I think the flame wars that go on in the online martial arts community are fascinating. I’ve covered a couple here already about efficacy and self-defense. Recently I got to see another one about credibility. I’ll paraphrase the question to take out some of the emotional context:
If an aikidoka demonstrates a technique that is also found in BJJ it is dismissed as ineffective. If a jiujitsero were to demonstrate the same technique it is suddenly regarded as awesome. What’s the difference?
The answer is deceptively simple: BJJ is in vogue.
I mean, there’s more to it than that. If we were to take a competition jiujitsero and a stereotypical aikidoka they’re going to look at that same technique very differently. How the jiujitsero sets it up and applies it will be based on a resisting opponent and may be influenced by competition rules, while Aikido is generally not associated with training with that level of resistance so the technique will probably be executed in a circle off of a telegraphed attack with an uke who has learned helplessness. This just raises more questions though – why is it that Aikido is associated with partners jumping into techniques, and why is BJJ in vogue while other martial arts that have been historically popular are now “bullshit”? Why do we have this stereotypical aikidoka with a pony tail and hakama?
I’ve never done aikido. So, to answer the question about why we perceive Aikido the way we do, I did a YouTube search. Here’s the first hit for “Aikido Randori”. People are waiting their turns to do scripted, telegraphed attacks and are at no point resisting or countering the throws. And when we search more we can find a lot of examples like this. Alternately when we search “Judo Randori” our first hit is this. The practitioners are grip-fighting, actively resisting each others throws, and setup requires adapting to the movements of your partner. We perceive Aikido the way we do because that’s what’s on public display. As with all stereotypes, we know it probably doesn’t apply to every Aikido club, but we can only make judgments based on our past experiences. There very well may be Aikido clubs who actively train with resisting opponents, but we don’t see them in the lime light. What we do see when we look at Aikido is rehearsed Steven Seagal scenes.
At some point in American history the East Asian martial arts became hugely popularized as the epitome of fighting arts. The internet tells me there was a time in the 50’s and 60’s that people didn’t really believe things like karate were practical. By the time I was a kid mass marketing had led us to believe otherwise. The pendulum swung back though, and the rise of grappling in popularity thanks to BJJ and MMA has again led people to believe that more “traditional” martial arts are less effective because we don’t see them actively winning in the ring. Fedor got $1.5M for a single Strikeforce fight. If karate, Aikido, or ninjitsu were all that effective, someone would be stepping up and using it to make real money, right? I mean Lyoto Machida is one name doing well with karate, but we don’t see a lot of other guys with his kind of background coming out of the woodwork.
There are still two fundamental assumptions I’ve been avoiding in this explanation:
- What is the overlap between BJJ and Aikido?
- Would the technique really be viewed with less credibility if it were done exactly the same?
Again, due to my lack of aikido experience I turn to the internet, which if it is to be believed the answers are “very little” and “no, not really”. When people look to BJJ for technique demos online they’re generally looking at the ground. I have yet to see Aikido do ground work. It just isn’t out there. There’s some cool stuff mixed with Aikido that has ground work (take a look at Aikisambo), but the actual overlap seems to be limited to a few techniques in the BJJ self-defense curriculum (which isn’t really standardized and not every BJJ school has). Even then, when we look at these techniques the BJJ approach and setup is pretty different so we’re not even looking at identical techniques. The BJJ demos are the guy grabs your t-shirt so you wrist lock him and he taps as he comes forward. The aikido demos are the guy takes a huge swing and goes flying five feet because he jumped into the wrist lock.
If there’s not really any identical techniques, how can I say there’s not really any difference in credibility when the same technique is shown the same way by two different styles? By looking at other examples besides Aikido. Aikido isn’t the only martial art that is pretty much viewed as LARPing. Hapkido is another one I see people having difficultly taking seriously – the striking is pretty much the same as TKD, it sounds super East Asian, and demos look hokey beyond belief. At the end of the day though, Hapkido has a lot of throws that are pretty much identical to judo/jujitsu including setup. No one takes the scissors takedown less serious when someone who does Hapkido does it when compared to someone who does Sambo. They see the throw and acknowledge the technique as effective. Granted, they might assume the Sambo practitioner does it better for no tangible reason, but it’s not like someone would see a scissors takedown from Hapkido and immediately dismiss the technique any more than they would dismiss one of BJJ’s flying armbars. People care first and foremost about what works. They might compare the technique of the practitioners and assume that someone doing a “lesser” style may do it worse (even if they don’t), but outright dismissing techniques really only happens when it just looks too hokey or staged.
Also, the hakama aren’t helping anyone’s case.