Saturday, August 21, 2010

Is Aikido too pretty to work?

I like Aikido.  Always have. Readers may remember what a significant part Aikido played in my journey (even though I've never taken it.)  Many techniques are shared between Jiu Jitsu and Aikido. In many ways, Aikido was born from Jiu Jitsu.

One criticism I often hear from people watching Aikido videos is that it's too pretty.  They say it's not real since the receiver of the technique (the uke) 'throws' him/herself into the technique.  They point out that a resisting opponent wouldn't go with the technique, being thrown or rolling out of it etc.  And they're right.

What some viewers may fail to realize is that the uke throws themselves into the technique to avoid injury.  Real fighting is ugly.  If the uke resisted being thrown, more often than not one of their bones would break and they would sort of just crumple to the ground.  It is this throwing of oneself into the technique that prevents this injury.  In order to practice Aikido techniques realistically, it is absolutely necessary for practitioners to learn how to break fall and go with them.  If not, you'd only get to practice a technique once.  

In Aikido, as with any art, there are fakers out there, but it is important to separate those people who are acting from those who are trying to avoid serious injury.  There's often more than meets the eye.

It's always important to keep an open mind and to research things that are questionable before discarding them.


  1. In Tomiki Aikido competitions, competitors practice at full force, but because it's been sanitized for safety (no strikes, etc) you end up seeing few actual Aikido techniques. We have a high ranking Yoshinkan Aikido practitioner at our dojo and from what I can see it is very highly optimized for real fighting. Very aggressive, all techniques implemented with strikes. Recently, a new organization formed in Japan called Hatenkai Aikido. They practice full contact Aikido with strikes and kicks. It ends up looking like kenpo karate. Check out some YouTube videos.

  2. The problem when people are really good at something is that they make it look easy. To the uninitiated they interpret this as uke going with the technique to make tori look good. However, the fully initiated realises that tori is contolling the situation and uke is forced to fall to avoid injury - as you pointed out. If only I could make it look easy......

  3. Mark, thanks for your comments. I've worked with a few people who have studied Aikido with a mind towards realistic application. Most of them have included some form of striking or distraction method in the application of their technique. If I'm not mistaken, strikes have always been a part of Aikido, but some teachers have moved away from including them in their training.

    It's difficult to truly showcase an art such as Aikido or Jiu Jitsu in a competition setting as both systems contain dangerous and damaging techniques.

    I will take a look at Hatenkai Aikido. Thanks for the tip.

    Sue, your comments ring true. As much as the uke has a responsibility to respond realistically, the tori must protect them. In our style, if you are grading for a belt and you hurt or injure your uke, the test is over. Learning this type of control is what eventually leads to techniques that looks effortless. It's almost as if you've got to get really good before you can make it look fake. Interesting,