Why bother keeping Aikido ‘pure’?

This is something that’s been bugging me a long time and I’m sure I’m probably not the first to raise such issues but thought I would share my thoughts here.

I am a 31 year old and have been training in Aikido since I was 9-10 years old (I think) (Read more…) currently hold the rank of 3rd dan and actively teach. I am also a licensed trainer for CMD and also learn BJJ. muay thai and MMA on the side as a hobby. Aikido is the first martial art I picked up.

First of all this is primarily dealing with Aikido as a MARTIAL art and/or self defence form.

The way I first learnt Aikido was very traditional. We watched our Sensei perform the techniques, practiced it on our ukes (who were compliant) and hoped that somehow, with enough repetition, we would magically be able to defend ourselves.

I found that such training makes people lax and for a long time in our dojo we just did the motions and I realized it resulted in horrible Aikido. It may look pretty, fluid and etc but put it under pressure and the gaping holes just come out. I wouldn’t even remotely call it self defence. If anything, it may have given false confidence which is all the more dangerous. As an instructor, and for those seeking Aikido as a self-defence form, I felt that I had failed them.

When I started cross-training and learning other martial arts. A lot of things started clicking but it also made me question as to ‘What is Aikido?’ A lot of the time people comment as to what is ‘pure’ Aikido or as ‘O-Sensei’ taught it or one of his uchi-deshi taught it and that any addition was an adulteration of the art. And yes there’s of course the controversy that Doshu Kisshomaru watered it down and that for a more true form of Aikido, you need to go back to the uchi-deshis like Saito/Shioda etc etc.

I think such talk about what is ‘pure’ Aikido is pointless.

For me something is Aikido if it:
a) Doesn’t rely on force/strength
b) Gives you an option to not harm an opponent and just neutralization

This is probably controversial as it would mean many techniques from other arts can be considered Aikido (for e.g. the many chokes or pins in BJJ especially those that can be performed while standing). And heck if ‘koshi-nage’ is considered Aikido then so should a lot of other judo throws as devastating as it can be if uke lands incorrectly.

The basic forms are there for us to build a foundation but to only limit ourselves to such a foundation I think is silly. Of course a certain degree of proficiency is required to find out what techniques work and what are just fanciful creations, but that doesn’t mean we should stop innovating. The attacks that people did a long time ago are very different than let’s say the attacks that ppl do on the street now and to only train in the traditional attacks and claim that it’s ‘street applicable’ is also crazy.

A lot of the times people are looking at beautiful flowy techniques and if it fits in their idea of what Aikido is, then they can accept it as an Aikido technique. But why? Why is a standing guillotine not Aikido? Properly applied there’s no neck crank and the opponent just goes to sleep waking up unharmed later…Some may argue, well it doesn’t deal with multiple attackers!!! Does a finishing nikyo/sankyo grip allow you to do that as well?

If you examine many of the great Aikidoka, a vast majority of them had experience in some other form of martial arts. Shioda, Mochizuki, Tomiki and Tohei all did judo. O-Sensei himself studied many forms and his Aikido was always evolving. So why all this talk of ‘pure’ Aikido? Does Aikido exist in a time capsule?

I think it is necessary for one to build an understanding on basic fight mechanics and patterns one which can only be done through some form of competition or play sparring especially once you reach a certain level. I found that my Aikido improved a lot and became much more effective after I had cross trained in boxing and MMA as I could read a person’s attacks better, not flinch when being attacked and understanding distancing or as Aikidoka call it (ma-ai) a lot better. This lead me to develop my own techniques while trying to keep within the two essential components of what I view as ‘Aikido’.

I really think that Aikido is best learnt as a martial art to refine your understanding after learning other martial arts (especially grappling types) whereby Aikido’s techniques (which require amazing timing and understanding of balance) complement and add on to your improvement. But to learn it as your first and ONLY martial art then I would say, Aikido as it is traditionally taught probably isn’t effective as a self defence. Frankly I’ve yet to see a good video of Aikido being used in its traditional form against a real attack. I’ve seen some videos of people claiming certain moves in MMA are Aikido (sloppy sayu-nages or udekimenages) as justification that Aikido works but you really don’t need to learn Aikido to come up with such movements…

So in short, what are your thoughts on keeping Aikido pure or making sure that new techniques fit within the general ‘look’ of what we understand Aikido to be? I don’t profess to be a greater master than O-Sensei or the other Aikido greats…but surely there is room for inclusion of more effective techniques that fit in the philosophy of Aikido?

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