Wednesday, November 14, 2007

At the risk of being called a heretic...

...let’s re-think this falling thing.


First, I am a big proponent of ukemi practice. It has a lot of benefits within and beyond the dojo. We practice ukemi in every single class and I am always preaching to take the technique all the way to the ground – nagekomi instead of uchikomi. But with that said, Does uke really have to take all those falls?
If you make your aiki practice ukemi dependent, then...
  • have to have special equipment and a lot of space to practice.

  • have to teach things in a certain order (generally from easier-to-harder) which means that you have to teach the relatively less street effective stuff first and it can take years to learn a sufficient amount of aikido to be effective in the street.

  • either limit your mat years or you have to change how you are doing aiki mid-career. At some age aikidoka need to slow down on the falling and eventually stop altogether for self-protection.

  • intimidate the novice and run students off.

  • increase the safety issues and incur greater liability. I've heard of judo clubs being told to get rid of climbing ropes because of liability. Well, for Pete's sake, think! Which is more dangerous, climbing up a rope once or twice per class or taking dozens of airfalls per class?
Throws like kotegaeshi and sumiotoshi do not have to end in an airfall if you can be satisfied with practicing slowly and deliberately and achieving the reflexive precursors to the throw (i.e. kuzushi, positioning, metatarsal reflex, etc...). Only two falls make up virtually all self-defense applications. – side falls and forward rolls. Nearly all other forms of falling are either preparatory exercises for these two forms or they are merely filling in the corners with a few special-purpose falls that are very limited in their utility.

But on the other hand, these big throws are, in large part, the artistic trademark of aikido. Many of the people that you ask will say they got into aikido in the first place because they saw a little old man with a beard pitching young, athletic judo-type guys effortlessly. That the big falls looked like magic. Well, in my opinion, that illusion of effortless magic is actually detrimental to the popularity of aikido in today’s environment of ultra-pragmatic self-defense systems (i.e. kravmaga, CQB, etc…) and full-contact sport systems (BJJ, GJJ, UFC, NHB, etc…). I say get rid of the magic, get rid of the illusion, and concentrate on the real aiki. The aiki that the old guys did – and not necessarily the large-motion aiki that is exhibited so beautifully in demonstrations.

What does that mean we need to do?

Rethink your goals. aikido can be amazingly effective without uke being required to take an airfall. In fact, to do good aikido, tori absolutely must get rid of the idea that his goal is to make uke fall in a certain way. This is a nearly impossible goal to accomplish unless you have a compliant uke. Change your goals to things you have more control over (staying safe, keeping uke extended and offbalance, staying in motion, etc…) and which are less dependent on uke's compliance or skill. Get away from choreography like "tori does X and then uke does Y and so tori throws Z" and work on learning skills that allows tori to say, "I don't care how uke reacts to this. I'll be okay."

Look for the large subsets of aiki that you can do with uke responding by kneeling down or sitting back into a gentle backfall. Emphasize these subsets and all of a sudden you have an extremely viable, practical self-defense system that virtually anyone can learn rapidly (months - not years), comfortably, and in greater safety without the need for large open spaces and matted floors.


  1. Of course you say that, you are a Judo guy ! HAHA!

    For real though, there is a lot to learn from compliant training. Aikido isn't trying to be ultra pragmatic and it's not trying to be sport fighting.

    It's a different thing, it's called martial arts. Budo. It's not for self-defense and it's not for sport.

    Judo is a sport, and Aikido is a martial art. Two different universes. They can teach each other certain things, but the time has come to separate them.

    Their goals are entirely different. Aikido is to create world and personal peace. Judo is to win a match. Two different goals, and very far apart.

    MMA is not a martial art! NHB is a much better word for this sport.

    Sports are much harder and more challenging to train, and are much better for street fights and self defense. Martial arts are to develop yourself and improve your life. Not to win a match.


  2. Ha! I'm actually more of an aiki guy, but I do have that judo pollution deep down in my soul...

    I agree with you that aiki is not a sport. I agree with you that the primary training environment in aikido should be cooperative. I disagree when you write that aiki is not intended to be an ultra-pragmatic self-defense.

    I understand that different people get into it for different reasons and that for some people the art or self-improvement aspects may be of primary interest, but the origin of budo lies in combat efficacy and self-defense is a major consideration at present in many Americans' minds.

