This post is the first in a four part series that will look at one of the most controversial topics in aikido. Competition. In the aikido community there are fierce divisions over the concept of aikidoka competing with their art. In some places it almost seems like competitive aikido is a dirty secret that we shouldn’t be discussing. This does not change the fact that it does exist, and isn’t going to stop anytime soon. No matter how many letters Aikikai Doshu issue. This post begins the defence of competitive aikido.
First The Bad News
Something that you need to acknowledge right out of the gate on this is a piece of bad news. Many aikidoka have limited knowledge of the art beyond their own style/federation. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it means they lack information about other major styles. As such this may come as a surprise to many readers. Competition already takes place in at least 4 major styles of aikido:
Many aikidoka are unaware that these competitions take place. Of those that are, most only know of Shodokan’s involvement with competitive practice.
At this point, you could argue that the case for competition is closed because it already exists. That would be too easy though, and has a problem. Just because something exists, doesn’t mean it should. The existence of competitive aikido does not provide justification for its continuance.
A Dying Art
There is some circumstantial evidence that interest in aikido is declining. Some analyses indicate that it is slowly fading out. While there are serious flaws with these studies, they are the best indicator we have at present. Sadly, they are likely to be true.
The problem seems to lie with the younger generations. Aikido is a top heavy art, with few new members. Many clubs have nothing but black belts, or fewer kyu grades than dan ranks. This is a serious issue, because it means that there is no pipeline to replace those that retire from the art for whatever reason.
Athletic young people, i.e. <30y.o., have a natural competitive drive. They like to compete and test themselves against other people. Even if it’s only at a club level. Competition is a sure-fire way to attract in a host of younger members. This would help to create a solid, stable base of future talent.
Competitive aikido is good, because it could be the key to securing the future of aikido as a martial art.
The Missing Element
Aikido faces many problems to gaining new students and they come from 2 major sources. Yoga and competitive martial arts. It’s unlikely that any martial art can attract students away from yoga, but as for competitive arts, that should be possible. Many students walk into an MMA class for the first, and only, time. A lot of people like the idea of martial arts, but are less keen on being punched in the face.
As a martial art, aikido is beautifully placed to attract those students. It should be simplicity to attract them through the doors of the dojo, so why aren’t they there? As noted in the last section, it’s because they like to compete. There’s a reason they went to MMA and not Tai Chi. Incidentally, even Tai Chi has competition.
Many students are looking for an effective martial art and the competitive ones seem like a better bet. They can see it in action, and they want to try it themselves.
Competitive aikido is good, because it is the missing element to getting students through the doors.
Aikido is a martial art. It also has a strange problem. The nature of the teaching method, and certain emphasis within it, mean that aikidoka can get away with martially poor techniques. You can perform a kote gaeshi poorly, and still be successful. This is not a good thing. If you watch aikido demonstrations, even by shihan, many of them are not in a good position for e.g. irimi nage. This applies to all the techniques, not just these two.
There are reasons for this that competition would eliminate. Most of these reasons are based around our ukemi (and the fact that we don’t teach it). Any scoring system will, by its mere existence, force competitors to become technically better. They’ll have to if they want to win.
Competitive aikido is good, because it would likely lead to an improvement in the technical standard of aikidoka across the board.
Along with the technical improvements would come a quantum leap in the standards of our ukemi. Even martial artists that denigrate aikido will admit one thing. The ukemi practiced by aikidoka is second to none. Our ability to roll out of almost anything, in any direction, in any space, is staggering. Unfortunately, that’s not ukemi. That’s rolling.
There is a large part of ukemi that is missing from what we do. Many people advocate that our ukemi should be closer to free-style sparring. That’s not the missing element I’m referring to. The aspect of ukemi that is not currently there is intent. Very few ukes are genuinely trying to hit their nage. Almost none of them are ready to make a second strike.
Adding in a form of partnered competition would alter that almost immediately. Standard ukemi would become much more alive. We would start to flow with intent, ready to sieze a mistake and counter it.
This can only be beneficial for aikido. Nobody has ever argued that ukemi is not important, quite the opposite. If so, then improving the ukemi can only improve aikido as a whole.
Competitive aikido is good, because it would force us to adopt, and even teach, better ukemi.
End Of Part 1
There are, obviously, other arguments as to why aikido should have a competition element. Next week’s post will address these. After that, the reasons why there should not be competition in aikido will be presented.
If you don’t want to wait, or would like to read the expanded arguments, and their counters, consider picking up the e-book for the price of a coffee.
About Aikido: Competition is available now on Amazon.
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