Aikido FAQ -- Read answers to common questions here

Discussion in 'Aikido Resources' started by aikiMac, Oct 14, 2004.

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  1. aikiMac

    aikiMac aikido + boxing = very good Moderator Supporter

    Q - Is aikido effective?
    A - Yes. Can you please now be more specific? What do you mean by “effective”?

    Q - Does aikido work against muggers? Does it work in a street fight? Or in a bar fight? Does it work against people who are actively resisting you?
    A - Yes. Riot police train in aikido. So do beat cops. So do prison guards and parole officers and club/bar bouncers. It works for them.

    Q - Do you have to be strong, tough, or athletic to learn aikido? Or to do aikido well?
    A - No. Young and old, flexible and stiff, strong and not so strong, male and female, tall and short, trim and overweight can all learn to do aikido well.

    Q - I've never been in a street fight and I doubt I ever will be in a street fight. But in my job I have to regularly deal with unpleasant people. Does aikido have any application to those types of "fights"?
    A - Yes, quite a lot actually. Mediators, arbitrators, counselors, therapists, lawyers, and ministers train in aikido and find it to be extremely useful in their work.

    Q - Why are there so many wrist grabbing techniques used in aikido when this is one of the least threatening or common attacks? We don't carry swords any more.
    A1 - Tell a victim of domestic violence that grabs are neither a threatening attack nor a common attack.
    A2 - To help us understand ma-ai (proper distancing) and proper focus, to help us learn how to use the principles of irimi (entering into the other person’s space) and tenkan (going around the other person), to help us become more receptive, to help us extend our energy outward and in the right direction, to help us gain a connection with our attacker and to relate to him, and to slow things down for the sake of learning because moving at speed can obscure numerous flaws in one’s technique. And besides all that, it also gives the aikidoka a great knowledge of the wrist and how to control it

    Q - What’s with the double hand grabs from behind (both arms or single arm)?
    A1 - To start to develop an ability to deal with rear attacks, leading to multi-opponent attacks.
    A2 - It might not look like the attacks in the UFC or K-1, but in real life, people get grabbed. It’s a realistic attack.

    Q - What strikes are practiced in aikido?
    A - Strikes on the asterix: The vertical line cutting the body in half (the “center line” in wing chun kung fu), the diagonal line, and the straight thrust.

    For a discussion of why the strikes are practiced the way they are, see this thread.

    Q - Why do all strikes in aikido seem to be chops?
    A1 - Blame the Japanese. If it had developed in Scotland it would all be headbutts and groin kicks.
    A2 - Only two out of three of the traditional aikido attacks are "chops." The other one is a straight punch. Aikido is not the only martial art that trains standardized, canonical-form attacks. For example, Filipino and Indonesian martial arts typically group attacks according to angles of direction. The theory is that you'll be better prepared for self-defense if you focus not on what the attack was (a fist, a kick, a beer bottle, a stick, a knife, whatever) but rather on how it came to you. You can think of aikido in the same way. Aikido has three traditional strikes, each coming on a different angle. They are the same attacks used in Japanese swordfighting. (The Japanese sword does not "chop." It cuts. But we'll ignore that detail for now.) We believe that these three angles of attack are a sufficient foundation from which to learn self-defense against any attack.

    Q - Why are there so many cutting/chopping motions in aikido?
    A - It comes from Japanese swordfighting. The founder of aikido was an expert swordsman. Most (maybe all?) of the movements in aikido can be traced back to sword movements.

    For a discussion of one aspect of sword work in aikido, see this thread.

    Q - Why don’t you kick in aikido?
    A - We do, just not very often.

    Q - What are some foundational ideas underlying aikido?
    A - There are at least four. These four are just the ideas and interpretations of people here on MAP. There are many aikido books that discuss the founder's ideas at length. Those books should be consulted.
    Assumption #1 -- natural law and divine law [click here]
    Assumption #2 -- human equality [click here]
    Assumption #3 -- self-government [click here]
    Assumption #4 -- self-defense [click here ]

    Q - What is "uke" ? "Nage" ? "Atemi" ?
    A - Uke is the person who takes the fall and/or gets pinned. Usually he's also the first attacker. Nage is the person who does the throwing and/or pinning. At advanced levels the two roles get blurred as uke counters nage and then nage counters back and then uke counters back and so on.

    Atemi is a strike, as in a punch or a kick.

    Q - What’s with the “white pajamas”? What is a “gi”?
    A - The “gi” (short for dogi) is the white uniform worn in all aikido schools. It is substantially identical to the gis worn in karate and judo schools. Historically, it was the ordinary undergarments worn by the Japanese. For whatever reason – tradition? Oriental mystique? ignorance? to make everyone look the same? – Westerners adopted the practice of wearing a white gi.

