Have the option of taking Aikido...any advice?
June 24, 2010 11:18 AM   Subscribe

I have an opportunity to study Aikido that is in the style of Koichi Tohei. I have had very little experience with Aikido in any form. I would like to learn it based on readings and watching others. I am not sure if it is a viable form of self-defense but if it is, that would be a definite plus. Anyone have any opinion either way based on experience in Aikido or other arts?
posted by snap_dragon to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
My experience is limited, and I know nothing about individual Aikido styles, but we incorporated a fair amount of Aikido into our Jeet Kune Do practice, which I did for several years and reached the highest non-instructor level*. The principles are sound, and what we used was effective. I would take a good Aikido class, given the chance.

*Noted so you can gauge the weight of my opinion about this for yourself.
posted by cmoj at 11:26 AM on June 24, 2010

I've done a few sessions of aikido with sensei who were visiting our judo dojo; from that and from friends who do it, I'd say that if I were to start practising aikido I'd be looking for:

a) Screening teachers very carefully for a good one.
b) Looking for one of the schools of aikido closer to the shodokan/tomiki end of the spectrum, rather than one of the ki-focused ones.
posted by rodgerd at 11:54 AM on June 24, 2010

Best answer: Bas Rutten on Aikido in MMA

It's better than nothing for self-defense but don't expect much in the way of real, useful skills. That said, it is an interesting martial art.
posted by Loto at 12:14 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Aikido is graceful and beautiful. It's great exercise and it's easy on your joints. It's a lot of fun. You're not likely to get hurt training in it. But I wouldn't go so far as to suggest it's useful for self-defense. It's mostly a philosophical, theoretical discipline.

It's my favorite of the martial arts but you've got to accept it for what it is. Nobody ever beat up a knife-wielding mugger with Aikido.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:32 PM on June 24, 2010

Based on my experience with martial arts (Judo to brown belt, Iaido to 2nd dan, some informal kenjutsu practice), trying to learn by watching and reading is sub-optimal, to say the least. Certainly I wouldn't think you'd reach any level of proficiency through that, and to think of using what you learned through watching or reading in a self-defense situation is a one-way ticket to being badly hurt or worse. To think of using what you learn like this from a Ki-based style in self-defense is idealistic in the extreme.

If you are really looking for self-defense, there are much better choices than Aikido. Even if it's a bonus, either way, you really want to join a club and actually participate instead of trying to passively absorb physical techniques by watching and reading.
posted by splice at 12:33 PM on June 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Don't do it.

I wasted three years of my life on Aikido, spending extra time and money for training and seminars, before I came to the painful realization that what I was learning simply would not work.

I learned this by later cross-training in Judo, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, wrestling, and boxing. My inability to deal with a resisting attacker was made clear, actually, when a new guy came into Aikido class from the Judo class. None of my techniques worked on him, because I had never practiced against a resisting opponent. In three years. And I never would have, because it is Aikido.

Let me try and explain a typical Aikido curriculum to you, and contrast it with the curricula of some other martial arts, in the hopes that you will see---without needing to learn first-hand---the failings of Aikido as a martial art.

Firstly, Aikido is based on a philosophical principle of non-aggression, and idealizes an outcome where neither attacker nor defender is injured in a confrontation. This goal is supposed to be reached by mastering the art of throwing and pinning an attacker, such that he/she is disabled, immobilized, and incapable of further aggression.

In practice, this amounts to two Aikidoka assuming the roles of attacker/throwee (uke) and defender/thrower (tori). The attacker launches either one predetermined attack, to be thrown by one predetermined throw, or attacks from a set of attacks to be thrown by a particular set of throws. Any unexpected variations take place within a set of already-practiced attacks and defenses.

