Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Some of the best Aikido I’ve learned was from guys who “hate” Aikido

Wow! what a crazy couple of weeks.  I just get done with the Violence Dynamics Seminar, and then I have a few days to get caught up with work, then bam! Off for 6 days at the Regional Training Center in Sioux City Iowa.  I had the opportunity to attend the only low light precision rifle school in America.  It was tough training but well worth it.  More on that in the future, I’m still trying to process all the information form the Seminar.  Which leads me to today’s blog

Some of the best Aikido I’ve learned was from guys who “hate” Aikido

Let me start this blog by stating I am very fortunate to have the Aikido Sensei (I looked it up to be sure but Sensei is the plural of Sensei) that I have had.  Tom Moore and Gaku Homma from Nippon Kan.  Alvin McClure and Amos Parker from Yoshinkan.  All excellent teachers who helped lay the foundation of how I move / what I teach.  Moore Sensei, and McClure Sensei also gave me the freedom to explore how things work for me and encouraged me to seek my own path which has turned out to be even more valuable than the technical back ground.

Morihei Ueshiba (The founder of Aikido) said do not abandon the warrior arts of the past. Absorb venerable traditions of the old ways into this Art by clothing them with fresh garments, and building on the classic styles to create better forms.

Having said that the theme of this blog is - Some of the best Aikido I’ve learned was from guys who “hate” Aikido.
OK maybe hate is a strong term.  The guys I’m talking about all have a solid respect for the bones of Aikido but hate the way Aikido is all too often taught (who can blame them I hate the way most Aikido is taught too)

So let’s go back to the beginning of Aikido

Most everyone remembers Ueshiba like this

But they forget first he was this

Ueshiba was badass  - like a mustache with titties.

Ueshiba grew up as a sickly little book worm.  His father would recount the tales his great-grandfather "Kichiemon," said to be one of the strongest samurai of his day, and encouraged him to study Sumo wrestling and swimming.

Hmmmm, a nerd who wrestled and was inspired by stories of heroes.

Morihei realized the necessity of being strong after his father was attacked and beaten by a gang of thugs hired by a rival politician.  Ueshiba become so strong he was banned from local rice smashing events because he would destroy the huge wooden hammers used to smash rice into a flat paste / bread (think of a Japanese version of a tortilla)
In 1898 Ueshiba moved to Tokyo.  There he sought instruction in the martial arts. He actively investigated dozens of arts, but was eventually drawn to specialize in three: the sword style known as Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, the staff style known as Hozoin Ryu, and Tenjin Shinyo jujutsu.

He witnessed criminals beat the hell out of his dad so he got strong and started studying martial arts.  Kind of like Batman

During the Russo-Japanese War, he decided to enlist in the army. Standing at just under five feet tall, he failed to meet the minimum height requirements. He was so upset that he went immediately to the forests and swung on trees trying desperately to stretch his body out. On his next attempt to enlist, he passed his examination and became an infantryman in 1903.

He wanted to serve his country in time of war but couldn’t pass the physical so he undergoes a special regiment to pass the test.  Kind of like Captain America
The Russo-Japanese War (1904) provided Ueshiba with a real operational experience. Ueshiba spent most of the war years in the harsh climate of northern Manchuria.
            Having grown experienced and even stronger during his time in the military, he was now eager to continue physical training. His father built a dojo on his farm and invited the well-known Jujutsu instructor Takaki Kiyoichi to tutor him.
            In the spring of 1912, at the age of 29, he and his family moved into the wilderness of Hokkaido. After a few years of struggle, the small village started to prosper. Ueshiba had grown tremendously muscular, to the point that the power he possessed in his arms became almost legendary.
        It was during this time in Hokkaido that he met Sokaku Takeda, grandmaster of Daito-ryu Aiki Jutsu. After meeting Takeda and finding himself no match for his teacher, Ueshiba seemed to forget everything else and threw himself into training.

A muscular, experienced martial artist and operator found a smaller instructor that could effortlessly kick his ass.  Kind of like me
During his early 40s (around 1925), Ueshiba (who was a very religious man) had several spiritual experiences which so impressed him that his life and his training were forever changed. He realized the true purpose of Budo was love that cherishes and nourishes all beings. 

