Just before you read this I am quite capable of yada yada yada too
But I prefer not too as I can't spelle or write or do sweet F.A.
In response to the articles by Stanley Pranin - Martial arts in a state of decline? An end to the collusion?
I know this will probably cause eruptions amongst some aikidoka and I know that criticism like this has surfaced time and time again but I think maybe we should do this just to remind the (many) complacent amonst us. If it does irk a few into rethinking what it is they do in their own practice and the present state of aikido then maybe I've hit the right nerve! I will not make any apologies and would say that this is a keen and clinical observation and dissection of aikido on my part having practised now for 33 years. Previous to aikido I have had some experience in amateur boxing, judo, karate and gungfu as well as experiencing some nasty situations (in my time) outside of the dojo! My honest opinion is that most aikidoka today really have no idea as to their true combat ability and are either totally deluded or most probably not that concerned, hence the view today of many who criticise aikido's combat self defence effectiveness….. Even to the point that those who supposedly practice the art, in all its myriad forms, arguing who, what, where, is better or not. This is plainly seen on many internet forum.
Critics from the majority of sports orientated combat arts of whatever persuasion and also those of a street orientated nature view so called traditional (kata only styles) martial arts, traditional aikido styles (or should we say purist's styles?) sadly ineffective against someone who is hell bent on giving a purist martial arts practitioner a thorough pasting!
As a Tomiki/Shodokan aikido player, (and I can hear the purists saying ‘not another Shodothug'!) I can well understand the reasoning behind those arguments and would have to confess that I would have to agree to a great extent, having seen the seductive and well performed, choreographed demonstrations performed from limp and awkward looking telegraphed striking attacks and silly grabs as it seems is often the norm in ‘purist's' training and demo's! I cannot honestly help but feel and know that this is ‘oh so very true!' It's even happened in some Tomiki Aikido groups where so called traditionalists/purists of even high grade now only practice kata and sloppily at that! In all honesty it looks more like aikido performed by geriatric string puppets who have never really practised any good randori or practised randori/shiai, (kumite) at all!
Aikido performed in this way does not do the art any real justice, especially when you get such criticism from those of the more combat orientated martial arts. Many from karate, judo, kendo, etc., were attracted to aikido and its Founder Morihei Ueshiba. There are enough anecdotes to imply that Mr Ueshiba could really do the business as his teacher Sokaku Takeda could and apparently proved beyond all doubt!
Is it true to say that after the 2nd world war, as Professor Ueshiba grew older, infused with his spiritual influence, he really wanted aikido to become a highly refined harmonious practice? Are successive postwar teachers watering down or even eliminating the martial practice of aikido altogether? Are the majority of aikido teachers today just too biased towards health, harmony, philosophy, etc., the self defence effectiveness of aikido just being ‘switched off' or are they just deluding themselves and their students? If this is the case, how does one expect combat effectiveness in what has basically become a completely co-operational dance like ‘martial art'? Is aikido meant to be something ultra soft now, which in their eyes is aikido, which resembles aikido but somehow without the martial? In other words has it really become a health system based on a martial art? The martial effectiveness of aikido not being the goal but rather just the spiritual, feel good type practice becoming or establishing itself as the preferred or ‘ultimate' method?
The almost dance like movement and ukemi akin to gymnastics or acrobatics that is seen practised today is fine from an harmonious health and fitness point of view, but it is virtually useless in an actual combat scenario, when an opponent or opponents will absolutely not co-operate and take beautifully controlled falls for you! It's fairly obvious that ukemi practice is neccessary to avoid or escape injury from truly applied techniques but should ukemi be performed just to be pretty or to make nage look good? All these things are referred to by others and often read in articles such as those mentioned in the heading.
In all honesty, wouldn't one be better off training in dance, gymnastics or ice skating or a mixture of all three as many do? These activities are exceptionally good for health, fitness and harmony. Its also quite ironic that good dancers seem to make good traditional/purist/cinema choreography ‘martial artists' too!
