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Old 01-03-2009, 12:24 PM   #53
George S. Ledyard
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Dojo: Aikido Eastside
Location: Bellevue, WA
Join Date: Jun 2000
Posts: 2,670
Re: Effectiveness of Aikido in a combat situation

This is one of those discussions that seems never to get resolved. So I will make my once a year contribution to it.

Aikido, as an art created by Morihei Ueshiba, has nothing to do with combat. It is not about self defense in a conventional sense although some level of defensive capability should be a by-product of good training.

Aikido is an art that was created as a "michi" or "path" which focuses primarily on the study of "connection" and "integration". It is designed to gradually remove the sense of separateness from each other and our environment we all have. It does so by striving for technique using "aiki" rather than mere physical force.

The requirement of relaxation, both mental and physical, needed to execute technique on this level is, for many people, quite transformative. Aiki requires a willingness to "connect". Most Aikido is done by people who do not really wish to connect.

The "fighters" wish to win, to defeat, to maintain their separateness by overcoming the "enemy", whoever that is. Generally, these folks have technique characterized by a lot of strength and tension.

The "spiritual" folks go to the other extreme and, despite their assertion that Aikido is about "conflict resolution", simply remove all conflict from the practice. Their practice is generally characterized by non-existent attacks, lots of graceful movement with little content, and, surprisingly, no real connection at all, just avoidance.

In my opinion, both of these archetypal groups are fundamentally motivated by fear at the heart of things. Aikido practice is fundamentally about transforming our fearful natures into something else. It is about attaining an internal balance, both mental and physical which allows one to let the world in rather than hold it away. The more one relaxes, the more one can develop that internal balance, the more the stresses of the world simply pass through one without taking hold, without causing damage, and without creating that need to push back which causes so much pain and destruction in our world.

Too many people try to reshape our art in their own image. They try to make Aikido into something that supports their own predisposition rather than requiring that they themselves change.

The fact that Aikido, as art of personal transformation, has a martial paradigm as its methodology does not mean that it was intended to be about fighting at all. It is no more about fighting or combat than kenjutsu. No one does kenjutsu thinking he is preparing for combat with swords in any practical sense. No one sits around and discusses whether mixed martial arts are superior to kenjutsu or whether kenjutsu works in the "real world" as opposed to some ill defined "unreal world". It is true that, for anyone involved in combat as a professional, the study of the principles of kenjutsu can be applied but it requires some translation into modern combat reality (like guns).

Aikido is the same. The fact that Aikido contains techniques that it shares in common with arts concerned with developing combat capability allows some to mistake the purpose of the art. I taught for many years a system of police defensive tactics to law enforcement and security personnel based on Aikido principles and techniques. It was not Aikido, it was Aikido based.

On the other hand, taking the "martial" out of the art results in an art which is really just a dance. Now dance is great. But dance is essentially a cooperative enterprise. It does require connection but it does not require an understanding of the energetics of connection which are crucial to the martial application of technique. I do not believe that dance is a form of practice that is primarily focused on transforming the individual's fearful nature and I do believe that about Aikido.

Aikido is like a big Koan. It requires the ability to hold opposites at the same time and bring them together. Most people simply try to pursue one side of the other, never trying to bring the opposites into balance. Yet, balance is what the whole practice is about.

Aikido is a form of Budo. If the Budo is left out of Aikido it is nothing but a form of interesting aerobic movement done by like minded individuals in a social club called a dojo.

But focus on combat, constant tailoring of the practice to attain some level of practical fighting skill in preparation for some future confrontation with an as yet not encountered enemy simply misses the whole point of Aikido. Aikido is about not having an enemy. It is about reaching an understanding that there is no enemy apart from oneself. O-Sensei repeatedly stated that there is simply no separation between us and it is a misunderstanding of that fact that causes violence. He also stated that if one is in the state of ignorance, one is defeated before he even attacks. The practice is about understanding that there "is no spoon" so to speak.

I see very little discussion that indicates that many folks are pursuing a practice of the art which would eventually result in an understanding of that kind of connection. If folks are so worried about combat, find an art which is designed for combat. Don't try to devolve an art which is so much more than than into something far more limited.

Ok, that should hold me for 2009 on the subject. It's not that I suspect that this topic will go away but it would be nice to see it go to a back page once in a while. It doesn't bode well for the art that these discussions seem to get, by far, the most attention and participation.

George S. Ledyard
Aikido Eastside
Bellevue, WA
Aikido Eastside