Before I left Aikido, I studied the art for more than 10 years. I was really hooked on it, practicing 5 days a week, 2 classes a day for months at a stretch. Suffice to say, it was a healthy addiction. I got to Shodan (under the Aikikai) and I didn't see the point of working toward a higher rank. I was practicing the same material as my seniors and I could spend the rest of my aikido life working on my skills at my present rank. I consumed anything and everything aikido: books, videos, seminars, etc.
A few years ago I stopped doing aikido completely, and I hope my reasons bring to light some problems I see about the art and start some serious discussions.
I saw aikido as a martial art and I practiced it as such. I worked toward practical application while keeping to traditional methods of training, and making sure my uke was safe at all times. I wasn't a dojo bully but I always training vigorously. But as the years went by after I became a shodan, I realize that aikido in its present form was not a martial art anymore. More precisely, it wasn't as "martial' as it used to be.
Yes, O Sensei studied it as a true combat system, but to be honest it is now rather impotent as a martial art. Somewhere along the way Aikido lost its martial "edge". I'm sure some Aikido styles and schools are still practicing aikido with an eye toward martial application, but as a whole aikido is no longer the fearsome system that people think it is.
No, I'm not comparing aikido to MMA, BJJ or anything else that's been discussed here so many times. It's simply an assertion that aikido is no longer realistically practiced or relevant as a martial art nowadays.
My sensei stressed atemi and training for self-defense (but he was also a "traditionalist" in a sense that he made us consider aikido as a budo first), but I realized that aikido in itself requires far too much time developing practical self-defense skills among its students. Yes an Aikikai Shihan can most definitely defend himself, but does a student need to do aikido professional all their lives before he or she can gain any self-defense benefit from aikido?
I'm familiar with the quote "your Aikido may not work, my Aikido works just fine". Well that's just my point: does an aikido student need to spend decades of training, probably to the point of teaching it professionally, before the art can work for the average student as a self-defense system? If so, then it's not that efficient as a martial art. So if people looking for self-defense skills are told to try krav maga or muay thai to learn them, why is aikido still claiming to be a martial art?
I'm not comparing aikido to those other systems. All I'm saying is, in a vast worldwide market offering the development of fighting skill through myriad martial arts, what does aikido have to offer?
Look at the discussion on the forums here. How many are about doubting aikido as an effective martial art. Some of those asking the perennial question may not be aikido students, but I did aikido for more than a decade and I too began to question its effectiveness.
The notion that aikido is still a martial art fostered and still fosters a false sense of martial skill among its students. The knife defenses are impractical and ineffective against realistic attacks. Most of the attacks being practiced, the grabs and strikes, are unrealistic in a modern context. Yes, they are meant to prevent a samurai from drawing his weapon, but how relevant is it to practice application based on such scenarios nowadays? I will admit that I had that false sense of security too but as I reflected on the art and what it offered I began to question its practicality. It didn't help that a lot of aikidoka I knew from back then (and even some I've met recently) have this dangerous smug attitude toward their perceived martial skill that may get them into trouble someday.
Let's face it, aikido is practiced through cooperation. Nage does the technique, Uke protects himself from harm. But how much of Uke's work is actually allowing the technique to work? As aikido practitioners, I'm sure you know what I mean. In regular practice, the attack is known in advance, the technique to be done is know as well, and everything is essentially choreographed. Even randori is in a sense a game of cooperation. I've seen people drop to the floor like dead corpses as soon as I touched them in randori.
Ok, so aikido may not be a martial art in the same vein as other systems. Not all martial arts are meant for the UFC. Aikido is more of a spiritual path of enlightenment or self-development, right? I can accept that; aikido has always been described as a form of budo. But one of the reasons I left aikido was to get away from the overwhelming narcissism I saw among the highest ranking local aikido instructors.
I was disappointed to discover that a lot of people changed as they moved up the local aikido hierarchy. Those at the very top, who are suppose to present themselves are the best examples of aikido as budo, are in fact the most vain and egotistical "martial artists" I've ever met. Bickering amongst themselves over petty slights and issues, constantly competing for rank and recognition, they live in total delusion of their martial ability. A lot of them run little dictatorships, filled with students eager to stroke their egos upon demand.
So if the highest ranking aikidoka I personally know are like this, what does that say about aikido as a budo? Decades of practice doesn't make them better people, and instead nurtures their egos and self-importance?
So I ask, if aikido is no longer as martially relevant or effective as it used to be, and its method of promotion and advancement works instead to boost the ego rather than minimizing it, what then is it good for?
Despite what I just wrote, I still have a fondness for aikido. My closest and best friends are still my aikido buddies from way back. The camaraderie developed from shared effort and pain in learning the art is very strong. The last time I watched an aikido class, I can see the eagerness of the students to learn and maintain their dojo. You don't spend a decade doing something without taking some good virtues and value from it.
If practiced as a martial art, aikido can be effective. But as I see it, in its current form it's failing as a martial art and as a martial way.
I know that this is an extremely long rant and I apologize for the lack of brevity and clarity. I just wanted to get this off of my chest.