Aikido and Self Defense – How to Acquire the Skill

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All martial arts talk about self defense benefits, yet they can be very elusive.  Some people offer self defense classes where you learn a couple of techniques in a day and go off certified as equipped to handle yourself if someone out there really attacks you.  Chances are the student will become overconfident in their abilities and get themselves into trouble without knowing how to get themselves out of it.  So how do we approach acquiring real skill in self defense?  What are our responsibilities as a student?

As in any martial art, Aikido teaches the notion of non-attachment.  To the extent you are attached to any phenomena, that phenomenon becomes your weakness.  As a reference, Takuan explained the matter well.   So to become truly effective in self defense, we must release our attachments to all phenomena, and anything short of complete success will leave us open to defeat.  Once open, a perceptive attacker will always be able to harm us, and so we may only rely upon the fortune that they do not figure out our weakness.  The ability to defend ourselves will not be based upon skill.  So if we begin our practice hoping for self defense skill, that wish will act as an attachment and we will fail.  Instead, the initial approach to training should involve dropping that motivation and simply practicing.  Through practice one learns to drop all attachments, including the fear of being harmed if attacked, and this approach is the fastest way to accomplish the goal.

Over the years, I have heard people from virtually every martial art talk about how they believe their training would never work in real life, and the grass is always greener in some other discipline.  Aikido does not work because you do not start out with 100% resistance.  Judo does not work because you don’t deal with people striking.  Tai Chi does not work because you spend all day doing these weird forms.  Karate does not work because if you miss and the opponent gets up close and personal, you are at a complete loss.  MMA does not work because if there are two opponents or one is armed you are clueless.  Proposed solutions?  Do Aikido, Judo, Tai Chi, Karate and MMA.  Each method teaches the same principle: nonattachment.  If you achieve the goal of nonattachment, any of these methods will work.  The point is that one should not become frustrated at the intermediate levels of practice and give up training for nonattachment or success will never be achieved.

There is, however, another point.  In Aikido I was taught that there are two methods of study.  One is to study Aikido itself.  Another is to study other forms of knowledge and use what you learn there to see and understand what you are learning in Aikido.  To the extent someone finds certain avenues of study helpful, approaching self defense via cross training in another martial art can be very helpful.  One steps outside the Aikido world and attempts to examine the same principles through a different lens.

This opportunity addresses the student’s responsibility in achieving success.  No martial art is designed as a method to spoon feed information to the student.  In fact, in olden days they used the term “steal the technique.”  Stealing the technique does not refer to taking something which does not belong to you.  I would reference the article in Hoa Sensei’s book for further interest, but basically the idea is the student is responsible to investigate matters and find the solution themselves.  The teacher is not responsible to offer up everything on a silver platter.  The student must investigate on their own with 100% thoroughness, or success will never occur.  So the student must investigate the points completely and simultaneously be completely unattached.  Perhaps you can get a sense for why genuine skill in self defense is considered to be elusive.

The decision on whether to cross train or not is completely personal.  If someone, in the process of diligently studying the notion of nonattachment, feels examining the matter through a different lens would be helpful, they should certainly pursue it.  If they find a school that can help them and have the time and opportunity, the process can be very productive.  If they are not interested or cannot find the appropriate opportunity, continued study of nonattachment in the midst of self defense related activity in Aikido can work as well.  Again, the decision is completely an individual matter.

So in summary, the student of Aikido, in order to learn genuine self defense skill, must take on complete responsibility to examine the principles of the art down to their very core.  The principles teach nonattachment, and so the study must also employ complete nonattachment in the process.  The task is difficult and the goal is elusive, but the effort along the way is designed to provide benefits of all kinds as we continue to transform ourselves.  Some of these benefits are described in earlier entries of this blog and more will be posted later.  Some wish for the alternative of instant self defense, just add water.  The idea that someone else will take responsibility to give you the skill you wish immediately without any responsibility on your part simply does not exist in any martial art.  Anyone who makes such a claim, if believed, will only bring trouble.  You will expect to have a skill that you really don’t possess and make poor decisions based upon false information.  Depending upon circumstances, the results could be devastating.  The only sane alternative is to relax, drop the attachment to the wish for self defense skill, enjoy the basic practice of Aikido and study hard.  That approach is the most direct path to acquiring many benefits, including self defense skill.