Of course, I am poking fun a bit and engaging in hyperbole to highlight something I think we (aikido students) are all familiar with: aikido exchanges are idealized and choreographed to the point of absurdity. 99% - yes, I sincerely mean 99% - of the aikidoka attacks I have seen are so wimpy, so flacid, so telegraphed from so far away, so unfocused and lacking in ki, so… well, unrecognizable as attacks that they cannot honestly be called such. Waving my hand in the air over my head as I stand seven feet from my victim and then sending a telltale ‘hop’ to signal “I’m about to run at you and hit you on your head!” is silliness for anyone beyond the level of white belt. Yet I have seen that exact behavior (no hyperbole this time) in demonstration after demonstration given by *high*-level black belts. Are we learning to defend ourselves against a slapfighter from high school? What peculiar madness is this for a “martial” art? Oh, let us not forget the ever popular pitched battles of “running around in circles as I try to grab your lapels”, the holding my arms straight down at my sides as multiple attackers assail me and never go for my face neck or back of head” defense, and the constant “holding my attacking limb straight out all the time even when my attack missed” practice. I could go on but all of us who have trained this way and/or seen training like this know the numerous examples to be given. Only those who have never been genuinely attacked outside of a dojo setting could mistake this stuff for anything like the real deal.
“So what?” some say. So what? A good, smooth, powerful defensive technique has a good, strong, surprising, focused attack as it’s raison d’etre!! How could I even have knowledge of a proper defensive technique without something to test it against? Jello against jello is proof of nothing and a sword will move through jello as if it were never there. Our attacks are like jello and we pat ourselves on the back for having defended ourselves. What happens when the sword comes? Who will stand then? Only those who have tested against the sword.
“Aikido is not a striking art nor an aggressive one.” Of course that’s true and I agree that we do not desire it to be that. Yet we hope to train ourselves to face agression and neutralize it. We have to know what that means on the physical level to legitimately gain confidence on the mental level and confidence is vital to the success of any endeavor. One goal of almost any art is unshakeable confidence in ourselves and our art. Our “martial” art.
Learning how to deliver powerful, focused, ki-filled attacks with our hands and feet and weapons, attacks that do not give away our balance nor leave our limbs hanging in space for an easy grab, that come from any and every angle, remains without appreciation among aikidoka generally.
Strikes are the most important techniques for without them we have nothing by which to judge rightly the value of our defenses.