While trawling a popular Aikido forum, I was sharing my experiences in the Aikikai Hombu HQ in Tokyo which was in short, not positive.

Basically I expressed how I felt like an outsider with nobody returning my smiles and the instructor more concerned with the other Japanese student whom I was partnered with even when at times I was struggling with the technique as much as the that Japanese student. Even the locker room situation before and after the class was just as tense with nobody talking to each other. Training itself was like some sort of strange religion where the instructor did and you followed without much more than a few words (which I unfortunately did not understand either).

I basically wanted to know if this was an isolated case or was this truly the 'Hombu experience'.

I was told by a few forumers that I had to 'learn humility' and 'be grateful that they let you train there' and that 'training is serious, not to make friends'. In short, they are doing me a favor by letting me be there in the first place and I should be thankful for whatever I got.

To hear this from fellow Aikidoka, really made me wonder how brainwashed are these people? There's one thing to be strict and no nonsense, but another to be unapproachable and expect blind obedience. I doubt having such a 'strict' environment improves learning at all! It's one thing preventing people messing around in class and goofing off, but to have everyone fearful and not daring to talk above a tiny whisper when you are genuinely discussing what works and what doesn't, is to me a very antiquated way of learning.

I think the era where teachers are respected as mini deities is over. A teacher-student relationship is based on communication and understanding, not a hierarchy. Sure, a teacher has to be accorded some degree of respect, but not to the point where the teacher is considered to be a different class of person to you and everything he says is law. A martial art need not be a puzzle that you have to figure out yourself through training thousands of hours if it can be communicated within a few minutes.

In retrospect at my years of training, I wished I had been given some very basic anecdotes that could have been told to me in two minutes, but because no one told me, it took me some 14 years to realize it. That to me is unnecessary and a complete waste of time. Whatever benefit/satisfaction I got from discovering this myself was offset by the sheer amount of time I had invested to find this out.

I guess I can understand this as many martial arts develop in such a repressed environment where your teacher is literally your 'master' and you had to clean his house, do his chores and if he felt like it, he would impart a few techniques to you. But it is still shocking to think that there are those who still believe this is an acceptable and in fact ideal way to learn things.

I cross train Aikikai Aikido with CMD.

Yes I can sense the smirks already :P

Yes, yes, Aikido, that art that has some of the most fake-looking techniques and often steeped in unnecessary mysticism. It's the very essence of a traditional martial art where you watch and then you learn. You deal with single attacks, and seldom any form of combos...you have unrealistic attack scenes, but yet I continue to still practice it.


Partly because I've been doing it for so long...some 16 years perhaps and also an idealism that effective martial arts can be graceful and non brutal.

However lately, after about 6 months into my training in CMD, I have found that certain aspects of CMD has entered into my Aikido techniques and approach to the art which have unlocked insights that I would have probably not obtained in a traditional Aikido atmosphere.

Perception of an Attack

In Aikido, most students aren't really good attackers. In fact, I think in most Aikido schools, we're trained to be sloppy to let the other person learn the technique. Unfortunately even at the dan levels, due to repeated 'training' of sloppy attacks, we never quite learnt how to do a proper attack, getting further away from practicality.

However, CMD removed my fear of being punched. I no longer flinch and got used to the faster punch speeds. Hence when I trained Aikido, suddenly all the attacks were moving in slow motion and it became incredibly easy to dodge these with increasing efficiency.

You can't expect to apply Aikido to every attack

When I swapped these sloppy attacks with more realistic quick punches, you realized that there are punches that you can't do a technique on (for example a crisp jab), while others which give u a window of opportunity to do something (for example hooks and crosses).

For those jabs, it was basically learning to keep a distance and circle (much like CMD) while deflecting them with non committal slaps. CMD talks about occupying the space with jabs, while Aikido has it all out there ALREADY occupying this space putting you in an ideal position to redirect non committal attacks without sacrificing defense.

