charge to pin my opponents arms into their body and force them back or I charge in and open up their guard and go for sumi otoshi or uchi kaiten. It's over in three seconds flat.
You're a striker? Great, I weigh 13 stone, I'm charging in and though you with my guard protecting my centerline and reaching for you and making atemi, good luck stopping me with one punch, if you even clock on to what's going on in time.
The trouble with Aikidoka is that we fight like westerners on the whole. We want to stay mid-range and grind our opponent down. We don't like the idea of ikken hisatsu, of risking everying on one decisive attack japanese stylee and so we get chewed up by those using arts that are suited for mid-range fighting forgetting that those arts get chewed up by close range fighters, like Aikidoka.
We have a defencive attitude and an art that sucks defencively.
Aikido is still relevant
So in my opinion, Aikido is still very relevant. Sure it may not be as mano to mano effective as MMA, but its applications in a self defense situation are still very real as long as a more realistic emphasis is placed on training.
We often forget that legends such as O-Sensei and Gozo Shioda perfected their art through realistic matches/fights gaining the necessary instincts to be able to pull off Aikido. In a way, realistic sparring may be that missing element to complete Aikido.
Slow and unrealistic attacks do have a role in learning Aikido. It's just that we must learn that once we have reached a certain level of Aikido, it's time to move away from the rules that were created to protect us but at the same time restrain us from the true application of Aikido.
Aikido is a rough diamond at the moment. Many instructors don't understand the different parts of the art or how they fit together.
They also don't understand the cultural back ground that Aikido comes from i.e. ikken hisatsu, one strike decides all. Or maybe they just don't like it because it doesn't fit in with the whole pacifism thing people equate Aikido to.
There also needs to be an acknowledgement that the attacking side of the art is as important, if not more important than the defencive part and not just something we do so that we can practice technique.