Misconceptions About Aikido

These simple geometric shapes contain the whole essence of aikido.

So much gets "lost in translation" from East to West, it seems, and Aikido has suffered considerably from continual passing down of FLAWED material. Today, I am to rectify some of these wrongs.

As a Certified Yoga Instructor, I have struggled to get a foothold teaching here, and it took me months to figure out why. Most people in the USA think of yoga as a sort of low-impact exercise to develop fitness and flexibility. These, however, are only a BYPRODUCT of yoga! Real yoga is a science of holistic healing and spiritual development. There are 8 limbs, of which asana ("poses") is just one, and not even the first step at that! The 7 chakras are not descriptive, but prescriptive (which is to say they are not fixed objects in our spiritual bodies but rather things installed into the energy field), and it is not even a traditional system! Traditional chakra systems may have as few as 3 and as many as 114 chakras! Also, a REAL yoga instructor should be doing client intake forms where a medical history and list of physical limitations for each student are documented so that the teacher can assess the goals and needs of the individual and tailor lessons to help the client reach those goals in the safest way possible! Teaching "cookie cutter" yoga where everyone is expected to just follow along is absolute madness, and potentially dangerous to participants! 

I am just scratching the surface here, but you should be getting the picture now; Western preconceptions of some Eastern practices can be so skewed as to make the genuine article unrecognizable. Such, I believe, is the case with Aikido. So, without further ado, here's a list of the top 5 misconceptions about Aikido.

1. Aikido is ineffective, and relies on compliance from the training partner.
- first of all, the "uke" or "recipient of technique" is only "complying" so they can get a feel for the technique. Secondly, a good school will have students practice with increasing resistance. Lastly, aikido absolutely IS combat effective, but people think it is not due to reasons which shall shortly be explained.

2. Aikido is all about pacifism, non-violence, and philosophy.
- True, Aikido became more and more philosophical over time. It became something taught almost like yoga, as a system of cultivating harmony and mindfulness. However, as it was a system derived from samurai combat techniques at its inception, to remove the combat element is to remove at least half of its identity, not unlike removing the holistic healing from yoga.

3. There is no striking in Aikido.
- There is an entire body of knowledge in aikido designated as "atemi waza" or "striking techniques" which are designed to interrupt an assailant's attacks ("if an opponent approaches, move in to greet him" to quote the founder himself). To anyone with knowledge of Kyushojitsu it is glaringly obvious these techniques target the vital kyusho points, which is why we talk about it here.

4. Aikido is meant to do no harm.
- The aikidoka is meant to conduct themselves without anger or *intent* to harm in their hearts. It is considered that when someone has resolved to attack, they have already harmed themselves. The aikidoka simply brings the assault to its inevitable end, and no further. A clear example can be made by the fact that most aikido techniques will result in the opponent on the ground and the aikidoka standing up. If the aikidoka were to mount the opponent and proceed to beat them mercilessly (ie "ground and pound" ala UFC) THAT would NOT be aikido.  However, breaking the arm or knocking them out could be if that's the way it played out. The way I was taught, many techniques traditionally ended with a simulated cut or thrust of the tanto. A grim reminder that the roots of this art are in warfare.

5. Aikido techniques are like dancing.
- The "techniques" of aikido are not actually aikido, and this is the point I really want to stress here... The codex of aikido "techniques" are literally nothing more than *exercises* designed to teach a set of principles in a very visceral way. Aikido is best learned by experience, because much of what you see looks exaggerated and unreal. Sadly, it often is in the modern West especially, but not always. Feeling it for yourself is the only way to be convinced, and it is also the best way to absorb the concepts being taught and learn to apply them.

Aikido came from Aikijujitsu which means (roughly) "joining-energy-soft-technique." Aikido means "joining-energy-way" so it is inherently undefined by technical skills (jitsu). It is meant to be vague and fluid. True aikido technique is no technique. It is simply the application of certain principles, namely blending, breath control, kinetic linking, mental focus, dynamic positioning, interruption and redirection of attacks, and a handful of joint locks and strikes. These are the "chi" or "ki" elements of aikido, by the way. It is not about mystical energy, but real energy and physical principles. ( Read more about that HERE )

I have designed a class wherein I can teach the fundamentals of aikido in as little as a day depending on the skill level of the students and their willingness to learn. However, mastery could take years. The key being the complete absorption of the *principles* and the ability to apply them *outside* of formalized, pre-planned practice! You aren't a "master" of aikido until you can apply aikido without relying on technique!

To see it all first hand, contact me on the KJWA - USA Facebook page

Sensei Rae Heskett has been practicing kyushojitsu, qin na, aikido and taijiquan for over 20 years. She also teaches yoga and qigong.

About the Author Rae Heskett

Born intersex, assigned "male" at birth, but her femininity was obvious as she developed. Ergo, Rae is both "intersex" and "transgender" in that her gender does not match that assigned at birth. She identifies as "hijra" or "kathoey" -words from Hindi and Thai languages respectively for "third gender" people. Rae is an author, holistic healer, and martial artist. She teaches and provides services professionally.

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