Aikido: Confronting a Crisis

For the last 26 years, I’ve had a great “micro” view into the aikido world — as a student, teacher, and dojo operator. I’ve experienced periods of hard training, I’ve raised students and developed instructors, I’ve built a sustainable dojo, and I’ve had the honor of cultivating a 26 year long mentor/disciple relationship with my sensei. 

Josh Gold giving Mitsuko Nagayama her black belt after receiving her shodan from Haruo Matsuoka.

In the last year, through my involvement with Aikido Journal, I’ve been able to gain a much better grasp of the “macro” landscape. The journal has a unique position in the world of aikido. Transcending stylistic, organizational, cultural, and geographic boundaries, we are the largest aikido community in the world, reaching over 500,000 people a month.  Through Aikido Journal, I’ve had access to, and needed to process, an overwhelming amount of data.  I’ve spent many nights and weekends looking at the data, seeking to understand it, and figuring out how best to use the journal to communicate important insights, problems, and success stories in the world of aikido. 

As I assembled this briefing for the community, I experienced feelings of sadness, shock, and dismay, but also feelings of curiosity, hope and determination. This article will take approximately 15 minutes to read. If you’re an aikido practitioner, I think it’s important enough for you to sit in a quiet place and take the time to read it with your full attention. 

This two part article focuses on these key topics:

  1. The Decline of Interest in the Art of Aikido: A data driven assessment.
  2. A New Vision for Aikido Journal: An overview of our vision and what you can expect from us in the future.

Now is a critical time for the art of aikido and our community. We hope you’ll get your bearings with us and that you’ll join us to be part of the turnaround story we must write together.


Part 1

Fading into Irrelevance

The Decline of Aikido

After assuming responsibility for Aikido Journal in early 2017, I took immediate action to start a dialogue by launching a wide-reaching survey to help me create a snapshot of our community. In addition to the structured survey responses, I read through hundreds of comments and personal stories. I even reached out to some community members to talk, listen, and learn. While everyone’s stories and comments were unique, most of them had a similar theme. Here are some of our discoveries (data compiled from over 1,000 respondents):

  • Student: Chief Instructor ratio: 5.4: 1
  • Student: Instructor ratio: 1.5: 1
  • Biggest Challenge: Finding and retaining new students, especially in the 18-29 demographic

While this data from the Aikido Journal community may not directly correlate to real world aikido practitioners in a given geographic region, our tribe is large and this data certainly reflects a meaningful segment of the global aikido community.

With only 5 students per chief instructor, this data indicates we’re very top heavy and don’t have a sufficiently large group of students to sustain many professional instructors.

Of course a number of dojos are thriving and have far different ratios. However, many more are struggling to maintain dedicated dojos, others are operating out of community centers and shared training venues.

I’ve now had personal communication with at least 100 dojo-chos and a number of senior leaders from some of the world’s largest aikido organizations. While everyone knows there are clear success stories and some thriving examples of aikido, almost all (at least within North America) agree that there is a clear problem.

Great masters and gifted teachers are seeing fewer and fewer beginning and intermediate level practitioners at seminars and many are concerned the generation of instructors that follow them won’t be as well-equipped as they were.  Many dojo-chos are teaching slowly dwindling groups of older practitioners with a complete absence of a younger generation of students. An increasing number of aspiring sensei have been discouraged from starting new dojos, because they can’t find a viable way to start one or make a living running one.

Interest in Aikido

I wanted to look beyond our community to see if I could find outside data sources to support or refute what we’ve seen within our own tribe. It’s pretty easy to find growth data and research reports for the media and entertainment or semiconductor industries. However, in the aikido world, we don’t have the infrastructure or resources within our ecosystem to produce those kinds of reports. However, there are other large and accessible data sources we can tap.

Google tracks trend data by keyword. Google is used by everyone — people of all ages, in nearly all locations.

While looking at trends for aikido doesn’t directly map to number of aikido practitioners, it does map directly to interest in aikido.

People who want to learn the art search for local aikido dojos. People practicing aikido search for aikido seminars, organizations, or teachers. People interested in aikido, search for “aikido.”

Interest in aikido has declined an average of -9.3% per year over the last five years. The spike in interest in November 2015 correlates to the release of a Walking Dead episode featuring aikido.

  • Google Trends: Last 5 Years
  • Growth Rate: -9.3% CAGR

A  9% loss in interest can be difficult to notice on an annual basis, but can be catastrophic if compounded over a longer period of time. Let’s take a look at the interest in aikido over a 13 year period, starting in 2004 — the farthest back we can search Google’s database.

  • Google Trends: 2004-2017
  • Growth Rate: -86%

These are worldwide numbers. Some will note that aikido is healthy or thriving at certain dojos, or within certain countries/geographic regions. We know this to be true and this gives us both hope and examples of a new path forward. However, for the aggregated worldwide numbers to drop at these levels, there must be many more struggling dojos and regions to bring the averages down this low.

The Martial Landscape

We can see our change in influence as indexed against two other activities for a reference point. In 2004-2005, we were at the height of our popularity. For those of you who have been in the aikido world long enough, this was the time of the last Aiki Expo held in 2005. An incredibly diverse group assembled for this groundbreaking event. Many new friends and connections were made at the Expo and a number of sensei whom I respect had the course of their development as martial artists altered by this event.

