Philosophy & social media

Aikido – A forgiving approach to self-defence

Zenponage - Ian Grant and Brendan Carter A couple of weeks back, I was talking after class with a relative newcomer to our Art who had been pondering on a number of philosophical issues relevant to the martial practise of Aikido. The discussion went along the lines that if Aikido is not about teaching people how to fight, then what is it really about.

There is probably no right or wrong answer to this question.  Speaking from a strictly martial context, my own view is that Aikido is about giving the practitioner skills to allow them the choice between a forgiving response and a destructive response to an attack.

I think it would be fair to say that in most violent altercations the respondent to an attack ordinarily only has the option of a destructive response.  This response involves either applying a destructive force to repel the attacker or accepting self destruction through submission.  What Aikido facilitates is giving the recipient of an attack another option.

In Aikido we learn to merge an attacker’s energy (or ki) with our own energy such that the attacker’s centre of balance is taken while our centre remains strong. The result is that for a moment of time the attacker is completely vulnerable.  It is at this point that the Aikido practitioner is in a position to make a choice between one of 2 options.

The first option is a forgiving response where damage to the attacker is minimalized to that necessary to end the attack (i.e. through the application of an Aikido technique). The second option is to take advantage of the attacker’s weakened structural position and execute maximum damage to the attacker, such as a strike to a vital organ.  In Aikido we obviously advocate the first choice.

Taken from this perspective, Aikido is not about learning skills to destroy an attacker, but rather learning skills to have the option of a more forgiving response.

All the best

Ian Grant

Other references which may be of interest

(a) Some thoughts on self-defence by Dan James Sensei at

(b) Toppling (kuzushi) by Dan James Sensei at

(c) Aikido: Christan TISSIER in Budapest 2013 (teaching) at (particularly at about 11.07 mark) – Christian Tissier Sensei comments on the destruction/forgiveness choice in Aikido applications.

Aikido without kuzushi – It’s like pizza without cheese

For Aikido to be practised with any element of martial integrity, the ability to employ kuzushi when applying a technique is a critical skill.

I would go as far as to say that in the absence of employing kuzushi it would be almost impossible to successfully apply any Aikido technique against a structurally centred and non-compliant aggressor of equal size and strength.

For those not familiar with the term kuzushi, it is most commonly used in a martial context as a reference to unbalancing the person who is initiating the attack (uke).  In other words, it involves bringing the uke’s center of gravity beyond their base of support and hence removing their ability to regain uncompromised balance.  While in this unbalanced position, it becomes very difficult for the uke to resist or counter the application of an appropriate Aikido technique.

While it all sounds so simple, learning to employ kuzushi is far from easy in practice. Amongst other things, it requires relaxed sensitivity, timing, and the ability to redirect an attacker’s energy.  If that isn’t challenging enough, kuzushi also needs to be employed at the time of first contact with the uke and then maintained throughout the application of the technique.

Unfortunately, I note there are a number of Aikido commentators around the web that appear to be concerned there is a trend in modern Aikido to de-emphasise and in some cases disregard the important role of kuzushi. I certainly hope these concerns are unfounded.

Excluding kuzushi from our practice would effectively render Aikido useless from a martial perspective.  For me, Aikido without kuzushi is like pizza without cheese. It’s not something I’m interested in trying.

Ian Grant
Head Instructor
Aikido Warrior Dojo


No-touch Aikido techniques: Separating fact and fantasy

There are plenty of examples on You Tube where a “martial arts master” appears to take an Obi-Wan Kanobi moment and use an invisible blast to project one or more students across the room.  Let me blunt from the outset, I’m a non-believer.

I must confess, I did visit an unaffiliated Aikido dojo some years ago where the possibility of shooting long distance “ki blasts” seemed to be seriously discussed.  I should add no one in the room could actually demonstrate such blasts, but the very fact some of them hoped to one day was enough for me never to return.

This is not to say that I don’t believe in the efficacy of so called no-touch Aikido techniques.  In fact, the truth is quite the contrary.  It’s just that these techniques have nothing to do with Star Wars let the force be with you” like blasts.

I should also add that I have on many occasions been the recipient of Aikido no-touch techniques. Based on this experience, I can assure the reader they are quite effective and have nothing to do with science fiction or mystic rays.

