This story is a small part of a large effort by MixedMartialArts.com to understand what works in martial arts. The process is to study what happens on the street, rather than what happens in the arena. If you enjoyed it, check out the library on:
•Martial Arts on The Street
•Style vs. Style
Aikido is an amazing cultural and spiritual practice, which cultivates a number of important qualities. And, for multiple reasons, it unfortunately provides the typical practitioner with less than zero self-defense skills; that is to say, they are worse at defending themselves than they would have had they say played ice hockey instead. For one thing, the practice of Aikido stifles useful inherent human reactions, like digging for an underhook or covering your face. For another, adherents have the illusion of self-defense ability, and just look how The Emperor's New Clothes turned out. And there's worse things than being caught naked in public.
Yoga is an amazing warrior art, but as an institution, it has integrity, so does not promise self-defense ability. Aikido, because it lacks integrity at the institutional level, makes claims that are false. And this matters, because sometimes human beings need to defend themselves.
To be clear, there are some few Aikido dojo, like England's Ellis Schools of Traditional Aikido, that produce tough, competent individuals. Unfortunately, these few are the exceptions that prove the rule - 99% of Aikido experts have no competence whatsoever in a self-defense context.
Further, Aikido has a few techniques that can actually work, like a front kick. Here is a video of Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida discussing the front kick they learned from O'Sensei Steven Seagal. Even the signature wrist lock of Aikido can be made to work. Here a Chinese police officer uses the wrist lock to subdue an armed man:
The problem is not that no Aikido techniques work; a few can be made to work, typically on someone smaller, untrained, or unawares, or smaller, or all three. Unfortunately, this is not a high standard for a martial art, which is supposed to work on someone larger and stronger. However, even for those few Aikido techniques that can be made to work, in a typical dojo (but not all), the lack of practice against trained, active resistance that includes punches, is such that even a front kick cannot be used effectively.
The fact that people continue to believe Aikido has significant practical value in a fighting context, and that founder Morihei Ueshiba was a wizard, is a testament to the human capacity for self-deception. Aikido devotees are typically more rational than Flat Earthers, and way above the unfortunates who believe birds are fake, but still, there's a baffling degree of confusion in that community.
Aikido is so bad that it was long believed that in the 100 years since Aikido was developed, there was not a single verifiable case of it actually working. To be sure, there were stories, many, many stories. For example, virtually every Aikido adept has apparently fallen off a bike and miraculously rolled out safely. And whenever the CIA needed the special favor of twisting the wrist of a terrorist enemy of the state overseas, Steven Seagal was ready.
Nearly every Aikido expert has some story about using the art successfully. However, mysteriously, despite the ubiquity of cell phone cameras and security cams, not a single verifiable instance of it was believed to have occurred, ever. And it gets worse, the art has never verifiably worked even in a gym, against trained, active resistance that includes strikes.
Further, there are very many cases of Aikido failing. Here are just a handful:
•Aikido teacher issues challenge to MMA gym;
•Black belt Judoka vs. Aikido master; and,
•Aikido 4th degree vs. Turkish wrestler.
However, the belief that Aikido has never verifiably worked is false. It actually worked, at least once.
Rokas Leonavicius from Lithuania was a professional Aikido instructor with some 15 years experience, but over a period of time realized that the art doesn't actually work at all, and that the power structure in some dojos can be unhealthy. He bravely shares his thoughts on an ongoing basis via his Martial Arts Journey YouTube channel. At one point Rokas challenged the world to send him a video of Aikido working.
He received one. It came from a trained Aikido practitioner and bouncer called Rain, who shared a video of dealing with an unruly bar patron via the use of kote gaeshi, the wrist lock made popular by Aikido.
The gentleman who sent Rokas the video also sent some important clarifying remarks:
"Times have changed and early Aikido did hold up against other arts in the past, but people were also Judoka a lot of the times if my memory serves me correct. For the most part, Aikido works on the untrained. I do not feel it holds up against many other arts we see today because it's not really as much a martial art as it is a peaceful practice. The founder was devastated after the war and wanted to promote peace through a healthy compassionate practice. I strongly feel it does develop better human beings whereas many other martial arts do not. It has its place. Let's just say it is more psychological than applicable in a fight. I, like you, once tried to functionalize Aikido, and was somewhat successful. However, I now focus on things like boxing, Muay Thai, BJJ, and wrestling. When I practice Aikido it is more like moving meditation for me. I can pull off some stuff under pressure, but I have years and years of practice in multiple arts."
"I do not feel I could have done the same on highly trained individuals. I also feel my size does help although I did not use much energy or force. The principles of Aikido are very sound and can be applied to different arts. Aikido served me well many nights. I have worked with everyone from Little Wayne to the Atlanta Falcons. I strongly feel it helped me in my career. But it was a different time. I am retired for the most part now. I just give classes here and there, mostly Muay Thai. I have only five fighters now."
"I don't think we can functionalize Aikido, but we can personalize it. Ultimately, we as martial artists should focus on developing our skills through the arts without a biased lens anyway."
Rain the security specialist also shared his thoughts in the video comment section.
"Aikido does actually work but it is mostly drilling without resistance and requires pressure testing at some point. I have pulled off techniques against MMA practitioners, Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, and with Thai Boxers in the clinch. And just to be clear all those arts would work well against a drunk or untrained idiot and none of them may hold up against a trained individual depending on the practitioner.
"I do not teach Aikido and am actually a Muay Thai coach now but I will not join the bandwagon out there and hate on Aikido."
"Aikido actually served me best when it came to disarms, while I still got cut at times I am here today. When you see Aikido guys practicing techniques without resisting opponents it is really just repetition training for the mind and body. There are some idiots out there that believe that is fighting but it is no different than putting on bag gloves and hitting a punching bag. Drilling is good. Here is the part where I piss off the Aikido world I guess. Without a competitive edge, Aikido is lacking. If you look at martial arts as a whole you will notice that the ones with the most fraudulent activity also have less pressure testing. Rokas, as well as myself and many others, do not dislike Aikido we are simply a realist."
"When truly looking into Aikido look at its principles and you will see it with new eyes. It is not near as bad as many of its practitioners, lol."
"The important part of my own journey is that I was armed throughout my career and could have just shot someone many times and would have been within my legal rights. Instead, I used an art that I personalized that everyone says does not work. The hard truth is that Aikido helped teach me to be a better person. If that is fake, then fraudulent s*** is awesome."
That is a beautifully put closing thought.