Since that time, interest in aikido began a slow and steady decline. MMA, as a televised fighting sport with global distribution, obviously surpassed interest in every traditional martial art. We are not suggesting aikido needs to be compared to, or compete with MMA. This is solely an extra data point to give perspective on the landscape. BJJ has been on a slow but steady growth curve, passing aikido in global interest in 2010. Anyone interested in playing with the numbers and comparisons can go to Google Trends and craft their own reports.

The Younger Generation

After looking at data from both our Aikido Journal community and Google, we sought out other independent data sources that might provide insight. While Google is used by nearly everyone and gives us an index of interest across all demographics, Instagram is a social network predominantly used by those age 18-29. Compiling hashtag data from Instagram gives a general idea of interest in aikido on the Instagram network, used by over 500 million worldwide.

Data as of December 2017

Within the 18-29 demographic, Aikido is nearing total irrelevance.

Other traditional Japanese arts like Judo and Karate have 7-10X the interest, with an art like BJJ surpassing aikido by over 25x. Merely as an interesting data point, yoga, a non-competitive mind/body/spirit art, generates more interest than all the martial arts and fighting sports combined.

I started aikido at age 19 and spent the remainder of my teens and twenties training hard, taking ukemi for my senpai, and using my youthful energy and athleticism to immerse myself in training and personal development through the art of aikido. In my formative years, the young adults at my dojo brought enthusiasm, athleticism, and new ideas and perspectives. They inspired our teachers, pushed them to improve themselves, and gave their efforts focus and purpose. I saw these young adults forge my sensei into a better martial artist, leader, and mentor. I fear something very important will be lost without this generation’s presence in the art of aikido.

Reaching a Crisis Point

While general interest in our art has declined by 86% since 2004, we don’t believe the number of aikido practitioners has declined by an equally catastrophic amount. However, data and stories from our community do reflect symptoms of an unhealthy environment, and the dramatically dropping interest in our art is likely a leading indicator of further decline.

We don’t need aikido to be an all-pervasive mainstream art, but at all costs, we must avoid losing an ecosystem large enough to support a critical mass of professional instructors.

The sensei who spend the majority of their professional time teaching, researching, developing training programs, and mentoring students, are a key asset in the aikido world. If our art can’t sustain enough professional instructors, instructor quality will decline, student quality and interest will decline, and there won’t be a large enough audience to to sustain dedicated dojo spaces or support projects like the writing of new books or the development of professional instructional or documentary videos.

Anastasia Shuba (left)
A nidan at age 25, Anastasia began training at age 10. As an instructor, Anastasia attracts and inspires a generation that will become the future of our art. She has the opportunity to learn from some of the great masters in the martial arts world and takes full advantage of it. I want a future where people like her have the choice to dedicate themselves to a life of teaching aikido.

 

What Happened?

Leaders in the aikido world I’ve spoken with have different perspectives and insights regarding the root causes of our current state. I believe it’s a complicated issue and that there are many factors that contributed to the decline in interest in aikido.

The founder’s first generation of students spread across the globe to build and promote aikido. Over a period of decades, they did a monumental job scaling aikido throughout the world and then stabilizing by building organizations, formalizing technical curriculum, documenting their knowledge, and promoting the philosophy and vision of the art. Their achievements are legendary and have served the art of aikido well. Yet somehow, what we’ve been doing for the last 13-15 years has not produced the kind of growth and vitality the art of aikido experienced in the past. In fact, we’ve seen a sharp decline over this period with no end in sight to our downward trajectory. This is not a new story. Here are other perspectives on the topic:

Now, it’s more important than ever that we examine this more closely, have open and constructive discussions about it, research and test theories, find a better way forward, and take action to turn things around.


Part 2

Aikido Journal: A Vision for the Future

Aikido has transformed my life and many of those around me. Our art is true modern Budo — forged with philosophy of compassion and positive creation. Aikido develops our bodies, sharpens our minds, and teaches us what it means to be a good human being. The world needs aikido more than ever.

Kids need to learn to work together cooperatively to help each other grow. They need to learn to fall safely and to stay comfortable in their bodies as they grow. Young adults, many of whom can’t identify with any organized religion or political party, need supportive communities and an ethical system to connect with. Older adults need a practice that can last a lifetime, providing skill development, personal growth opportunities, physical and mental fitness, and pure joy.

An art like yoga has been around for thousands of years. Aikido is a mere newborn by comparison, but has the potential to serve humankind for generations to come. Imagine what our art could become and the impact it could have if it blossoms in the right way.

The future of our art is now in our hands. We are the living guardians of art of aikido.

This is why it’s important we keep going and make real committed efforts to find better paths forward. Aikido Journal stands ready to collaborate with our community, to lead projects, and to support the projects of others.

Fueling the Tribe

Within the aikido world, the Aikido Journal community is unique. Tied together digitally, we transcend differences in geography, culture, political affiliation, and technical style. We are a self-selecting tribe of individuals united in our love and pursuit of aikido. We aspire to improve ourselves and strengthen the art of aikido. We accept that there are many different visions for what this means and how it should be accomplished, and we respect the path of others. 

Aikido Journal intends to empower the great teachers, practitioners, leaders, pioneers, and researchers of aikido to best realize their own visions, efforts, and expressions of aikido, as well as maximize the benefit of their work for others.

