Aikido and Injuries by Stanley Pranin

“In a moral world, there would exist a level of implicit trust,
an unspoken contract, between practice partners”

There is a subject of considerable importance that we have dealt with on several occasions over the years. I would like, however, to broach it again in a more systematic manner. I refer to the topic of aikido training injuries. When aikido is talked about in print, the focus seems to be more on the aspects of harmony, blending and spiritual matters and some of the more mundane areas revolving around practice in the dojo are easily neglected. These include the inevitable muscle strains, body soreness, jammed toes and fingers and the various other “occupational” hazards inherent to our art. They are forgotten, that is, until that inevitable day when we ourselves become the victims of an injury and must live with the accompanying pain.

Common Training Injuries

What are the common aikido injuries? How are they likely to occur? I’ll list some of those that immediately spring to mind along with their usual causes and readers can compare notes.

  • Wrist injuries: ikkyo pins, nikyo, sankyo, kotegaeshi, shihonage.
  • Elbow injuries: ikkyo pins, shihonage, juji garami.
  • Shoulder injuries: shihonage, nikyo pins, sankyo pins, incorrect or obstructed falls.
  • Head and neck injuries: iriminage, shihonage, incorrect or obstructed falls.
  • Back injuries: the so-called “high” falls from shihonage and from koshinage.
  • Knee injuries: (structural) improper loading of partner in koshinage, poor positioning of feet while executing techniques, failure to twist hips thereby releasing strain on knee joints, outside lateral impacts; (surface) excessive practice of seated techniques.
  • Toes and fingers: toes caught on hakamas, mats (the little toe on my right foot is about twice the size of the one on my left foot, but, then again, my shoe size is eleven!), etc., and numerous situations where fingers become jammed.

This list is by no means complete and doesn’t include miscellaneous scratches and black and blue marks which are usually not of much consequence although they can be annoying.

Danger in Basic Techniques

A glance at the above list reveals that it is the basic techniques that are most often implicated. This is undoubtedly due to the frequency with which we practice them. It is, of course, also a reflection of the martial roots and destructive potential of the techniques that constitute the fundamental tools of our trade.

Killer Shihonage

Parenthetically, one should bear in mind that shihonage is, in particular, a high-risk technique. It seems that on several occasions in Japan, trainees have died as a result of injuries sustained to the head and neck after having been repeatedly slammed backward onto the mat while practicing shihonage. The incidents I am aware of occurred in university aikido clubs where the juniors are often physically abused by their seniors presumably for their “edification”. This is somewhat akin to the “hazing” which takes place in the military academies in the U.S.

To continue, it is well-known that the bujutsu arts from which the techniques of aikido are derived evolved historically as means for subduing and defeating the enemy. Inasmuch as the structure of the human body has changed little over the centuries, except for becoming larger and bulkier, the same potential for damage still exists.

Sizing up Ritual

Intimately related to the subject of injuries is the fact that in almost any aspect of life you’d care to mention, males, and I’m sure to a great extent females, typically go through a “sizing up ritual” when confronting one another where there is somehow a primeval understanding of the superiority of one over the other. The most obvious factor at play in determining dominancy is sheer physical size. (It is interesting to note, however, that the tables are turned if the smaller of the two should happen to pull out a pistol thus tipping the odds in his favor. Remember how the samurai of old found it very unsporting of the Portuguese to use firearms in combat?)

In aikido, this “sizing up exercise” is usually accomplished after a few throws have been executed (often with a little bit of resistance thrown in for spice). The pecking order having thus been established, training then proceeds.

One might argue based on the fact that in practice we alternate back and forth between being the potential “inflictors” of injury and the potential “victims” of injury that some sober thinking on the subject would be called for. In a moral world, there would exist a level of implicit trust, an unspoken contract, if you will, between practice partners. This is especially the case since there is often a great disparity between the technical and physical abilities of two “partners” training together.

The Macho Cruncher

We have now reached the crux of the issue. Given the reality of everyday practice where one of the training partners is dominant having demonstrated physical and/or technical superiority, and the indisputable fact that human beings are naturally competitive, we have, not surprisingly, a scenario where injuries will occur with greater or lesser frequency. Naturally, where certain individuals are involved, the incidence of injury occurs with “greater frequency”. It seems that most dojos have at least one resident “macho cruncher”. He is usually a “he” and either a senior student, or sadly, the teacher. Ironically, I don’t think any dojo would permit a newcomer who happened to be physically powerful to come in off the street and begin wreaking havoc among its members. However, this same reproachable conduct seems to be tolerable if the abuser is an already established member of the group.

This epitome of manhood enjoys a deep respect from fellow members – a respect based primarily on fear. One would not even think of resisting his technique for to do so would result in an instant and devastating reprisal.

