Aikido was my primary martial art.
I learned some striking, got older, and stopped practicing martial arts.
I got into fitness, weightlifting, and CrossFit.
Eventually, my interest in martial arts returned.
I began exploring updates on the martial arts that I learned in the past.
I noticed a lot of hate on the internet and how “useless” Aikido is.
The first one I encountered is on the Joe Rogan Podcast, where they made fun of some silly guy who claimed it was impossible to take him down once his chi connects to the ground.
That was funny.
Some silly people practice Aikido and miss the point entirely.
Then I encountered a guy named Rokas, an Aikido instructor for over ten years and a YouTuber who posted a sparring session with an amateur but professional level MMA fighter and could not perform any Aikido techniques.
He then “tries to make Aikido functional,” gets a rematch with the guy, and fails badly.
Since then, he’s been posting videos shitting on Aikido like a bitter ex-boyfriend.
I’ve also seen several MMA and self-defense enthusiasts talk negatively about Aikido.
On one of the big Aikido groups, there are rules discouraging Aikido vs. MMA or street-fighting discussion.
I learned martial arts in 2001, and I was 14 then.
I’m 34 at the time of writing this.
Almost everybody judges fighting ability from an MMA lens today.
How do we judge weapon-based martial arts like HEMA or Filipino knife and stick fighting?
Growing up, I’ve already encountered the “my style of martial art is better than your style of martial art” or “my martial art is supreme, and nothing can beat it.”
It’s the same thing we’ve been hearing, and the only difference is we’re now aware of other martial arts like Muay Thai, BJJ, and other forms of martial artists, as well as some martial artists who weave tall tales of superhuman feats.
I’m older now, and I realize that the real world doesn’t play out like they do in action movies or martial arts movies.
No real martial artist is a “one-man army” that can singlehandedly defeat a large group of professionally trained, fully armed thugs with their bare hands.
Yujiro Hanma is a comic book character.
And while we’re at it, these stories are primarily suitable for inspiring you to get out of your video games and go to the gym and work on improving your body and skills but not becoming an “invincible warrior.”
That’s just fiction if you haven’t grown up yet.
I learned early that I’m never going to engage a professional boxer or an MMA fighter in hand-to-hand combat unless I decide to become a professional fighter myself.
From personal experience, I’ve never met any martial artist who goes around starting street fights.
Martial artists are the nicest, kindest, warmest guys I’ve ever met.
They’re the most patient and decent human beings that I’ve encountered.
As a result, it never crossed my mind that I’d ever had to fight a high-level martial artist.
I even feel safe around martial arts practitioners.
I recall reading this quote about Bruce Lee:
“Nowadays you don’t go around on the street kicking people, punching people – because if you do (makes a gun shape with hand), well that’s it – I don’t care how good you are.”
BRUCE LEE, interview, Pierre Berton Show, 1971
I read many of the arguments about Aikido and all the replies, and it got me thinking about the 80/20 rule.
For people reading about the 80/20 rule for the first time, it usually means 80% of the output comes from 20% of the input.
So in the discussion of whether Aikido works or “how long does it take for Aikido to be proficient enough to work?” is not a very good question.
An alternative might be to answer this question.
What is the 20% of Aikido that works 80% of the time?
What 20% of Aikido principles should I pay extra attention to since I’m new and will not devote my life to this art?
What 20% of Aikido that when it becomes part of me will make me a better person after I leave the dojo and go to my job and interact with other humans?
What should I remember when I learn Aikido if I suddenly won’t practice because of other obligations?
Before I answer, let’s discuss another idea I encountered from Jocko Willink, a retired US Navy Seal commander who advocates learning BJJ.
90% of the time, he talks about working out and practicing BJJ.
In the audio series where he answers questions about self-defense, he talks about learning how to box and eventually goes into extreme detail about BJJ.
There’s a running joke in the Jocko Willink/Extreme Ownership community that Jocko’s answer to any problem is to “practice BJJ.”
BUT in his list of recommendations is for self-defense, his best answer is to own a gun and learn to shoot effectively under pressure.
At one point, he also says that learning “groundwork” in the self-defense context is not intended for you to fight on the ground and win but to learn techniques to “get back on your feet” as quickly as possible and escape.
In another interview, Jocko explains that when a person squares up to punch or kick you, it’s easy for him to stay out of range or run away.
“That’s exactly what my Aikido instructor taught me,” I thought to myself.
Jocko continues, “the dynamics change when a person successfully grabs you because the grab prevents you from escaping.”
That’s when Jiujitsu comes into play.
80% of Aikido techniques seem to involve escaping grabs.
I still have a copy of my instructor’s lesson plan.
Four of the six techniques we learn in each session involve removing a grab or defending against a grappling attempt.
The range of techniques and strategies got me thinking that ancient and modern warriors use different tools for different situations.
