Situation analysis – does Aikido work?

Poking around the Internet searching for stuff about Aikido, I came across the website for the Big Sky Aikido dojo. The head instructor is Gregory Olson, who has studied Aikido for over 30 years. He’s also a University professor, so he’s written numerous articles on Aikido-related topics. One article is Aikido, Judo, and Hot Peppers: A True Story of Violence Averted. The gist of the story is Olson Sensei goes out to dinner with his family when his wife noticed someone breaking into their car. Olson Sensei confronts the individuals, uses some judo and Aikido to control the situation, eventually the police arrive and cart the thief away. But, the details of the confrontation are important, so please read the article (or at least sections “The Incident”, “The Confrontation”, and “Epilogue”, all of about 2 pages).

Did Aikido Work?

The big question everyone wants to know is, did Aikido work? These days if it’s not muay thai, Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu, judo, wrestling, western boxing or whatever ilk can feed into MMA-style work, then it’s considered crap. I admit, there’s something to that line of thinking, but we have to remember what a person’s individual goal is in evaluating “did it work”.

In the simplest sense yes the Aikido worked. The thief was stopped and turned over to police. The physical action taken by Olson Sensei was able to stop the crime.

But let’s look at a larger context. Aikido is not just a series of movements, but there’s an underlying philosophy of nonviolence and redirecting the opponent’s energy. If we take it in this context, Aikido truly worked because the thief came out not just unharmed, but as an improved citizen. Olson Sensei recounts what happened a few weeks later:

Several weeks after the incident, the young man, a local high school football player, came over to my home with his father to apologize to me for his behavior that night. He said he and his friend had been in my van looking for a new tape to play in his car’s tape player. He told me he had spent a long night in our local jail pondering his predicament and the costs of not acting with integrity. He told me he was sorry that he had “goofed up.”

The boy was able to learn from the incident. Hopefully he truly did learn something and will grow and become a better person for having gone through what he did. As Olson Sensei put it:

I experienced the warrior spirit and philosophical training coming together to protect the young man who was making a small but not insignificant mistake in his life.

So I would say that Aikido truly worked. It worked on its physical level. It worked on its philosophical level.

Now let’s think what could have happened if the only training Gregory Olson had was in MMA-style arts. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything becomes a nail. Chances are the kid would have gotten a good beating. Maybe not, but when the flag flies we revert to whatever our body is trained to do in monkey-brain mode, which generally means “bash head with rock”.

Now take it a step further. Suppose the only training Gregory Olson had was with a gun and he was able legally carry that gun. I don’t know what Montana law says about defense of property, but here in Texas yes one could legally use a firearm to defend their property. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. And just supposing Mr. Olson had a gun doesn’t mean that boy would have ended up dead. But these are things worth thinking about.

Let’s delve further into the story. After taking control of the thief, Olson Sensei recounts how 5-8 other young men came around — friends of the thief! They immediately surrounded Olson Sensei and started yelling at him to let their friend go. I don’t care how badass you are, a 8 on 1 fight is generally going to leave the 1 at the mercy of the 8. Is any sort of empty-hand martial art going to help you here? Maybe… the interesting thing with Aikido is it practices against multiple opponents, so perhaps it could help him. Still, the odds are generally not in your favor, especially in a snow-covered parking lot. This is a point where I personally would appreciate having something to even the odds, like a baseball bat or a gun. Again, nothing saying you will end up using them, but while you wait those 12 long minutes for the police to arrive, the best you can hope for is to keep them at bay.

Did it?

The reason this story struck me is because of the situation I presently find myself within. I’ve studied martial arts where you are given the range of options, from simple submission to more painful and damaging solutions. I spend a great deal of time studying defensive handgun use. I like having options and not being artificially limited because you don’t know what life may bring you. Sure, just one guy in a parking lot may be easy to handle, but when his 8 friends step out of the darkness, that changes the situation and calls for a different course of action.

At first I did not want to consider Aikido study because of its philosophical limitations: sometimes a violent response is the best and right response, and Aikido frowns upon such a course of action. But I’m now at a point where I think studying in that way would be good for me. It would help bring some balance to my mindset. I don’t know exactly how good or bad it will be for me, just have to start on the journey and see what happens. I don’t believe studying Aikido will be a waste of my time. Oh sure, the MMA-types will say I’m wasting my time, but well… my daily life doesn’t involve combat, it involves living. While the crux of martial arts is fighting, there is more to it. I’d like to see where Aikido can take me.

I appreciate having options. While on the one hand I want to expand my toolset to allow myself more options, on the other I want to throw away options to hone and refine my toolset. Aikido’s physical skillset is limited (compared to more comprehensive arts), so that’s focus and refinement. Aikido’s philosophy is limited, so that too is focus and refinement. What sort of insight will it bring to me? We’ll see.

Thinking Aloud – the next phase of my martial journey

You may have noticed recent posts have discussed the martial art of Aikido.

Yes, I’m thinking about it, but am far from decided.

What follows is just me thinking aloud about the matter. If you’re curious about what’s going on in my head, read on.

Continue reading

Shioda Gozo demonstration

Aikido master Gozo Shioda demonstration.

I love the segment that runs from 1:14 to 1:36. He never lets his opponent regain his balance and always works to upset the man’s balance. Thus the ease with which he can keep the man on the mat.

His style of Aikido is still Aikido, but it’s much more rough and harsh. You see more strikes and slams (I even saw a foot stomp), not just gentle redirects. This stands to reason, since Shioda started training with Ueshiba in his early days when it was more aiki-jūjutsu than the more spiritual art that Aikido evolved into later in O Sensei’s life.. I like it. 🙂

part 2:

Watching this gives you a different take on Aikido. Many consider Aikido an art that strives to not hurt your opponent (it’s gentle). I’d say it’s more about not harming your opponent. There’s certainly a lot of hurt and pain being felt by uke in these videos. 🙂

Simple and Direct

I was flipping through the book Dynamic Aikido by Gōzō Shioda and the ending of the book just tickled me.

The book is intended to be an introduction to Aikido, and is typical of martial arts technique books. The book starts with a little history and background, then explanation of concepts, then into a lot of step-by-step technique demonstration. Major Aikido techniques are demonstrated and illustrated, because this is what people buying books want to see.

The last chapter of the book covers “practical application” and shows pictures of people in street clothing and situations, demonstrating the application of a technique. For instance, the series of pictures show a man washing up at a sink in a public restroom. Another man comes up behind the hand-washer to steal his wallet, and the hand-washer applies kote-gaeshi to defeat the pick-pocket. These practical application of fancy Aikido techniques goes on for many pages.

But the last practical application technique is never covered in the book. It doesn’t have to be.

This final movement is a good example of how in some situations simple, short measures can be effective. Indeed, this should be the criterion when considering techniques for self-defense; the less complicated a technique, the faster it can be applied and, more importantly, the less chance there is of failing.

Emphasis mine.

In the pictures you see two men sitting at a bar. One man grabs a beer bottle and swings it like a club to hit the other man. The other man merely applies a palm strike to the first man’s chin (Aikido would more push than hard strike, but let’s ignore stylistic details for now). The technique is simple, direct, fast, and effective. Sure it’s not sexy, but it works and that’s the bottom line.

Like many things in life, Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS principle).