Modus Operandi of “Crunchers”

Since one of the purposes of this article is, as it were, to “pull down the gi pants” of the above-mentioned “crunchers”, let me reveal some of their clever — though not exactly subtle — methods. I suspect that many readers will find that the following descriptions strike a familiar nerve.

One of my all-time favorites is the “wind-up” nikyo. This involves the cruncher in question applying a vice-like grip on your tender wrist and hand, respectively, while positioning his elbow on top of yours. He then comes crashing down with all of his power on your isolated joint. (By the way, he has a suki, an opening, just at the moment he raises his elbow for his “wind-up.” He can be pushed backwards off balance. It is, however, not recommended that you attempt to take advantage of this.) If you should then be impudent enough to slap indicating that you’ve reached your pain threshold, this is the signal for him to push further until your unappreciative member reaches a state of numbness (to be distinguished from satori, also a condition devoid of feeling).

The next technique, I call the “shoulder expander”. This is because the range of movement of your shoulder is expanded. It is applied during the execution of either the nikyo or sankyo pin. You are lying on your stomach with your arm stretched backward over your body. Your opponent, having pinned your arm against his body, then leans forward over your head. Again, slapping the mat is a sign for him to continue applying pressure until your shoulder-joint has been sufficiently “expanded”. The contraction period usually requires two to three months.

Another classic we might refer to as the “elbow straightener”. You may have noticed that when most people stand upright allowing their arms to dangle along their sides, a slight bend is discernible in the elbow joint. This is actually an unnatural condition. Hence, the appropriateness of the “elbow straightening” therapy. You are being pinned in ikkyo with your arm outstretched to the side. However, that impertinent little bend in your elbow is now blatantly exposed. Fear not, the cure is fast, sharp and simple (and, perhaps, a bit painful, but after all, you are a man, aren’t you?). The self-appointed dojo “chiropractor” proceeds to immobilize your wrist with one hand and jerks suddenly and forcefully downward on your elbow with the other, and crack, it’s gone! First right arm, then left. (Caution: eating may be a bit difficult for a few days after the intervention.)

Another method I regard with particular fondness involves an “embrace”. The object of your disaffection is executing iriminage and proceeds to lock your head in a vigorous “embrace”. He steps through powerfully and then lowers his body releasing your head about six inches above the tatami. Soon “bells will be ringing” in your head and the tones may persist for several days.

There are many other such unforgettable techniques employed that are equally inventive. Space prohibits me from lengthening the list. The rationalizations for this type of brutality are also imaginative — in fact you wouldn’t believe them: “It was an accident!” “I didn’t know your shoulder was already injured!” “If you’re not a man, you shouldn’t be on the mat.” “He really likes you, otherwise he wouldn’t have given you such special attention!”

The most plausible excuse I have heard offered goes something like this: “When two people are training vigorously injuries do occasionally occur and it is unfortunately a part of serious aikido practice.” The problem is, of course, that one of the “two people”, the one responsible for the injury is consistently the same person and the word “occasionally” would be more accurately replaced by “frequently”.

There is another dimension surrounding this controversial topic which I find totally unfathomable. That is the lack of a feeling of remorse I have seen after our oft-alluded-to “resident cruncher” has notched up yet another victim. Although I might be accused of “mind reading” in this case, what other conclusion is possible when this behavior is repeated over and over again?

They are any number of techniques in aikido when one finds himself completely at the mercy of his partner with a joint exposed in a defenseless position. To intentionally abuse this tacit trust that must exist between training partners is something I find absolutely criminal. I personally know of several cases where individuals have suffered severe injuries on the mat and terminated their training careers prematurely rather than run the risk of sustaining a potentially disabling second injury. Further, I cannot for the life of me understand why teachers in charge of dojos where this sort of thing goes on don’t take steps to control or exclude these “crunchers”. It seems that the leaders of the aikido world have by and large failed to recognize that such brutality exists and have made little effort to put a stop to such conduct.

I have made my best effort through the above comments to let the proverbial “cat out of the bag” regarding the subject of injuries in the hope that individuals who may have wavered in their thinking, as I once did, will henceforth accept responsibility for their own well-being.

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43s Comments

  1. Hello Stan, good article. Good points on so many aspects of daily practice. Most of these injuries tend to happen as a result of bad or incorrect warmups… too short, inadequate, or simple arrogance. The key in the dojo is concentration, I guess we all know our weak points, so we should also concentrate on them when preparing for aiki classes. Reasonable help from a specialist is also essential. Self-consciousness of what exactly is to be called a “relaxed arm” or “relaxed elbow” will help to avoid tearing ligaments or even muscles. There is so much to explain. The matter is very pertinent to most of us 🙂

  2. The trigger to my writing this article were serious injuries I suffered at the hands of a 9th dan and a 7th dan who shall remain nameless… This happened about 20 years ago. It was my fault for entrusting my body and limbs to people without moral scruples.