Competition and resistance are discouraged, because you are told that Aikido is not a 'competitive' martial art, and that competition goes against the spirit of Aikido. If you're doing a technique incorrectly or unrealistically, your instructor will let you know, or a more experienced training partner will correct you. But usually, everyone is so busy being cooperative that bad and unrealistic techniques become the rule. In fact, Aikido techniques are so far removed from a realistic, antagonistic situation that I'm sure most Aikido instructors and students wouldn't know a realistic, effective technique if they saw one.

The difference between Aikido and a similar art like Judo is that Judo maintains the practice of live resistance. In Judo, if your techniques are bad, they won't work. You won't be told that they're bad if they do work. In Aikido this is sadly not the case: the quality of your techniques is usually judged on aesthetic criteria, or the whims and delusions of your equally-clueless instructor, who would probably get his face smashed in by anyone with any boxing experience whatsoever.

Live resistance is key, and in Aikido it is totally lacking. Continuing with the Judo example, I was invited on my first day of Judo class to do whatever I wanted short of throwing punches to knock the instructor off his feet. After three years (!) of training Aikido at least three days a week, I could not take him down.

You might think 'Well he's a Judo instructor, of course not!' But I couldn't bring down any of the other students, either! Not to mention I was physically exhausted by the actual workout of a Judo class. I decided on that very first day that I had missed the boat in martial arts. Here was a whole class of people who were capable of defending themselves against any grappling-type technique I could throw at them, and they were willing to teach me. I found the same to be true of boxing classes: I couldn't stop a single punch, and Aikido was supposed to teach me defenses against that.

They were capable of defending themselves because, in a controlled, safe way, they had been defending themselves against intelligent, aggressive opponents every day they practiced.

I had been going through the empty, choreographed motions of Aikido, learning nothing that could be applied to a living, thinking human being.

These days I'm one promotion (I'm told ~two weeks) away from my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, and I can't recommend it highly enough for reasons of fun, fitness, and self-defense. I would never, ever go back to Aikido.
posted by edguardo at 1:13 PM on June 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: ****Whoops, I meant to say I would like to DO it based on what I have read and watched. Wow. What a confused way I put things. ****
posted by snap_dragon at 1:20 PM on June 24, 2010

Response by poster: Hmmmm but based on many of you so far, my mind is changing.
posted by snap_dragon at 1:20 PM on June 24, 2010

snap_dragon, you also might want to check out www.bullshido.net, which is a website devoted to fighting dishonesty in the martial arts. Just do a forum search on Aikido, and you'll turn up a lot of informative stuff.

I don't post there anymore, but back when I was getting out of the Aikido cult, they were an incredible resource for me!
posted by edguardo at 1:23 PM on June 24, 2010

Well. What edguardo said about Aikido not being practical could also go be said of Tae Kwon Do. I was one test shy of my black belt when I dropped out ( something about fear of commitment), and I remember that I loved it, but felt that it was more of an art form than a practical application, and we did have competitions. However, I have a friend who practiced Aikido for approximately the same amount of time (though more recently, and we are both no longer practicing martial arts), and this friend can take me down every time.

That is to say - if you want to do aikido, do aikido. Keep at any martial (or peaceful) art longer than most folks, and you'll be better at it than most folks. In the long run, it would probably be best to learn multiple approaches, but you have to learn one type before you can learn several!
posted by lover at 1:24 PM on June 24, 2010

Considering how taxing real martial arts training is on your body, I think you should try to gravitate towards practicing what gives you the most return on your time and energy investment.

Considering that the worst things that can happen to you in unarmed combat are typically being knocked down or knocked out, you can safely start by learning how to avoid those things, then graduate to making those things happen to other people.

My beef with Tae Kwon Do isn't that it lacks live resistance, but that it places so many restrictions on that resistance in the name of safety that you end up with a totally different kind of unrealistic training method. TKD only prepares you to defend yourself against people following the rules of TKD, which is not how it goes down in self-defense situations.