To this end, we want Aikido Journal to do three things:

  1. Be rocket fuel that propels our individual and collective growth, We want to empower individuals, dojos, and organizations to succeed and realize their own best expressions of aikido. We will do this through collaborative projects and the creation of new tools and infrastructure for the aikido world.
  2. Facilitate the flow of information so we can efficiently learn from each others’ mistakes and contribute our best ideas into others’ unique expressions of aikido. We’ll do this through our media coverage, research reports, case studies, and instructional courses.  
  3. Tell the story of aikido in powerful ways. Aikido is beautiful, inspirational, and transformative. We want to create and share stories that reflect that in an authentic and impactful way. We plan on finding ways to introduce aikido to more people in a positive light and to create media that we can proudly show as representative of our art. 

Let’s Get Started

We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work. Within 30 days after taking formal control of Aikido Journal, we secured and consolidated the entire Aikido Journal archive (which spanned 8 databases and includes many terabytes of data). We redesigned and launched a new website and an on-demand streaming video service. We’ve put workflow systems in place to continue to update and republish the vast contents in our collection. We are well on our way to completing our goal of making the entire Aikido Journal content library and knowledge base available globally (A special thanks to subscribers of AikidoJournal.TV who directly support our projects and efforts).

We think having access to quality aikido news and stories keeps us aware, informed, and provides an opportunity to reflect on new perspectives. Integrating it seamlessly with a comprehensive historical archive keeps us grounded, reminds us of our lineage, and allows us to learn directly from the wisdom and insights of the founder and great masters of our art. 

Aikido Journal Academy

With a full 40% of our community as instructors and over 60% with more than 10 years experience, we believe another important area for Aikido Journal to focus on is instructor development. We want to help aikido instructors be the best teachers and leaders in the martial arts world.

As a community, we have everything we need. We have great aikido masters with powerful knowledge and insights, subject matter experts outside the aikido world willing to support us, a powerful new digital communications platform with massive reach, and a legion of instructors who are thoughtful and intelligent with true passion and dedication to the art.

This will be our next area of focus. We’ll be launching Aikido Journal Academy later this month. Initially, it will produce next-generation online instructional courses, as well as live events designed to connect and empower our leaders. Aikido Journal Academy will help us better learn from each other, share best practices, avoid mistakes, and support and accelerate each others’ development as leaders and dojo operators.  

These programs are designed to supplement and complement the training our instructors already receive from their mentors. If our instructors keep leveling up, our dojos will be healthier, our practitioners will be better and larger in number, and our communities will be stronger.

We’re in the final stages of competing our first Aikido Journal Academy course and will be ready to launch it later this month. This alone won’t solve all our problems, but we believe it’s the most high-impact next step we can take with our available resources.

Taking Action

Please consider joining us and taking action on these next-steps forward:

  1. Share, thoughtfully: Leave a comment and tell us your thoughts and experience related to the health of aikido. Contribute with a clear and objective insight, a theory, or a relevant story. If you have a point that can identify problems and obstacles and/or suggest solution sets, we’d love to start a constructive discussion about what got us here, and what are the most high-impact things we can do to make positive change.
  2. Aikido Journal Academy Feedback: We’ll soon release an article about Aikido Journal Academy and its approach to developing instructor courses that transcend stylistic and organizational boundaries. The article will end with a short poll asking about your interest level in different topics/courses. Please participate, tell us how we can best support you, and help us prioritize.

We’ve had fantastic support from the community and have made many new friends.  The leaders in the aikido world I’ve had the opportunity to speak with want to build upon the great achievements of the founder’s direct students and forge a new and stronger future for our art. Our practitioners and the larger aikido and martial arts communities are ready to rally together to support aikido. We hope you’ll join us on this path of challenge and adventure. Together, we can write the next chapter in the history of aikido. We expect it to be a great turnaround story.


Community Assistance
If you have a strong background in data science and / or data visualization and can contribute approximately 10 hours to a research project, please tell us about your background. We’d love to hear from you.

Email Us

Josh Gold

I am Executive Editor of Aikido Journal and co-founder of Ikazuchi Dojo. I began my aikido journey in 1991 under Haruo Matsuoka and am honored to have been his direct disciple for the last 27 years.

95 comments

Leave a Reply to John Benner Cancel reply

  • For whatever it is worth, the challenges in aikido are challenges faced by all current institutions. Young people just arent investing in any traditional institutions, church, temples, civic groups, etc of a boomer generation.They also want more immediate gratification of the art’s value so we need to rethink techniques that are practical & quickly learned. Learning aikido has been a slow learning curve and traditional has cultural obstacles. Some other martials arts have the same. You have done an incredible job on keeping the spirit alive. I would suggestion a aikido webinar(aiki expo online experience)/ google hangout experience to bring the community more together.
    I started aikido in 1969 have practcied MMA, BJJ, Tai chI, judo and loved it all.But aikido has more spiritual beauty that might make it different.

    • Thumbs up on this comment. If you name any organized activity (martial art related or otherwise) and look at youth engagement today vs. what it would’ve been a decade or two ago you will see the numbers falling off. In my hometown I’ve noticed the effect on local martial arts schools, churches, clubs, concerts, etc. The local population numbers haven’t changed all that much but activity involvement sure has.

      My last aikido school had 3 full time students including me and I was the only one that you could count on to be there on a regular basis. We tried creating a Facebook presence but that didn’t help. I funded a meetup group (meetup.com) to try and bring people in. I could get lots of folks to join the group online but none of them could ever be bothered to actually show up in real life. We would bring in younger students on occasion but none would stay more than a couple of months and most never made it past the first week.

