After the passing of Stanley Pranin, founder of Aikido Journal, we organized a survey to get to know the aikido community better and learn more about its priorities. We’ll soon share more data, but the community voiced a clear interest in putting more focus on addressing important challenges facing the world of aikido today. One such issue is the perception of aikido in the broader martial arts world.
The Aikido Journal Community’s Perspective
When asked to identify the biggest problem or challenge faced today as an aikido practitioner or instructor, 40% of almost 700 open-ended responses focused on relevance, effectiveness, and the perception of aikido by the public. The community listed a number of important challenges but this theme was overwhelming in its dominance.
Roy Dean Reaches Out
I was recently contacted by Roy Dean who had concerns that resonated closely with the aikido community’s survey responses. He’s a Brazilian jiu jitusu instructor who was the first aikido shodan to ever receive a black belt in BJJ. (If you’d like to see Roy’s jiu jitsu, you can watch his 3rd degree black belt test here.)
On the occasion of the passing of Stanley Pranin, Roy found himself contemplating the future of aikido. Believing public interest in aikido is declining, Roy reflected on an episode of The Joe Rogan Podcast in which aikido was discussed.
The Joe Rogan Podcast
In 2015, Joe Rogan hosted a guest on his podcast who engaged in a discussion about the art of aikido. The guest, a cognitive neuroscientist, was invited onto Rogan’s show to talk about his work in enhancing cognitive performance. Near the end of the show, the conversation transitioned to the art of aikido (the guest was a practitioner).
While the guest showed enthusiasm, he was ill-equipped to discuss the art with a host who has a lifelong passion for the martial arts and decades of experience in the competitive martial arts world. Rogan, a BJJ black belt, left the interview skeptical of aikido, its relevance, and its effectiveness. The Joe Rogan podcast has 16 million monthly downloads. It’s clear this was not a victory for the world of aikido. If you’d like to see the dialogue, start this video at 2:30:00.
An Open Letter to Joe Rogan
Roy believes the art of aikido is dying. Moved by the passing of Stanley Pranin, he felt motivated to produce a video to serve as an open letter to Joe Rogan. He wants to go on the Joe Rogan podcast and talk about aikido as a proponent of the art. He’s asked me to join him on the show should Rogan wish to have a second conversation about aikido.
I believe Roy speaks honestly, from a place of respect and love for the art of aikido. You may not agree with all of Roy’s points, but I believe all aikidoka should watch his 6 minute video and reflect on his perspective.
Rediscovering Effectiveness: Our Experience
Roy sees the art of aikido at a critical inflection point. He believes that any martial art will become increasingly diluted with each passing generation unless there’s a movement to employ the scientific method to rediscover effectiveness. Roy thinks now is the time for aikido to engage in this endeavor. He believes aikido has a great deal to offer the martial arts world and wants to see it become as successful, relevant, and valuable to the martial arts world as possible.
This quest to revitalize the practice and teaching of aikido has increasingly shaped the direction of Ikazuchi Dojo over the last few years. With Matsuoka Sensei as a role model, we’ve embraced the difficult and often painful process of “rediscovering effectiveness”, not only with our technique, but with instructional methods and dojo management.
Being realistic about the strengths and limitations of the art (and our own capabilities) has freed us to focus on how we can make aikido more relevant, valuable, and effective: more effective as a self-defense system; more effective as an experiential learning tool; more effective as a movement performance system; more effective as a health practice.
We’ve committed ourselves to self-criticism, sincerely seeking advice from outside experts, and taking action to improve. We believe this effort has fueled our students’ enthusiasm, dedication, and development.
Just as important as the technical, instructional, and management improvements we’ve made are the friendships and mutual respect we’ve built throughout the broader martial arts community. We’ve received advice, support, and encouragement from leaders in arts such as kali, karate, tai chi, and now Brazilian jiu jitsu.
We’re not the only ones. There are many aikido dojos and instructors with great stories of exploration, innovation, and success. However, the aikido community is telling us that it’s not enough. Over 1,000 instructors and practitioners have spoken and overwhelmingly agree that more needs to be done to elevate the art. The consensus of the community is that it needs to focus on two things:
- Improving the effectiveness and relevance of what we’re doing.
- Becoming better at communicating with the public about the purpose, value, and story of aikido, and its place in the martial arts world.
The Future of Aikido
Roy sees Stanley Pranin’s passing as an inflection point for the art of aikido. What do we do at this critical juncture?
Do we maintain the status quo? Do we slowly decline and gradually fade into obscurity? Or do we make a cultural shift to become our own harshest critics, examine the most important flaws in our technique, culture, and training methods, and take action to transform them?
Is it possible for a global aikido community to work together as a coordinated team to identify and solve the most pressing problems in the aikido world? Does the will exist in the community to allow this to happen? Can we build the communication and organizational infrastructure to make it happen?