Death to the Bloodless Victory!

The good folks at Aikido Journal recently picked up one of my self-defense anecdotes, considering it an interesting example of real-world Aikido technique.

Well, some of them did, anyway. One reader posted this amusing retort:

“I hereby motion for more examples of self-defense where at least one punch was thrown at the author.”

For those who don’t already know, Aikido practitioners are the starry-eyed idealists of the martial arts world. They tend to talk of harmony rather than victory, and ethics before power. In theory at least, they are among the noblest of warriors and pugilists.

In practice, Aikido training is almost exclusively dedicated to ending a fight in progress–as marked by attempts to grab, punch or tackle–rather than terminating it before it can manifest as violent physical action. Since no punches were thrown in my story, this reader deemed it “unrelated to the martial art of Aikido.”

To which I ask, as defined by whom?

Morihei Ueshiba reportedly said that 99% of Aikido is striking. But you’ll never see evidence for this in the average Aikido dojo today; most strikes are only assumed or implied. If they aren’t performed, but are merely kept in mind, are they still a relevant part of the art?

Ueshiba also said that:

True Budo is practiced not only to destroy an enemy, it must also make him gladly lose his spirit to oppose you.

Every day, thousands of Aikido students step onto the mat, and launch symbolic attacks against a training partner. The result is preordained: the attacker will fail and fall down, in a show of harmonious ukemi. No spirit of opposition is really present.

But on the street, I am told, it is better to keep up appearances. Apparently, there is no room for a bloodless victory in modern self-defense.


  1. Our sensei (jujitsu, not aikido) is fond of quoting Ueshiba’s teaching of “harmonizing the opponent” He goes on to say that what most people don’t realize it that it might not be a fun experience for the attacker.

    Don’t take that to be critical of you and your story, though. I think practice in the dojo against attacks that are as real and aggressive as you can make them are a good thing — once the participants skill is at a level that can mostly deal with them. If you start out whaling the blazes out of white belts, nothing good will come of it.

  2. Sure, and I can understand how someone would read that story and say, “who cares, nothing happened.” My point is, the list of things that didn’t happen is significant. And the ability to make nothing happen is a skill worth cultivating.

  3. If I harmonize with an aggressive fellow, couldn’t I mock and play along with his rage and aggression?

    We could unite…in heavy-metal harmonies or great punk defiance, maybe; not new-agey.

    Hmm… thinking about harmony…

Add a Comment