      It isn’t even a youth problem. My first aikido school closed down several years ago when the sensei move out of state. He left behind a group of 4 black belts. None of those people teach that art or even practice martial arts anymore. I miss that particular style of aikido so I will often ask them if they are willing to start teaching. No one has the time or interest. So sad.

      • You hit the nail on the head, Mark, that young people these days are looking for instant gratification. Hobbies are another area also suffering from lack of an influx of younger people for the same reason. Younger people seem only to be prepared to put the effort into something that delivers an immediate result, e.g., computer games, but at the end of the day they’ve actually accomplished nothing of substance and, sadly, don’t realise it. Whether it be making a plastic aeroplane kit, for example, or studying Aikido or another martial art, care, dilligence and perseverance produce accomplishments with which one can derive satisfaction.

        • Hi David! Great to hear from you. We can have a more in depth dialogue about this point on Aikido Journal in the near future, but I just wanted to respond since I’ve seen a number of people with similar comments about the younger generation. As with you, I’ve definitely seen many people in this age range that are too addicted to instant gratification. However, there are many that are not and I think it’s important that we don’t totally dismiss this generation 🙂 I’ll give a few examples. 1.) An instructor at my dojo is age 25. She’s done aikido consistently now for 15 years and I’ve seen her persevere through hard training. She came into my dojo as a shodan already at age 19 and was so humble she took off her black belt and started over as a white belt so she could go through our kyu testing system and better learn the details of our particular style and instructional approach. She’s now a nidan and teaches and trains hard every week. She also practices jiujitsu and on top of this is getting her Phd in Computer Engineering at a major university. She also usually works during the summers as well as a software engineer. 2.) Another gentleman I was recently introduced to just exited the 18-29 age demographic by a year or two. He got an MBA from Harvard, then a JD (law degree) from Harvard, and then moved to California and now works for the world’s largest video company in their strategic initiatives group. He plays one of their games competitively and has ranked as high as top 10 out of 15-20 million players. On top of this, he trained at the US Olympic Center and almost represented the USA in the Pentathalon. There are people like this in the younger generation that are truly awesome. I think if we can do a better job reaching these kinds of people within that generation, it would be a good group of people to have involved in aikido. This breed clearly has no problem with hard work, failure, concentration and perseverance. I know this is bit long winded, but it’s also helping me structure my thoughts around this topic to write this 🙂 There are for sure many within the younger generation that won’t want to, or be able to pursue a path of Budo, but I think it’s important we don’t dismiss the entire generation. The problem you outline within this generation is real, but there are many exceptional people in this group and I think they can be great allies and assets for the art of aikido and our collective future.

          • Hello,

            I teach teenagers in our dojo. They are talented and dedicated to aikido. However we loose them in the transition to adults classes. It’s partly life getting in the way (ooooh look! The opposite sex…) but it’s also a problem of adults failing to connect with them, failing to help them integrate socially into the dojo. Teens are often more responsible and mature than we give them credit for. They can mentor kids, they make terrific deshi when the instructors know how to engage them. Let’s not simply blame the younger generation. Let’s ask ourselves how we can include the young folk in our dojos and help them feel like they have a place.

          • Thank you for the thoughtful comment. I agree we should make an effort to include the younger folk in our dojos, make they feel like they have a place, and put them in an environment where they can learn, grow, and inspire others.

          • As a 30-year-old female Harvard graduate who works in video games and also is a first dan black belt in traditional taekwondo, I think video games are perfectly compatible with studying traditional martial arts, as long as everything’s in moderation and under parental supervision if necessary.

            Did you know that there have been studies showing people who play the computer game StarCraft see a benefit to their cognitive abilities over the control group, and that students all over the world compete to create artificial intelligence software that can play this game effectively? Also, that 18-year-olds can earn a $50K+ salary playing video games in a professional, disciplined, teamwork-oriented way?

            I agree that technology has set the bar high for instant gratification, but aikido can provide that, too. The feeling of having a bokken in your hands after just pretending to use one in a video game is kind of magical. Aikido can provide intergenerational social interaction and community in ways that video games often can’t. Perhaps it’s a marketing problem more than a generational problem – young people are looking for different things than older people when it comes to their hobbies, and we can’t expect that the same key messages that appeal to older practitioners would appeal to younger ones.

  • Hi Josh.

    I am a relatively new student of Aikido having started training in 2015 here in Canada. I can’t speak for much, as a 4th kyu student and a new one at that, but I can definitely concur with the assessment of the lack of young practicioners. At my dojo, I am one of a small handful of students who are all in our 20’s along with two teenagers, with everyone else being well over 30. The lack of interest among young people has been something I’ve noticed both at my own dojo as well as, at seminars with Sensei from Japan who come visit us twice a year. It has also been somewhat of a concern for myself, simply because I have been looking to the future and wondering where my training will go if I do not have a great number of fellow students who I will be able t grow alongside. It also interests me, as an ESL teacher with at least 90% of students being Japanese, that very few young people there know the art by anything other than name. Most people who come from Japan have either never heard of it, or have an image that places Aikido into the same general idea as Judo but nothing beyond. I’m wondering what the community’s dialog has been like with any members of the Japanese Aikido comunity and what their perspective may be on this particular subject and problem.