Here is where some of the things I hate about Aikido start to creep in.  Where the focus changed from practical field proven martial art to philosophy.  Rory likes to say Ueshiba is a good example of what happens when a good Jujutsu guy finds religion

But here is the thing, even the philosophical and the almost magical aspects of Aikido have practical operational applications if you cut the bullshit.

So, what is some of the best Aikido I’ve learned and who do it learn it from?
First, remember all of the things I’m about to discuss are in Aikido
"Almost every technique in the Martial Arts works, if you know when and where to use it."  - Rory Miller

However, I’ve found when you get away from the dogma of Aikido you can finally see the really good stuff Aikido has to offer

If you boil down Aikido to its base parts it basically consists of

Tai Sabaki – Movement - don’t get hit
Atemi – Hit them
Kansetsu Waza – Locks
Nage Waza – Throws
Osae Komi Waza – Pins

From Steve Jimerfield I’ve learned
Practical gross motor applications
            If you can’t do a technique with broken fingers, numb / frozen hands, or great big mittens on – then you can’t do that technique on the street.

Not getting hit (behind the shoulder)
            Jimerfield spends a lot of time on the practical application of Tai Sabaki.  Not only getting off line, bet getting to a position of control

Osae Komi that works
            I could write an entire blog on this alone.  As you may have noticed I’m passionate about practical application.  As such I require that my students prove their techniques work during testing.  For Osae Komi waza you can chose which pins you want to do but you have to be able to hold a fully resisting opponent down for a full 20 seconds.  Just like a Judo match.  I noticed of all the Aikido Osae Komi only a few met this requirement.  Jimerfield Sensei is also passionate about this.  Pin the head and the snake stops fighting.  The thigh lock fully controls the subject and allows you to do what ever follow up action is necessary to end the confrontation (see also makes all Aikido Osae Komi field applicable)

From Rory Miller I’ve learned
Response tree Not getting hit (behind the shoulder)
            Further refinement of Jimerfield’s not only getting off line, bet getting to a position of control.  If you have a different block / evasion for every possible attack you’ll never be fast enough to decide which one to use in the time between when you perceive the attack and the attack lands.  If you have one response that works well for pretty much any attack, that improves your position (not only getting off line, bet getting to a position of control), worsens their position, protects you from damage, and allows you to deliver force into them – then you are caught up with or ahead of the attacker and have a fighting chance.
            Along those same lines you can spend years memorizing every joint lock in Aikido, or you can spend a few hours learning how a joint lock works and be able to improvise every joint lock in Aikido against a resisting attacker.

  • Hinge
  • Ball & Socket
  • Floating

  • Bend it against how it was designed to bend

Ball & Socket
  • Take to 90’ angle

  • Twist
  • Bend
  • Twist and bend
  • Bend and twist

Ok Aikido guys I challenge you to find a lock that doesn’t fit into one or more of those categories

From Marc MacYoung I’ve learned how to hit.  How to use structure - bone and ligament alignment to deliver force.  For a non – aikido guy I recognized more Aikido in his motions than in most Aikido Shihan.

Just like joint locks you can spend years learning every throw in Judo or you can learn how any throw works and be able to improvise every throw in Judo or Aikido against a resisting attacker.

How a throw works
You can make distinctions between throws and take downs, involuntary throws and voluntary throws, but basically you:
  • Use skeletal structure to create a catapult or trebuchet which launches him
  • Take his support away (like cutting a leg from a table)
  • Blow his balance and don’t allow him to regain it
  • Slave him to your body
    • He has to fall so things don’t snap
    • He has to fall because you are falling

Ok Jujutsu – Judo - Aikido guys I challenge you to find a throw or takedown that doesn’t fit into one or more of those categories

Some of the more esoteric aspects of Aikido are :
  • Ki no Nagare - Continuous flow
  • Takemasu Aiki - Spontanious technique
  • Ki – Internal Energy
  • Philosophy

The field applicable version of Ki no Nagare breaks down to
  • Don’t break the power chain
            Ride the horse the direction it wants to go.  Meaning once you get a guy moving don’t let him stop or regain his balance.  Keeping him going the way he is going until he meets something really cool like the planet or wall. 

  • Flow from one lock to another.
            If the first aspect of Ki no Nagare fails, the very aspect of that failure hands you success in the second aspect.  What ever effort is used to break your lock or throw hands you energy to use in another direction.  Don’t fight flow, then transition back to keeping him going in the new way he is going until he meets something really cool like the planet or wall. 

Takemasu Aiki
            Spontanious technique – this is regarded as mastery or the highest level of Aiki.  You don’t attempt a technique, a technique just happens.  Rory’s one step drill is practical training in search of spontaneous or improvised technique.  Hunting for specific locks or throws is hard.  Taking whatever gifts are presented naturally is easy.  The hardest part of one step training for me was to stop being a martial artist and just be me.  I am working on how to get that out of myself and my students faster and more easily.  (I believe the answer is in more play and less Sensei)

            Internal energy – My favorite part of the seminar was subtle power generation and structure.  Lise throwing Chad, and especially Marc throwing me has become the throw heard around the world

How many stories have you heard about old small Ueshiba tossing some US Marine, or Judo Champion across the room effortlessly?

Feeling is believing.  Its not magic, F=ma.  I am having fun playing with the math.  If Marc can produce that much force with his small amount of mass….and if by following the same principles I can generate the same acceleration…. how much more force can I generate with my greater mass?  A big guy who can fight like a good little dude is a force of nature.  Hell Yeah!

The philosophy of Aikido is basically that the real purpose of martial training is to nurture and protect all living things.
Cool, but sadly bad understanding of this philosophy has lead to some very bad wishy washy tree hugging granola eating bullshit with which Aikido is now most commonly associated with.

I agree that martial training is to nurture and protect all living things.  My ass is on the top of the list of living things that I need to nurture and protect.  If I can do that with out turning someone into a cripple or a corpse great.  If not, tough shit.  Now don’t take this to mean you should go out looking to hurt others.  Instead lets look at some good field applications of this philosophy.

Marc often says the trip to good behavior is always free.  If I just crank on a guy, I am sending him signals that I’m going to keep hurting him no matter what he does.  So he better fight because if he doesn’t I might kill him. 
On the other hand once I’ve gained control, if he goes with the program, that’s it, no more juice.  He will receive the message fighting equals pain, submission equals relief.  Protecting myself from further conflict also protected and nurtured the guy I was controlling.  That can only work if you are capable and willing to inflict pain / damage and controlled enough to stop. 

So, in conclusion if there any Aikidoka reading this that have serious concerns about the validity of their training against actual violence the answer is yes it can work.  But, I suggest you seek out the people I mentioned.  They will show you how to use what you already know in a whole new way

I think that is the longest I have gone with out a pop culture reference.  So, remember at the end of the last blog when I compared Marc and Rory to martial arts movie characters?  Well, I thought about it some more and came up with this Anime reference

If you follow Naruto, you’ll get it.  If you don’t it will take too long to explain so just enjoy




Train hard, Train smart, Be safe

Happy Halloween!


  1. Yeap, no hitting, just atemi... :)

    Same as no locks and throws in karate. Right.

  2. I've only had the opportunity to work with Rory, but I've had a similar experience. I find myself playing with stuff I hadn't done in decades through his one-step.

    The most functional version of an Aikido technique I've ever learned came from my Muay Thai coach.

    Aikido is full of amazing concepts...I wish it was taught differently.

  3. Really interesting. I don't know anything about aikido but now I want to. Very self-aware discussion of your art which is surprisingly rare.

  4. I think Kasey nailed it on the reason why it is taught this way. People look at the happy mellow old Ueshiba and want to be him. They unfortunately by pass all the steps that took him there.

  5. These are the points that I keep discussing with my aikido colleagues as well... There is a need to see the historical and cultural context of keiko

    1. And the Naruto analogy is just hilarious... ;p

  6. This is my first time i visit here. I found so many interesting stuff in your blog especially its discussion. From the tons of comments on your articles, I guess I am not the only one having all the enjoyment here! keep up the good work aikido clases

  7. Thank you for sharing the useful and informative article with us and keep it up.
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