  3. I come from a dojo that encourages people to “find their own way”…a little too early in my opinion. The ukemi was taught for years by a junior student who watched a lot of videos, the head instructor talks about coming from a dojo that was “law of the jungle.” There are people there who are not going to take the proper ukemi, and any subsequent strain is not proof of an error – it makes them feel very righteous that when they rotated in the opposite direction to shihonage they felt pain because now they have proof they are dealing with a thug. These people have a habit of hitting me in the back of the head or looking very smug if I let go before I cause discomfort.

    Both sides of the equation need to show a bit of maturity. You can’t play catch with someone who refuses to throw the ball. The cooperative aspect of Aikido is something I am seeing as more and more important to anyone’s development.

  4. About the over ranked, nameless and parentless ones, the snakes that infest dojos with malignant intent and unresolved psychiatric issues.

    They are weak. They are frightened. They are cowards. And by default they are bullies who would not attempt this in the open field, under unpropitious circumstances of real and meaningful threat outside of the trusting confines of the dojos.
    Because these cowards are immensely insecure, such individuals do indeed pose a danger to the trusting. The dark side of Aikido indeed attracts these sneaks who pit their venom and hatred, for it is nothing else, upon unsuspecting beginners.
    This is because the modern world protects these moral laggards. Indeed, it appears to have become a qualification for the presidency of some nations.

    In a tribal community this would happen once, or twice and then such a self-serving individual would be found somewhere, the victim of an “accident.”

    In a tribal/clan community, each and every individual has a part to play in the service of the group. Those who fail in the caring, nurturing and protection of their brothers and sisters and the integrity of the group as a holistic unit. This includes physical well-being for without it there would be a dependent in a society with no doles. Those who act against well-being are relegated to “camp dog” status, and if tolerated, they end up following the tribe begging for scraps. Their true status. Otherwise, they become lone dogs and are soon lost in the wilderness.

    In the cozy dreamland of the suburbs where the undeserving can all too often become too well off without any meaningful effort, natural justice is soon forgotten and so we get these anomalies, perversions, and the arising of spiritual and moral cripples, who for a brief while appear to lord it over whilst causing harm. It is a disease.

    In the feudal times of clan wars, such fools are advisedly ignored in battle. Nobody will to watch their back. They soon perish from lack of backup. Another way of cleaning up waste matter.

    Stan, the reason these injuries happen is not because of any “aikido” whatsoever, but because fools use strength instead, imagining themselves to be “powerful.” Or worse, treat others as “crash test dummies, “ “to see what happens.” Watch them in old age when the comeuppance returns to retrieve the debt!

    Sure, bumps and thumps do sometime happen as a result of vigorous training. Severe injuries however, are totally unacceptable and unnecessary outside the context of either real survival or a contest.

    For God’s sake people, we are re-enacting choreographed dance moves!!! Kihon waza seldom approximate the intensity of either yoga or ballet.

    You paper heroes. This is NO cause to experimenting with the well-being of another human being.


    Because they have a right to be frightened and insecure, sometimes beginners can pose a measure of danger to intermediate practitioners.

    As for “advanced” and high ranking practitioners there are no excuses whatsoever for causing damage either consciously or unconsciously!

    My advice is: Treat each and every assault as an ASSAULT! Defend yourself as ruthlessly as necessary, then press charges to the fullest extent that the law in your locality provides.

    Protect yourself! That’s what Budo is all about and when you are useful to yourself, then you may be useful to others as well.
    In my travels I have indeed come across such unwell individuals. And even sustained some injuries from them. It is heartening that observation over time reveals that karma must exist, as it invariably comes back to them multiplied. As it should be!
    In my own dojo, such individuals do not last long.

    There are two ways to learn. The easy way and the hard way. Whilst this remains their choice, only people with integrity remain and continue to train.

    The others either left early because they could find no openings to vent their psychopathic tendencies and some chose the hard way.

    As an instructor, I choose to be ruthless about one thing in my class and that is SAFETY! That of my valued students. Dojo busters get about the same measure of mercy they extend. I consider such impropriety to be a real attack and deal with it as such.

    The Founder had quite a few things to say on this subject, including:

    “The buck stops with the senior person. There are no excuses. The instructor is always responsible and all outcomes are on his head. Aikido can be dangerous. Do not use it as to test strength. Train safely, with a spirit of caring and joy. Respect is the foundation of true Budo.” And more.

    Whether the Founder said it or anyone else, absolute care and respect in training should be self-evident.

    It would be good to dig these quotes up and publish them. As a group effort perhaps readers could publish the Founder’s quotes in this regard each time they find them. I’m too busy to take time out to conduct extensive research on quotations about what should be simple, obvious common sense.

