Mokuren Dojo conducted an interview with Roy Dean an Aikido Yudansha, a 3rd dan in Seibukan Jujutsu and a 2nd degree black belt in BJJ and he had some interesting thoughts on Aikido reflecting closely to my own views of Aikido (though not necessarily of the dojo’s).
Here’s an excerpt that particularly touched the right notes with me:
Pat: What do you make of the apparently declining popularity of aikido, as seen, for instance, on Google Trends? Why is that happening and what could be done to reinvigorate aikido?
Roy: To me, it begins and ends with media exposure. Royce Gracie and the UFC put BJJ on the map as a required discipline for professional mixed martial artists. It’s effectiveness in its range is undeniable. People see that and want to learn how to do it themselves. Steven Seagal brought a huge new segment of the population to Aikido (myself included), and made it look exciting, powerful, and very direct in its application.
Today, it’s unfortunate that many people don’t have a positive impression of Aikido, but I can understand why. Demonstrations look too cooperative and rehearsed. Correlations between rank and applicable skill are not always accurate. Some segments of the Aikido community have emphasized the philosophy over martial prowess and the art has lost some teeth in dealing with realistic resistance levels. “True believers” in the art aren’t helping in this process, as they sometimes claim that Aikido can’t evolve, it’s already perfect, and relies on universal principles that are somehow higher than those utilized by other martial arts. Since it’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba, defeated all comers, then some believe that’s proof enough to keep training another 10 years and effectiveness will suddenly materialize, even if evidence is scant so far.
I think the key to “saving” or reinvigorating Aikido lies in shifting perspective, not necessarily changing the art. I would recommend cross training and observing Aikido from another shore. Train Judo and see how Aikido’s emphasis on kokyu and structure affect your gripping strategies. Train BJJ and understand how Aikido’s emphasis on ukemi and rolling skills lets you use your opponent’s momentum against themselves on the ground, turning your body into a ball to deflect their attacks. Train boxing and learn to slip and parry attacks from an expert in punching, chaining together evasive manuevers off the line of attack in real time. There is ju or yielding in all of them, so the key may be in allowing Aikido students to discover the pockets of aiki that exist in other fighting forms. Training an art like Daito Ryu Aiki-jujutsu Seibukan Jujutsu, KoKoDo Jujutsu, or another traditional Japanese Jujutsu system would also allow Aikidoka to see where their techniques came from and how they’ve evolved.
The art of Aikido has already evolved since it’s inception into several styles or factions, including Tomiki, Yoshinkan, Yoseikan, Ki Society, Aikikai, Iwama, and so forth. We shouldn’t worry about what is or what is or isn’t “real” Aikido. There is a Buddhist saying I’ve heard that applies here: “The minute something is born is has already begun to die.” I’m not only thinking of Aikido here, but also BJJ. BJJ is still growing, but it will decline in time, and other arts will supplant it. Arts that are evolving right now. MMA is a good example. MMA was born from vale tudo, but is a different art now as the number of rules and rounds have fueled changes. MMA will have it’s rise and fall and transform into something else. All things do.
If we have to learn arts of war to enforce the Art of Peace, then so be it. That doesn’t necessarily indicate a flaw with the art or in the practitioner of the art. It’s simply what needs to be done for deeper understanding, and should be viewed as another extension of training. Embrace the evolution. You’ll be better prepared for what comes next!
And just to see how Aikido doesn’t exist in its own universe but derives many of its techniques from Jujutsu, let’s have a look at Seibukan Jujutsu and see if you can spot the similarities! You’ll be surprised: