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Aikido teacher issues challenge to MMA gym

"Aikido when properly trained has more of the requisite material to survive a real-life altercation than BJJ does," argued Cyan Heskett.
First step Aikido teacher takes is wrong, and it gets worse from there.

First step Aikido teacher takes is wrong, and it gets worse from there.

This article is a small piece of an ongoing effort by The MMA UnderGround to understand what really works in martial arts. The focus is not on what happens in the arena, but rather what happens on the street, or in this case, in the gym. If you enjoyed it, check out more stories on:
1. Martial Arts on The Street
2. Dojo Storms
3. Style vs. Style

Cyan Heskett from Hornsby, Tennessee offers instruction "in practical aikido and kyushojitsu, martial arts weapons and firearms, survival skills, herbalism, holistic healing, pagan spirituality, and a variety of occult and divination practices." He adds, "I am a weird cat, I'll grant you that."

The courses he offers include:
Fundamentals of Aikido
3 hours • $200
Learn all the basic principles of aikido in ONE class. Good for beginners and experienced martial artists alike. Private class at the time and location of YOUR choosing!

Heskett offered a challenge on the social network to Chilcutt’s Memphis MMA, vowing to demonstrate that Aikido was superior to jiu-jitsu as expressed in Vale Tudo. Had his demonstration worked, it would have been good for business.

"Aikido is better than Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu," said Heskett confidently. "Aikido teaches you to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible, to reduce damage, to stay off the ground. Aikido, when properly trained, has more of the requisite material to survive a real-life altercation than BJJ does."

Gym owner Chad Chilcutt asked MMA coach Jason Aldridge if he was interested in accepting the challenge. Aldridge immediately accepted. 

To understand what happened, it is important to know that the coach accepted the challenge with no animosity. Heskett was a guy who wanted to respectfully test his martial arts skills, and to anyone with a realistic background, that's understandable, and not a source of grievance. And Aldridge was in fact on good terms with the head instructor at a local Aikido dojo, and did not even know that Heskett had been arguing that Aikido was more effective than Jiu-Jitsu. Being the MMA coach, he took the challenge himself, over concerns that any of the active fighters might have been overly aggressive.

Heskett wanted to test his style, but was not aware of the options. The bout was presented to Heskett as a Gracie Challenge, and the Aikido expert asked for and was granted some rules tweaks. He did not want head butts, for example. Heskett also wanted the bout to be done without gloves, as MMA gloves would hamper his Aikido. Heskett's greatest concern was that he would get taken down and pinned, and thus wouldn't be able to show the effectiveness of his system. In response, Aldridge accepted a 10-second stand-up rule on the ground. Both were approximately 190-195 pounds, the terms were set, so it was time to set a date.

Plans were made to accommodate Heskett at the 1:00 sparring session on Saturdays; it's regularly attended by martial artists from the area. Surprisingly, Heskett actually showed up. Further, he was said to have been respectful

The Aikido expert gave a 15-minute speech on highlights of his martial arts background, starting when he was five years old. The gym owner asked each man if he was ready, and then ...

Round 1, posted the day it happened:


Rounds 1 and 2, edited with words from Heskett:


What Happened

Chilcutt signals the fight is on. Aldridge moves toward Heskett, who responds by crossing his feet, something everyone is taught to avoid literally from the first class. At that point, it's basically over.

Almost immediately Aldridge throws a body kick. Aikido apparently doesn't have a demonstrably effective defense against a body kick; it is blocked with, well, the body. Aldridge follows up with a right palm strike to the head. Aikido apparently doesn't have a demonstrably effective defense against a looping shot to the face; it is blocked with the face.

Heskett then introduces a hitherto unknown Gracie Challenge Rule, the time-out, indicated by making a T with the hands. Aldridge was well within his right to immediately take the fight down to the ground as he had intended. However he noticed that Heskett's eyes had rolled back into his head, so he stopped.

A timeout is tapout, and that was explained to Heskett, but the Aikido teacher was determined to continue to test himself. Aldridge is a good and kind man, and decided to use grappling only. In Round 2, Heskett is taken down and hits the floor like a big pile of wet laundry. 

Aikido has the most beautiful breakfalls in martial arts. Every Aikido practitioner has a story about falling off a bicycle and rolling through to safety. Either Aikido makes people terrible at riding bicycles, or there is some exaggeration going on; take your pick. The problem with Aikido breakfalls is that, like everything else in the art, they are never pressure tested. Therefore, when they are very necessary, like someone slamming you into the ground, they are worthless. Imagine that takedown with no mat, Heskett would have been hospitalized via being hit not with a kick or slap, but with the planet.

Heskett didn't want to continue, but stayed positive. His wife talked about enrolling her kids at the gym. The ideal ending would be that the firm but kind experience woke the Aikido instructor up, and he entered reality. That didn't happen.

The Lesson

There has been woefully misguided criticism of Aldridge, who in reality handled it perfectly. In a challenge fight it would have been unhinged to not take the opponent seriously; for everyone arguing that Heskett looks harmless, so does Ryan Hall.

"I wasn't there to hurt the guy, I was there to teach the guy," said Aldridge. "I believe in tough love."

Aldridge delivered one body kick, one open hand strike to the head, and one takedown. This is the amount of damage delivered back and forth in each and every good sparring round ever. It's normal. And despite Heskett's insistence that there be no gloves, Aldridge decided to strike open hand only, to protect the Aikido instructor from any lasting damage.

There has been woefully misguided criticism that there was no jiu-jitsu, in a video titled Aikido vs. Jiu-Jitsu. After the one kick and one slap, Aldridge was about to go textbook jiu-jitsu, but the takedown setups alone were too much for the Aikido teacher. And after one takedown, Aldridge was about to go textbook jiu-jitsu on the ground, but the takedown alone was too much for the Aikido teacher.

"Mad respect to him because he came in and tested himself," said Aldridge. "Everybody's laughing at him, but it takes a lot of guts to do that."

The fighter is right of course. And Heskett did better than any Aikidoka has under similar circumstances, because after 100 years, he is still in a class by himself.

The problem with Aikido is twofold, and each issue compounds the other. One, the vast majority of Aikido techniques are so utterly impractical, so impossible to make work, that they are much worse than replying on human instincts, like digging for an underhook or covering the head. And two, the method of refining the techniques, with no active resistance, means that worthless techniques are executed in a worthless manner. Aikido is an anti-martial art, in that it makes you less able to protect yourself than you would relying on human instincts.

This is not necessarily a criticism of Aikido. Tai Chi is a martial art with minimal use in a self-defense context, but it presents itself honestly as a means to health, fitness, and well-being, and thus is rightly lauded. Yoga is a warrior art with minimal direct use in a self-defense context, but it presents itself honestly as a means to health, fitness, and well-being, and thus is rightly lauded. If Aikido presented itself honestly, with integrity, it too would deserve to be lauded. Unfortunately, it doesn't, so Aikido deserves the reputation it has earned.

Adding to the unbalanced nature of Aikido and its practitioners, the founder is considered to be a wizard. Ask any Aikido practitioner how good Morihei Ueshiba was; wizard stories quickly follow. Otherwise rational people believe stories that even children realize are nonsensical by the age of five or so. One would hope that meeting reality would prove instructive, but the degree of disorientation in Aikido is such that the single time it happened, nothing changed.