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No, MY kung fu is better than your puny technique!

This is more on the viability of aikido for self-defense and for older adults. Perhaps this is more of a philosophical POV.
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Superiority, equality, or inferiority
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What is self-defense? Defense of the self. Not necessarily offense against some other. Sure, sometimes there are people that “need killing,” but that is not self-defense. For example, if you know a given martial art so well, have trained it so long and so rigorously that you know, absolutely KNOW that you are completely superior to some particular enemy, is it self-defense to destroy that enemy? If you know that you absolutely outclass them then it’s not self-defense – it is retribution or punishment or murder or something like that.
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It is only self-defense when you are immediately afraid for your life or well-being.
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When are you most reasonably afraid? When you’re surprised in the dark on uncertain footing and outclassed and out-gunned and the enemy knows what is going on and is younger and stronger and faster and bigger and better at what he is doing than you. You are most afraid in a situation of weakness and inferiority and lack of knowledge.
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Karate, etc… is generally built from an assumption of superiority. All other things being equal, the karateka will use superior technique or training or strength or speed or leverage, etc.. .to prevail.
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Judo, boxing, even MMA is confined by an extensive ruleset. There are things that you do not train because they are simply against the rules and therefore, you will never have to deal with in the ring. These arts/sports are also based on an assumption of equality – weight classes and rule sets equalize the opponents to showcase their training and/or artistry.
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Aikido is just a brand name for the jujitsu that all this stuff is based on. As such, there are fewer limiting assumptions. Sure, you don’t want to hurt your partner, so there are training rules, like moving slowly or making more abstract attacks, but that is a different kind of ruleset – one based on safety instead of balanced competition.
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Everything in aikido is testable and falsifiable through randori (sparring or free play). Not just nice sparring drills or one-steps either – so long as you participate within a framework of decency for safety, anything goes in aikido randori. Any technique may be tried, tested, falsified, rejected, or tested and approved.
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Our normal practice mode in aikido makes it explicit that once the uke takes one complete attack step in the kata pattern, they may use any foreknowledge, training, or physical attribute (speed, strength, size, etc…) to confound the technique, and if it doesn’t work then something is wrong. You may use any knowledge or advantage to demonstrate a weakness in an aikido technique.
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Thus, aikido is based on an initial assumption of inferiority or weakness or slowness. We invest in that weakness and slowness by avoiding the necessary use of strength and speed to make things work. As we invest in that state of weakness, we try to figure out how to work it to our salvation. Thus, aikido, by its definition and its nature, is all about self-defense. Aikido is THE art of self defense. Karate, and even sport judo, are not even about self defense in this sense because they predominantly operate from equality or superiority.
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Now, before you decide to challenge me to a death match for the honor of your system, remember that won’t prove anything. Am I the ultimate proponent of this aiki ideal? No. But I have experienced enough of the aiki-thing to understand that training regularly from a position of weakness and inferiority is more likely to save me in a situation where I am surprised and outclassed than training from a position of advantage or equality.
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That’s why I characterized aikido (as I understand it) to be the best self defense of any of the arts I’ve participated in, and that’s why I stated that aikido can be effective for virtually anyone of any age.

17 comments:

  1. Comment bait :-D

    I used to think about this subject a lot. I've since decided that the number of people practice martial arts for actual, practical self-defence is very low.

    I believe that most martial arts practitioners who make it past the two-year mark or so are in it for imaginary scenario-based self-defence, if they actually maintain that their studies are for self-defence at all. That is, they are preparing for what *may* happen, someday, but their training grossly over-magnifies the significance of self-defence in their minds.

    One other conclusion I draw from your post is that a black-belt in one art vs. a black-belt in another art as the "ultimate self-defence comparison" is really ridiculous. I mean, to a degree I never thought about before.

    Thanks for the thought-provokingness, especially as I keep studying Aikido...trying to memorize this 16-movement Jo kata...I do miss the heavy bags from my old dojo though. :)

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  2. Very perceptive, Anonymous-san. This was indeed comment bait.

    Youre right, though. There is a lot of the ludicrous in the martial arts.

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  3. It is only self-defense when you are immediately afraid for your life or well-being.

