This post is the second in a four part series looking at one of the most controversial topics in aikido. Competition. The last post started presenting the arguments that competitive aikido is good. This post concludes those arguments. Next week will start to present the opposing view.
Is That Technique Valid?
It is possible that MMA has the most well-known competitive setting in martial arts today. It may only be beaten into first place by boxing.
Proponents of MMA are usually quite willing to point out that there are no techniques in it that do not work. They thoroughly test all the things they do in the arena of live combat. They can be 100% certain that what they do works.
Aikidoka cannot make that claim. Not by a long way. Most of us have never performed an aikido technique on fully resisting, trained opponents, free to fight back however they choose. It is not a feature of our training. As such, most of us do not know if our techniques work. Competition would change that.
In a competitive setting, where there is some form of randori element, the techniques would be tested. We could find out if something was a realistic thing to do or not. We would be able to say, with 100% certainty, that the techniques work. Currently, we know they work in principle, but competition would provide confirmation.
It’s also worth noting that a competitive testing ground is much safer than non-competitive fighting.
Competitive aikido is good, because it would provide us with a safe, valid testing ground.
Many aikidoka feel that pressure testing is something that is sorely needed in our training system to add authenticity to aikido. Almost all of our training is with a compliant partner. Randori should eliminate that problem, but for most aikidoka it falls short of this as it lacks the required intensity.
Sparring would force us to learn many things in a short space of time that are difficult to learn with a compliant uke. The benefits from sparring are undeniable. They include, but are not limited to:
- Increased reaction time
- Better perception of an attack
- Increased movement from nage
- Improvement in general fitness level
- Greater ability to be calm under pressure
- Learning what it feels like to come under a sustained assault with no avenue of retreat
- An understanding that getting hit does not hurt
- Standard of attacks will increase; no more stiff arms hanging in mid-air
With all those potential benefits on the table the question is not, ‘How can we possibly spar’, it’s ‘How can we afford not to’?
Note that sparring does not have to be competitive. The purpose of sparring isn’t to win, it’s to improve. Sparring is a training tool that helps to prepare you for a competitive match.
Competitive aikido is good, because it may provide a sparring system, with all the benefits that would bring.
A Competitive Edge
This next one is quite subtle. When you have a competition, people want to win. That’s how that works; there is no denying it. People that are competing will seek to gain a competitive edge over their opponent. It would not take long before competitors look for alternative training methods to find that edge.
The standard training method for aikido does not seem to have changed in almost 100 years. Almost every dojo, regardless of style, follows the same gentle curve of compliance in how they educate their students. It’s as if 50 years of sports science has passed us by. When looking for a competitive edge, updating the training method is the first and most obvious place to start.
This isn’t about modernising aikido, it is acknowledging the significant flaws in the teaching method and changing it. There are many better ways to teach, but aikido currently ignores them. With a competition in the mix, that would not be possible anymore.
Competitors would seek out sensei that can train them better. They will see benefit in different methods, and prefer them over the traditional system. To be successful as sensei, we will be forced to adapt and change or lose our dojo to those that do.
Competitive aikido is good, because it will improve the system used to teach the art.
A True Understanding
An argument can be made that you only truly understand certain things in the crucible of combat. A short intense randori can reveal more about a person’s character than a lengthy acquaintance. A competitive setting is likely to increase our understanding of the techniques that we practice in the dojo. Resistance to what we are doing will force us into a deeper technical knowledge because without that, the techniques will fail.
The feedback provided by a resisting uke is an incredibly valuable learning experience. Competition will ensure that the resistance is real, not a simulation of what we think resistance would be like.
This would, in turn, provide a much better measure of a person’s level of skill in various aspects of the art. Someone of a very low skill level should not be able to complete techniques against a high skill opponent that is actively resisting. Unless they get very lucky, it shouldn’t happen.
There is a very convenient statistic to highlight this. The punch stats from the Floyd Mayweather vs Logan Paul boxing match are available. Floyd, arguably the greatest boxer of all time, landed 86 of 214 (40%). In case you are unaware that was against an opponent 18 years younger, 6 inches taller, 35lbs heavier, with a 4 inch reach advantage. Paul, his bigger, stronger, younger opponent, who is very much an amateur, landed just 56 punches. To hit Floyd that many times Logan had to throw a staggering 434 punches (13%).
Competitive aikido is good, because it will improve our technical understanding of the techniques and make it easier to truly judge someone’s skill level.
Nobody Said Fighting
A final point to make on this is that when competition comes up everybody automatically assumes fighting. In most of the conversations the format of competition is never discussed, always assumed.
There are many forms that an aikido competition could take, for example:
- Tanto dori
- A theory test
- Pre-set topic essay writing
- Number of correctly executed specified techniques within a time limit
These are just some concepts, there are bound to be others. The point though is that a competition does not have to mean fighting.
Competitive aikido is good, because it can provide numerous formats to test our knowledge and skill at the art.
Competitive Aikido Is A Good Thing
These are some of the reasons in defence of aikido competition. They make a compelling case that it is a good thing. Whether you agree or not doesn’t invalidate the truth of them. The case exists that aikido could be improved by adding in competition in some form.
End of Part 2
There are, obviously, arguments as to why aikido should not have a competition element. Next week’s post will start to address these.
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.
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