Ultimately, if you're really concerned with upping your survivability in any possible scrap, you have to practice both grappling and striking, and you have to practice them together (that is, on the ground, being bopped in the face by your training buddies). I'll be the first to admit that popularity doesn't equal correctness, but part of the reason MMA is so popular today (as self-defense, not as TV entertainment) is that it works when thrown up against all kinds of people fighting all kinds of ways.

So, uh, if you find yourself still wanting to do Aikido, spend more time on the Internet watching Aikido people get their asses handed to them, and that should fix that.
posted by edguardo at 1:36 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm coming from a judo, Japanese jujitsu, aikido background, with some minor amounts of BJJ. From a self-defense point of view, do judo instead of aikido, if you expect to fight people: judo will make you tough and show you how to make your resisting opponent meet the ground in a sudden way.

The drawbacks for judo are that you tend to practice to tournament rules, which impose a certain artificiality to matters if you're thinking in terms of self-defense (e.g., your ground fighting will tend towards pinning your opponent rather than making them submit, the latter being more "realistic" for some value of "realistic"), and you have no real awareness of strikes or weapons, which will cause you problems in a fight. On the one hand, judo makes you tough, so a punch may be less consequential, but on the other hand, you're being punched in the face, and that's usually not a good thing. Extrapolate this problem to weapons, and you'll have greater issues.

Aikido, depending on the dojo, will at least give you some familiarity with being punched at, and occasionally being stabbed at (though aikido has a reputation of being poor at punching). The main thing you learn in these circumstances is to not be there. Of course, aikido's strikes are generally too formalized to be realistic, so an aikido student may be very badly surprised that munetsuki kotegaeshi fails. Once technique fails, most aikido schools don't have suggestions on what happens afterwards.

From a "realistic" point of view, aikido ukemi is really nice, smoother than judo falls. If you fall off your bicycle (which I've done a few times), aikido-style ukemi is more likely to let you get up without bleeding. I also think it's more likely for me to fall off a bike or slip on ice than get into a fight, but that's me, and I don't know what kind of crowds you hang out with.
posted by chengjih at 2:31 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can win a Judo match on the ground via thirty-second pin, arm lock, or choke. So those three things are what Judo people become good at.

The Judo players I know tend to be more aggressive than their BJJ counterparts in going after submission holds, since they're acting in a very small window of time before the referee will stand them up. That makes them more effective in landing a pin or submission in the first second or so after a takedown, whereas BJJ competitors are used to taking their time, since they have no time limit on the ground like in Judo competitions.

So that seems like a feature, not a bug, in the Judo program. Likewise with pinning. Hold someone down well enough and they're mighty easy to punch (or knee), even if you're never boxed a day in your life. Further, you can't put someone in any sort of submission hold if you can't keep them from standing up, so I think the emphasis on pinning is superb for grappling competition, MMA, or self-defense.

Aikido will not teach you about being punched at or stabbed at. It will teach you to expect totally unrealistic things, that no untrained person or professional fighter would ever do. You're better off learning how to fight from your siblings than from an Aikido dojo, which typically teaches you that people punch from the hip and never follow up with the other hand. Aikido's 'striking techniques' are so bad as to be actively harmful to learn. I don't see the point in being diplomatic about this: it's garbage.

As for weapons, I can't say, but it seems like a profoundly stupid idea to spend time and money on unarmed combat if you're expecting to be attacked with knives and guns. There's only one group I know of that specializes in applying live resistance to stick/knife combat, the Dog Brothers, and I don't think most people really want to do what it takes to get good at that.
posted by edguardo at 3:02 PM on June 24, 2010

I would say that some of the problems with Aikido are definitely a dojo-variant thing. Getting resistant partners or not, training more with the instructor vs. untrained other students really depends on your teacher and your group. I did Aikido for a little while here in Japan, and although I ran into the over-cooperative problem that edguardo had, but my dojo was small enough that getting practice with a good partner was almost guaranteed. (I quit because I had gotten myself in over my head with activities, and with Aikido had zero downtime)

The difference between the skill of a good instructor vs. a regular student can be painfully (literally) obvious. When you are on the receiving end of a technique with a regular student, half of the time you feel like you're flailing around in the direction you think you should be going. When you do the same technique under the instructor, you go a certain direction because that is the only direction you can go without twisting something or popping a joint out of its socket. Figuring out how to do things right for yourself can be a long uphill battle, however.