    True enough, methinks. Is that the only time use of physical force is justified?

    All other things being equal, the karateka will use superior technique or training or strength or speed or leverage, etc.. .to prevail.

    It's late and I'm tired--very long day today--but I'm having a hard time reconciling the foregoing with

    ...they may use any foreknowledge, training, or physical attribute (speed, strength, size, etc…) to confound the technique, and if it doesn’t work then something is wrong...in an aikido technique.

    Because it seems to me that if the aikido technique doesn't work right because something's wrong with its execution--not enough skill, leverage, training, what-have-you--that's not actually any different from saying that the karateka relies on superior technique.

    Don't take that as a criticism. I have a great deal of respect for aikido, and like I said earlier, if it weren't for my current instructor, I might well be driving to south Tulsa to train with the Tomiki-Ryu guy. I think that older systems of karate have a lot in common with aikido; there's some speculation that some of the Motobu Udun Ti techniques even have, waaaaay back when, some connection with Daito-Ryu's precursors.

    Certainly, in our class, while it is true that the training does work some of your muscle groups, it is also true that if your technique relies on muscle power for its effectiveness, it will certainly be judged a failure. Having to "muscle your way" through a technique is regarded as proof that you are not quite "getting it." The intent is that you are able to use the techniques effectively when you're a little old man, not just when you're a big, brawny whippersnapper.

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  4. Ultimately, It is not one system by itself that prevails. It is a layered defense or a system that incompasses many different disciplines, such as striking, trapping, evading, joint locking, foot work, weapons training (mainly modern weapons). Your average elderly man is not going to win over a bigger stronger young guy. The guys that dedicate their lives to martial arts may have an upper hand, but the elderly person that only has 2 hours a week to train better carry equalizers and know the law of wehn they can use them.

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  5. Dan, good catch. let me try to splain what i mean one more time before I stop digging this linguistic hole that I am getting into.

    There are a couple of things going on in aikido - what we claim to be doing and what we are really doing. Often the two can be different things.

    for instance, we claim to use no strength and force, etc... but obviously if we touch then we exert force on each other. sometimes that force can be significant. It's the role of force in the ideal aikido that we're talking about.

    in ideal aikido, the aikidoka avoids all of the attacker's force application perfectly. there is no joining of forces , no leading or redirection or blocking. as aikido gets less ideal, the aikidoka has to do at least a little joining or blending or redirecting or bumping in order to be able to evade the force. But the goal is still to not grab the attacker and do something to him -

    the goal is to save yourself by blending with the attacker's energy output. that goal has nothing to do with the attacker's outcome. as self-defense, we're not out to DO something to the attacker to stop his attack. If you can blend with his attack then he will have to stop it anyway because of offbalance or falling or exhaustion. any force the defender puts out is incidental and is as light and as brief as we can make it. that is the theory - the ideal.

    now, where the rubber meets the road - you have to learn to do this ideal blending thing, and you cant learn this ideal "do nothing" aikido by doing nothing. you have to have something to practice at aikido class. so we practice a bunch of jujitsu techniques for years while we are trying to figure out how to get that amazing, "doing nothing" effect.

    you are right that what I wrote was inconsistent, but I think that where the inconsistency lies is this...

    some karate, especially ancient forms, are the same thing as jujitsu, which is the same thing as we are practicing in aiki class.

    what makes aiki (the ideal principle) such a great self-defense is that you intend only to save yourself without intent to damage the attacker. karate (as i understand it) does not have this ideal. the ideal is to "punch like a man swinging an anvil on a chain" (as someone eloquently put it :-) so that you can destroy the attacker, or at least make him regret his action enough to stop. even in the terribly effective grappling forms of karate, like the old okinawan stuff you do, you have the intent to do something to the attacker to make him stop.

    do you see where i'm going? i'm not trying to live in an ideal world or sell you a theoretical pipe dream or something.

    In my previous posts, i was trying to communicate something like the fact that this quasi-magical do-nothing aiki effect is a real phenomenon that works and can be made to work reliably.

    ...and it can be made to work by most anyone regardless of age or size or etc...

    ...and it makes for a great self-defense.

    am i making sense or rambling?