    There are more thoughts, but it’s a litle too early for me to make sense of them… but the last thing I will say is that it’s also struck me how few people there are in Aikido with a physical disability, or any disability, for that matter. I myself am totally blind, but the members of my dojo have been more than willing to be open minded and have given me both the opportunity to grow as an Aikidoka, and to give back by offering insights as to how to teach a blind student or anyone else who may have a perceived disability. Sadly, this is not the attitude of most dojo or instructors that I have come across. Most instructors tend to be very apprehensive about accepting a student who may have a disability and my search for a genuinely welcoming dojo had more than a few obstacles and unenthusiastic teachers who would not take me on. As a community, this may be something to consider… as I understand it, O-Sensei let people learn if they wanted to, as long as they showed him they had a genuine fascination and openness toward the art and what O-Sensei could teach them. Unfortunately, in the 21st century, there are misconceptions about physical impairment that are held by Sensei who are willing to reject students based on a preconceived idea of what they may or may not be able to do. I am thankful that my dojo has welcomed me the way they have, and has shown me that Aikido is something I can practice just as well and as vigorously as anyone else, blind or not. These are simply some thoughts I wanted to share, as a beginer. Thanks for the amazing articles and or always lending such a wide perspective about the art that draws us together from so many cultures, backgrounds and different walks of life!

  • In our dojo (Antwerp/Belgium) we practise Tomiki Aikido, in other words Competitive Aikido. Unfortunately Tomiki Aikido is not accepted as a form of “Aikido” by many “traditional?” Aikido students and instructors. If we like to grow, I believe we must accept the different views on our art. The concept of competition in martial arts in general is very popular in the group of young adults. The quote “there is no competition in Aikido” made by some traditional aikido adepts has to be reversed into “it is possible to have some competitions by using aikido techniques”. Will it bring en masse more young adults to the dojo, probably not, but every candidate can become a new member.

    • I agree. There is so much infighting and petty bickering about whose aikido is “real” aikido, and it doesn’t help us create a strong community that can be accepting of other approaches to our art. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say, “That’s not really aikido. That’s more aikijiujitsu” about a technique that differed from how they were taught it, I could have a couple of nice dinners out. Among the arts I practice, egos tend to be the biggest in aikido for reasons I could speculate on, but won’t here.

      I think one group that has it figured out, at least in theory, are the kajukenbo guys. For an art that has splintered in countless directions from its original five founders, the agreement is that if you can trace your lineage to the founders, you’re part of the Ohana and kenjukenbo. MA politics being what they are, people probably do still bicker about kaju locally, but at least there’s some understanding that they all share a point of origin.

      Aikidoka of any style or organization can, and should, do the same.

  • Great analsys an article.
    I guess the solution is both simple AND hard:
    1. Get new people in the Dojos!
    2. Make sure they come again!

    • Hello All:

      I have been in the martial arts since 1969. I started training when I was in college. I had always an interest in Martial Arts since I was 15 years old and started reading Black Belt Magazine. In 1980, I started teaching Karate and Jujutsu at a local community recreation center. I put up flyers and posters where ever I could. I went to the Superintendent of the school system and got approved to give lectures on Martial Arts and Japanese history.

      In 1986 I moved to a larger city with a population of over 100,000. I went to the local YMCA and started teaching Karate and Jujutsu. I also hosted instructors in Aikido and Kendo, to expand the knowledge of our program.
      With the YMCA program we started after school programs in 6 elementary schools. Every three months we would have a all school tournament. Every kid that was there received a trophy.

      Once we have a experienced core group of students, we started doing demonstrations around the city at different events. We were always talking up our program and giving incentives to students to bring in their friends. After one year of our start up we had over 250 students. The instructors that I hired, were paid a percentage of their class income, the percentage increased as their class size increased.

      The point is, no matter what you teach, you need to let people know that you have something valuable to teach them. Tell them why you love your art… show them something to get them involved and make it easy for them to come to class.. “Buddy program = 2 for 1” … “Family plan for all the kids in the family to come”

      To grow your program, you have to make it a daily thing that you to do…

      There are lots of other ways to get people involved… Corporate programs.. Meditation through Aikido, for stressed out people… seems that there is lots of people that could use this instead of pills and therapy….

      But this is just my take on it…

    • Osu!

      I have made a few observations during my 15+ years in aikido training and teaching. This may ruffle a few feathers, but I feel it needs to be highlighted and be part of the conversation.
      First, we lie to ourselves. This is a natural phenomenon that is part of the human experience. What do I mean by saying “we lie to ourselves”. Consider what Aikido, indeed Budo, really is. It is a study of the way of the warrior and martial ability/technique (jutsu) is the foundation of this study. Aikidoka rightfully value the philosophical teachings of O-sensei in pursuit of peace and harmony. We train to transcend to a higher place as individuals and as communities. We train to be better humans beings. Some aikidoka have decided that authentic hard training is not useful to achieve said harmony. I contend that in order to truly experience the harmony and peace described by O-sensei, one must first commit themselves to dedicated training. In other words too many people value the do over the jutsu, thus the technical quality of aikido has declined over time. Much of the aikido I see now is really more of a choreographed dance than actual aiki-budo. In the age of social media, there are countless internet warriors who point out the flaws of aikido. Unfortunately, some do make valid points and point out a decline in technical ability. Of course, not everybody who trains is in their 20’s, not everybody needs to be (or can be) martial focused, but then should folks who can’t correctly execute techniques become yudansha or sensei? Is it ok to present shodan belts to people for just showing up to train?

