Understanding Aikido’s proper context.
Aikido is a martial art. Nothing revolutionary about that statement. But what kind of martial art is Aikido? There are many different types of martial arts. Martial art systems designed to be used in many different contexts. So what is the proper context for Aikido?
There are many kinds of martial arts. Systems designed to do all manner of things martial. Some systems are designed around weapons, some around environment, some based on stealth, and some for sport. The world of the martial art is deep and rich with diversity. However most of us pigeon hole the martial arts into one small category: unarmed one-on-one combat. When you say the word “martial art”, most people will immediately think of: Karate, Tae Kwon Do, MMA, or Kickboxing. This is what most of us limit our concept of a martial art system to. However this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Generally we attempt to classify a martial art system into one of two or three categories. Commonly when someone asks what type of martial art something is, they are asking if it is an unarmed grappling system, an unarmed striking system, or possibly an unarmed throwing/projecting system. These are the categories that even accomplished students of the martial arts sometimes use to classify a “type” of martial art. While these are good and true martial categories they are a very limited way to look at the world of martial arts. Again, the importance we put on these categories is a byproduct of our over enfaces on unarmed one-on-one fighting methods.
When looking at all martial arts in terms of unarmed one-on-one fighting, it seems that all martial arts must fit into one of these three categories. Trying to put Aikido into one of these categories will be very difficult. It doesn’t properly fit into any of them; lets take a brief look.
Few people would say that Aikido is a striking system. Although there is some lip service paid to the idea, and a comment by the founder that Aikido is 90% atemi (striking). Yet unarmed striking is something Aikido decidedly lacks. The technical unarmed striking syllabus in Aikido is very limited. No formal punches, kicks, elbowing or kneeing technique. On top of lack of unarmed striking techniques, Aikido doesn’t have a method of practicing these techniques. Unlike Karate, or Boxing, we don’t practice hitting anything, we don’t break boards, strike targets or hit bags. And most importantly we don’t practice techniques on other people who are trying to strike us back. One would be hard pressed to justify that Aikido is an unarmed striking system.
Many might try and classify Aikido as a grappling system. At least this makes some kind of sense. Aikido has grabbing techniques, that we practice applying and escaping, this is an undeniable part of a grappling system. We also have locking and pinning techniques, another necessary part of a grappling system. However Aikido seems to avoid all of the common unarmed grappling holds. There are no: headlocks, bear hugs, or body pin/hold techniques or escapes. Some Aikido schools might have a limited practice where they do some bear hugs etc., but these practices didn’t come from the founder. Aikido doesn’t have any universal techniques against, or for a clinch. Aikido also has no ground fighting technique, aside from a limited set of suwari waza (siting techniques). Adding to the lack of technical diversity, we don’t have a grappling practice. That is to say we don’t have a free play practice where we wrestle and try our techniques out full speed, with skilled opponents. This lack of technique, and methods for improving technique allows us to decidedly say that Aikido is a poor unarmed grappling system, if it is a unarmed grappling system at all.
So last we are left with throwing/projecting systems. The first problem we run into is, most throwing/projecting systems are part of a larger grappling system. This is because, for the most part, its very difficult to throw someone without first getting them into grappling range (the clinch). Putting this aside for just a moment though, Aikido may indeed seem to be a throwing/projecting system. Traditionally Aikido has 6 techniques that are called “nage” (roughly translated as throw): Kokyu nage, Koshi nage, Kaiten nage, Irimi nage, Shiho nage, Juji nage. This means a large part of Aikido’s syllabus is dedicated to “throwing” techniques. Further, projecting or shoving/pushing, is something that Aikidoka train to resist and/or flow around. We practice a from of rooting to the ground that makes it very difficult to shove an centered and grounded Aikido practitioner. We also practice movement techniques that let us get out of the way of someone pushing us. So we do train some defense against projections. Despite Aikido’s focus on these throwing/projecting techniques, there is a lot left out.
Aikido comes no where near a complete system of unarmed throws. There is only one high amperage throw (Koshi nage), this results in a real lack of power throws as one would see in Judo. When the idea is using the ground as your weapon, this makes for a weak throwing system. There are few good follow ups to throwing techniques, most Aikido throws don’t end in a pin, or controlling technique. There are no leg sweeps or tripping techniques. And perhaps most important no defense techniques to any of these. This is very strange; especially strange if you consider that this may be the only unarmed category Aikido fits into. Further without a grappling system attached to it, how are you ever going to get into the proper positions to do these throws? Why are Aikido’s throws so weak in comparison to Judo throws, or throws found in Chinese throwing styles? While one could make an argument that Aikido is an unarmed throwing/projecting style, it would be a very poor example.
So trying to put Aikido into one of these three unarmed categories (striking, grappling, projecting/throwing) we find that Aikido is a system that is most decidedly lacking. However this is only if we keep our very myopic view of the martial arts; the martial arts are limited to one-on-one unarmed fighting. How do Kendo (sword arts) or Kyudo (Archery) fit into these three unarmed categories? They are weapon arts, so you may put them into the striking category, because that’s what weapons do, strike. However using unarmed strike defense against these weapons would be a bad idea. Similarly, training with swords and bows is not going to help you throw a better punch or kick. With this little conundrum we can see a new category arising, and it will be the first of a much broader set of super-catagories: Weapons.
Read more: http://www.aikidostudent.com/content/?p=745