If you were to compare Aikido to modern weapons, Aikido functions probably like a shield or a net or a fire hose or anything that is considered a Non-Lethal Weapon.
Aikido is not a machine gun like boxing, an assault rifle like Muay Thai, or a garrote like BJJ.
BJJ might be like poison gas.
BJJ dialed down might be like tear gas.
Aikido is something else, and what it does, it does well enough.
As far as conflict goes, Aikido taught me early the following concepts.
- Be mindful and pay attention to your situation. Carefully consider the next step. Avoid escalating the situation. Talk yourself out of the problem. Quietly bow out of the aggression. Stay out of range. Attempt to escape. Arm yourself and fight.
- Practice humility. I do not broadcast to the world that I know Aikido or any martial arts for that matter. So that if I need to apply the technique, I should, in theory, possess the element of surprise. During my time practicing, I did not own any Aikido shirts. When people asked me what I was doing after school, I told them I was taking ballet or dance lessons.
- Understanding of range, footwork, parrying, dodging, redirecting movements, and some grab escapes will allow me to stay out of range or the direction of the attack, and I’ll be able to run to get help when I need to.
- The concept of Irimi, which means entering, because in some cases, you step forward and face the aggression but not with the intention of starting a fight. When I enter a person’s space, it can be for intimidation. When I say intimidation, I mean trying to communicate that I’m serious about holding my ground. Entering another person’s space can be to get out of effective punching and kicking range. Entering a persons’ space can be so I can lean in and listen and understand at the same time lean in and see if the problem is me.
- The meaning of Aikido. Aikido means the way of the harmonizing spirit. The harmonizing spirit, in my understanding, is to avoid conflict. I understand Aikido as a Jujitsu master’s set of techniques and life lessons after pledging to avoid unnecessary conflict or participating in contests of strength. 6.The application of Aikido. The overall strategy is to de-escalate the situation. Avoid conflict as the primary strategy and respond appropriately as the situation escalates. Keep de-escalation as the preferred course of action. I need to pay attention before speaking because I may say something that upsets a friend if I’m not careful with my words. I should be able to recognize that “I’m the asshole” in the situation, apologize and avoid the conflict altogether. In many cases, I need to acknowledge and have the courage to say that it’s “my bad” and moving on with life.
So for me, it’s not much of a question of which techniques work against the MMA fighter or professional boxer.
Every martial artist I’ve met in my life doesn’t go out attacking people for no reason.
Martial artists participating in street fights only happen in movies, so I imagine 80% of the time, Aikido has been effective for me and gotten me out of trouble.
I have no fantasies about throwing people around or pinning people down like in the Aikido demonstrations, even if I have some techniques in muscle memory. I’ll likely stay out of range, parry/redirect, and try to escape or arm myself with a weapon I can throw or strike with if I’m cornered and push comes to shove.
From personal experience, the lessons I’ve learned have helped me avoid a handful of punches to the face.
I’ve been able to avoid getting punched or kicked by an upset (or drunk) friend, family member, or acquaintance.
But overall, Aikido works for me because, unlike the other techniques I picked up from kickboxing and FMA, Aikido’s strategies and practices don’t initiate an endless cycle of resentment. My scuffles don’t end with the other person wanting to get back at me. I also avoided getting punched in the face or struck with a blunt object. That’s a win. I didn’t seriously injure the other person, and there is little chance of them aiming to get revenge on me. We often end up talking, negotiating, or apologizing to each other.
As I write this, I keep getting a mental picture that the whole revenge plot probably only happens in movies.
I have gotten many responses in the comments, which led me to give this post more thought, clarify the ideas I’d like to express, and answer many of the questions I didn’t address in the main post.
I don’t subscribe to the “master one martial art advice.”
I see all forms of conflict as a “real-time” chess game that includes a “rock-paper-scissors” element.
Aikido’s techniques function like “paper” in a rock-paper-scissors game.
Aikido’s strategies win over most “rocks,” the kind of aggression that we’re likely going to encounter on a day-to-day basis.
What kind of conflict am I likely going to encounter on a day-to-day basis?
I’m likely going to encounter an upset person lashing out with their fists or a blunt weapon.
At 14, I learned that professional boxers are not allowed to punch anyone outside a professional fight. I imagine the same rule applies to professional fighters and high-level martial artists, so it never crossed my mind that these would be a problem for me. All I need to worry about is avoiding getting hurt and seriously hurting someone who’s incredibly upset and attacking me, which Aikido has covered already.
Aikido works for what it’s intended to do. The peaceful solution, de-escalating with words, staying out of range, getting out of the way, escaping some grabs. Aikido isn’t intended to win fights to the death nor MMA fights. If you have doubts, buy a gun and learn a few other martial arts like knife fighting or something or wear armor 24/7. Like I said in the post. Different tools for different situations. There’s no 100% effective at all conditions martial art. Aikido happens to be an excellent first-level response because of its ability to not escalate a conflict.
Learn kickboxing, Muay Thai, Leithwei, or Yaw-Yan.
Learn BJJ and wrestling.
It’s always a good idea to have multiple layers of defense.
Aikido works as a primary physical response for people I do not want to resort to shooting or seriously hurting.
I’m happy learning different disciplines as everything helps complement the other skills and improve my understanding of what I already know.
I spent time learning Aikido as my primary martial art.
I learned some striking because it looked fun.
I got older.
I learned different job-related skills like writing and sales.
I learned other interesting skills like best practices when going to the gym, cycling, cooking, baking, spiritual disciplines, psychology.
I eventually got hooked to CrossFit, and when our instructors moved to a gym that teaches martial arts, my interest in martial arts returned.
I recently learned how to drive, but I still appreciate my bicycle, running, and walking.
In the same way, I’d like to explore more striking like boxing and kickboxing, BJJ ( I was previously leaning toward wrestling), weapon arts, and combat shooting.
Like I said in the post, Aikido has been a great martial art that gave me decent first-level self-defense that has kept me alive and uninjured in the last fifteen years or so of my civilian life.
I hope to eventually make the time to practice Aikido some more later at old age.
It’s a bad idea to pull out a gun in all signs of aggression. That’s just plain irresponsible.
If you’re 100% sure that your life is being threatened and suspect that you’ll encounter deadly force, I realize now that owning a gun and knowing how to shoot under pressure can help you neutralize a REAL threat.
As I’ve mentioned in the other conversation in the comments, Aikido covers a lot of the aggression that we are likely to encounter as far as personal self-defense goes.
UPDATE: May 2021.
I encountered an Aikido named Chris Hein instructor who explains Aikido well.
The popular explanation about Aikido is when a samurai loses his weapon, uses Aikido to disarm the opponent.
I heard the explanation from Joe Rogan.
Those techniques exist.
However, that is not the primary use of Aikido.
The primary use of Aikido is for situations where YOU ARE ARMED, and the other person is trying to disarm you.
In many Aikido demonstrations, the defender is being grabbed by the wrist, arm, or being held down by an attacker (or multiple attackers).
80% of Aikido techniques involve maneuvers to counter against people grabbing you.
People grab you in an attempt to disarm you of your weapon.
Unfortunately, the weapon has disappeared from the hands of the Aikido practitioner in most modern demonstrations.
I suspect that it’s because carrying weapons like swords and spears doesn’t look normal for civilians.
The Aikido practitioner in an actual conflict should be armed, using the weapon to attack, and use Aikido to counter any disarm attempts.
Samurai fought with weapons.
Samurai had guns, bows, spears, swords, short swords, Jiujitsu/Aikijitsu and likely fight in that order.
Guns run out of ammo.
Bows run out of arrows.
Spears and polearms eventually break.
Swords eventually break.
Short swords get discarded.
Weapons are force multipliers that allow a person to deliver maximum damage with the minimum amount of effort.
The primary objective of ancient warriors is to retain their weapons for as long as possible.
Aikido is a way for the swordsman to avoid disarming attempts to continue hacking away with his sword or polearm.
Jujitsu is born out of the need for a warrior who lost his weapon to keep fighting the armed opponent.
The modern translation rarely uses swords and spears in practice, so we tend to forget that Aikido is a weapon-support martial art instead of a weapon disarming martial art.
I love Chris Hein’s explanation of Aikido’s levels of self-defense. There are higher-level strategies and lower-level strategies.
The highest level strategy is the strategy that helps you avoid violence. The lowest-level strategy is the strategy that ends with you using Aikido techniques.
- Don’t be at the place of conflict. Attempt to talk your way out of the conflict.
- Don’t stand at the effective range of attack.
- Don’t stand at the receiving end of the best angle of attack.
- Don’t make it easy for the other person to strike you. Protect yourself with your hands.
- Parry or deflect strikes and escape.
- Remove grabs, pinning, or grappling attempts, and escape.
- The Aikido that we see in demonstrations where the attacker is thrown or pinned down with a joint-lock is the lowest form of Aikido. The situation means that all the previous steps were unsuccessful at avoiding conflict.
I just saw a trivia video about executive security agencies. I ended up watching a documentary, a movie, and a TV show about bodyguards. I noticed a similar pattern about how bodyguards operate to how this Aikido explanation.
- The bodyguards discourage the client from being at the event where a dangerous situation may occur.
- Bodyguards study the venue, assess the vulnerable areas, and plan accordingly.
- Bodyguards plan the routes going to the location.
- Bodyguards plan several escape routes for the client.
- When a bodyguard resorts to pulling out his weapon, the mission has failed.
- When the bodyguard resorts to the use of deadly force, the bodyguard likely loses the job.
Thank you for reading.
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