The Power of Aikido's "Three Levels" & Practical Application

Updated: Mar 2


What does it mean for a martial art to be "effective"? What proof is there that Aikido aids in real life altercation? What is the BEST martial art?

As a student of many martial arts (first Judo since the age of 4, then Hwa Rang Do, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Silat, Savate, American Combat Karate, and others) it's a question that comes up a lot. Unfortunately, most publication is based on readership, and nothing "baits" readers like negative press, which means "if you can bash something - do it, because people will read and comment". I understand (though I do not agree) with this because it directly impacts advertising spend by companies which increases revenue to these publications. In the end though, it does more damage than good to the world of martial arts. It makes us look splintered and at odds with each other when, in fact, I have cross-trained with practitioners from dozens of martial arts and found benefits translated in both directions.

Why don't the major audience publications talk about this? Simple. Ratings. Unfortunately we live in a world where all press is good press. My hope is that slowly, over time, those of us who truly care about the value and good that martial arts brings to the world, work together to bring students the art that most positively serves them.

Some students will be served best by arts like Kung Fu, Tai Chi, Karate, BJJ, Aikido, and others. But there is no avoiding the conversation of efficacy and it's true that there are dojos in every style that make false claims they cannot back up (like self defense when no real self defense is practiced). So how do we approach these topics in our dojo? Read on my friends.

Kihon. Basics.

This is where every martial art starts. It's the basics, learning left from right, where to put hands and feet in relation to your partner/opponent. Building the right habits of quickly establish stance, bringing hands to defensive position (no, Aikido should never teach you that hands at your sides is a safe place once an altercation begins!), and proper balance is crucial to every martial art.

This is where we spend our time focusing on some of the original, traditional techniques of Aikido because they are great tools for building those great habits. Much like horse stance punching drills are a great way to work on fist structure and avoiding the locking of the elbow are great for Karate. Any instructor worth their salt will draw a line between techniques/exercises that are "teaching tools" and those that are "street effective".

Most traditional martial arts, especially those originating in Japan, believe in spending most of our lives focused on Kihon, or basics. Why? Two Reasons:

1. The chances of a real altercation are low (I have been in 2 situations - successfully so)

2. The value of Kihon to our health and longevity far outweighs the damage Kumitachi inflicts on the body if practiced too often

Much the same way we are discovering in boxing and other competitive sports that sparring all the time actually isn't the most effective way to prepare for matches (it ends up damaging the body and you can prepare even better with the correct drilling according to the best coaches in the world) - Kihon brings endless value.

Musubi. Blending.

What is the next step towards building "street ready" Aikido to your repertoire? Musubi. What does that mean? Generally we use this term to mean both "distance" and "timing". Once we know how to move correctly with both hands and feet, being able to maintain appropriate distance and move with correct timing are crucial in every martial art. Aikido's focus of course is in the deterrence of violence, so we learn to move with a focus on disabling or even avoiding rather than harming other people.

This practice lends itself well to the choreographed demonstrations we see on YouTube and film. YES! Of course these demonstrations are choreographed. Anyone who has been in or even just witnessed a real altercation (let alone seen a boxing or mma match) knows that full resistance events are UGLY interactions that go back and forth until someone gains some leverage. Why don't we see full resistance demonstrations of Aikido? Simple, as opposed to competitive martial arts, we're actively trying NOT to hurt each other, which means full resistance experiences work against the very nature of our practice. HOWEVER, there are plenty of videos on line of real interactions (especially of police officers trained in Aikido) showing the efficacy of a well placed Ikkyo, Rokkyu, Kotegaeshi, and others in quickly disabling law breakers.

Kumitachi. Combatives.

So what's the secret to being truly "street effective"? The same answer I give when someone wants to "test" Aikido when visiting the dojo and I punch them in the face. Inevitably they say: "Hey! That's not Aikido!" and my answer is always the same: "whatever my body does is Aikido". Why? Because the practice of Aikido is one of reconciliation between all things, including martial arts. Cross training is an indispensable part of a lifelong martial artist's practice and it's why I always leave the dojo open to instructors of other martial arts who would like to teach a workshop on their discipline.

Aikido, at its most basic level, works as a foundation, a set of principles by which we live. On top of that are the techniques we practice both static and in motion. Beyond that is the mix of every practically applied martial art that come together to give us a well rounded arsenal to ensure that we can keep our loved ones and ourselves safe in an uncertain world.

Does kicking someone in the groin count as Aikido? If you do so in an attempt to prevent further harm to yourself or your opponent, then yes, I would call that the essence of Aikido. How about an extreme example? Does stabbing someone count as Aikido? Again, maybe. If that action would prevent your death or the death of someone you loved, and your focus was on disabling your opponent rather than actively trying to kill them? Absolutely, in an impossible situation, I would call that the essence of Aikido. Real life situations are dark, messy, and complicated - Anyone who purports the ultimate and indisputable solution truly is a charlatan in any martial art.

And yes - 'no touch' is nonsense. :)

See you on the mat.

-Sensei


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