Aikido as self defense

it’s interesting to read a thread on youtube about how aikido is fake and doesn’t have any practical applications in a “real street brawl.” I totally agree! And I totally disagree!

The most important thing for me to be mindful of is why I train. I train to explore movement, understand my body, become more aware of how I present myself to the world, how I move by myself or with another, or several people. Most important, there are great metaphors in the concepts presented within the framework of Aikido that I can take off the mat and into all other aspects of my life.

I am lucky and blessed to have the Aikido teacher I train under. Our training is pretty unique. It is much gentler than I’ve been accustomed to from other dojos. We talk a lot more about the techniques we practice in a class session almost as much as we train. We check in and verbalize what we feel about a particular level we come into at a technique, Sensei gives us some tools to visualize how to better that level, and we have a few more go rounds, to try and move the level up a notch or two or eight.

It’s hard to do this. I would have been content to just have Sensei demonstrate a technique, work on it for five minutes, have him demonstrate another, work on that for a bit, etc until class is done. But when I finally gave it a chance, (5 months ago, when I came back for the nth time) I started finding out something really interesting about my progress. I start seeing that there is only one attack and one response… the attack being, “anything that can happen at the time” and the response as being “anything that is the appropriate response.” Wiithin this mindset, I find that I’m free to improvise, move, and the different manifestations of that one response can be whatever they want to be, be it irimi nage, tenshi nagi, etc.

Sensei is a big proponent of asking us to look at why we train, and not be misguided by thinking we can do what we cannot. A fight is a fight is a fight. We cannot ask our confronters to prearrange how they will attack us, or wait for us to straighten out our clothes, get into hamni position and then proceed to attack us. The danger in our training comes in thinking that we can do what we simply can’t. There are other arts that are better at teaching practical application than Aikido. MMA, Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Wing Chun, some of the Israeli Commando fighting arts like Haganah are all systems of practical applications in a fight situation. But does this rule out Aikido as practical self defense? I would say most definetely not.

The biggest difference is when we choose to defend ourselves. A good defense could simply be being aware of your situation. Understanding the energy of a location and avoiding it is as good a defense that you can have as well. A kind word, rather than a reliance on physical ability can do wonders for everyone involved.

Sensei tells us of a time once where he was in a movie theater and a man stood up after the movie was done. Someone behind the man wanted to see the credits. He asked the man to sit down but he didnt’ move. He asked him a couple more times. No reaction. At this point he started coming toward the man. Sensei was witnessing this and noticed that the man standing up had a hearing aid. He simply said to the man behind, “Hey, the guy has a hearing aid and can’t hear you.” No ego involved, no need to posture and get physical. Sensei said what he said in a calm collected way. That diffused the situation. No one was hurt, no egos were bruised, and the man standing in front walked away not knowing that anything had gone wrong.

if it ever comes down to brass tax and a physical conflct can’t be avoided, I truly think that aikido training will help. The awareness that we gain through training, the calmness under pressure and the ability to think on our feet will carry us through. There are many stories on the net of physical confrontations ending favorable for the Aikidoist. Personally, I’d like to think that the best use of our “self defense” skills is the love that comes from us, and the ability to keep out of situations altogether.

Skipping Stones

My father died 3 years ago on July 13th. 3 days shy of my birthday and 4 weeks shy of seeing my brother and me for the first time in about 9 years. If the universe revolved around me (and sometimes I truly think that it does) I would venture to say that this was incredibly bad timing on his part. However, we don’t pick the time when we get brought into this world, and we, for the most don’t get to choose when we leave for better things. My dad and me had long periods in our lives when we didn’t speak. As child, in my teens, as an adult. He was simply not around and I did not get to experience a lot of what little boys, adolescents, young men and adults experience with their dads.

But we did skip stones when I was a kid. he’d challenge me to find the better stone, who had the biggest skip, the most skips, and we’d be out there for a long time. There was no talking….our attention was focused on our silent competition. There would be the occasional grunt of success, or “awwwww” at the loss of a perfect rock improperly thrown and kerplunking in the water… such a waste. But there would be my dad with his grin, a Camel’s non filtered and an impeccable throw.

So I’m back from a short camping trip with my son. Of the things that he loves to do, he loves to find a skipping stone. He gathered them up greedily, like a leprechaun might horde gold. He brought them to our camp site before our final night and made sure that he had them tucked safely away, lest another leprachaunish child with cruel intentions and the audacity and cojanes to raid our campsite for his precious find. None of this happened obviously and this morning we sat at the river and quietly, he threw his rocks. Some of them were doozies… skipping twelve, thirteen, maybe fifteen times across the river just shy of the bank on the other side. I watched him and the memories of my dad came flying back. I said more than once, “Your grandpa would have been proud.” “Wow, I don’t think that your grandpa would have had anything on you.”

There were many things that my father didn’t see. Never saw me play guitar. Never saw me struggle over homework. Never comforted me when I was dumped by someone i really liked in highschool. Never gave me lectures about underage drinking. Never helped me drive a car. And I never did get to see him that final time. We were three weeks short.

But all of this doesn’t matter. We skipped stones. We sat and laughed and taunted each other. We had the silent and not so silent bond of a father and son. My dad was the biggest man in the world. His love for me in that moment was infinite… and I know that he carried that seed with him for the rest of his life. Regardless of how deep it was buried or how many years went by. I know this because I experience it with my son. I experience the silent love that only a father and son can experience.

I hope that I will be in my son’s life for as long as I’m alive. I hope that I can watch him grow into a man and share those same simple moments with his child. Those slient, almost silent and not so silent moments are like gold. I will hungrily and greedily hold them close to me, like a leprechaun… or more aptly, like a father who loves his son dearly.