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Remote Aikido Dojo

When there is nowhere else to train

The Future of Aikido

Monday, 7 October 2019

Another question that has come up on social media recently was, ‘What would you like aikido training in the future to look like?’ Again, this was an interesting and thought provoking question that prompted many responses. I’ve expanded on my thoughts on this topic here.

Unsurprisingly, there's a few factors to take into consideration on this subject.

The first and most obvious is the self-defence aspect. 99% of people (and that's being generous) have no real concept of what self-defence actually is. This includes the vast majority of self-defence instructors and martial artists. Self-defence is a highly specialist field and in my opinion should be considered as a martial art in its own right.

This is actually a big problem. People are teaching things that they don’t know and don’t understand and they need to either admit their lack of knowledge or stop teaching it altogether. Either is preferable to claiming that self-defence is being taught when it really isn’t. 

Then there's the state of it today, and how that could change into the future.

Start with weapons. We really need to stop that. To quote a good friend of mine, "The problem with iaido is everybody thinks they know your art". In general aikidoka suck at using a katana. I'll accept that the aiki toho iai is light years ahead of the aiki ken work but it's a) not as popular (sadly) and b) should probably be taught by qualified iaidoka.

Unlike the sword I've never studied the Jo in its own right but I'm willing to bet hard cash that what we do with a jo would have jodoka scratching their heads or flat out laughing. Yes there's the argument that it's supposed to be a bayonet on a rifle but it really isn't, it's a 4 foot long staff. I know this because it's a 4 foot long staff which makes it completely different. Same argument for a spear.

I'll just assume you're familiar with how ridiculous tanto-dori really is.

The next thing is the uke's. Uke's, in general, need to step up their game and represent. They (which means the vast majority of us) need to realise that ukemi is

  1. Not just falling over.
  2. That they should be pressuring nage throughout the whole technique.
  3. Actually hit the nage if they can regardless of the stage in the technique.

There are entirely too many non-attacking limbs flopping around like half cooked cold spaghetti in the middle of nowhere as we wait to do a forward roll. This one simple thing would vastly improve the state of most people's aikido. Regardless of what you think about their use of competition, in this regard, there is a lot to learn from the Shodokan folks.

On the subject of ukemi we also need to realise that randori is not faster jiyu-waza. To me, the primary difference between randori and jiyu-waza has always been time. In jiyu-waza you have time to pin the uke because you are attacked deliberately by individuals. In randori you cannot pin the person, you cannot even do a fancy throw, because you are being attacked *simultaneously* by a *group*. Uke's need to stop waiting during randori. If they are upright they should be moving in to shut down the nage regardless of what the nage is currently doing. Pressure must be brought to bear.

Next up suwari waza (and by extension hanmi handachi waza). This needs to die a death. It's no longer relevant (if it ever was) and in my opinion the benefits from doing it will never outweigh the disadvantages. For a much fuller explanation of this consider the words of Gaku Homma.

Competition. I'm aware of the arguments for and against and as far as I'm concerned the argument for is far weaker than the argument against. This isn’t referring to the competition that already exists. This is about the ever pervasive conversation about how aikidoka should step into the octagon and prove their stuff actually works.

On a similar note I don't think that pressure testing needs to be added to aikido. As I see it pressure testing is, basically, already a part of aikido. If uke's were to actually step up and do their job then pressure testing is automatic.

The final thing I would mention is the teaching method. Personally I do not consider it fit for purpose. It needs to radically alter to allow people to learn more effectively. When you look at an aikido dojo it's as if 70 years of advancement in sports science and coaching never took place. There are several posts on this blog addressing this topic. Check them out if you’re interested:

It takes how long? But you said it wasnt’t important

A Better Way to Teach

Grade Inflation

The Swimming Coach Problem

Teach the Ukemi

How do I want to see it in the future then? Fewer (or rather better) weapons, better ukemi, no shikko and a totally different teaching method. I think that these things would lead to an improvement in people's aikido across the board, attract more people to the art, and begin to recover the martial effectiveness of the art for many of the practitioners.

As a final observation on the ‘looking to the future’ theme, there are indications that aikido is 'top heavy'. The ratio of dan grades to kyu grades suggests a narrow triangle. Instead of 1 dan: 10 kyu we have 1 dan:5 kyu (to be clear those are not real ratio's. I made them up to illustrate the point). We have a narrow based triangle, we need to widen the base and the first step is not to find out why people come to aikido, it's to find out why they don't come and address that issue instead.