Essentially what happens is that the nage (i.e. the person doing the technique) neutralises the uke’s attack by executing a strike in such a way that the uke has the option of taking a fall instead of being hit. This takes considerable skill on the part of the nage, both in terms of timing and delivery. Specifically, the strike has to be fast enough such that it cannot be deflected, but slow enough so that the uke has the option of taking the fall to get out of the way of the incoming blow.

In real life, an untrained attacker will most likely be hit rather than choose to fall to avoid the strike. The nage must therefore also be trained in delivering the strike (which in fact is typically more a cut) so as to not suffer injury to their hand or arm when delivering it.

In a dojo setting, a uke well versed in ukemi (falling) is also critical. In essence the uke must respond to the strike as if it were a throw – something requiring some practice to do well.

See below a photograph sequence taken at the former Mizu Aikido Dojo.  The demonstrated no-touch technique is being used to neutralise an attacking force in the form of a two armed grab (ryotemochi).

Aran Seq

So there you go – no touch techniques really exist.

Ian Grant

Are gradings important?

From time to time, one hears a hearty debate between dojo students as to the merits of grading in Aikido.  Indeed there has been many an article on Aikido and other martial arts websites about the benefits or otherwise of gradings in traditional martial arts.


These debates typically discuss such matters as the need for uniform standards, the origins of grading systems, commercial influences that may impinge on integrity of the grading process, martial arts elitism and like matters.  What is often overlooked, is the personal benefits that gradings offer the student.

Ian Black belt HQSome years back, my Sensei at the time sent me an email that really brought it home to me as to why I should always step up to grade whenever invited.  The correspondence came about after I was invited to test for my Aikido 3rd kyu grading (green belt) and was having personal doubts as to whether I was ready.

The email included the most eloquent and persuasive statement that I have yet heard as to the personal benefits that gradings offer the Aikido student.  It went as follows:

Preparing for grading makes you review what you are learning.  And puts a little pressure on yourself.  I see it like this …  A plant in a pot will grow to a certain height. Only when it is transplanted into a larger pot will it continue to grow.”

Celebrity Aikidoka

Martial arts training has been an ongoing trend amongst celebrities dating back to the early 70’s.  Elvis Presley, Madonna, Jennifer Aniston, Patrick Swayze, Steve McQueen, Mel Gibson, Robert Downey Jr and Christian Bale, to name only a few, have all prolifically trained in one or more martial arts over the years.

While the striking arts tend to dominate celebrity choices for martial practice, a number of high profile actors and singers have reportedly trained in Aikido.  They include:

  • Steven Seagal  (7th Dan)

Without doubt, Steven Seagal is the most widely known actor/singer Aikidoka on the planet.  In an interview in 2001, Seagal Sensei made the following observations about Aikido and its self-defence applications.

Steven-Seagal-Aikido-002[1]It’s theoretically based on harmony rather than blocking, kicking and punching. We allow the other person to attack and use his own attack against him by becoming one with his movement and utilizing anatomical weak points, joint blocks and throws, etc.

In a life and death situation the harder the technique becomes. Often times, the attacker creates the life and death situation, because the harder they come the harder they fall. These techniques will work on anybody but you really have to learn them. Aikido is not a quick art to learn.”

  • Sean Connery (Nidan)

In 1996 during an interview with Jay Leno on the Tonight Show, the James Bond star reportedly not only stated that he was a Nidan in Aikido but also that he broke his wrist while practising with Steven Seagal.

  • Jerry Seinfeld

Aikido…I studied that for a while, the martial art. I love that. That’s a wonderful subject. Very good in marriage. I would suggest Aikido training for anyone thinking of getting married” (Quote from interview with Parade Magazine).

  • John Denver

Country music legend and environmentalist, John Denver, was reportedly a dedicated Aikidoka who trained under Tom Crum Sensei.

  • Joan Baez (Shodan).

Folk music legend, Joan Baez, is a black belt in Aikido.  Photographs of her training can readily be found on the Internet. Ms Baez made the following comment in an interview for the Washington Post when responding to public criticism she had received for her protest activities:

I don’t care an eyedrop about the criticism…Aikido is carrying over into my life. A few years ago I would have been waking up at night. Not now.”

Ian Grant