      Another is we are hypocrites. I trained in a school that had the following message posted on the wall, “leave your ego at the door.” Well over the 15 years I spent in that school, I continually observed the senior teaching staff behave with their egos driving their behavior, particularly in how they communicated to the lower ranked sensei and students. We are supposed to be one aiki-tribe regardless of political affiliation? My observations have been the opposite, I have seen students and teachers alike driven from schools for not toeing the political line, in particular to a progressive ideology. I have witnessed yondan ranks being given out not for years of dedicated training, not for successful examinations, but for circling the wagons and following orders. I’ve seen schools so infected by the dojo disease that they openly admit they will no longer teach difficult ukemi, alter the curriculum to the lowest denominator, and that have abandoned the major role of atemi in having effective technique. This in order to attract students who tend to be older. I have witnessed this decline firsthand –

      To be fair, there are many schools who do right by their students, and who well represent aikido. And even the dojo example I mentioned above did produce some high quality aikidoka and accomplished sensei. The problem is people. It is easy to say that “we value diverse perspectives, cultures, and styles” but in the end we divide people into groups to pit against each other, are driven by ego, and the art of harmony is many cases is not as accurate as we tell ourselves.

      All is not lost, there is still time to attract younger students. In my view training needs to be more rigorous, more disciplined, more realistic – more focused on technique. The “do” comes next.

      AJ, keep up the good work.

      Osu!

      Respectfully,

      Ryan C.
      Sandan Yoshinkan Aikido, retired

      • Very interesting perspective; certainly one international Aikido organisation could be said to be practicing Aiki-ballet rather than Aiki-budo.

      • “Another is we are hypocrites. I trained in a school that had the following message posted on the wall, “leave your ego at the door.” Well over the 15 years I spent in that school, I continually observed the senior teaching staff behave with their egos driving their behavior, particularly in how they communicated to the lower ranked sensei and students.”

        I agree wholeheartedly to this comment. I had a teacher who used to talk about “leaving your ego at the door”. If people could leave their ego at the door just by thinking about it we’d all be saints (and what is ego, anyway? I doubt this teacher had studied Carl Jung).

        As a junior student (34 years old, 1st kyu, 7 years practicing) I’ve experienced first hand senior students (of varying ability) talking down to me, even using abusive language on the mats, false accusations, etc. I spent 8 weeks in counselling after I the first dojo.

        Currently I’m training at a very new, small dojo with a couple nice people. I decided that I didn’t want to wait to become a black belt to be treated like a human being.

        Thank you for ruffling a few peacock feathers. 🙂 This ugly duckling appreciated it.

  • Although a neophyte in Aikido I studied karate for 15 years and taught some of the childrens’ classes at my dojo. I found the parents to be very cognizant of the benefits of martial arts training to their children. However, many parents realized the benefits only after the kids expressed an interest on their own and started training. I think the wonderful things that attracted me to Aikido, especially the spiritual and philosophical aspects, would make it very attractive to parents as opposed to other activities. I wonder if outreach to parents and schools and other organizations would enlighten more people as to the wonderful benefits of Aikido. And a very wide audience could be reached with more TV productions explaining and portraying Aikido, maybe during or after national or international demonstrations.

  • Very difficult to dispute the findings in this article. My own feeling is the initial burst of popularity of Aikido starting in the 60s/70s was due to 2 things: First, widespread presentation of martial arts *as a course of study and a calling* in popular culture — David Carradine and ‘Kung Fu’ contributed immensely to the peoples’ awareness of study, which leads to people seeking out opportunities to study themselves. Secondly, economic globalization starting in the 70s brought the US far closer to Asian countries than it had ever been. Asian cars, foods, and culture starting coming here in a wave and people were naturally interested in engaging with a new thing.

    Those were transitory things, and their new-ness has long since dissipated. What is to be done today? I think some “startup thinking” would go a long way towards helping. The ideas that Aikido is not a “product”, and that commercial thinking lowers the dignity of training, need to be discarded, or at least de-emphasized. People become interested and attached to things because of the right combination of : Product, Price, Place, & Promotion. Aiki organizations need to put all 4 of those things on the table and think hard about what they should or could be.

    • I have to agree. Aikido needs more awareness in the general public. Occasionally, we get lucky, and Aikido is mentioned in media (usually movies and TV shows, and we see a spike in interest.

      I spent 10 years as a Toyota dealer and a Director of our regional Toyota Dealer’s Advertising association. Stay with me; this is relevant. Toyota (corporate) always performs national marketing advertising. This type of advertising is always focused on brand awareness and long term results. You see the ads all the time, beauty shots of cars, perhaps extolling features such as reliability, safety, or performance.

      Regional advertising is funded mutually by the dealers and Toyota’s corporate office. The dealer’s decide what type of advertising is best in their market. You have seen these ads “December to Remember”, “Toyotathon”, etc. They usually promote the “deal of the month” ($199/month lease, $2000 customer rebate, 0% financing), which ends on a specific date. This is very different, and contains a limited time “call to action”. Only because 20 – 100 individual dealerships pool their resources can these expensive, local ad campaigns be run.

      Then you have dealer level advertising. “Toyota of City XYZ” has a 20XX Camry in stock for only $XX,999″. The call to action is immediate, when this car is gone, it’s gone. Come in now.

      I understand that Aikido Dojo do not have anywhere the resources to engage in this type of campaign, but perhaps some lessons can be learned, and perhaps a place for our umbrella organizations, or even for Aikido Journal. Currently AJ seems to be focusing on discussion and management of dojo issues and in continuing to disseminate historical and training documents. These are noble and worthwhile causes, but only if there is someone left to utilize them.

