There have been many questions about the effectiveness of Aikido as a martial art. Human as we are, we find it difficult to reconcile the idea of something so oxymoronic like the stand of Aikido as a martial art that is “non-violent”. I believe that the question of effectiveness can only be answered when we have understood the mechanics and effects of violence and conflict, and in our proficiency to handle them. As with any martial art, when all is said and done, the most basic measure of martial effectiveness depends on the outcome.
TRAINING IN THE DOJO
Each Aikidoka has his or her own reasons for doing Aikido. Some would join an Aikido dojo to learn self-defense, while others as a form of exercise to improve their health, and so on. If you ask a thousand Aikidokas about their reasons for training, you will get a thousand different set of answers.
Still, it is important for us to reflect on our reasons for practicing Aikido- what we emphasize in training, what we think of training, and what we would like to get out of training; all these affect our growth in Aikido. Having said this, let us start by asking ourselves the following questions. These are specific to our experiences and goals in practicing the different techniques in the dojo:
Do we seek to learn how to masterfully inflict pain during training?
Do we aspire to make our throws more “powerful”?
Do we train to better dominate our ukes?
Do we think of the best possible angles to dislocate joints?
Have we ever caused injury to someone?
Now as a follow-up, in these instances when we caused pain or injury; or in cases when we banged our ukes’ bodies mercilessly onto the mats:
How did your ukes feel? Were they happy? Were they impressed?
Or were they scared? Vengeful?
Did they like what happened?
How did they respond when you traded places and you took ukemi for them?
I don’t think anyone wants to be slammed to the floor, or have their joints twisted and painfully hyper-extended. Unless you are a masochist, pain is always uncomfortable and undesirable. If our goal in training is to learn techniques that causes harm, or learning how to dominate and injure; I think now may be a good time for us to reflect on what we’ve been doing, and their effects.
Will training to do techniques this way lead us to reconciliation or will they create more conflict? If the latter, is this really a practice of Aikido? Or something else?
In Aikido, it is our aim to transform the initial separation into a celebration of togetherness.
Let us remember that our goal is to control the aggression of the attacker without injury; and not to escalate the conflict. Our actions reflect our intent. What is your intention in doing Aikido?
If we continue to train in order to or while causing harm, we are defeating the purpose of our art. As I said in another article, without understanding the philosophy, we will not be able to fully express Aikido in our movement.
You see, we have to think of the aftereffects- the consequences of our actions. We have to understand that, unless we want to be murderers and kill any and all attackers; there is always the next attack. And the next attack, this retaliation, can happen anytime- immediately, days, months, or can even take years. This pattern of attacking and retaliating starts a vicious cycle of “hate that leads to hate that leads to more hate”. Isn’t it more prudent (if we really want to defend ourselves) to not add fuel to the fire as our response to the threat of an attack? In my own training, I am not compromising the effectiveness of my technique in order to uphold the philosophy. Rather,
I uphold the philosophy in order to increase the effectiveness of my technique.
Doing martially sound techniques is by all means part of our training method. And it is important to emphasize that the effectiveness of Aikido is not limited to its collection of techniques, and physical steps. Aikido also has its principles and philosophy that should always be expressed together and within the physical movement.
As a matter of fact, it is counterproductive to act from a standpoint of “doing a technique to someone”. To “do a technique to someone” actually hails from a mindset of separation. In Aikido, we should practice Musubi. Person A is not actually doing a technique to Person B. Instead, Persons A and B are doing the technique together. This is training in moving as one.
In embracing the principles of Aikido, we should be training our techniques with the intention of love. It is important to realize that in the practice and application of the different techniques in conflict situations (actual or as simulated in paired exercises ), all these movements are in fact, physical opportunities for sharing our peace, our goodwill, and our compassion. In our practice of techniques, let us not fight fire with fire, but fire with water.
For some time now, I have made it a habit in my training to sometimes ask my ukes this question after each technique:
“How did that make you feel?”
The tricky thing about Aikido training is that we cannot actually feel the effect of our techniques ourselves. We need feedback in order for us to know what we have to work on. I am very grateful to my ukes, without whom, I would have never improved; because basing from their response and the principles I know, I can adjust my training goals accordingly.
THE LOVING PROTECTION OF ALL THAT EXISTS
In a fight under the win-lose dynamic, winning and not losing are two different things, and Aikido is very effective in not losing. Actually, Aikido goes beyond this. In doing Aikido, we act to reconstruct the win-lose dynamic itself by reconciling the separation (brought by conflict) through our movements, and transforming it into togetherness (win-win).
From a win-lose to a win-win situation, both parties end up unharmed and at peace.
Let us remember that there is no other in Aikido; that there is no enemy. What we have are techniques (when done correctly) capable of transforming the harmful intention from an attacker; ultimately bringing both parties together in peaceful understanding. Quoting O’Sensei:
“The source of Budo is Divine Love- the spirit of loving protection for all that exists.”
In any martial situation, Aikido’s goal is to transform conflict and purify it, so that there may be peace. This is the practice of Aikido as Misogi, or purification. It is an art that seeks to purify malice and overcome hate through movements coming from a heart of sincere compassion. This compassionate intent can always be felt in the vibrations of our movement. It is never a vain effort. We aim for purification- a change of heart.
This is a very difficult level of mastery to reach, requiring patience, diligence, initiative, and above all, an unwavering curiosity to learn. As Budo, Aikido is truly as ambitious as it is revolutionary. So now to answer the question, should Aikido be effective?
“Yes. Aikido, should be effective. It should be very effective.”
(Please also see: “Aikido: When The Body Moves the Mind“)