Discovering Aikido: Principles for Practical Learning  ©





A 'NO' uttered from deepest conviction is better and greater than a 'YES' merely uttered to please.  Mahatma Ghandi


The point often forgotten or ignored is that most people who walk through the Aikido door are interested in learning self-defence.


(a) Putting the self first

I have heard it said that the martial arts are a selfish pursuit. It might be true; in survival, nothing comes before the self. For example, a common scenario is at the scene of a motor accident. First, it is necessary to slow down the other traffic, especially at night, otherwise there may be another collision, perhaps including oneself. Next, if possible, one should call, or send someone to call for an ambulance. Only then is it safe to attend to the victim(s). Clear thinking saves the day. Another scenario is a person having difficulty in a river or pond. Here, the last thing one should do is to dive in and try to save them. Instead, one should stand at the edge and encourage the person to swim ashore. While doing so one should look for a long stick, or piece of cloth that can be extended out towards them. Failing that, one gets into the water but does not approach too near as what often happens is, in their desperation in trying to keep their heads above water, they clamber on top of you out of control threatening your own safety. What one does is to entice them to swim towards you. If that has no effect and one decides to attempt a rescue, then one has to approach them from the rear, ever ready to punch them unconscious if they get out of control. One's personal safety comes first. If they drown me, I'll be unavailable to save them, or the next person. The latter are taught on life saving courses in the U.K., no doubt based on hard earned experience. One only has to open a newspaper to find examples of those who died pointlessly while trying to save others. Heroic perhaps, but the death is often the result of misguided judgement.


(b) Protecting one's adversary

It is often said in Aikido that one should ‘take care’ of the attacker; the ideal of Aikido is ai-nuke, where both escape without injury. A nice philosophy but just how is one to deal with a desperate attacker? Well, one could give them what they want, but there undoubtedly comes a time when what they demand is too much. Rather than 'take care’ of them, it makes more sense to say, 'spare them'. This implies that one has the ability to defeat them; one makes a conscious choice not to, and spares them. The underlying logic here, which is often misunderstood or not realised, is the realist view that one has to have the ability to suceed, for without it, there can be no conscious choice to spare. Simply, if you cannot choose to control them, you cannot choose to spare them. This spirit is reflected in the Kenjutsu term ai-uchi, where both antagonists are killed by each other’s swords simultaneously. What this means is that one's Aikido has to be martial in nature. If one’s training spirit is resolute, one will not dally in daily life, nor quiver in a dangerous confrontation. One will be in control and thus will be able to let live, or let die. So, the more one wishes to help oneself or others, the meaner the training needs to be. Anything less and it cannot be called a martial art.


(c) Aikido for practical self-defence

Aikido's best strategy for self-defence lies in analysing problematic situations and avoiding them before they worsen but when push comes to shove, the way one has trained will determine the response. Those who train softly will respond softly; those who train hard will respond hard; those who have done both will have a choice. Whatever the style, proper training will ensure a good response - Aikido should work. If not, the problem lies with the school, or with the individual. In reality, however, even in a good school it takes a lot longer to become proficient in Aikido than in certain other arts.

As the vast majority of Aikidoka spend their time training for co-ordination and harmony within premeditated archaic techniques against overly co-operative ukes it is worthwhile for the mid-level student to escape such and develop a separate repertoire of responses for self-defence. It may be that the student takes responsibility for their own learning, practising intensely by themselves or by studying other arts that cater more for self-defence applications. What the student will realise is that while their aiki training experience may not yet have prepared them for practical self-defence, it will certainly have prepared them for learning the techniques of other arts much faster.

If one has not yet risen to the level of being able to go with the flow, timing technique and atemi together in harmony, then there is nothing wrong with taking complete control of the aggressor, powering on the technique using all the speed and force one can muster; survival is more important than perfect technique. Accordingly, when practising for a self-defence scenario a compliant uke is not required, nor is clean technique. It ought to be part of a teacher's responsibility to expand their own Aikido by taking the principles of other arts on board so they can better prepare their students for self-defence. If practical applications of Aikido techniques or beyond are not done in class there is nothing but for the curious student to find them elsewhere.


(d) To compare methods:

1  Pure Aikido: If the technique does not work you have to figure out why. Includes strong attacks with some atemi in the techniques. The aim is to produce clean techniques in perfect harmony with the attack.

2  Practical Aikido: If the technique does not work, change it to something that will. Less harmony is acceptable and the emphasis is on taking control and making it work. Over time, such technique may become more efficient moving towards pure Aikido.

3  Self-defence: Rough and ready; it has to work no matter what. Survival today is more important than perfection in technique tomorrow. Of course, progressing through the years, the rough and ready style becomes more efficient and controlled, yet remains hard and brutal in essence.


* Imagine the size of person you could have defended yourself against last year. Now think - has his size increased today?



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