I personally feel to some degree that Professor Kenji Tomiki (8th Dan Judo, 9th Dan Aikido) foresaw what would probably happen to aikido and addressed this with his rational idea of introducing one on one randori and sporting shiai (contest) coupled with kata training in equal measure to understand the mechanics/principles of technique. This system is gaining many more adherents around the world and is still in developement and fine tuning so we could still see things changing depending on the will of top ranking teachers and innovative individuals within the Shodokan. Yes, we know that sport shiai doesn't look pretty and its not ‘real' in the true sense, but it is the closest that one can get in aikido given safety parameters. All or most Shodokan players are amateur in the sense that entering competition shiai is not done for a purse, much the same as in judo.
It seems evident to me that the progress of aikido under some banners as a martial art, will most likely develop (or decline depending on which way you look at it) into a health system similar to exercise Tai chi with rolls and falls, which to some extent it already has! This is fine if you are more interested in an all round exercise only practice but should it really be relied upon for self defence or combat effectiveness?
Its also interesting to note that the watering down of martial effectiveness has also occurred in some other martial arts so its not just aikido that is suffering from this kind of criticism. I also feel there is another reason why this has happened. Not everybody wants to become a lean mean fighting machine but would prefer to do a martial art or physical discipline because they are just attracted to the beautiful kata side of traditional martial arts and the mental and health benefits that can be derived from it. People who prefer and want this kind of practice only should be made fully aware of this! Unfortunately the problem arises when unaware people are misguided into thinking that kata only practice is sufficient for self defence. The more rational amongst us know that this is not true! It's really down to the teacher of any dojo being honest about what they are teaching, rather than letting a deluded student find out for themselves when it's too late!
It's obvious that many so called professional martial art instructors today either know this and prefer not to inform their students, or are just totally deluded themselves, leaning too much towards the philosophy and hiding behind it!. They have never been really tested so do not know their true ability…… or are really just con artists! Truth is most traditional martial arts teachers today have never been in a real altercation in their lives. Not that its advocated in today's so called liberal modern societies! It's more likely that these instructors know that they can get away with it and are more concerned about how many students they can sign up and in so doing increase their incomes and grossly inflated status. If instructors only teach what can only really be classed as co-operative martial art dance, or mock combat, then there will always be those, who don't know the difference, who are unfortunately going to be duped and deluded. This is a total con and an uneccessary delay to a completely unaware novice student who is looking for self defence/combat instruction.
Thankfully, there are honest teachers amongst traditionalists who do inform their prospective applicants that this is indeed the case and will direct those people who are looking for just self defence instruction to a more combat orientated martial arts school.
We all know in aikido (as in other martial arts too) kata practice is important to understand the mechanics and principles of technique. From a self defence/combat point of view, training really should be practised right from the start, initially from light atemi, (and not just from the usual traditional attacks) light resistive grabbing and gripping. Then as players become more accomplished, gradually employing full strength grabbing/grappling and fast strong atemi. When one becomes more skilled, the kata techniques learned in principle are properly understood, transformed into applied techniques which have developed into alive full grappling or randori and sport shiai against an uncooperative partner or partners, rationally testing one's technique for effectiveness, these methods employed within the comparative safety of the dojo.
I personally believe that one cannot possibly know if one is truly effective if these methods are not employed to some extent. It's not necessary to enter tournaments or get beat up, but it can be practised in the dojo within reason! What other alternative is there? It's becoming apparent that more and more disillusioned ‘traditional' aikidoka have discontinued training, or are now supplementing their aikido practice with judo, b.j.j., m.a.a., boxing, karate, kick boxing or even switching to or studying Shodokan aikido (Sorry had to get that one in).