I would honestly just go for the option of "Try it out and see if you like it." If you like it, then do it. Pay attention, partner up with people who know what they're doing, and pay attention to how things feel when they are being done right (whether being done by you or to you). Aikido techniques have little leeway--you're either doing it right or it's useless as a technique.
posted by that girl at 5:29 PM on June 24, 2010

I don't think quality of instruction or dojo was my problem with Aikido.

I trained originally under Tom Berry (4th dan USAF), then under Charles Yeomans (4th dan Yoshinkankai), who sent one of my fellow students to the senshusei course in Japan.

I attended multiple seminars with Mary Heine and Kevin Choate. These were all good instructors with good Aikido credentials. As far as it goes, I had good instruction, and it was still ultimately useless.

Also, I disagree with your distinction between 'doing it right' and 'useless as a technique': if a technique gives you little leeway for error, it's a crappy technique to rely on in a difficult situation. Good techniques can be learned fast, and are fairly forgiving in how you actually pull them off, allowing a beginner to succeed against someone of comparable experience very quickly.

An excellent example of such a technique is the double leg takedown. It is easy to learn, and nearly impossible to counter without specific training against it. It can be work at several ranges and at several relative altitudes: if you miss their hips, you can grab around their knees, or their ankles, and still end up taking them down. In other words, a beginner's crappy double-leg is usually good enough against any opponent who doesn't know specifically how to counter it.

No Aikido techniques are like this, or could be like this. The possible situations in which they'd have an application are highly unlikely and convoluted, whereas the double leg takedown can be used against any standing opponent, and with a great chance of success.

Additionally, if 'learning good Aikido' requires 'getting practice with a good partner,' that's another place it loses out to other martial arts. Realistically, unless you're in an extremely new or extremely 'top-heavy' dojo or gym, you'll have a big sea of mediocre training partners. There's no reason that an aspiring martial athlete shouldn't be able to progress in this situation, since you can safely learn from people less, more, and equally skilled to you.

If you're training against someone with live resistance, you'll learn what works and what doesn't. It doesn't matter if they've got 'master' credentials or whatever. You'll both be working against each other, in a positive way, for your mutual improvement. Strictly speaking, no formal instructor is necessary. I've been practicing Glima with a couple friends of mine for over a year now, and because we're not in Iceland, it's just us. We've learned a lot, and I could teach it to someone else.

That Aikido insists on 'transmission' of some kind from master to student, and puts such a high premium on bestowed credentials, just reeks of a cult. Compare this situation to that of boxing, which produces tons of competent fighters every year. There is no 'boxing master', and you can become proficient (probably not excellent) in boxing with a friend and some gloves.

I hope that difference looks as suspicious to you as it does to me.
posted by edguardo at 8:19 PM on June 24, 2010

On the positive side of Aikido:

It is the first martial art I've seen that actually encourages a non-hostile, pacifying attitude. Even the take-downs emphasize a calming, reassuring stance towards your opponent. I've had weapons drawn on me in bad situations; how you react before you even act is often the most important part of the confrontation (or, even better, the lack of one!).

It is one of the only two martial arts I've seen* that provide you with serious, life-enhancing skills outside of fighting (beyond the advantage of physical fitness, of course). A serious Aikido practitioner is unlikely to show up at a hospital with a broken hip from falling - for falls up to 10-20', at least. (* The other is Tai Chi, for the longterm joint strengthening, assuming you don't overdo it in the first three years.)