    Q - What’s with the skirts?
    A - It’s called a hakama. A hakama is the skirt-like pants that some aikidoka wear. It is a traditional piece of samurai clothing. The standard gi worn in Aikido as well as in other martial arts such as Judo or Karate was originally underclothes. Wearing it is part of the tradition of most schools of aikido. The hakama were originally meant to protect a horseman's legs from brush, etc., just like a cowboy's leather chaps. Leather was hard to come by in Japan, so heavy cloth was used instead. After the samurai as a class dismounted and became more like foot-soldiers, they persisted in wearing horseman's garb because it set them apart and made them easily identifiable.

    There were different styles of hakama. The type worn by today's martial artists - with "legs" - is called a joba hakama (roughly, horseriding thing into which one steps). The 7 folds in the hakama (5 in the front, 2 in the back) is said to have the following symbolic meaning:

    1. Yuki = courage, valor, bravery
    2. Jin = humanity, charity, benevolence
    3. Gi = justice, righteousness, integrity
    4. Rei = etiquette, courtesy, civility (also means bow/obeisance)
    5. Makoto = sincerity, honesty, reality
    6. Chugi = loyalty, fidelity, devotion
    7. Meiyo = honor, credit, glory; also reputation, dignity, prestige

    In some aikido schools only the black belts wear hakama. In other schools everyone does. In some schools women can start wearing a hakama earlier than men (generally modesty of women is the explanation - remember, a gi was originally underwear)

    Q - What is “competitive aikido” and why is it controversial?
    A1 - Competitive aikido is just pressure testing. The word is controversial, the training is not.
    A2 - Tomiki style aikido, a.k.a. Shodokan aikido, is well known for holding competitions. To a lesser extent Ki Society aikido holds competitions, but these are not as well known or as consistently held. Aikido competitions are controversial because O-Sensei did not support the idea of competitions because he feared it would detract from, and maybe even conflict with, his ideal of aikido as a vehicle for cooperation and harmony among all people.

    Q - How do I check my instructor’s credentials?
    A - Train with him. Ask other students about him. Ask the head office of the organization he/she belongs to. Ask the person(s) this instructor trained under.

    Q - Why do they do kneeling techniques (suwari waza) in aikido?
    A1 - Because the samurai did it. Only the very rich in old Japan had furniture, and even then, they didn’t use chairs very often, so being able to move and fight from the kneeling position was a highly practical skill.
    A2 - To teach people that power comes from the hips up, not from the shoulders down. This concept is not unique to aikido. You’ll see it in many other martial arts too. Walking on your knees forces conscious movement of the hips, so that students will become more attuned to the power of their hips.

    Q - What are the main differences between the various styles of aikido as regards to the way their techniques are executed?
    A - The differences are too minor to try to explain in words. You’d have to actually do it to understand the difference.

    Q - Which style of aikido is geared more towards practical self-defense?
    A - The question is void for vagueness. Define "practical" ? If you're not likely to get in fist-fights, then why are you worrying about fist fights? Training for fist fights would not be “practical” self-defense for you. But maybe you get in arguments or lesser verbal disagreements every month. For you, then, "practical" might mean how to get disagreeable people to see your side of the story and meet you in the middle. Aikido also works in fist fights. There are plenty of policemen and bouncers and prison guards who attest to the usefulness of aikido in a physical fight. At the same time, aikido is excellent for verbal self-defense. Aikido very well could be the best martial art for verbal self-defense.

    Q - Do you practice techniques against attackers (ukes) who give proper resistance to techniques? It always appears that the attackers are over compliant.
    A - The higher up you go, the more the attackers resist.

    Q - Can a small woman really control a 17 stone drunken man with aikido?
    A1 - By marrying him, yes.
    A2 - With aikido, yes, but only after many years of dedicated training. But equally, anybody needs several years of dedicated training in any martial art to develop such skill. Bruce Lee didn’t get that good in a week. He put in years upon years of training.
    A3 - The founder of aikido was five feet tall, and he did pretty well.

    Q - If you have a rank in a certain style of aikido can it be carried forward to a different style of aikido?
    A - Sometimes. There is no blanket answer to this question.

    Q - Are combination techniques used in aikido?
    A - Yes, all the time. But of course you can’t do a combination technique until after you learn the individual basic techniques.

    Q - What other arts compliment aikido?
    A - In what sense? Tai chi, bagua, and judo are built around very similar principles, so in that sense they are complimentary. The locks of jujitsu and chin-na are very similar to the locks of aikido, so in that sense those arts are complimentary. Much of aikido is based upon Japanese sword fighting, so in that sense kenjutsu and iaido are complimentary. Looking at it from another perspective, aikido does not have well-developed strikes or groundwork, so any art that excels in those areas would be complimentary.

