Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Re: What He learned from his near mugging
Very nice story... totally spot on.
The only problem I have with these stories is that Aikido folks always recount them as great examples of how Aikido works. There are a huge number of thee stories around, going way back to Terry Dobson's famous Tokyo subway train story. Everyone loves them. They are wonderful stories of people showing love and compassion or keepin their cool, staying non-aggressive, etc All the values we hold dear as Aikido people.
My issue is that almost never in these stroies is there any discussion about what if it hadn't worked that way? What was truly admirable about Terry's story about the old man on the subway was not what most Aikido folks seem to take from it i.e. that if we are just loving and kind, everything will be just great. What was impressive was that the old man CHOSE to be compassionate and loving at great personal in the face of anger and potential violence. There was no guarentee that the end would have been a happy ending. He chose to act the way he did because that was how he lived his life. He could just as easily ended up beaten to a pulp.
What would have happened in this story if the guy really had had a gun and had stood up and followed our "protagonist"? Was that really the best response? I might have chosen to stay seated up close where I could better control the interaction IF he truned out to be serious. If a guy has a gun, distance is not necessarily your friend unless you can actually run away. In a train, you can't make enough distance to be safe yet you can render any skills you might have useless simply by making that distance. In these non-violent Aikido stories there is almsot never any discussion of what would have happened if things had gone differently.
I point this out because most of the time the stories told about Aikido fall into two groups. First, there are the stories about how Aikido training is credited with resulting in outcomes which neeeded no physical technique. The folks who are serious about Aikido as conflict resolution and really focus on non-agression and non-violence love these stories and teell them as a way to illustrate how putting out good energy results in making the world better. Unfortunately, often these attitudes often have the flavour that back in the old hippie days many of my freinds took towards anything natural i.e. "if it's natural, it's all good", which totally ignored the fact that the most deadly poisons known to man are organic and occurr quite naturally in nature, that tornadoes, hurricanes, flloods, tsunamis are all "natural" and yet are incredibly destructive, at least to most human endeavors. So, the attitude is often, "see, if we are all just nice to each otherm if we put off good karma, everythig will be great". This was just exacty the attitude the Jews had in Germany before the war. They simply couldn't fathom how a group of such outsanding productive law abiding citizens could be so persecuted. Each time things got worse, they told themselves that they couldn't get any worse than that. Good people don't have things like that happen to them... Well, of course they did and they do.
Of course, there are all sorts of other stories told by folks who actually did have to use physical technique for self defense. Seldom are these stories of combat between folks who are trained. This isn't surprising... most violent assailants are not "trained" fighters but rather predators who have a few tricks. Don't fall for the tricks and they don't really have many skills. You hear almost no stories like the ones from Shioda Sensei's time in China during the war in which he had to use his training in a life and death encounter with gang members who really knew how to fight. I don't normally have a problem with this either... Most folks will never in their adult lives use a technique for self defense. So making street application of Aikido technique the focus of one's training seems to be a bit silly and misses the larger point of what O-Sensei wished the art to be I think.
What I am getting at here is that these stories represent two archetypes of Aikido practitioner. They seem to be generally quite separate. The group that seems really focused on Aikido as conflict resolution, a non-violent martial art designed to bring world peace, or at least peace to our own lives, very seldom seem to be the ones that have much if any to apply technique in a martially effective manner. Their practice is often so removed from reality that it isn't really following its own martial paradigm much less preparing one for any kind of real self defense encounter. One of the reason we don't hear more stories of how Aikido didn't work is that the folks who tried to use it and it didn't come through for them quit the art and went elsewhere. Much of law enforcement restraint technique is based on Aikido. I used to hear all the time from officers how that "wristy twisty stuff" doesn't work on the street. Well, actually it does, but you have to be good enough at it that it does. In most places I go where the "spiritual" side of the art is most emphasized, folks look at you like you are profaning something sacred if you talk about how you need to make these technique effective. If the art is beautiful, flowing, non-aggressive, it works, right? Stuff like proper use of atemi waza or how a technique could dislocate a joint is just way too earthy and "applied" for these folks. It's ends up being an art in which people talk constantly about conflict resolution but have taken even a hint of conflict out of their practice.
On the other hand, the folks that seem interested in the whole self defense side of the art, who sort of make their training interactions into pseudo combat situations like pretend samurai seem to have little or no interest in the non-technical side of the art. They make fun of the "aiki bunnies", ignore virtually everything O-Sensei said about world peace and even more arcane spiritual matters, and focus on being able to hurl each other to the mat effectively. If they quote O-Sensei it is exclusively the stuff he said about power, about control, about being undefeatable, etc These folks spend a lot of time wondering how their Aikido would work against MMA, Kali, BJJ, Capoeira, attackers with pruning shears etc. I have to say that I often find these folks to be very un-thoughtful about what they are doing. Yet, I will say that the best martial artists I know, without exception are very thoughtful people.
So we have an almost Jungian disconnect between these two aspects of Aikido. One is the "shadow side" of the other. I think we need to reach the point at which we understand that in O-Sensei we had the resolution of these seeming opposites. O-Sensei was the ORIGINAL "aiki bunny". Don't take the easy path and say he was simply eccentric and that no one could understand him or that he was a mystic and off in space, not practical, etc The folks who do this just want the technique without doing the work to really understand the implications. They are never top level in my opinion.
The folks who just love O-Sensei's spirituality almost never quote anything he said about the martial side of the art; never. What they hear is world peace, love, harmony, conflict resolution, bringing people together etc. Can you see how these two groups tend to be very selective about what parts of O-Sensei's message they actually heard.
What I was taught was that Aikido represented an art that carried both streams, the martial and the spiritual. That deep spirituality based on Aikido required deep technical understanding and ability and that deep martial skill necessarily entailed deep spiritual insight. Given that there are very few places one can go in which these two streams are united on the instructional level. We find ourselves in the position of necessarily needing to train with a number of different teachers in order to develop both sides of the art. In general, very few of the folks I train with address both sides of the art equally well.
Anyway, this is always what comes to mind when I hear these Aikido success stories. People hear them and I don't think they ask the right questions and they arrive at what I think are the wrong conclusions. Nothing wrong with the stories... just how they end up being perceived. Anyway, that's my take on it.