    When I mentioned the declining popularity of aikido I said that I thought it might be partly due to the increasing popularity of sport and combat systems. In such an environment, the illusion of effortless magic characterized by a compliant uke taking big falls has a negative impact on the popularity of aikido.

    check out this previous post:

    All I was suggesting was that more people could enjoy aiki better and could more comfortably learn a martial art that is still street effective EVEN IF we were to de-emphasize the magical-looking ukemi.

  3. Fair enough.

    I think Aikido is a good topic to debate these issues. It really represents martial art versus sport of Self Defense.

    I think you should draw a sharper distinction between ultra-pragmatic self defense and martial art.

    Aikido to me is superior for self defense because the ukemi is so amazingly useful in real life. Surviving a fall is vastly more applicable to real life than street fights. Also its emphasis on quality of touch, and on awareness. These things are invaluable for stopping fights before they start.

    HOWEVER, strict self defense is something like eye gouging, knee stomping, ball grabbing, screaming, biting, shrieking bloody murder.

    If someone wants to know short term self defense they need to go to Model mugging or etc, that is tailored to immediate vicious struggle after the first class.

    However, for a more healthy, long term self defense you need an ART like Aikido to create a more aware, alive and well rounded person, with confidence, strength, physical conditioning and a modicum of decent concepts and techniques.

    Most of my friends will need a basic self defense course. Only a few will need a deep art like Aikido.

    It IS ultra practical in terms of awareness and such. But leave immediate self defense to Model Mugging, let Aikido be a martial art. An ongoing study of the self and the world around us.

    "self defense class" will get boring after a few months. Aikido is a study for a lifetime and will give greater rewards the longer you go.

    In my mind it would be a mistake to compete with self defense or MMA. Those are different things with different goals. There's room for all of us, and no reason not to cross train.

    Now of course, there are other aspects. For instance, in my experience Shomen Uchi and Tsuki are all you need to win virtually any stand up fight, sport or real life. So my Aikido critique would be to get off the throws and get into the strikes. There is vast untapped potential in these strikes and most AIkido schools are missing out. Because Ueshiba forbid contests, Aikidoists don't spar. But if they did, the full blossoming of Aikido striking techniques could emerge, and could open up whole new dimensions for practice.

    Anyways, nice blog and keep up the good work.


  4. I am not surprise by your point of view and all the comments. Total misunderstanding. Yes, aikido is not a sport. It is Martial Art from the beginning. But now ... hmm, let me think. Yes, it is wasting time to talk to people with the idea that aikido "is to create world and personal peace."

    In short, Martial Art is about killing people and nothing else. There are only two options: to take life or to spare life. It is definitely not an entertainment to look good and to feel good. The only issue necessary to consider is safety during a practice. Yes, it is good to be prepared to take a fall. But more important is to secure your uke's fall. Always.

  5. hi other anonymous,

    killed anyone lately? HAHAHAHA!!!

    I think there is more variety in the martial arts world than you seem to have been exposed to. And furthermore, my information about the goals and perspectives of Ueshiba come from people how trained directly with him. So, you might want to do some more research.

    You sound like someone with a samurai fantasy. Killing people has it's place, but its not the goal of every martial art.

    My point is that MMA attracts some people, self-defense attracts others. Meanwhile Aikido has a lot to offer, high falls and all. Sure, train whichever aspects appeal most to you, whether its ultrapragmatic self defense aspects or it's "killing" aspects (yeah right!). But ultimately, Aikido is a different animal than MMA and it can stand on it's own two feet. It doesn't need to cater to the fads of the time. Staying true to it's founder and it's built in specialties are what is going to create the most benefit for the most people, I believe.

    Ok, off to go practice killing! Bwqahahahahaah!!!