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  6. I only just had time to scan your comment before leaving to deliver an oxygen set-up; I think I understand your point but will have to respond later.

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  7. I have to catch up on these comments. In tribute, I have made you the TDA Quote of the day: http://tdatraining.blogspot.com/2008/04/today-quote-patrick-parker-brings-beef.html

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  8. Ha, thanks, nathan. I'm glad you got something out of all that. Sometimes it is hard to figure out if I am "bringing the beef" or just "full of BS"

    pat

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  9. Paraphrasing something that Seiyu Oyata once said, the highest level of self-defense is to build a better world.

    My instructor emphasizes that the next level down from that is to simply not be there for the fight.

    Then, the next level down is to run like a bunny if at all possible.

    And then, whilst working with us on self-defense techniques, he'll tell us, "But nothing will ever actually happen that way."

    And that brings me to this part:

    what makes aiki (the ideal principle) such a great self-defense is that you intend only to save yourself without intent to damage the attacker. karate (as i understand it) does not have this ideal....you have the intent to do something to the attacker to make him stop.

    It is nice to have the goal of leaving an attacker alive and unharmed, and it is certainly true that to deliberately do more damage to someone than is necessary to resolve the situation goes beyond defense and turns into retribution. On the other hand, the reality is that consistently accomplishing that theoretical ideal would require God-like omniscience. This not being available, I think that we descend from your theoretical ideal into the world of "you have to touch someone" (at least in most instances)immediately, rendering it useful only as a means of gauging the effectiveness of our training.

    I think just about all of us would love to be able to extricate ourselves from danger without damaging an attacker. But nothing ever happens that way, and there is more to defense than just self-defense (which is why I asked you earlier if physical force was only justified when you are immediately afraid for your life or well-being).

    Sometimes in this world, you have to stop someone cold, not just for your sake, but his own sake, or for the sake of others--sometimes for the sake of others who may not even be present. Whether you choose to do this with a hard shot to the solar plexus, or a slap to the larynx, or by directing his mass to the ground at high velocity, or by locking out his arm and forcing him to the ground has, in my opinion, more to do with the particular circumstances of the situation and the techniques you feel most comfortable with than anything else.

    In sum, while I like aikido and wouldn't hesitate to study it under certain previously mentioned circumstances, I don't know that I agree that it's necessarily the best self-defense art. I think that happens to be whichever one you happen to be adept at using, and it is different for each of us. Personally, I like the wide range of options given by classical Okinawan karate.

    And now, I really have to go. I was supposed to be at work five minutes ago.

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  10. I’m not talking about the myth of compassionate self-defense – of protecting the other guy from the natural consequences of his attack. I’m not even talking about protecting yourself without hurting the other guy.

    If you have the spare capacity that it takes to protect the attacker then it is not self-defense because you could probably use that spare capacity to do something else besides attacking him (like running or telling a joke or something).

    But if you don’t have any spare capacity because you are surprised and overwhelmed (i.e. true self-defense), you’d better not grab him or try to attack back. Strategically it’s dumb to attack a probably-stronger opponent when you don’t know what’s going on.

    When it comes down to it, aikido, jujitsu, and some karate (as well as a lot of other arts) are technically identical and tactically similar. These arts only really differ strategically (when, how, and why you apply the common techniques), and I think aiki is a better strategy than kime (swinging an anvil) or ju for situations when you are surprised and outclassed.

    That doesn’t diminish karate or judo. There’s a time for everything under heaven. There are times when it is appropriate to fight using karate-like strategies or with ju-like (or is that “ju-ish”) strategies.

    Heck, I’m even hedging my bets by continuing to study judo as a second art and karate as a third…

    Thank y'all for having a great, well thought-out, reasonable discussion with me. I really appreciate y'all's opinions and your patronage of this blog. I'm not claiming the last word on this discussion or trying to shut it down - I just really appreciate y'all playing with me here.

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  11. Hmmm---

    That doesn’t diminish karate or judo. There’s a time for everything under heaven. There are times when it is appropriate to fight using karate-like strategies or with ju-like (or is that “ju-ish”) strategies.

    I have heard that Seiyu Oyata once said that when it comes down to it, there is really only one martial art.