It's the only martial art I know of that is useful in controlling little, 12-yo, asshole brats. The Come-Along-With-Me finger lock is a wonderfully subtle control mechanism.

And, I disagree firmly that it is not useful in fights. Not the most useful martial out there, probably - but certainly useful.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:35 PM on June 24, 2010

20 years of aikido here. You do aikido because you want to do aikido, not because you want to learn self-defense.
posted by Joleta at 8:43 PM on June 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did not have any intention to make any claims about the functional usefulness of Aikido. Having little leeway makes them not so great for common defense/combat situations, I agree. I was trying to say "It is easy not to do things right in Aikido, and if you don't do them right, they aren't effective."

If the OP is looking to dabble in some martial art for defense, I would not suggest Aikido. But just like learning flower arrangement or how to do the tea ceremony isn't necessarily outwardly useful, learning Aikido can help you learn more about your body and how things are connected and affect each other. You can probably do this with all sorts of other martial arts as well.

Regardless, I don't really see the harm in trying it.
posted by that girl at 8:48 PM on June 24, 2010

My intention in responding so vigorously isn't to start arguments here, but to ensure that nobody who searches 'aikido' on Metafilter in the future leaves uninformed.

I've known people for whom practicing Aikido had nothing to do with self-defense. I'm okay with that, and there is certainly no harm in trying it.

There is harm in deluding your students that they can defend themselves when they can't. This is, in the overwhelming number of cases, exactly what Aikido does.

If you can practice Aikido and enjoy it in good conscience, knowing that this is what's going on, go right ahead.
posted by edguardo at 9:08 PM on June 24, 2010

Don't rule out aikido too quickly. I've been doing it for about 22 years, and think it is a very worthwhile endeavor. Yes, I'm biased, but, well... there it is. Feel free to mefimail me for more info.

FWIW, my instructor was uchi deshi to Koichi Tohei for a while.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:54 AM on June 25, 2010

Best answer: I would have to respectfully disagree with edguardo on several points above, and try as best as I am capable, of defending aikido as a practical martial art.

First and foremost, I empathize with many of his assertions. Several times in my aikido training, I've felt exactly the same way about aikido, that it was practically useless. In every respect, though, I had found that the actual difficulty was with me, and that I was coming out of my 'plateau' of understanding and gaining more insight into the martial art in general.

First and foremost, the idea that aikidoka are passively non-resisting, and therefore going through the motions in some sort of choreographed pre-chosen set of motions is true ... to a point. Aikido is very difficult to learn, because there are so many different dynamics to any given technique. It takes a lot of time before some of the techniques are mastered, if at all (e.g. the "twenty-year throw".) But, what I've realized over the years is that aikido isn't about the application of any given technique in a specifically preset situation, but rather more about understanding the kinetics (or 'ki', if you'd prefer) of any opponent that is attacking you.

Incidentally, I do prefer the concept of 'ki', in whatever form one might envision it, and that there is something to the philosophies of the East that hold ki as an undeniable aspect of the human condition - but I rather think that you could become proficient in aikido despite one's personal beliefs in this concept one way or another.

edguardo mentions the following: "If you're doing a technique incorrectly or unrealistically, your instructor will let you know, or a more experienced training partner will correct you. But usually, everyone is so busy being cooperative that bad and unrealistic techniques become the rule. In fact, Aikido techniques are so far removed from a realistic, antagonistic situation that I'm sure most Aikido instructors and students wouldn't know a realistic, effective technique if they saw one."

I think that this actually does speak to the dojo in general. Most schools that I've trained in have classes which are geared to the more practical applications of aikido, in which the attacks are much more aggressive, unannounced, unnervingly close and quite likely to injure on contact (speaking from experience.) Aikido techniques are incredibly complex to learn initially, and beginners (and novices) need to have the attacks "spoon fed" to them in some cases. But, as they progress, they also need to understand what is being taught, and to seek greater challenges with respect to speed, power and unpredictability so that they grow in their understanding of opponents' intentions.

