Credibility


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:

  1. What is the overlap between BJJ and Aikido?
  2. 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.

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4 thoughts on “Credibility

  1. As someone who trains in both Aikido and BJJ: the overlap is to be found in very basic principles, not in techniques. Both stress the importance of hip movement, balance and the centre line. That, and our joints can only be locked in so many ways, which makes for similar locks being used, albeit in different ways.

    • I agree that in principle BJJ and Aikido are similar. I would say that of pretty much every jujitsu-derivitive and of most styles of grappling. I don’t think it’s an overlap that is conveyed by the demonstration of techniques though. There are only so many ways to manipulate a joint, but there are even fewer that are practical under a certain set of assumptions. Since MMA-oriented BJJ presents different goals and assumptions than stereotypical Aikido each ends up with a different set of techniques that are “practical”. This leads to apples/oranges comparisons between things like standing waki gatame as a knife defense and waki gatame on the ground as a turtle escape. In practice, they’re both waki gatame, but given that each has a grossly different context they end up looking really different.

      • I am going to extend it even further.
        Hip movement is important to…everything sportive? Dancing, running, all martial arts (ask a boxer if his hips are in his punches…), soccer/all ball sports. Hips and core are two of the most powerful muscles we have (glutes as well), so they are naturally used in any sort of physical activity.

        Balance-See above.
        Joint locks-any martial art that does locks emphasizes joint locks because…they do locks…
        Center line and angled attacks are important to any sort of sport that involves trying to get around someone (basketball/football in addition to many martial arts).

        In addition, posture should be on the list. Posture is important whether you are trying to play piano or pass the guard.

        But remember a lot of people aren’t looking for what’s practical, that is a logical fallacy I see many hard contact martial artists make the mistake of assuming. What else they are looking for I am not sure, often times it seems to be the fantasy of power (Wing Chun/Kung Fu unfortunately seems to have a fair few practitioners in this boat, Aikido as well). This is not a comprehensive list of all the things people search for (and quite frankly, rarely find) in martial arts.

        For some reference on Aikido vs. BJJ you might want to look up Roy Dean who is a high ranked black belt in both (http://www.roydeanacademy.com/blog), he’s written extensively on such topics.

        Oh, and Aikido’s “able to kill people with Chi” proponents really does them no favors.

      • Roy Dean is a good BJJ resource even outside of the mix with Aikido. There’s actually some other DVDs you can pick up by searching the web that show how to blend Aikido and BJJ, but it’s not the same as blending judo and BJJ where you can say “Okay, judo does the armbar like this, our flavor of BJJ does it like this. We can use judo’s variation in this case”. It’s more akin to learning to blend boxing and wrestling – two sides of what used to be the same coin that now require skill to combine.

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