This post is the final entry in the four part series on competition in aikido. The last post started presenting the arguments that competitive aikido is bad.
That’s Not How That Technique Is Supposed To Work
There is, amazingly, a very close analogy to the idea of competition in aikido. There is an art designed for close personal self-defence that can be looked at in this context. In recent years, Krav Maga has developed a competition aspect. What is particularly interesting is that the arguments around competition in aikido, are identical to those used in Krav Maga. It appears to have produced a split in the style into the camps of for and against.
Krav Maga is an art with a reputation for brutality. The sort of brutality that would not make it safe for competition. To mitigate this various techniques are fouls. Importantly though, many of the remaining ones are watered down versions. This makes them safer for competition, but less effective for self-defence. They still work, just not as well.
The issue is that real life applications are being lost as people train for the competitions. It is much more likely that a person will enter a competition than need to defend themselves. As such, competitive training would take the primary focus.
Competitive aikido is bad, because it will rob the art of its effectiveness.
The Wrong Mindset
While aikido is not a unique martial art, it is quite unusual. It is perhaps the only modern martial art that hasn’t turned the encounter into a fight. The mindset needed for successful aikido is very different to that of other martial arts. One of the underlying lessons that the techniques teach us to be accepting. Not just of energy but of the situation, the people, everything that is happening. It’s not to fight against it but rather blend and merge with it. Guide rather than push. None of this is compatible with the idea of winning.
A competitive mindset is hyper-focused on winning. You have to concentrate completely on beating your opponent(s). There is no acceptance in that, you have to fight against it. It encourages an aggressive outlook on the world. Them and us.
Aikido is about achieving a state of balance with ourselves and the world around us. Competition is about dominating others and the world around us.
Competitive aikido is bad, because it will force aikidoka to adopt a mindset conflicting with aikido’s teachings.
What Happened To Your Flow?
When an aikidoka’s mindset changes from balance to winning something else happens to them. Their flow disappears as well. While it shouldn’t, inevitably the desire to win brings in a level of resistance that is counter-productive for aikido. This is not just in the uke. It’s in nage too.
Good aikido requires flow. It takes a freedom of movement that is almost impossible to achieve in competition. When people are trying to win tension creeps in. Movements become jerky, almost like watching a bad stop-motion animation. The flow disappears.
If the flow is gone then an element required for good aikido is missing. If you don’t have all the elements for good aikido then you can’t be doing good aikido.
Competitive aikido is bad, because it prevents aikidoka from achieving flow.
This is a big one. By not having competition, aikido concerns itself with martial efficacy. In training, both aikidoka should be trying to move into the most martially sensible position available. This is how uke forces nage to do aikido, and why nage continues with their technique.
In almost every case, the most martially sensible thing is against the rules of competition. If a set of rules excludes a technique, then you have lost martial effectiveness. This is what has happened in MMA, Judo, Kendo, Fencing, and Taekwondo. With rules, and the exclusion of techniques, they have become less capable in real world application.
In aikido one of the most obvious examples of this would be tai no henko. Experienced aikidoka and beginners respond to this in two very different ways. When nage turns the beginner loses the connection between the palm and the wrist. The experienced aikidoka does not. Very rarely does anyone explain why this is the case. They just tell the beginner not to do that and eventually the beginner stops.
The reason to maintain the contact is martial efficacy. If the contact between the palm and the wrist breaks then nage’s arm is free. There is nothing holding it there. The most martially sensible thing for nage to do is not to continue the technique. Nage should actually drive the elbow back into uke’s face. There is nothing uke can do to stop this.
While some competitions would allow an elbow strike many do not. None however, permit rabbit punching. During tai no henko many uke’s keep the wrist contact but lose their centre. They finish with nage standing tall and uke bent at the waist. From this position the most martially effective option is for nage to use the free hand to strike uke on the back of the head. This is rabbit punching and is illegal in just about every contact sport. It is highly dangerous and can cripple or even kill a person (so do not rabbit punch people).
Competitive aikido is bad, because it will diminish the martial efficacy of the art.
The Techniques Suggest This Is A Bad Idea
Aikido’s techniques tell us that competition is not what we should strive for. There are many lessons in the movements we practice and one of them is about non-resistance. It is very difficult to have a competition that would include this. When people are competing, especially in a physical way, resistance is almost guaranteed. It’s just the nature of competition.
Competitive aikido is bad, because the techniques teach us not to do it.
Not What O Sensei Wanted
This is another big one. The founder of aikido did not want it to become a competition art. He made this stance very clear over the years. First by the disagreement with Tomiki Kenji over the latter’s creation of a competition from. Then in recent years by the Aikikai issuing formal letters stating that it was against the founders wishes.
It seems that the founder felt that aikido was a budō, and as such competition would degrade it to a sport. This was something he did not want and aikidoka should respect that. Particularly those that claim to be doing O Sensei’s aikido.
Competitive aikido is bad, because it is against the wishes of our founder.
Competitive Aikido Is Bad
These are some of the reasons against aikido competitions. They make a compelling case that it is a bad thing. Whether you agree or not doesn’t invalidate the truth of them. The case exists that competition would be detrimental to aikido.
This concludes the series on competition in aikido. If you would like to read the counters to each point, as well as the expanded arguments, consider picking up the e-book for the price of a coffee.
About Aikido: Competition is available now on Amazon.
N.B. The author may not hold the views above.
If you can afford it, and would like to help out,
consider donating some brain fuel!
Also, if you enjoyed this post you can find further insights in this book.