Aikido, practically speaking, is about balance, a strong center, using the aggression (kinetic energy, if you prefer) offered to you by your opponent and a fundamental understanding of balance, weight and the careful application of power. O'sensei upbraided one photographer who came to capture some of his techniques on film when the photographer saw one that he liked particularly well, and requested to see it again. O'sensei responded by telling him that no two techniques are the same - and that's the point...

I certainly do not believe that if you study kote gaishi from a punch days in and days out for years you will have a chance to effectively apply it in any situation involving a punch. It's only when you have been through the possible gamut of techniques, knowing when some work and when some do not - when to feel that a technique has gone awry and how to readjust and recover in the span of a split second. Seeing (or, as some would poetically put it) anticipating (or even 'feeling') the attack as it progresses and adapting to it by blending positions and weights, throws, pins and take downs is the eventual goal. But that is possible once you've internalized most of the techniques available to you - and when your reactions become extemporaneous, and (quite the opposite of what has been asserted above) you are not attached to a particular technique; when your body responds naturally, then aikido will become effective in general.

I have taken other martial arts before, most notably two different styles of karate before picking up aikido. I, too, learned the standard set of punches and kicks and forms. And, yes, the point is granted. In a short amount of time, that which you will learn in these classes (and others mentioned above) will be more effective if you are in some sort of street brawl. However, it is my firm contention that when someone takes the time to internalize the techniques of aikido, understand the more comprehensive lessons being taught, that one will become much more adapt at defending themselves in these types of situations.

Don't get me wrong, though. Its not as if you need to study aikido for 20 years before deriving any benefit from it. You will become more balanced, aware of your surroundings and distance to potential threats. You will have a series of techniques that you can utilize, and provided that you understand the fundamental lessons of shifting balances and lines of force, can employ those techniques most appropriately.

Mind you, aikido will never (as far as any reputable style of which I'm aware) teach you to beat someone. It will, however, effectively condition you to understand and respond to the flow of motion and intention of your aggressor so that you are in control of the encounter much more holistically than you would otherwise become with the same amount of training in another art.

But, as eluded to above, it is about someone knowing when you need additional resistance to techniques that are not applied correctly, so that you are constantly growing in your learning of what works and what does not. Because you have people of all perspectives training in aikido, you will find fewer people on average who are training in the art for strictly self-defense purposes (conversely, I don't think I've ever heard of someone training in Brazilian jujitsu because of its grace or beauty.)

Some people will train in aikido for the pure grace or form - and some will train on the philosophy of the art to the exclusion of nearly all practical effect. So, you have to insist that if you are training for the purpose of self-defense, you grow within the art. It varies from school to school (and sometimes, as is the case in my dojo) from evening class to evening class - but you can utilize it effectively, even devastatingly. But, it won't happen over night. The growth curve with aikido is a long one to proficiency. That doesn't make it less effective - just longer to learn and master (not that I'm proclaiming mastery, by any stretch of the imagination.)

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the matter. Hope this helps shed light on a different perspective.

posted by Starnes at 5:13 PM on June 28, 2010

Late comment here, but I studied the style that you mention, Shin-Shin Toitsu (or Ki Society). It is by far the "softest" style of Aikido, and while great fun and excellent for self-growth, it's about as applicable to self defence as Tai Chi. The harder forms of Aikido are more applicable, such as Yoshinkan. This is the style that the Japanese riot police study.

Most martial arts are useless in real life, other than perhaps BJJ. Even if you have a black belt in karate, you think you're going to crane kick a mugger in the face? Please. Even if you are Royce Gracie if a guy pulls a gun on you, you give him your wallet.

Study Aikido if you want to *not* get into fights. Or even if you want a cool alternative to yoga or Tai Chi. It's as much a philosophy on conflict resolution as it is anything else.
posted by krunk at 7:21 PM on September 4, 2010

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