    No instructor is fit to instruct if he is not capable or competent to prevent injuries. For an instructor to set about causing harm is criminal activity.

    “Accidental” causing of injuries is not concomitant with skill. And those two clowns you mention (I know to whom you refer) are, and were not, worthy of any dan rank at all. Not in the Do of Ai, anyhow.

    Their level, as history reveals, is that of scrubbing latrines daily by hand and perhaps sweeping floors. Aikido is designed to be a safe way of training something with the potential to be exceedingly dangerous. It should not be “tested” outside of either a military or hands-on security, actual survival situation.


  5. Thank you Stanley for this edifying article.

    I like “the little toe on my right foot is about twice the size of the one on my left foot…”

    He He! That’s what I am in actually & for over 3 weeks now.

    Do you have an idea how long it takes too heel?

    Nb: I am 57 years old


  6. It is my good fortune that our chief instructor, in addition to being an intelligent, non-belligerent person, is also an attorney who does considerable personal injury law. Needless to say, he preaches and teaches extensive safety practices in his dojo. The persistently macho types who occasionally come through usually weed themselves out; and if they don’t, we politely dismiss them. We also understand and often explain that handling any particular training partner with the amount of “firmness” they can handle but no more, requires enormous awareness and enormous self-control. Our students are proud of their carefully measured blending.

    Ho sempre ritenuto che la forza di un bravo istruttore non è nell’eseguire rovinosamente le tecniche, ma di evitare in ogni modo di provocare del dolore gratuito ad uke.
    Oltremodo questo è un’atteggiamento che ha radici profonde nella cultura dell’uomo e in particolare nel rapporto con la figura paterna.
    In ultima cosa vorrei dire che nella mia lunga pratica di aikido dove ho sempre fatto da uke e per mia fortuna ero un’ottimo uke, non ho mai avuto situazioni di infortunio legati alla tecnica e posso aggiungere che sia in dojo che negli stage mai mi è capitato di vedere qualche evento spiacevole.
    Grazie mille
    Giuseppe Golin

  8. “It was my fault for entrusting…”

    I find it interesting that battered wives and other victims of crimes will begin conversations with the very similar words. Is this a form of Stockholm syndrome?

    You have been involved in Aikido for many years. Do you see, or have you ever seen a cult like aspect of Aikido where we blame ourselves for the actions of others?

  9. …the training environment, specifically the mats, are worthy of consideration in this context. the velcro-together gymnastic mats are bad toe-grabbers, and worse. a friend sustained a permanent knee injury by getting a little hung up in the joint between two of them. joints tend to widen as the mats age and their velcro wears. careless assembly is another element. wrestling mats have no joints, but you sink into them. the high traction surface tends to grab feet to the detriment of knees. they’re also wretched to do high falls on. you’d think that spreading the impact, would be an advantage. my experience is that sinking slightly into the surface makes the whole area of impact sting like clapping hands too hard. padded carpet actually works pretty well, but friction burns are common. tatamis are wonderful, but costly. judo-tex is another good surface, but what do you cover it with? in the old Oakland Aikido Institute i remember wearing all the callouses off my feet on the nap of the new canvas cover. these days i practice on grass, which is really a pretty good surface except for the stains. be sure to pick up sticks, stones, and doggie deposits before class…

  10. There may be some truth in what you say. The reasons are very complicated but are different compared to a battered wife. It had to do with my life’s work. I took action belatedly but never allowing either individual to touch me again.

  11. I studied/trained with the late Toyoda Sensei for over 20 years, from the time he opened his first dojo in Chicago until his death, and I do not remember any serious injuries in his dojos. Surely, as aikido is a contact martial art, there were aching wrists and other body parts from a steady stream of nikyo, sankyo, kotegaeshi, shihonage, iriminage, etc., but to my knowledge no one left practice unable to walk, with a concussion, etc.

    I think the reason for this is that Sensei made sure that, first of all, beginners were treated with consideration and were paired at times with others of more experience who did not extend the beginner’s skills, but who actually taught ukemi and emphasized “safe” aikido. In addition, he taught and actually demonstrated how to release the body from uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations, and as one became more skilled in the art, and as he demonstrated more advanced techniques, he would show more advanced ukemi. He made sure that classes were taught by experienced and/or advanced teachers whose responsibility was to carefully monitor practice and see that the potential for injuries were minimal. He would never put you in a situation that was beyond your skill.

    His aikido could be rough and challenging at times, but there was no beating up of uke. He knew his students. I have followed these practices, and to date, there have been no serious injuries in my dojo, even after “all out” practice sessions. I would also say that Sensei was influenced to a great degree by his sensei, Tohei Sensei, who emphasized both safety in practice, technique, and ukemi. I remember one experience or incident when Tohei Sensei admonished us when we were doing a forward roll by jumping up into it, expressing the idea that executing this roll in this way could hurt the shoulder, and that we would roll as if going into a ball, that is, rolling over the shoulder and not into it. He explained that this was more natural.

