(Reprinted from www.everettaikido.com)
It seems that every month or so, I get asked about whether aikido is “effective” as a martial art. I don’t particular care for this question, because you can define “effective” in so many ways. Effective on the street? Effective on the field of battle? Effective in a school? Effective because anyone can do it? I could go on, but you get the idea. We need to remember that, in the case of a physical confrontation, the winner does not indicate the best martial art, but rather the best martial artist at that time and at that place.
That said, I understand why people ask the question. Studying a martial art is extremely difficult and very time-consuming. It is only natural–I would even say it is recommended–that people question the effectiveness of their training. To those asking this question, now, I’ll give you the answer I often give: “Aikido is effective. More importantly, our training system is effective for the goals we want to accomplish.”
In aikido, we are not interested in fighting. You could even say that we are only marginally interested in self-defense. What we are interested in is balance. How to take it, how to keep it, how to use it. This is different from striking arts, which focus on how to block and how to hit. It is also (and many people get confused here) different from grappling arts (like judo), which focus on more on takedowns and pins. In aikido, we focus on how to keep our balance as much as possible, and how to take the balance of our attackers. From there, we next study what to do with an off-balanced opponent. Throw them to the ground? Set them down gently? Hit them? Any of these responses may well be appropriate–it is our job to understand the choices that are available, and how to take advantage of them as needed.
One particular challenge people have with aikido is that they only trust it partway. What I mean is this: they initialize an aikido technique, but when encounter a problem or resistance they immediately revert back to instincts. This usually means trying to hit or grapple. There are two problems here. First, there is no guarantee that strike or a takedown will work. There is a reason why MMA, boxing, wrestling, and other arts have weight classes. Putting someone who weighs 200 pounds in a ring with someone who weighs 135 doesn’t make a lot of sense. The second problem is more obvious. In aikido, we study that narrow sliver of time between an attacker’s commitment and an attacker’s connection. This seems very difficult (and sometimes is) but it really is no different than a baseball player learning how to hit a baseball. But because we focus so much on this moment, we don’t study how to hit or grapple as much. So the second problem is that we just aren’t as good at hitting and grappling!
Instead, what I encourage all aikido students–all martial arts students, in fact–is to trust your training. If the principles you study are sound, then by trusting in them you will eventually have a reliable set of movements that will serve you well. And if they are not sound, then you will learn quickly that the art is not effective and you need to move on. The bad news: this information does not come to you quickly. The good news it also shouldn’t take months or years. A good school with a good group of students should give you the opportunity to test the principles of a martial art, and you should at least get some preliminary results of those tests within a month or so. You may not be very good at the art, but at least you should have a sense of “Interesting. I think I see how this works.”
You will be surprised how much you can do when you learn to trust your training. It’s only when you doubt that you hinder your progress.