    Q - How is aikido different from daito ryu aikijujutsu?
    A1 - Basically, daito ryu is a fighting art, and aikido isn’t.
    A2 - Read post #2 in this thread.

    Q - Are techniques practiced on both sides?
    A - Yes, and also from seated, and also many techniques are practiced from behind.

    This thread has a link to a short video of one of our moderators defending against attacks coming from all directions.

    Q - Who created aikido?
    A - Morihei Ueshiba, popularly known as “O-Sensei.” (But different authors might spell his name differently. There is no single standard way to translate Japanese to English.) He died in 1969.

    Q - What does “O-Sensei” mean?
    A - Great teacher.

    Q - Where did aikido come from? How did O-Sensei create it?
    There are numerous aikido books in print containing the history of how and why O-Sensei created aikido. A three-sentence summary might go thus: he studied many martial arts, most notably spear, bayonette, sword, jujitsu, and aiki-jujitsu. He studied religion, most notably the Omoto sect of Shinto. From the combination of these experienced he deduced a compelling underlying principle that in 1942 he dubbed "aikido."

    Q - Why are there different styles of aikido?
    A1 - The founder of aikido did things differently at different points in his life. His students at those times continued the tradition that he taught them.
    A2 - The founder of aikido hoped and intended that aikido would spread to all the world. He meant it to be for all people. Considering the fact that no two people are exactly the same, it makes sense that different people will do aikido a little bit differently. Look at professional boxing, for example. Different champions have noticeably different fighting styles, even though they all do the same punches. The founder of aikido authorized many people to teach his aikido, and that included people whose personal styles were notably different from one another’s. Those first-generation students are the origin of the numerous and different styles of aikido today.

    Q - What are some of those differering styles?
    A - This link and this link mention some. This thread has a link to short video clips showing some typical techniques in a particular style of aikido.

    Q - What is “ki” ?
    A - There is no universally-accepted answer. You’ll have to do your own research and decide for yourself.

    Q - Why do you bow to a photo of the founder?
    A - First, not all aikido schools display a picture of O-Sensei, the founder. But most do. It is an act of respect to his memory and respect for the art that he created and passed on to us. To make a comparison, most people display photos of friends and relatives at their house, and very often, some of the people (grandparents, for example) in those photographs are dead. We might just as well ask why all those people display those pictures at home. I think we can agree that we display pictures at home out of love and respect for those friends and relatives. For a similar reason, aikido dojos display a photograph of O-Sensei, and perhaps also the founder of that particular school and/or that school’s organization.
    As for the bowing part, that is an Oriental custom akin to handshakes in the West. It has a religious meaning only if you give it a religious meaning.

    Q - Are there any religious themes in aikido? Is religion a necessary part, or an important part, of aikido training? Do you bow down or pray to any gods?
    A - Religion is a part of aikido only if you want it to be a part of aikido. The first English-language aikido book, "This is Aikido," by Koichi Tohei, does not say anything about religion. The most popular aikido book, "Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere," by Ratti and Westbrook, does not emphasize religion. But on the flip side, John Stevens and William Gleason and Mitsugi Saotome have all written books detailing the religious underpinnings of aikido.

    It comes down to a personal choice: Where do you want to go with your aikido?

    No, we do not bow down or pray to any gods in aikido class. We bow to each other in the dojo in the same way that we shake hands with friends and business partners outside the dojo: it's a sign of respect and politeness for one another. It's also a way of thanking the other classmates for them allowing you to throw and twist and torque and hit them at risk of injury.

    Q - What’s with all the swords?
    A1 - Swords are cool, that’s why, and the Japanese katana is especially cool. Remember the Highlander?
    A2 - Much of aikido is patterned off of Japanese fencing. Learning the sword, then, is the same as learning aikido. In addition to a wooden sword (called a bokken), traditional aikido instruction involves the jo (short staff) and tanto (Japanese knife).

    Q - Do you use weapons?
    A - Yes. The three standard weapons of aikido are the sword (bokken), the short staff (jo), and the knife (tanto). Much of aikido's basic empty-hand movements are patterned off the sword, so sword work is very important in traditionally-minded aikido schools. The jo is a good tool for teaching spontaneous movement and creativity in techniques; i.e., "to go with the flow." The knife is a good tool for perfecting aikido techniques. Very often the dynamics of a blade permit an armed assailant to be a threat where an unarmed assailant would not be a threat, so training to defend against a knife makes one's aikido better.

    Q - What are some recommending reading materials?
    A - There are too many books on aikido to justify making a list, but one book that would probably be somewhere on everyone's list is “Aikido and the Dynamic Sphere” by Oscar Ratti and Adele Westbrook.
    Last edited: Feb 7, 2007
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