      While I do not have the answers, I suggest that AJ could reposition itself as a source with a mission to increase national or regional awareness of Aikido on a long-term basis. AJ could solicit topicsI have to agree with Fernando Salazar’s comments. Aikido needs more awareness in the general public. Occasionally we get lucky, and Aikido is mentioned in media (usually movies and TV shows, and we see a spike in interest. We need to start making our own luck.

      I spent 10 years as a Toyota dealer and a Director of our regional Toyota Dealer’s Advertising association. Stay with me; this is relevant. Toyota (corporate) always performs national marketing advertising. This type of advertising is always focused on brand awareness and long term results. You see the ads all the time, beauty shots of cars, perhaps extolling features such as reliability, safety, or performance. They do NOT say go to dealer XX.

      Regional advertising is funded mutually by the dealers and Toyota’s corporate office. The dealer’s decide what type of advertising is best in their market. You have seen these ads “December to Remember”, “Toyotathon”, etc. They usually promote the “deal of the month” ($199/month lease, $2000 customer rebate, 0% financing), which ends on a specific date. This is very different, and contains a limited time “call to action”. Only because 20 – 100 individual dealerships pool their resources can these expensive, local ad campaigns be run.

      Then you have dealer level advertising. “Toyota of City XYZ” has a 20XX Camry in stock for only $XX,999″. The call to action is immediate, when this car is gone, it’s gone. Come in now.

      I understand that Aikido Dojo do not have anywhere the resources to engage in this type of campaign, but perhaps some lessons can be learned, and perhaps a better place for our umbrella organizations, or even for Aikido Journal. Currently AJ seems to be focusing on discussion and management of dojo issues and in continuing to disseminate historical and training documents. These are noble and worthwhile causes, but only if there is someone left to utilize them.

      While I do not have the answers, I suggest that AJ could reposition itself as a source with a mission to increase national or regional awareness of Aikido on a long-term basis. At this level, we need to be careful not to alienate or emphasize any individual Aikido groups or organizations. AJ could solicit topics from its readers that could be of interest to the general public and solicit from readers those who know how to get a story visibility to the general public, as well as inviting AJ readers to retweet, like, or share such stories. I know that we are not going to embark on an expensive, national advertising campaign of the level of a company like Toyota. I would like to believe that we can work together as a community and achieve greater things than we can individually.
      from its readers that could be of interest to the general public and solicit from readers those who know how to get a story visibility to the general public, as well as inviting AJ readers to retweet, like, or share such stories.

      • Great insight Matt. Identify the problem/concern, ascertain several activities suited to reach a diverse population (this would of necessity require embracing divergent opinions), develop/implement a strategy. A classic definition of marketing.
        We can agree that you and I chose Aikido for different reasons and set different goals for ourselves in our training regimen. I believe we would also agree that working together (sharing insights/experiences) was helpful in reaching the incremental goals set.
        The interview with Cjiba Sensei using a tree analogy clearly characterized the stated objective. Aikido needs roots, trunk, branches, twigs and leaves. All elements of the tree garner energy from the same source yet receive and utilize the energy differently. All the components must be nourished for optimal well-being.
        The challenge, which will remain forever fluid, requires embracing the dynamics of stirring and sustaining the interests of an ever changing demographic.

  • Josh
    Thanks for your excellently researched and evidenced Article .It echoes my own experience of running a Dojo for over 30 years teaching Aikido. In particular I find it is currently very difficult to attract students to the concept of learning a martial art over many years as part of their life long learning and work life equilibrium. Instead students are frequently looking for an instant result which cannot be delivered by an Aikido training programme. In response to this attitude my own Dojo , Sakura Dojo in Preston Lancashire, England has reverted to a more stately form of training based around the old Uchideshi model and delivered from a smaller more intimate Dojo on the top floor of my office building . Very little advertising and mainly word of mouth introduction. All students known to myself and the instructors. With few overheads this is gaining some traction. However it is not Aikido at scale and to ensure the future we will need to attract more young people in the age group 18-25. However this is not impossible. As one of my students in this age group said recently: ” I had been looking for something in my life for a long time, I just didn’t realise it was Aikido”.
    Ian Cherry, Dojo Cho, Sakura Dojo , Preston Lancashire.

    • I disagree with your long-term rationale. I have seen people get to a high level of skill in two years. If you follow the same old norm, yes, it will take forever. Wrestlers learn fast; Judoka learn slowly. Why is that? It is the way you think and train. So, the real test for Aikido is to train people to a high level in a shorter time. It is not impossible. Also, it is not for everybody. Some people just don’t have it – a lot of people and just uncoordinated and just can never really learn it – they progress through the grades slowly and hold everyone back. They entire system seems devoted to them. But a young sporting guy/gal could easily get to BB level in a year. I have seen it in Asia for that a few times. Time-served criteria is BS. Most Olympians are young and at the top of their chosen skill. Most Aikido instructors have no clue about this. I have been fortunate to have worked in schools/universities with intense training programs and have seen amazing things achieved over short time frames. Aikido sells itself far too short.

  • I like about the article that it underpins the observation of decline with some figures. I do miss those root causes which are only hinted at (“many factors”). Yet, a few lines further down a solution is suggested and it involves Aikido Journal taking the lead. While I appreciate the enthusiasm and engagement this seems a bit premature and I am not sure whether Aikido Journal or its community is even the right tool / audience to resurrect interest in the Art. My preference would be to first discuss causes of the current situation and then progress to coming up with suggestions for solutions.

