After attaining my black belt in Aikido I started to wonder if I could physically use my Aikido training in a real confrontation. I knew I could do the forms pretty well, and I could do what Aikido people call Jiyu waza (spontaneous technique) nicely. But could I “use” Aikido training in a “real fight”. Through a series of events I got a chance to do just that, and was displeased with what I found. I felt that I needed a kind of training that Aikido lacked. I left Aikido for a few years in order to find the key that was missing. I wanted to find a way to practice “using” my Aikido and not simply practicing forms. I looked to sport martial arts to help me with this. When I ventured into the area of sport martial arts I discovered “live” training, and I was quickly convinced of it’s power. Soon after I gained this understanding, I set forth to develop a useful live practice for Aikido. This series of articles is about that attempt.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term “live” (also called “Alive”) in relation to martial arts training. It is used to mean a situation where you are actually trying to use the skills developed in your martial arts training full speed against someone who is trying their best to stop you. This is the kind of practice found in sport martial arts. For example, a boxing match is live practice where two competitors face each other, striking each other as hard as they can in order to incapacitate the other competitor or make them quit. A wrestling match is live practice where the two wrestlers try to control or “pin” the other competitor in a way they can’t escape. MMA is live practice that allows for a larger rule set, allowing both striking and grappling. In sport martial arts the students are constantly “trying” the techniques they learn through this “live” training. Most importantly they are “trying” these techniques against other practitioners who are trying to keep them from being successful. This resistance breeds growth, understanding and improved technique. Live training is a powerful tool. This is what I learned from sport martial arts, and have made my goal to bring to Aikido.
This might seem like an easy task at first. Just get some sparring partners and keep trying to do Aikido. Easy right? Problem was I already knew this wouldn’t work. I knew because that’s exactly what I first tried the first year I went into sport martial arts. When I sparred (live practice) with people, I would try to use Aikido technique, and fail, and fail, and fail some more. Eventually I gave up all together, just deciding that the techniques found in MMA were better than those found in Aikido. I had kind of resigned to the fact that Aikido was a great way to learn to use your body, become more physically sensitive ( a very useful skill in BJJ as well) and overall have a great time with other people, but it wasn’t a good way to learn how to fight. I knew I couldn’t “just spar” with Aikido and start being able to magically do Aikido technique on an MMA fighter.
You might be wondering at this point-” if you knew Aikido didn’t work when you would try to spar with it, why would you think that Aikido works at all?” At first I didn’t think it did, but through another set of interesting circumstances I ending up at a Dog Brothers meeting of the pack. The Dog Brothers fight full contact with rattan sticks (or whatever else someone will agree to fight you with) and very little protective gear. “Higher consciousness through harder contact” is the slogan of the Dog Brothers. I was very apprehensive about this fight, I didn’t think I knew anything about stick fighting, and if it weren’t for my very good friend Maynard Ancheta pushing me into the fight, I probably never would have done it. Maynard had fought at many events and was sure that something good would come out of my attempt (even if it was him getting a laugh). I was pretty sure that Aikido didn’t work in “fights” and it seemed I would be easy pray for my competitor. Much to my surprise, a fair amount of my Aikido jo training worked. I ended up facing a very skilled, full fledged Dog brother, and did pretty well. This was not the outcome I expected. I expected to get slaughtered. I had tried Aikido many times in live training while doing MMA, it never worked, but in this fight it did…Why?
Could Aikido really have some applicability in live situations? Was there more to Aikido than a lofty ideal and some fancy moves? I tried to shrug it off and get back to MMA training, but to no avail. I couldn’t let go of the fact that some Aikido seemed to work, at least in this one situation. I needed to work on this problem more. I ended up leaving MMA in order to further explore Aikido, an exploration that has gone on for about ten years now, and has had some interesting turns. Stay tuned for part 2- “Weapons hold a key.” Where I will go on to explain the problem that all Aikido practitioners have had when they try to make live practices for Aikido.
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