  12. One of my students once said one of our instructors might get hurt by him and it might not be an accident. That student was instantly dismissed. No possibility of re-entry! Case closed.

  13. Leg getting caught in Nages hakama as he throws you is one that can cause a lot of damage. Happened a couple of times to me and not pleasant. Most resent was two weeks ago which resulted in a groin strain.

  14. Good post, Stan Sensei.
    There are bullies out there, and unconscious people who just don’t realize what they’re doing. However, not everyone who throws hard or trains hard fall into that category.

    Youth often plays a role, and I’ve been closer to serious injury with white belts than with black belts. Again, they’re ignoring the rule to train slowly and carefully and not replace technique with a show of strength. Most advanced students know when to blow it out and when to hold back.

    Often an uke contributes to his own injury with a lack of presence, or a failure to prepare for the proper ukemi, before the point of no return.

    All of these issues, including the self-awareness or lack of it that you’re addressing in your article, point to the importance of being present in the moment when on the mat, for uke as well as nage.

  15. Excellent article…back in 1990 my shoulder was dislocated and rotor cuff ripped by my “sensei” during a seminar doing an ura Ikkyo pin…a few months prior to my Shodan exam…i still have trouble w/that shoulder injury! It was a result of the “look how good/tough i am” way of thinking…all these years later that dojo is still produces injuries.

  16. I think your article gives a fun treatment to the injury hazards of the art, but I would like to point out that your hazing comment directed at the US Military Academies is unwarranted, and inaccurate.

  17. Indeed. Find A Dojo. Because I would not call that a Dojo, but rather a Macho GymMat…of sorts.

  18. Thank you for this article! Somehow I had missed it previously. Sadly these creeps occur outside of Aikido dojos. There I was so early in my university career that I had not even had my high school graduation. For some reason, probably some “advanced” educational theory brand new in 1963, the prom was in the spring and the graduation ceremonies in the autumn. I was enjoying the university judo dojo though still dreaming of the Aikido about which I had read. The very first time I had read about O-Sensei’s Way I was hooked, as well as being very frustrated since, at that time, only one Aikido teacher existed in Canada and he was not in my city. So judo it was.

    Probably during my third week of practice a brown belt must have decided that I needed toughening. Enter a nasty version of morote-seoi-nage. He slammed me into the rather hard tatami and there went my shoulder. (I understand that later some other judoka “explained the matter to him”.) Thus at my high school graduation I was stylishly dressed in my black suit, narrow black tie, sparkling white shirt and off white sling. It could have been worse had it happened before the dance! The happy sequel to this painful incident was that when I moved to Toronto for grad school my fiancee discovered for me “someone teaching that martial art you keep talking about” and I became a student of Takeshi Kimeda shihan, the Father of Canadian Aikido.

  19. Who put the cat in the bag in the first place?:-)

    I just started a new class in another town, taking great care as they were all beginners and there were no mats in the local hall. A majority failed to show up for the second class and the feedback I got was my first class had been “boring”, and that some had not seen the relevance of the basic exercises to (their concept of) “a martial art”.

    The next class I dished out a mild amount of pain, explaining that these techniques depended for their effectiveness on the “boring” basics. The feedback from that class was: “too painful”!

    In these days of “marketing” we are supposed to give the “customers” what they want; but what they want is based on ignorance, conditioned by the unhealthy diet of violence still being force-fed to us by movies and tv. (Will people never get bored with watching killings, car crashes and war-games?)

    I try to convey aikido principles in words and by demonstration and hate pandering to the ignorant, but it is not as easy as it sounds, although I certainly won’t tolerate brutality and have been fortunate in not having apes stay to wreck havoc in my dojo.

    I think one of the most important words to use from Day One is “co-operation”. Tell your students that, unlike sports and tv fantasies, aikido is a co-operative art learned by helping each other to grasp the principles. One way I use to convey this idea is to have people stand with one foot forward and shake hands with their partners, then try to touch each other’s outer thigh with the back of their wrist as many times as they can in one minute. Most people immediately start struggling with each other in their attempts to strongarm their way past the other’s grip. I then get them to do it co-operatively, which makes it perfectly easy to touch the target dozens of times. I make the analogy to aikido’s co-operative training system, although I am not certain they really get it, or just chalk this up as another “boring” exercise.

  20. I really enjoyed your article. I met 2 such “bullies” or “cowardly thugs” in Japan sadly. Both foreigners who had latched onto a Japanese teacher, and did not want any other foreigner to come close and perhaps steal him way. One was studying the sword, and the other was studying Aikido. Because the other students would come to me for advise, etc., those strange (Henna Otaku) foreigners got jealous and very spiteful. One damaged my elbow so badly that I could not pick up half a glass of water for over two and a half years.

