Do you remember the old tv commercial of the two old women? The one where they walk into a burger joint and start complaining when served? Where they ask over and over again, “Where’s the beef?” What a great commercial that was as it dealt with paying for something that you the customer didn’t get.
Last year pre-Hurricane Harvey flood (that 6 months later still has the entire city disrupted) we were engaged in a study of all the martial arts dojo in Houston that we could find, looking at classes, web page design, instructor qualifications, pictures of pretty uniforms, mascots, action photos, videos, cat videos, etc. You know. Standard web kinda' material. Pretty normal for any small business when you are looking to prep’ for the New Year and getting things in gear.
So here I’m cruising the web like a boss-beach bum. Surfing and clicking and hanging 12 and humming old sailor shanties when suddenly I’m taken aback at one site. “No Throwing Aikido Classes” the web site says, right next to “Aikido for Children”.
So I hike up my Birdwell’s and turn my Hobie (er .. ah .. mouse) around and spend some time researching this idea. There it was and I hadn’t mis-read the page titles.
The site for this “other dojo” clearly said “Child-Safe Aikido” and “No Throwing Adult Aikido Classes”. Wow, thought I. How interesting. How progressive. How forward-looking.
WTH? How can you proclaim yourself to be the "premiere Aikido school in town" and not teach how to throw; not to mention watering it all down to make it "child friendly".
In our blog series that’s gone on some 10 years or so by now, I’ve made observations on ideas inherent in martial arts training such as; you get out of it what you put into it, look for practical training, look for a dojo that won’t destroy you but that will teach you, find competent instructors, seek honesty in training philosophy, look for true Bushido. There are more than just these few but bottom line is, if you are looking for martial arts then find those and don't settle for second-best.
If you are looking to lose weight then do so, and if you are looking for Kabuki Theater or Comicon fantasy role play then look for that also. Just be sure to find what you want and if you are the Sensei, be honest in how you present your curriculum. No one should have any issue with you training the way you want as long as you are presented the full and honest picture right up front and are happy with the package (and price) you are buying.
The idea that you can present a full-scale Aikido curriculum as being a valid study of Bushido but not have any throwing involved (go watch some Ueshiba videos one day and watch for the “no throwing” uke around .. HA! .. lol) and therefore have no break falling involved (ummmm …. doesn’t throwing automatically suggest “falling” may also be involved) strikes a professional Bushi as simultaneously dangerous and a severe form of martial arts malpractice.
Many years ago at my old dojo, the Sensei who was a Japanese-trained stickler for precision in teaching and performance had two deshi; one, a pretty senior black belt and the other, a lower-level black belt. They had the idea of starting up an Aikido-based exercise program. I can’t remember the marketing name they copyrighted so let’s just call it “Sweaty Aikido Exercises for Non-Aikido People Wanting to Lose Weight”.
And that’s what it was. They did it outside the dojo and never told Sensei about it. Heck. None of us knew about but to be honest, when I heard of it I was a little jealous thinking what a great idea of a way to apply martial arts (which we all loved) to teach a little something to folks who otherwise would never be exposed to any Budo at all. Had my liking. Might even get some new players out of it.
Once Sensei found out about it however, he went … how to put this … apoplectic, berserk, insane, he was beyond upset, all of the above, and few more.
His point was this. Once you do the motions of any particular waza a sufficient number of times, you will eventually and in spite of yourself, blow uke out of his fundoichi because for that one moment in time everything worked exactly the way it was designed to. So the longer they train, the more rep’s they put in, the greater the likelihood that they would hit the sweet spot and uke would be smashed senseless, unless they knew how to correctly break fall.
So put another way, a Sensei who runs a dojo should not bill any class as “No Throwing Aikido” where Aikido techniques are taught and practiced but in which players are not required to learn a full range of dynamic ukemi. Conversely, if ukemi are not taught and described as “optional” then the description of the class should instead be changed to something like “Exercise Class Using Aikido-Type Ideas But Not Real Martial Arts” and then, modify any Aikido technique to the point to where it couldn’t work even if Ueshiba tried it.
Bottom line is that if you teach Aikido in any form, then actually teach Aikido including the break fall skills so if anyone is thrown even if by accident then they will be (and will land on the mat) safe. Don’t claim to be teaching Aikido and leave out what could be the most important part. That is quite and simply unethical marketing and martial malpractice by any name and after they are injured on your mat they just might be asking, "Where's the Sake?" as they wave at you out of the back of the rickshaw on the way to the hospital.
See you on the mat.
L.F. Wilkinson Kancho