TL;DR How 1 aikidoka answered the 'Is Aikido Effective?' question for himself.
I'm a big fan of Penn and Teller, and I was enjoying a few episodes of their Showtime program Bullshit!
yesterday on YouTube, when I saw the episode on martial arts
. Being familiar with the show's format, I knew immediately what they would be attacking about martial arts, but I readied myself for some incoming (and sometimes well-deserved) flak and watched anyway.
The result was about what I expected. They attacked the board breaking part of some Karate, the sometimes strange and bizarre things we all do occasionally, and the total disregard of ethical and legal ramifications of some of the more brutal and questionable self-defense schools. They also took an extremely narrow minded view of statistics when they suggested that if martial arts were so effective they would expect to see many more reports of successful physical altercations by martial artist, when, in fact, I believe it's the very lack of those reports which is a statement to the effectiveness of martial arts for avoiding conflict. However, it was this warped view of what martial arts is that helped me crystallize what has been gnawing at me for a long time about martial arts, and that is the martial arts reality versus the martial arts perception. I'll explain why this has been a problem for me in a bit, but let me first respond to Penn, Teller, and the rest of the naysayers about why Aikido Isn't Bullshit.
There are 2 reasons why the statement "Aikido isn't effective" is bullshit. To begin with, Aikido is absolutely effective at what it was developed to do, and that is to neutralize sources of conflict ranging from personal conflicts you may have between things like your balance and gravity, to verbal altercations, all the way up to and including multiple attackers armed with various hitting, cutting, and stabbing weapons. It is clearly not effective at neutralizing bullets, missiles, tanks, aircraft carriers, or nuclear weapons, and it never claimed to be. The techniques for handling attackers are based on simple principles of physics and anatomy that have been around in their same basic form and used in combat for hundreds of years, and the method and philosophy of Aikido and its founder's respect toward Budo (the warrior way) are applicable to many areas of life. Now, the effectiveness
with which Aikido can do all these things is totally dependent on the practitioner. Aikido takes time, focus, and dedication to master, and there will always be room for improvement. To paraphrase a well-known sensei, "Aikido works. Your Aikido may not."
The second reason the statement is bullshit is the perception of the general public of what Aikido (and truthfully all martial arts) is supposed to be, and how "effective" is defined. Popular culture all around the world has a fascination with martial arts. America, especially, is enamored with violence in our entertainment, and this popular culture has built up a martial arts ethos which endows its practitioners with superhuman, almost supernatural powers. We have images of Jason Bourne seething with pure destructive power able to vanquish vast armies of "bad guys" with little to no effort, never once encountering someone of even equal ability. This ethos is pure fantasy impossible to live up to, and what is worse is that it misses the point entirely. We do not train to have mastery over other people. We train to have mastery over ourselves, and it's a long road.
So, why does this matter to me? Simple, I'm a part of this culture, and I face these misperceptions all the time. Many of us have had the experience of seeing someone's attitude toward us shift upon learning we practice martial arts. Some will look up to me with some elevated level of respect or awe which is totally undeserved, and I'll feel a bit guilty about that until I set them straight and a bit insignificant after I do. Some will look at me with caution as if we were a threat or a challenge, and I'll feel a bit anxious about that until I set them straight, and again a bit insignificant after I do. These misperceptions about what I do affects me in subtle ways, and often times lead me to question my own training in the same damn way Penn and Teller did. And that
is what has been gnawing at me until now. Even if Aikido doesn't live up to someone's standard of "effectiveness", Aikido is one of the greatest things in my life. It has given me confidence, balance, relaxation, friendship, health, temperance, and even purpose along with so many other things. So, in the end, I wrote this post as a reminder to myself for those occasions (and for anyone else who needs it) that despite many common misperceptions about it, Aikido is most definitely not bullshit.