    Thankfully my years of Aikido study had made my muscles, tendons, sinews and joints more flexible and stronger, otherwise I would have been permanently injured. The Japanese never like to face issues head-on, and martial art teachers in Japan are no different. That is the crux of the problem, and it greatly contributes to allowing those sort of people to exist and thrive within the martial art community. If the Japanese way of ignoring what was happening to save face was changed and people were held accountable for their actions, the problem would practically disappear overnight.

    Although in Japan, what I personally observed over my nine years living there, it appears to be epidemic in proportions amongst the Japanese themselves. For the very first time in Japan, a Judo instructor was taken to court for killing a young student. He was repeatedly picked up off the mat and slammed back into it by the teacher till his brain became jelly. The teacher dragged the poor young student out into the hall and just left him there, where he died. The teacher was not impressed to be found guilty and fined about $13,000. Up until then, over 100 deaths happened in judo whilst teaching young students, and not one person was held accountable. Shocking, sad, but true. I have heard of parents apologising to the teacher for the inconvenience their child caused due to their dying in class. How do you change that ingrained culture? Noble? Honourable? I think not. All I can say, from my personal experience, is to watch out for the foreigners who are there before you, especially in Japan, as they appear to be very possessive, catty, and will take you out rather than loose their position in the hierarchy.

  21. Anyone who makes an excuse for an injury occurring to a student or anyone of lower rank than himself is a Bully and a Crusher.

    There are always two guilty individuals! The Crusher and whoever makes an excuse for injuries he inflicts are both criminals.

    A high rank carries the responsibility of seeing to the safety of lower ranked ranked individuals.

    Injuries occur but they are the fault of the one who causes them if he is of higher rank.

  22. Great article.

    And also there is that sinking feeling when coming into the dojo and seeing “them” there. And the relief when they are not. I train very differently when I I don’t fear my colleagues. I can watch out for myself and allow them to ‘practice’ with my joints and they respond immediately to a tap. Sensei is so soft with me, firm and irresistible, but I don’t get injuries from jerking, or going faster than my ability to stretch. Such a good example of his being in harmony with my body and my capabilities. Aikido after all!

    Our sensei gives a warning and a private and straight talk. Then out, if it happens again.



  23. The main reason why I quit Aikido about 20 years ago were injuries inflicted by people with low technical skills but a determination to get their move through. I am a big guy, 2m tall (6ft6). When techniques are applied badly I tended to put up a bit of resistance to entice my partner to execute it more precicely. However, there’s always someone who misunderstands and instead of trying to be more precice and elegant puts more raw power into his/her movement, often with sharp stops and sharp angles. Many Aikido techniques are capable of inflicting injury even when executed badly – maybe even more so when executed badly. Moreover, these people have rarely been the big bullies: It’s mostly been smaller, weaker people who felt the need to impress me instead of accepting the chance to learn.

    After I quit Aikido I turned to Free Climbing. At least then I could determine for myself if I took the risk of being hurt – now it was only based on my own ego instead of other peoples egos.

  24. His statement (in my mind) wasn’t limited to service-level academics; it encompassed high-school “military” academies.

  25. “Battered wife” falls under the auspices of Domestic Violence. These are victims of emotional / psychological / physical and sexual abuse. This is where they “live.” They have been systematically de-programmed to the extent that they have no sense of self-worth or control of their lives. They are totally at the mercy of their abuser.

    The training dojo is not, or should ever be considered to be at that level.

  26. It really is unfortunate that these bullying behaviors occur. What is almost worse than the injury and emotional trauma these people inflict, is the culture of abuse that can blossom quickly within a dojo if the instructors are not vigilant or just don’t give a damn. Unfortunately, most bullies are pretty sly, especially within the aikido community. They are experts in plausible deniability (it is always uke’s fault for over/under rotating, not paying attention, a sloppy attack, etc.). And bullies make it a point to shamelessly curry favor (called “shit glazing” in the South) with those with the most influence and power to do them (the bully) harm in the dojo.

    Have I observed this behavior first hand? Sure. I’ve had my share of injuries from one thug who used to be in class, but has, since getting the belt rank he wanted, moved on.

    The truly sad thing is these guys are so slick if you complain no one believes you…until they establish a pattern. But like I said, they are smart. They reserve their attacks for people they : 1) intimidate into leaving; 2) convince said abuse is for the uke’s benefit; 3) will likely have little contact with again…say at a clinic.

  27. Excellent article, and excellent discussion. I want to thank all contributors for sharing their experience on this subject. It would be difficult for some beginners to identify said abuse without the benefit of this discussion. Also, information about how the injuries most often occur is most valuable when it comes to protecting one’s self.

