It’s been a while guys I know and I apologise for this! It’s been a busy time building my business and just general life along with a lack of inspiration for posts recently, but we’re back and you can start seeing more from The Martial View again.
I was scrolling through Facebook a few days ago as I tend to do along with most of the global population when I saw that Steven Seagal was coming to my hometown of Lincoln for an evening with event…
Intriguing I thought and although I’ve never been a huge fan of his personally I thought I’d read on and see what people thought…
Wow that guy is not popular haha! So many derogatory comments on him as a person, his films and also him as a martial artist. This got me thinking… Why has Aikido become in a way, the laughing stock of the martial arts?
I’m a big fan of the art, having studied it for over 20 years and holding a 3rd Degree black belt in Yoshinkan Aikido but that doesn’t mean that I also can’t see its (eek, many) limitations! But just when did Aikido go from being a well practiced and respected martial art to losing it’s credibility and more importantly, why did this occur?
Did it all go wrong? If so – where?
The founder of Aikido – Morihei Ueshiba was born in 1883 and died in 1969. A passionate martial artist, he mastered the arts of Daito Ryu Aikijiujitsu, as well as Ken Jitsu (Sword) and Jo Jitsu (Staff) as well as being a deeply religious and spiritual man, following the practices of the Omoto Kyu and it’s founder Onisaburo Deguchi. This martial influence, combined with his spiritual beliefs, led to the development of what would become Aikido.
When Aikido was first being developed, it was a highly sought after and popular martial art in Japan. Indeed you had to have two referrals from current students in order to study, and many famous martial artists from other styles regularly came to the Hombu Dojo to train with Ueshiba Sensei.
To understand what changed, it’s important to look at the roots of Aikido and therefore Daito Ryu Aikijiujitsu. Jiu-Jitsu as an art was originally developed by the Samurai to defend themselves in battle if they lost their weapon and therefore focused on the weak points of the body when armor was being worn. However, when the Samurai class was disbanded in 1868, jiu-jitsu and other martial arts began to be seen as distinctly uncool and irrelevant to society as a whole.
Many martial arts teachers at that time then ceased to practice their art finding it impractical yet there were a few exceptions – one of whom was Jigoro Kano who not only started to practice Jiu-Jitsu but mastered it and developed it to fit a more modern era, and hence Judo was born.
Kano competed against many other styles of Jiu-Jitsu, consistently winning and showing its ability as a martial art not to be messed with, so much so that he sent his top students across the seas to the USA where there was no Donald Trump and so the Japanese were free to come and show the martial art of Judo in various competitions.
In 1914, Judo hit Brazil and in 1917, one Carlos Gracie was introduced to Jiu-Jitsu and I’m sure you can see where this is going…
Carlos continued to study Jiu-Jitsu and pass it on to his brothers, one of whom was Helio Gracie, who, as a skinny child, was unable to perform many of the techniques required of him. This led him to adapt the techniques to overcome his physical boundaries and hence the foundations of what we now see as Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) emerged. This art was so effective it led the Gracie brothers to start hosting a no holds barred competition, style vs style called Vale Tudo where they cleaned up at competitions! When they went to promote this style in the USA, the name Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu emerged to differentiate between the traditional Japanese style.
Then 1993 happened which I am sure we are all aware was the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event. This aimed to pit style against style, striker vs grappler, striker vs sumo, sumo vs the salad bar etc etc and see which art would come out on top. Guess what – Royce Gracie smashed through the competition and BJJ was crowned victorious.
How fair the contest was is now in debate after the video below from legend Bill Superfoot Wallace aired a few home truths after he commentated on the first UFC, but no-one can doubt that BJJ is a functional martial art for sports and competition and was a main influence on the development of what is now known as MMA combining striking, wrestling and grappling.
Hence function and applicability became the basis of modern MMA and martial arts in today’s society.
And this folks, is where Aikido loses its relevance. The founder O Sensei, as already said was a deeply spiritual man and therefore disapproved of any form of competition, preferring to see Aikido as a way of uniting people together, rather than seeing who is the victor and who is the loser. A lovely sentiment I’m sure we can all agree – but a little tricky to navigate in the martial arts world…
Hence Aikido failed to develop through competition. It failed to be tested and therefore evolve through it’s weak points and even in training, partners work together to make the techniques work with very little if any active sparring or real resistance bar a few schools/instructors that do offer this. Aikido is steeped in tradition and spirituality which is exactly what the founder wanted, but does leave it open to criticism today as it has never truly been tested. Many of the top teachers also failed to develop themselves after the founder’s passing, wanting to respect and preserve the art he had developed. Some went off to study more of the spiritual side such as Koichi Tohei who practiced Ki Aikido otherwise known as Jedi Aikido…
Whereas others looked at more dynamic, precise and arguably more practical Aikido such as Shioda Gozo who developed Yoshinkan Aikido that was taught to the Japanese Riot Police and looked less at spirituality and rather body mechanics of putting yourself in a strong position, while putting your opponent in a weak one.
The problem still remains however that Aikido is steeped in Japanese tradition, even down to the way the techniques are practiced. As you can see from the video above, strikes are given willingly and usually pre-arranged as well as being traditional sword strikes e.g. Shomen Uchi (front strike), Yokomen Uchi (side strike) etc. Do they have power? Most certainly and just one look at Yoshinkan Aikido and the video above and I’m sure anyone can see the power as well as the evidence from knockouts in videos. Yet rarely do we see these techniques being applied in a real context to any great effect without the use of Hollywood effects and a certain Aikido practitioner with a pony tail, inflated ego and delusions of grandeur.
There are of course exceptions to the rule and I have been fortunate enough to train with some fantastic Aikido Sensei’s, most of whom also have experience of other martial arts however or at least train with others who also study other arts. These are the guys that are able to make Aikido work for them and adapt it to a real situation in terms of self defence. They arent stuck in tradition, but respect the art. They also understand however, that Aikido needs to evolve with the times if it is to stay relevant or risk becoming simply a way of staying healthy, much like Tai Chi has become to many, rather than a martial system.
Maybe it is time to see the roots of Aikido i.e. Jiu-Jitsu applied in a more realistic setting? Do wrist locks, shoulder locks etc work in the street? Arguably yes. But how? How many people grab your wrist in a street? How can you apply a wrist lock against a fully resisting opponent really wanting to hurt you?
Maybe this is what we need to see more of if Aikido is to be relevant…
Watch this space…