Realistic Sparring changes your Mindset- you can't be passive

CMD also introduced me to realistic sparring where you don't really know how the other guy is going to attack. Aikido randoori or jiyuwaza isn't really 'free' in that there are still predetermined attacks and geez they still sometimes attack you with holds...

It's one mindset doing jiyuwaza and another where there is a real danger of being punched and where it's accepted to get punched.

When approaching jiyuwaza with this mindset, you actually develop a more pro-active style, moving in before the person has fully gotten up and pre-emptively striking right before he strikes if his posture is weak.

It no longer is an elaborate dance but resembles a real fight scenario where you're really thinking about how to protect yourself. I think this is what many higher dan Aikido masters have found when they mentioned that in a real life situation you need to take a lot more initiative rather than waiting for an attack to come to you.

In fact you unlock true 'jiyu' where you remove the rules of what's acceptable dojo sparring and are free to innovate.

Atemi is super important

Atemi is the act of striking your opponent. Now are often told that atemi is a distracting move and there are even some Senseis who see atemi as sort of a cheating move.

I don't see it that way but as a necessary extension of what Aikido is. In fact, I believe Morihei Ueshiba advocated the importance of this. In real life, your opponent is not going to be compliant or stationary and you need a surprise jolt to buy yourself enough time to get into position for a technique.

Training counter-punching in CMD is VERY relevant to the proper application of atemi. The timing and applying the necessary force to disorient your uke is an aspect not trained.

Too often in regular Aikido training, atemi is an afterthought, done poorly and more of just a movement that in the heat of a real fight, it's often forgotten or done ineffectively.

A proper atemi hurts. Imagine getting your face smacked by a fist or being punched below the ribs, and most people will be to disoriented to resist your technique.

Some techniques remain a mystery to me

Still some Aikido techniques continue to be a mystery to me and seem only applicable against a crazy guy charging at you giving you full committal. For example, certain versions of kokyu-ho seem incredibly unrealistic unless the guy continued to hold your hand throughout the movement. This is obviously ridiculous in a real life situation.

However I do see a point in learning these techniques as it does teach you the proper flow and extension needed to execute throws but this should be made clear from the beginning rather than passed off as a 'technique'.

A technique that can only be applied on a compliant uke, is not a real technique to me. It's a practice drill.

Aikido against a trained fighter

Now I have to admit, Aikido against a trained fighter will probably have very limited usage. An experienced fighter who just does a little research on Aikido can easily see what an Aikidoka is trying to do and easily prevent it.

Aikido does rely heavily on the element of surprise. In fact I'll be quite confident if I had to spar with someone who only knew Aikido.

Aikido has no place in the octagon/professional fighting as much as BJJ has no place outside 1 on 1 fighting.

However, the majority of the guys you are going to face are untrained fighters or people who aren't actually expecting you to resist in such a manner. This is really in most cases a true self defense scenario where you're going to be caught by surprise and the attacker isn't expecting you to fight back.

Just imagine getting yourself into a CMD stance when faced with attackers, it immediately puts them on notice that you know how to fight and they react accordingly.

The great thing about Aikido is that you can still assume a non threatening stance and yet be ready to explode into action. It builds muscle reflexes where if someone grabs me, I immediately instinctively move into a throw (yes I once threw my ex-gf and almost threw my Japanese tour operator). It is also very final and yet non lethal. Sure a punch in CMD should end most fights but a proper pin or throw has a certain finality to it perhaps only less as compared to a BJJ choke.

Aikido is still relevant

So in my opinion, Aikido is still very relevant. Sure it may not be as 'complete' as CMD, but its applications in a self defense situation are still very real as long as a more realistic emphasis is placed on training.

We often forget that legends such as Morihei Ueshiba and Gozo Shioda perfected their art through real life fighting gaining the necessary instincts to be able to pull off Aikido. In a way, realistic sparring may be that missing element to complete Aikido.

I hope that my journey through CMD continues to open such insights into Aikido and removing the stigma of Aikido as a 'fake' martial art.