  28. My sensei in Singapore will immediately dismiss anyone who clearly injures others with intent. All his students learn this very quickly. But when it comes to overseas visiting guests, he has a very interesting way of “quelling the momentum” of any one of these guests he instinctively feels is a macho cruncher: the whole class does 50 mins of Suwari Waza techniques. Much like how Cesar Millan puts a hyper active dog on a treadmill to drain all of his energy.

  29. As always an enjoyable post. You have a knack for calling out things that most will not bring up. I like that about you! Honest.

    Sadly, I have myself fallen victim to injury caused by others in a certain dojo. We entrust our bodies and reasonable due care of it befalls upon nage. In all my years of training, I have never injured anyone, if anything, I’d rather injure myself in sacrifice before I would injure my uke.

    The nameless coward was a high ranking uchideshi who specifically asked me to join him on the mat to train. I agreed and welcomed the opportunity to train with what I thought was a good martial artist. During a yokomenuchi shihonage, instead of cutting down and allowing uke to either take a seat and pin or break fall, he extended and kept to such a height that would be difficult if not impossible to break fall out of, in essence chicken arming me.

    I heard two loud pops and instantly felt pain. After being released, I dropped to the floor and held my arm. He kept on training with others in the mix. Now, for such a high ranking, uchideshi for a large organization, I can only conceive of two reasons why this would have occurred; one, he is incompetent and inexperienced, and the other, malicious intent to do harm. Given his position, I could only accept the later.

    Sadly, the politics and relationship of the dojo to the perpetrator was one of high esteem and there were too many personal ties. Needless to say, nothing was mentioned, nor addressed, if anything, when it was brought up, it was inferred it was my fault. I have since left that dojo and association due to it. I found I could not train in such an environment when such actions clearly violate the spirit of what Aikido is all about.

    Reason, I don’t know exactly why he did it, but I suspect jealousy. I am now happily with AAA/AAI under Toyoda Sensei and I have found this organization to be exemplary in all facets of the art; the silver lining for me if you will. I am still not 100% healed and it’s now been about eight months, some say it may take up to a couple years to heal the tears to muscle and tendons that occurred that day. It has taught me an unfortunate lesson, never trust anyone 100% with your body in any dojo, especially your own.

    As the article says, there are people with issues, jealousy and a point to prove all at your expense. Yes, even in Aikido, beware! I have since started a dojo with a good friend who also left the organization due to its politics and what occurred to me. We will surely look to run things right, by that I mean removing the weeds, and not having any politics; rather, fairness and safety for all who train in good martial spirit. Peace!

  30. Stan,

    Thank you for bringing your experience, intelligence, and humanitarian ethos to your revelations, diagnoses, and admonitions in this critical (and mostly neglected) aspect of Aikido training.

    While I could write a great deal on this subject, for this Forum I will keep it short and get right to the point.

    So, here goes …

    After suffering a long list of injuries in my life as an athlete and martial artist (I’m 64 years old) I have determined that there are five categories:

    1. Personal risk taking (self-inflicted)
    2. Truly unintended (accidental)
    3. Dangerous Carelessness (stupidity)
    4. Bullying (cowardly brutality)
    5. Intentional (evil)

    In Aikido training the ethos is to be appropriately challenging without straying across the line into “competition”; to escalate the risk commensurate with the skill levels of the practitioners. There are so many other arts, disciplines, combat sports, and training styles that are designed for competitive confrontation, that anyone who wants to can get their fill … and then some.

    As uke, we put our heads “on the chopping block” and put a great deal of faith and trust in nage to respect this “gift of vulnerability” and treat it honorably.

    Having learned from many painful lessons, whenever I have taught, my “Rules of Engagement” include the directive,

    “When in doubt … Stop … Step out … Call it out … Check it out … Work it out. If that doesn’t resolve the problem, call me over immediately to intercede.”

    Injuring uke in an Aikido Dojo setting (whether through carelessness, bullying, or cruelly evil brutality) is a particularly heinous act … given the nature and purpose of the Art.

    Over time, my “litmus test” to nage became a question:

    “Would you even countenance behaving this way if it were just you and me in the parking lot, right now. No Dojo. No Sensei. No hierarchy. No backup. No roles. No rules. Just you and me?”

    Surprise … No one has EVER taken me up on this offer.

    Due to this very issue, some time ago I switched my formal training from Aikido to Systema. I have NEVER been injured nor witnessed an abusive injury in any formal Systema class … ever. In spite of training in very serious atemi, submissions, and chokes.

    Based on my experience, the Systema teachers and training groups are (on the whole) ethically superior to and more sincerely humanitarian than a good many of their Aikido counterparts.

    Oh, and as far as I know, there have been no reports of sexual abuse or child molestation from the formal Systema instructors or senior students.

