Monday, March 08, 2010

Should I do aikido for self-defense?

Photo courtesy of TXD

I got a great comment on my last post via email...
Your latest post certainly got me thinking, particulary when you said "That's not really what we want to be learning. Aikido and judo are about improvement of the self, and only peripherally about self-defense..."  It made me inwardly scream "say it ain't so!" Because I'm not really interested in improving myself. Not through martial arts, anyway. The foremost reason I put myself through what I do (aikido, judo, and bjj) IS about self-defense...
Good point. And you are right that this stuff was originally solely combative.  The turning point (from -jutsu to -do) was in the aftermath of the Meiji restoration with the advent of judo and aikido and jodo and kyudo, etc... from the original combative arts.
But there are some things you have to watch out if self-defense is your primary motivation for training...
  • Non-verifiability - You can almost never tell if your self-defense training is successful. In our society, dangerous as it is, most of us never have to really defend ourselves. So I could be selling you a load of malarkey, betting on the chance that you'll never get a chance to verify my teachings (though I don't think that's what I'm doing).
  • Non-measurability - You can't measure non-events. If you are never attacked, is it because you're lucky (or because of God's Providence) or is it because your aiki training improved your awareness and self-confidence enough that villains never targeted you? Or is it because your aiki training made you better at de-escalating potential problems?
  • Correlation is not causation - Even if you are attacked and you beat the other guy up and save yourself, can you attribute that to your aikido training or is it due to luck or providence or your innate strength or what?
  • Diminishing returns - if you make self-defense the center of your motivation, you can attain that goal as good as anyone can teach it by about green or brown belt. Any martial arts instructor in the world that's worth a darn can easily teach you everything he knows about self defense within about 40-60 mat hours. But there are folks that spend a lifetime studying aikido - so what are they doing with all that time after the first hundred hours or so? Self-defense as a motivation is subject to diminishing returns.
But self-defense is as good a motivation as any - none of the other reasons for practicing are objectively measurable either.  If you claim that you are practicing for "self-improvement," how do you define self-improvement and if you do achieve that self improvement (whatever that is), how can you tell that it's the aikido practice and not simply the passage of time that is improving your character? Practicing for health benefits is likewise shaky - can you say that having no negative health outcomes is due to your practice? If you do have an heart attack then can you say that your aikido practice was a failure?  You might as well just say, "It's fun.  I enjoy it."
So, my assertion was that un-measurable, un-objective goals like self defense could not really be the center of what we're doing (at least not for long). The central motivation for most folks that stick around for a long time seems to be an intangible, subjective benefit that has something to do with health + confidence (or lack of fear) + fun + socialization.
Patrick Parker is a Christian, husband, father, martial arts teacher, Program Director for a Cardiac Rehab, and a Ph.D. Contact: or phone 601.248.7282 木蓮
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