Sunday, May 02, 2010

On Aikido

OK, so let's talk aikido.

I LOVE AIKIDO. I think it is a complex, subtle, graceful, beautiful art. People are endlessly fascinated by aikido, and so am I. After more than 20 years of studying martial arts of all shapes and sizes, aikido remains a true love of mine.

Like any true love, however, it should not be blind, but instead be tempered with mutual respect and understanding. It should be based on trust. I trust that my training will develop in me a set of skills I can depend on if needed.

It is my view that aikido exists as a system that helps students learn some very important lessons in a safe and controlled manner.

Aikido, as it is commonly taught, doesn't work.

Shocked? You shouldn't be. Aikido is designed to teach specific lessons on body mechanics; for us to master CONCEPTS, not the techniques themselves. Therein lies the fallacy for most people. People who come to the aikido school looking for self defense are puzzled. "that would never work on the street", they say. They are right. We train aikido in a particular way to master the concepts behind the techniques, and to be able to practice them in repetition without injuring our training partners or ourselves. No one should EVER get injured practicing aikido,

Think about it. In combat, nobody would ever do a technique that they know has an ukemi.

In a fight, the goal will be to end the fight as quickly as possible. One technique and done. This cannot be achieved when we do techniques we know have ukemi, and we should always expect our opponent to be a well-trained martial artist of equal or greater ability. If we give them an out, we should expect them to take it.

Before you give up and go start studying Krav Maga, Muay Thai, or boxing - Wait. Aikido techniques illustrate some very effective and important ways of harnessing our strength and disrupting our opponent's balance. To summarize:

1) how to keep our head and hips in alignment
2) how to use our hips to generate linear and centrifugal power
3) how to control and use the center line
4) how to drop our weight or load the opponent on our hips
5) how to use our elbows to connect to our hip power
6) how to isolate our opponent's arms from their hip power
7) how to maintain contact with the ground and fall safely
8) how to strike using atemi to disrupt the opponent's focus
9) how to maintain contact with the opponent's body at all times
10) how to control/immobilize an opponent on the ground

In addition to the above, we must develop a deep understanding of "the aikido chain".

The major techniques of aikido are expressly designed to help us understand the chain of power from our opponent's wrist to elbow to shoulder to spine and head. Each one shows us how to control uke's head/spine by a single touchpoint in a different way. If you concentrate on uke's wrist, you miss the entire objective of the technique, which is always about following the chain of control to manipulate uke's shoulder and, ultimately, their head and spine.

Aikido's effectiveness as a martial art manifests in two main ways.

1) manipulating uke's head and spine from a single contact point
2) adjusting the angles and footwork to remove ukemi so the opponent has no escape

Sadly, many teachers of aikido do not understand how to make the techniques effective, or even how to explain their effectiveness to students once they are mature enough to need that knowledge. I personally do not advocate the study of martial arts that are not "martial". Without some real practicality, we lose the application of the art. At that point you might as well just play the piano.

Now, I want you to go back and carefully study all the aikido techniques you have seen and start to discover how each one moves uke's head and spine to take away their strength and balance. After that, begin to look at how to isolate and remove uke's ability to take an ukemi. Let me be clear: there is no ukemi in aikido. For combat, it does not exist. It is there only for safety during training.

Very quickly you will find aikido to have a deeper and much more effective side.
Done with the right intent and understanding, aikido is positively devastating - you should not need to be a 5th dan to understand that.

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