Why Did Aikido Lose Popularity? – Brief Martial Arts
Aikido has been in a wave of controversy for
years now. Even the once considered “God of Aikido”in popular culture, is now being
washed away in the mud. But what? has happened to this art’s, once former glory? Where?
did it all go so wrong? Morihei Ueshiba, also known as O’Sensei
(Great Teacher) born in 1883 during his life has become a master of a classical a Jujitsu
style of Aiki-Jujitsu, a form of Kenjutsu – Japanese Swordsmanship and Jojutsu, the
art of the combat staff. He was also a devotee of various spiritual practices, spending a
big part of his life in meditation and studies of sacred texts. With years of experience,
he has come to connect all of his knowledge into a Martial Art that he called Aikido. Aikido was so highly respected that for a
certain period of time, only people who had a recommendation, were allowed to practice
it. Many famous martial artists through entire Japan came to train with Ueshiba and had a
lot of respect for him. Yet these days Aikido is looked with a lot of skepticism by fellow
martial artists, most notably by that of MMA and BJJ, although not excluding many others.
But in order to realize where this has started, we will have to take a better look at the
past. Traditional Jujitsu was created and developed
in Japan by the samurai, mainly to defend against armored and potentially armed opponents
in battle field or in other places. Yet after the Meiji Restoration in 1868, which ended
the samurai class, completely changed people’s relationship to martial arts. Various martial
arts, including Jujitsu have started to be considered unfashionable and had little interest
to people. Also, with the changing times, most of Jujitsu masters started to conclude
that their art has become impractical and thus stopped their practices entirely.
Yet Jigoro Kano, born 1860, being bullied in his childhood decided to learn Jujitsu
nevertheless. After long and difficult search for a teacher, who would be still willing
to teach, he eventually not only came to learn the art himself, but also became a master
of it. Yet he did not stop there. With Jujitsu still being unpopular and not
accepted by general public, Sensei Kano decided to not only change some of the techniques,
but also to rediscover it’s emphasizes and philosophy, which suited more the modern day.
Thus Judo was born – a martial art that was more adapted to the current time.
Judo has become increasingly popular and it’s practitioners constantly won in contests against
other styles of Jujitsu, thus proving it’s superiority. Hearing all the talks about it,
Mitsuyo Maeda, born 1878, became interested in the art and started practicing it in his
early years. He ended up studying with Jigoro Kano’s senior students, with the supervision
of the Judo founder himself. As Judo became known in the United States,
it was decided to send more judoka’s there from Japan, to promote the art. Maeda took
the opportunity. He travelled around the whole West, not only teaching but also constantly
participating in various demonstrations and contests. In 1914 he first visited Brazil,
where he engaged in his Judo activity and became well known. While in Brazil, in 1917
he met Carlos Gracie, who soon became his student and ended up learning from Maeda for
a few years. Carlos, having learned Judo, back then also known as Kano Jujitsu, later
on he continued to pass his knowledge to his other Gracie brothers.
Amidst his brothers, the most notable one was Helio Gracie. Born 1913, Helio was a frail
child, thus he wasn’t able to perform many of the techniques himself, due to the lack
of physic and other health issues. This in turn lead him to modify and improve what he
was taught. Continuing to improve what they have learned,
Carlos’ and Helios’ jujitsu has become so effective that they decided to start hosting
an event, which was already popular in Brazil, known as Vale Tudo – a full contact, unarmed
combat event, with limited set of rules, where the Gracie brothers would compete against
other styles of combat. Here the Gracies were actually able to defeat most of the opponents.
When the Gracies went to the United States to further promote their style, they started
referring to it as Gracie or Brazilian Jujitsu to differentiate from other names. They kept
constantly improving their style and proving it’s effectiveness against various fighters,
which also supported their technical growth. Thus the roots were born of the such a well
known Martial Art that these days we often call with the simple abbreviation of BJJ.
With tournaments of various martial arts becoming increasingly popular, various martial arts
had started to be blended together. Brazilian Jujitsu had also a big influence in this mix,
since in 1993, the first Ultimate Fighting Championship, also known as UFC was hosted,
where Royce Gracie, the son and student of Helio Gracie, won the tournament, thus leading
to a realization, that BJJ has to be included in the practice of what has become known as
Mixed Martial Arts, or MMA. With the popularity of MMA and it’s various
tournaments rising, the development of the blend of various martial arts continued. This
blend, as much as BJJ, focused on eliminating everything that is not necessary and increasing
the efficiency of a fighter in a tournament and leaving only whatever is most practical.