  6. Great article, these high falls and breakfalls are complete b.s. Taking one on a padded floor when you are young does nothing to help prevent you from being injured if you trip and fall down the stairs, A.K.A "modern real world self defense" for overly sheltered middle class people who live in the suburbs/gated communities,lol. These high falls only happen when uke pointlessly throws himself into them cooperatively. It is impossible to make uke take one, and by throwing himself like this uke wears out his body and damages it which is the opposite of self defense/aikido ( they are one and the same!). This practice of flinging your body into the ground from shoulder height is more like self mutilation. Once uke's knees, hips, neck and back are shot he is much more likely to trip and fall down those stairs! The fact that many "shihan" who trained directly under the founder did this to themselves in their youth and worse, teach this garbage now, is proof of how clueless and incompetent they are. This japanese version of pro wrestling does nothing to "improve yourself and "bring about world peace". People who teach it and practice it can't defend themselves against the average person who would break the law and assault them. If you read your Aikido Journal you know that O sensei did not teach this type of ukemi, it is something that his deshi came up with themselves! In one video clip of Osensei taking ukemi for little children as a senior citizen he does not do any breakfalls of any kind. What he does do is lower himslf as close to the ground as possible and do the types of gentle rolls you describe in this excellent article. O sensei wrote about how he looked behind him and no one was following him on his path. He screamed at the "shihan" of today about how what they were practicing was not aikido! O sensei also gave out dan ranks after a very short period of time, the same way that most people give out a stick of gum. The way the current aikido community works is an example of nepotism at it's worst! It always makes me laugh when koryu practitioners claim to be practicing an unchanged identical form to what the founder of their style practiced several generations ago with no video footage or current wars to fight with katanas to prove it, just some unintelligible old scrolls that have most probably been modified countless times and the word of their teacher. Just look at the difference between video footage of O sensei, accounts of the challenge matches he won and what today's "shihan" are doing only one apart! If O sensei was middle aged today he would be at MMA gyms challenging the top ranked fighters to attack him however they wished as a group! It is a fact that O sensei was a great martial artist but wasn't a very a good teacher. Nobody understood what he was talking about most of the time, he gave no step by step technical explanations and he refused to demonstrate the exact same technique twice in a row because it would be artificial. No two attacks are identical so a spontaneous response by nage to a second attack by uke will not be identical to nage's response to uke's first attack. What makes aikido the evolution of koryu is that uke makes it impossible for nage to kill uke through high level ukemi. If nage tries to kill uke he will be countered. Breakfalls and high falls make it EASIER for nage to kill uke. No, I haven't killed anybody recently but only because my uke are skilled, they aren't open for strikes which is the only reason it is possible to throw them at all. They don't take high falls and they don't do MMA

  7. Oh ya,and the only reason their isn't any "sparring" in aikido is because sparring implies your first response to an attack didn't work. Uke shouldn't be just be giving nage the technique and letting him do whatever he wants.

  8. killed anyone lately? HAHAHAHA!!! ......

    Whoever you are, you do not have any idea about Martial Art. Ask Otake Sensei (Katori Shinto Ryu) about killing somebody recently, please. There is no variety in the Martial Art. There is no variety in the Wars. War is not anybody's fantasy. You should recognize a difference between Martial Art and a Fighting Art or, even a self-defense skill, before taking a side in the discussion. It is a common mistake to see Morihei Ueshiba's goals and perspectives as you see, unfortunately.

  9. Okay, okay.

    First of all, aikido is actually used in a particular sport application, which is called Shodokan, and is a style within the Tomiki system. While I don't believe Patrick (the OP) is into sport aikido (just from reading his blog), I do recognize his aikido style as Tomiki, I'm guessing Karl Geis inspired, which means that he understands completely the similarities and differences in the dynamics of judo and aikido, and exactly how closely related the two are.
    Especially with respect to falls. I must (respectfully) disagree that air falls are of limited value, specifically in the kata we call the "Big 10", which begins with three hard guruma throws, all three of which require a good air fall when thrown at demo speed.
    Like in kote gaeshi, uke can still take the falls by "sitting out of them" during slow practice, without taking much away from the learning of the technique - but I still wouldn't want to demo these throws without a strong foundation in the air falls.

    Just my two cents. I'm a big guy, and some air falls take quite a bit for me to do right. But I'd certainly miss them if they weren't there - and I've gotten to where it's not difficult at all to take a good air fall in kote gaeshi or sumi otoshi.

  10. Good Post...I couldn't agree more!

  11. Hi, Great blog! Looks like I'm about a year late to the party. Here is my 5 cents. High / fake falls are also detramental to Nage/Tori/Shite. If you become conditioned to the attacker falling for you you are going to be in a world of hurt if the attackers dosen't. Also if you pin from the throw you will have know idea where / how a human body reacting naturaly will fall. One of my favorite quotes form Tokimune Takeda comes from when he was asked about the difference between Aikido and Aikijujutsu. Takeda said Daito Ryu practices throwing each other, Aikido practices falling for each other.



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