I’m Destroying Aikido.

The comments on YouTube, about my 5th kyu exam, got off to a predictable start with “good luck in a street fight no offense” [sic].

From looking at the person’s recent comments on other people’s videos, this is one of the nicest things they’ve said to anyone. Most of their other comments are downright vulgar.

My reply: “None taken. In my 47 years I’ve never been in a street fight, and don’t intend to go around starting any scraps in pubs. :-) My practice of Aikido has nothing to do with fighting.”

That apparently hit a nerve with someone in Poland, who said (ellipses his – I did not edit this): “..and that this the reason this unique, interesting and demanding martial art is dying….cause people like You practice aikido with firm belief that it has nothing to do with fighting..sad…”

I could just delete their comments, but what the heck, let’s see where this goes. I’m sure I won’t change their minds, but others coming along and reading the comments might find the discussion interesting. I responded:

“Aikido is not dying, never mind being killed off by ‘people like me.’ Yes, it comes from centuries of fighting arts, and yes, it is effective. But O Sensei did not create it to help people become better street fighters.

The goal of most non-sport martial arts is not fighting. It’s interesting that even in my video comments field you are trying to start one. If you want to fight, find others who want to fight, and have a great time. I’m not opposed to that, it’s just not what I’m up to.”

I’m pretty sure that won’t be the end of it. There are a lot of people who are certain that becoming a better fighter is the primary, and only valid, purpose for practicing martial arts, and they typically try to promote that view through rudeness and bullying of anyone who practices the arts for any other reason. I wonder if fencing, kendo, tai chi, and archery catch the same kind of flak? Dressage actually does, on occasion, when people point out that a not-quite-perfectly-responsive horse could mean one’s death on the battlefield.

I am no scholar on the subject of martial arts, but in my very limited experience I’ve not met any serious student or teacher who felt that fighting was the goal. Engaging in fights is never a desirable outcome. But if you must defend yourself or others, of course you should be able to.

So far, I’ve mostly been able to. Perhaps it’s whatever confidence and presence I gained from a summer Judo class in 3rd grade, 6 months of Tang Soo Do in high school, or a very physical self-defense course in college. Maybe it was my practical, moral upbringing in a stable home. Could be a bit of street smarts from walking, biking, skateboarding, and taking the bus everywhere, and working a paper route for 3 years, as a girl, alone. Or knowing I can handle myself coordinating convoys of rigs rescuing livestock in the face of raging wildfires. I don’t go looking for danger or confrontation, but I don’t run, either. Attackers love weak, fearful targets. I’ve never been weak or fearful. I’ve been jumped and beaten once, by a predatory gang in junior high school, but I’ve never gotten into a fight, on the street or otherwise. I consider avoiding fights to be the bigger victory than being proficient in winning them.

According to Kevin Blok Kyoshi (7th Dan in Yoshinkai Aikido), weak people cannot enforce peace. Blok Sensei teaches defensive tactics for police officers, and non-physical crisis intervention. He is an expert on the effective, practical application of Aikido. But even with that background (or maybe because of it) he speaks of Aikido as a path to peace and happiness. In his interview for the “Aikido – The Way of Harmony” podcast (which I highly recommend listening to), he speaks at length about bliss. He says that true budo is about love. (Listen especially starting at the 43 minute mark.) “You want to change the world, to make it a better place.” … “It starts with you. The center of your universe is you. Don’t go to try to make other people happy, and blissful, and loving, and caring, if you can’t do it with yourself.”

George Ledyard Sensei put it plainly on his Web site, www.aikieast.com:

It’s not about fighting.
It’s about not fighting.

Aikido takes a disproportionate amount of criticism, but the goals of promoting harmony and not fighting are not unique to Aikido.

In high school I practiced Tang Soo Do – Moo Duk Kwan (a “hard” Korean art), for all of 6 months or so. I came to it to learn how to be violent, effectively. Instead I learned how not to be. Yes, there was sparring (which is great fun), and tournaments (including the requisite smashing of concrete blocks, demonstrated by the Master of our school), but it was made clear from the outset that we weren’t to be engaged in any fighting outside of class. Self control and good character were the goals. It was an art in the budo tradition, even if it included organized competitive fighting.

I still have my notebook from 30 years ago. In it, along with several lists of Key Points, Principles, and Creeds, copied earnestly by hand from the sign on the dojang wall, is the Tang Soo Do Pledge:

We pledge to contribute to the happiness of the human race with the sword and the pen, using any ability we possess in pursuit of justice for everyone, attempting to unite the perfect harmony and further the traditions of Tang Soo Do.

I took it that pledge seriously then, and I still do.

I learned decades ago to resolve conflict without physical violence, intimidation, or rude behavior. I came to Aikido for a lot of reasons, none of which were about becoming a better fighter, or even for self defense. I wanted to learn to relax and breathe, to have better balance, and to be able to stay focused and take effective action in the face of overwhelming physical threat. I am getting those things from my practice, but there is so much more available.

I am learning there are a lot of kinds of “fighting.” Fighting what is. Fighting what I feel. Fighting who others are. Resisting. I still have a lot of fight in me. I’m not practicing Aikido to develop that, I’m practicing Aikido to let that go.