In other words, practicality and efficiency has become the basis of modern martial arts.
Yet here we reach the point where we come back to Aikido. With it’s deep philosophical
roots, Morihei Ueshiba did not approve any competition. He stated that Aikido is meant
for reconciling conflict and the betterment of the individual, rather than deciding who
is more efficient. Thus Aikido was never exposed to an urge of needing to improve it’s techniques
in order to perform better in tournaments, or was never continuously forced to look at
it’s lacks. Also, ironically enough, despite that O’Sensei
kept improving and changing his art, many of the Aikido instructors refused to change
Aikido techniques on a fundamental level, trying to honor the founder in this way. Some
main Aikido teachers, such as Sensei Morihiro Saito went so far as to make it his primarily
goal to preserve the art exactly as it is. While this corresponds to the cultural values
of Japan, to preserve and honor the past, this phenomenon has been transmitted to the
West as well, with many instructors refusing to make any substantial changes to the art,
thus leaving Aikido with the same form and techniques, with only minor changes.
Not having any exposure to competition and being preserved by it’s instructors, Aikido
has become static, while BJJ and MMA has continued to constantly improve, thus eventually starting
to give controversy to the art, as to if it has any practical use at all.
There had been some attempts to make Aikido more efficient, such as “Real Aikido”,
created by a Serbian man named Ljubomir Vracarevic. The so called“Real Aikido” is based on
Aikido techniques, with the attempt to modify them in a more efficient and practical way,
yet while it maintains a similar external shell to Aikido, that was founded by Ueshiba,
it does not touch upon the original philosophy or spirit that the founder felt are absolutely
necessary in this Art. Which brings us to the second wall that Aikido is facing.
Many of Aikido’s instructors, even included the top students of Morihei, were so focused
on the technical side of Aikido, that most of them neglected the spiritual side almost
entirely, which again brings us to an ironical fact – for Ueshiba, the spirituality and Aikido
were inseparable. He even went so far as to saying that: “These techniques are only
for health! What Aikido is about – is spiritual”. Yet even these days, so many instructors are
so focused on trying to prove Aikido’s liability as a martial art, or try to preserve it so
much, that the spiritual side of it becomes left out. While even senior instructors and
many Aikidoka are facing this conflict, not being clear on what Aikido is or where it
should go, the art is left with so much controversy and space for criticism. Yet what if we would
change this? Sensei Morihei Ueshiba saw Aikido as a tool
to reconcile the world and to help individuals improve not only their physique, but most
importantly –their character. For him – technique was just a platform, upon which he could share
his message – that True Victory is the Victory against oneself.
The world already has plenty of effective martial arts – yet it is still missing an
effective way to reconcile it. O’Sensei saw that – and that is the reason he created
a different martial art, and not a continuation of Jujitsu. If O’Sensei wasn’t concerned
about proving Aikido against other Martial Arts and he wasn’t so concerned about the
importance of technique – why are we? As long as we will put Aikido in the same
box as BJJ or MMA, it will never become as popular. Even if we would modify and adapt
it’s techniques, yet we would loose the essence of it – what would the use of Aikido
be? I say – let’s stop comparing football to chess. Let’s respect them, appreciate
and benefit from what they are. Aikido can be a unique tool to make a difference
in people’s lives and that of the world. It does not deny the chance to improve it,
make it better and adapt it to this day. Actually – it needs that! But just changing the technique
will never be enough. As long as we will continue to put it into existential competition to
other martial arts – we will never have the space to reveal Aikido’s true message
and purpose and it will never have the popularity that it deserves.
I say – let’s stop fighting against other martial arts, trying to prove something against
them. Let’s stop trying to preserve the external shell of Aikido. Let’s stop wasting
time and start re-discovering and presenting Aikido for what it is.
A practice, meant to help each individual become better and to reconcile the world.
How to do this? We will have re-discover again, together. But we start – with asking this
question and not trying to prove something or to win against others. Do you agree with this message? What do you
think Aikido should change in order to make a difference? How do you think it should adapt
to these days? Let us know in the comments bellow.
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Sensei Rokas, and see you on the virtual mat again soon!