    (If I’m mistaken here, please show me my error.)

    Training in the physical skills of the Art has no direct causal bearing on the development of moral character. They may intersect … they may not. It’s probably like the actual effect of “religion” on genuine spiritual and moral development. Very spotty … At best.

    As one football coach told me,

    “Sport doesn’t develop character. It reveals it.”

    Aikdo is no different.

    Lastly, I foresee formal Aikido continuing to decline in relevance and popularity. There just aren’t enough honorable and truly noble people who can “carry the water” ethically and institutionally for it to be a viable platform for the Founder’s mission statement.

    I believe that while O’Sensei’s spiritual and ethical message is timeless, “Aikido” as a top-drawer vehicle for personal transformation and higher social evolution has long been on a slow lingering death spiral into the status of a quaint historical, but largely irrelevant phenomenon.

    … jussayin’.

    ~David Brown

  31. Really nice you brought this up. I have practiced now for 44 years in aikido, and I will say truthfully I have never had any injury through out the entire time, but I have seen many being injured, not at my dojo or under my Sensei, but I have attended seminars in the past, and seen some cruel teachers (from Japan ) and some grow up with this practice. They believe it to represent aikido, and go on and abuse their position calling themselves senseis. It becomes a chain reaction for others to abuse. This is only relevent, sorry to say, in forms of Aikikai aikido , and I don’t mean every one. You will never see this in KI aikido, as the practice is unification of mind and body, not self defence as in Aikikai.

    Mr David Brown’s reply is spot on. O’Sensei’s spiritual message (for many) was forgotten when he past away, and most train now from the past teachings not the present. To me the only teacher that moved forward was Tohei Sensei. He and many others keep O’Sensei’s spiritual message alive . I find the Aikikai has stood still, and I’m not referring to every one that practices Aikikai aikido but to those that need to hurt others to prove THEIR point and status.

  32. Thank you Stan Sensei for highlighting another “nitty gritty” issue, and eliciting insightful comments rarely found in other forums. There is inherent conflict in aikido training, but the teacher/and sempai MUST enforce safety. Budo training is “controlled conflict,” this is the very definition of good martial arts. My teacher had “eagle eyes” during class.

    Appreciate the fact that O’Sensei’s Aikido is far more complex than fighting sports, where rules of competition are clearly defined and enforced by referees. Even within the same dojo – students of the same teacher often disagree on what constitutes “correct” training. In the world of the WARRIOR, the rules of engagement are not always crystal clear.

    Without a rulebook or referee, conflict is inherent in aikido practice, it is in fact – guaranteed. And it is all too human when we encounter conflict to place blame somewhere, on somebody. But remember, it was O’Sensei’s decision to keep it budo and not sport, so we all struggle to find our way without the benefit of rule book or referee.

    Much modern aikido is practiced only as recreation, in which conflict must be “avoided.” O’Sensei’s Aikido budo training is about CONFRONTING THE STRESS OF CONFLICT, WITH POISE and EMOTIONAL BALANCE. This is not easy. We use breath and other grounding skills to maintain, or re-establish, our emotional balance while “under fire” during class. I believe if you never feel upset during class, then you are NOT practicing O’Sensei’s Budo. This Path is not a New Age bliss trip, nor a casual “feel good” hobby. For me it is – and always will be – a joyful struggle.

    Truth be told – as Stan Sensei documents, while O’Sensei was wildly popular when performing demonstrations throughout Japan – relatively few students trained and stayed with him very long, at his dojo in Iwama. His Aiki was not for the faint-hearted; it was clearly a very hot fire for the spirit.

    Some tools I have found helpful to balance intensity/with safety – include:

    * Strengthening our “Earth” element (stillness) with sustained BREATHING meditation before/ and after class
    * “WE NEED TO GO SLOWER” Saying this used to help me avoid injury, now it helps me avoid injuring others.
    * With all but the highest level partners – my SPEED GOES DOWN when my training INTENSITY GOES UP

    May O’Sensei help us all walk this challenging Path with courage and compassion.


    Tom Collings

  33. Found a brief passage from Searching for O’Sensei which is for me relevant to this discussion :

    “…….At a Chiba Sensei seminar some years after I returned to America, Paul threw me several times off the training mats toward a brick wall. I used the occasion to sharpen my falling skills, but never demanded he be more careful. Why did I not say anything? After a while, Chiba noticed and scolded him. In Japan, he would not intervene, and left it to me to speak up for myself, or accept the abuse. Teachers almost never intervene in Japan; you are on your own. That is the traditional Japanese way. Looking back, I think there were times when Paul challenged me to assert myself or play the victim. All of us must make that choice sometimes in our life…… ”


  34. I knew Paul too and know what you are talking about. By the way, this is an excerpt from Tom Collings’ wonderful new book “Searching for O’Sensei”.

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