One gets to hear about incidents inside and outside the dojo or in the street where challenges have been taken by so called skilled martial art traditionalist/purists/aikidoka who have found out to their disgust that their kata only practice is completely useless in a real broil! Then it's too late! The damage is done. Aikido/traditional martial arts get bad press! It's hardly surprising really.
Stanley Pranin of Aikido Journal recently wrote the articles about traditional martial art schools being down on membership and the apparent lack of interest in oriental traditional martial arts. Could this be one of the main reasons? A lot of young people I come across and talk to today openly say that if they were to do a martial art they would probably look for a mixed martial arts club or something of that nature having seen the difference in martial arts on youtube. They see and sense its more ‘real' so its probably better to do for self defence! A growing attitude and response amongst many young people today is ‘But what for? we'd rather go clubbing and ‘ave a bundle with the doormen after we come out or with any body that happens to get in the way'! As I remember more than one young lad saying filled with ‘Dutch Courage' as is often the case at night : ‘Why do something like aikido! It's a bit naff (English slang for stuffy, boring, useless, out of date)' A typical reflection on modern society today?
Stan Pranin also referred to the multitude of diversions that young people have today are vast, so why spend time trying to learn something that's going to take half or all your life to learn anyway? (Another myth of the 20 year techniques and all that bull?)
Generally speaking, in the fast pace of modern life, young people interested in martial arts who want to learn self defence, want it yesterday! Modern hybrid martial arts do offer that alternative because it is much less complicated with less bla bla! hands on, almost straight away effectiveness! So who can really blame them? Judo and tae kwon do are still very popular as they tend to receive more coverage in Olympic and World events.
I feel that its really all down to the ‘hippy hoppy, you don't harmonise with me quasi religous types' and their warped idealism that has really damaged aikido's credibility. If aikido does not evolve ‘back to the future' and redefine its act, it's probable that mainstream, or should I say, present day ‘purist' aikido will just decline or change into a pure exercise system based on a martial art originally known as aikido!
One of my sayings to my more advanced students is bullshit baffles the untrained novice! (sorry if for some of you that is too strong a word) Sooner or later the rational, more wordly, young people of today will realise they might be wasting their time doing something like aikido or ‘traditional martial arts.'
Its all very well for the love and harmony types to say that we do not fight, aikido is the art of love and peace and the peaceful resolution of conflict and so forth. But can they honestly back that up to any extent when really confronted by some asshole who will not listen to reason and wants to take your head off?
This, in my mind, is precisely what undermines the credibility of aikido as a self defence art. If one is an instructor of a dojo and not confident enough to take a challenge inside or outside the dojo, whether formally or without warning, then you shouldn't really be teaching a self defence art! If you are too old or maybe no longer physically able to meet such challenges, then maybe you should have a younger student or instructor that would be capable of taking your place! Just like it once was! Unfortunately, the old bill (English slang for police) can't always be there in time to save you, so if you know in your mind that you are not up to it, run like a bat out of hell (if you still can) or die trying ‘cause if you don't, it's going to happen anyway!!
In conclusion, you will always get the deluded, the con merchants and the dreamers and those that will cater to them. There is not much one can do about it unless they are exposed. Gullible people are many and easily duped! So it's really down to the prospective martial art student to establish what it is they really want.
Best advice, search out genuine, honest teachers of martial arts irrespective of what rank, organisation or affiliation they belong to as this is no real indicator to their true ability. It's really quite a mine field out there, so you truly have to use your gut instinct to find what you are really looking for.
To try and simplify things: if you want only self defence/combat effectiveness and an art that evolves with the changing times then you should join a school that practises in this way! If you are looking for just health, harmony and the cooperative, feel good kata only practice, there are plenty of those around! If you want all aspects then join a school that does exactly that. They do exist, it is just a matter of searching them out!
By a nobody called Tony Wagstaffe 4th Dan Aikido Habatakukai, Winchester, Hampshire, United Kingdom Occupation: Owns and operates one man taxi cab service and is senior instructor to the Aikido Habatakukai.