    I suppose that where I'm having trouble might be in the idea that each of these martial arts has only one strategy available to it. I can't speak for other systems (and hesitate to speak on behalf of karate), but it seems to me that karate, overall, makes use of more than one strategy.

    An interesting book I'm slowly plowing my way through (rest assured that I will review it when I'm finished, but it will take a while, as I'm usually in the middle of four or five books at any given time), The Way of Kata, asserts that each kata is based on a certain strategy, and that once you are given the interpretive keys (They got theirs from Seikichi Toguchi), you can discern it. Approached this way, you might be able to say that, say, Goju Ryu makes use of as many as a dozen different strategies, the choice of which depends on size, body type, the situation, etc.

    Another thought that occurs to me is that more than a few people credit the ultimate origin of jujutsu, aiki techniques, and tuite to influence from chin na and shuai jiao. Given what is probably a common theoretical heritage, I'm not sure that it's really possible to distill a strategy for each of those arts that is totally distinct from the others. They share too much in common.

    I'm not claiming the last word on this discussion or trying to shut it down - I just really appreciate y'all playing with me here.

    Differences of opinion: that's what makes horse racing, I'm told.

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  12. Hi gang,

    Self-defense is mostly a legal term, and some of the comments reflect that usage.

    I don't see how blending or merging or combining with your partner is self-defense. It is just a technique and there are two pure forms of it. The first is "we follow your agenda" the second is, "we follow my agenda." Now it is likely that if you blend really well with an attacker, they are going to be disoriented, after all they are expecting resistance.

    Usually when I "blend" I alternate spontaneously between "you lead" and "I lead."

    Rather than blather about self-defense, I often change the subject to: What is the simplest, most direct resolution of this conflict?

    Now you have to wonder if taking the punch and playing dead might be the thing to do.

    I really have to wonder why braking an attacker's leg is considered harming them. It'll heal, it just keeps them down a little longer.

    If the harm coming your way is a rapist, a knee used to break the pubic bone seems like a nice combo of self-defense and justice.

    For a smaller weaker person to win, they will have to use their strengths against another's weaknesses, and that means responding where the attacker is open.

    The attacker decides whether I pop their ear drum (permanent but not life threatening), pluck a tendon (permanent, but surgically repairable), pluck an eye out (permanent and deadly), or let them fall down while I run away.

    If you are open to what the attacker wants, they will usually help you resolve the conflict quickly.

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  13. As far as the law is concerned; it is almost like if you would not bat an I if you heard it happen to your friend then you are probably safe. If I heard my friend got his eye plucked out, his/her throat cut, "private region" destroyed, neck broken, etc. Then I would freak and so would the judge and the jury. If I heard that an arm was broken, leg was broken, or they were bumped or bruised then that is alittle more acceptable.
    Scotts post made me bring that up, but then it also leads to the blending of the arts.
    Self defense is like a sport and the laws are the rules. Ultimately you want to max out what you can do under the rule set. If the guy has a gun or a knife the I can use lethal force, but the safer bet is to biomechanically shut the guy down with a tool like another gun or knife. The down follow the progression downward, if the guy is bigger /younger/more skilled than me then I can justify using more force than normal. So why not use it? On down to I would say blending and avoiding is better for the bigger/more skilled guy in court, but then it takes years for one to learn to blend. Therefore, one may be old and weak by the time he gets that skill set. So I reccomend a blended/mixed/layered...whatever you want to call it defense.

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  14. Hi Rob,

    If we take the problem all the way to court as you suggest, then two other big issues will out weight the "damage" you do.
    The first is the degree of evil the jury perceives. If the attacker insulted your family or your ethnicity, the jury is likely to be sympathetic, heck it might even qualify as a hate crime.
    Second, the court is going to want to know exactly what your training is, what you were trained to do by a teacher, and what you practiced. They may even want to know if you had played out this very scenario in class or in your head.

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  15. Hey scott,

    Thanks for the info. I hope they couldnt prove my training background...haha I train only to be a good boy

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  16. "Self defense" is not, unfortunately "one thing" that you can simply assume, it exists on a continuum of different levels of confrontation, partly based on what Scott mentioned (ie. the opponent's or assailant's willingness to use more or less force will define my own level of violence) but also on different assumptions: move along and you enter "fighting" where in some way, both opponents have chosen to fight each other, and move on further and you enter "combat" where both opponents may not even have any specific feeling for each other, but are following orders.

    In some ways, actual "self defense" training has aspects of planning for what you need to do. Marc McYoung has a saying: prepare for what happens most and you'll be able to handle most of what happens, which pretty much sums up the fact that self defense is a relativistic thing. Me, living in Lisbon, one of the safest cities in the world, as a fairly well-off, probably over-educated guy, who associates with other well-educated, fairly well off people, who knows to avoid the rare places or times where I could be attacked.... Me, I tend to think of all American people's opinions on self-defense as the ravings of crazy, deluded paranoid types. But who knows, maybe they are right (although having lived in the US, I think there's a huge part of ingrained cultural aspects in the typical US worrying about self-defense, not just the fact that the US is marginally more unsafe than Portugal). My requirements are therefore very different from anyone else's requirements. Marc's statement also gives you the tools to understand that "most of that happens" is largely defined by your choices in life (although this is also not unfortunately an absolute statement). Self-defense also starts when you make a conscious choice to get an education, have a regular job, avoid certain types of people, etc...

    Granted, the best approach is one that gives you the tools to measure the intensity of your response to whatever threat comes your way. But if you're talking "self defense", you're by necessity applying a certain utilitarian view to your practice of martial arts, and so considerations of effectiveness and speed come into the fore: you should learn what you most need as fast as you can. That should then be the overriding consideration in what you train. Only if you take a certain philosophical approach to the arts can you then afford the luxury of training in other ways, and only in the long run can you gain the ability to counter all kinds of threats with a like application of equal force (or perhaps slightly more if you're the "instructional" type and would want to teach something to the other guy). Consider also how much more easily you can teach your basic SEAL types and commando guys, given how little of legal considerations enters their particular brand of fighting ability (in general, of course). This is why I think that we should view the practice of martial arts as a particular type of cultural activity, one with plenty of interesting and valuable side effects and benefits, but one that is essentially, or should be (IMHO) devoid of any particular utilitarian benefits or immediate usefulness, thereby freeing us to absorb it in an entirely different way and giving us the long perspective to keep going at it for a long time, much like we would approach painting or bird watching. Training only for the fighting benefits creates its own specific mindsets which in the long run tend towards the pathological.

    Having said this, I like some of the things my teachers say: "You're too incompetent to be nice and use moderate force, first you need to do the really simple thing, which is to try to kill the other guy, which necessitates that we teach you also to trace your line in the sand far back of where other people would, and from here we proceed to teach competency and skill to become compassionate and peaceful" which seems, IMHO, but may be reading it wrong, a different point of view than the one in the post. How to achieve this? "Martial effectiveness is largely, and basically, the ability to be in that place where you will be able to use all 100% of your power and force, and your opponent cannot use more than 50% of his, or even 25%, thereby allowing you to defeat an opponent two times stronger. Ten times stronger may be difficult without guns, so run from elephants and tigers". I make it sound very articulated but this was mostly baby portuguese mixed with chinese, so it could have been something else altogether.

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  17. This is of course complete non-sense. There are fights you can use your Aikido skills, to it's full force. One is a street fight.

    The other is a NHB fight. There are only three rules: no eye gouge, no fishhook, no biting. All three of these attacks are not used in Aikido. That means spine strikes are legal, throat strikes a legal, breaking fingers are legal, stomping on the head is legal, groin strikes are legal, and even Dim Mak "The Touch of Death" is legal. And often there are no weight classes too.

    Aikido only works against opponents that do not know how to fight. Period. You can go prove Aikido works, go to Brazil and enter in a Vale Tudo fight. Vale Tudo translates to "anything goes". You can choose to wear shoes, no gloves, and even clothing to use as a choke weapon. It's all allowed in a NHB fight.

    Unless you can prove, in a NHB or real street fight, against another trained fighter, that Aikido works, then Aikido is just as good a boxing. That is any martial art, whatsoever can work against someone who can't fight.

    In R

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