  • What got me started in training was watching Steven seagals hard to kill movie that’s what got me interested in aikido.However I soon learned that the dojo I was at didn’t teach anything like that and stuck around hoping it would.It never did and now 9 years in and still a kyu rank I struggle with staying in the art.

  • The Google Trends findings that you referenced are very interesting and telling. However, just because someone looked up the subject via Google doesn’t mean that they stepped onto a BJJ or MMA mat to practise. And, even if they did, it doesn’t mean that they stuck with it. The practise for BJJ and MMA is very hard. Brutally hard, sometimes, and that discourages all but the most energetic practitioners. But, I think that traditional martial arts have been compared to MMA by Millennials and have been found (perhaps unfairly) to be inefficient. Much of the blame has to be placed on Aikido teaching practises themselves. Not a week goes by that the average Aikidoka doesn’t practise some sort of wrist grab technique. God help the person who grabs an Aikidoka wrist! But how often do they practise techniques against a “hay-maker” (straight right/left) attack, or a double-leg takedown (tackle)? Much less often, I would guess. Yet, that type of an attack is MUCH more likely to be employed by an 21st century western attacker than a wrist grab. Yes, I know much of Aikido techniques come from “sword culture” where wrist grabs were much more common. But we haven’t lived in such a culture for over one-hundred years! I’m not arguing that we should abandon the old attacks. But we should incorporate new, conventional attacks into the repertoire and train how to respond to them just as regularly as the older, traditional attacks. I have no doubt the undergirding *principles* of Aikido could handle such attacks — we just need to train them. I don’t think we need to alter Aikido to be able to do cage-fighting. We’ll leave that to the MMA guys. Just update it to provide self-defense measures against the average conventional attack. MMA/BJJ prove their effectiveness every week in some sort of cage-fighting venue (UFC, Bellator, etc.). Of course the effectiveness is in a setting of: one-on-one, no weapons involved, on a comfortable mat/canvas floor, with a referee standing by if it gets too brutal. But Millennials see this effectiveness and walk past the traditional martial arts dojo on their way to the MMA gym. I think if Aikido can incorporate contemporary attacks/defenses into its arsenal, it will succeed in enticing some of those young people into the Aikido dojo. Just my two cents…

    • Great comment. I’ve been thinking this for some while. We need to show how well we can deal with 21 century, western style punches and stab attacks. This does not mean losing our tradition, our history and our unique philosophy. But it does show young people that we have something relevant to offer them.

    • If you are brawling then a wrist grab is an unlikely attack to face. If you are a woman being assaulted it is highly likely that the first attack you will face will be a grab to the wrist or hand.

    • Good points! I think this MUST be addressed along with some kind of uniform, safe sparring protocol (Randori) ala Judo, Jujitsu, etc. A more applied, real time experience which can be applied as practical ‘Self Defense’ within the first 6 months or so.
      I don’t see this in any way interfering with the more traditional aspects; after all, Budo of all kinds was/is ‘Martial’ – that is ‘Military’ and the need for real time hard-earned training has always been a part of it. Resistance is futile when it comes to this.
      Without it Aikido will become more and more esoteric and irrelevant to the ‘mainstream’.
      Also, I might say, some of the marketing strategies here in the comments are brilliant. (Toyota, YMCA/Schools, etc.) Straight ahead! We can do it!

    • Well said.

      Tachi-dori is another aspect of Aikido that has relevance in today’s world, as it provides effectiveness at protecting oneself from attacks by machetes, certainly not unknown now in Western nations.

    • Thank you very much for posting this on Facebook, Josh!

      My Aikido Instructor, Ray Butcher, is also a Yoga teacher and BJJ teacher, and has students who do MMA, based on what they learn from him and the other instructors at our combined Martial Arts and Yoga centre. (Kick-boxing also taught, by the former National Kickboxing Champion of Italy.) His Aikido is not particularly flashy, wildly energetic or acrobatic, but it is very effective – without losing the spirit of non-aggression. Gentle power.

      Because Ray has studied various martial arts all his life, starting in childhood – Karate, Judo and BJJ – and is now in his fifties, he has a very good understanding of what is and is not martially effective, and this informs his Aikido. He is also a fully trained, qualified and experienced teacher of Women’s Self Defence.

      Recently, he put a couple of videos on YouTube showing how to deal with a Haymaker type punch and a “Sucker Punch”. He got a couple of comments from Aikido people stating that what he was doing was not Aikido. My view is that whether something is Aikido or not doesn’t depend so much on what is being done physically, as it does on the intention behind it.

      Aikido techniques can be used in brutal, violent ways, and other movements which are not on the traditional Aikido syllabus/curriculum can be used in ways which deal with the aggression, without harming the attacker. To me, that’s true Aikido.

      I believe that we need to allow Aikido to progress. It is not a Martial Art which has been handed down for centuries; it was developed in fairly recent times, and is – or should be – still evolving. It needs to adapt to the reality of today’s world, and I have seen, through Ray’s teaching, that it can.

      If “street type” techniques can be shown, with corresponding Aikido-type responses, then Aikido is likely to appeal to people who want to be able to defend themselves but do not want to do anything brutal or violent in the process. I think that’s the position of a lot of people, in today’s world.

      With regard to the “ballet type Aikido” mentioned in other comments:

      If you look at some videos by Patrick Cassidy Sensei, our Chief Instructor, you might think that he is just dancing, but having trained with him I can tell you that there is tremendous power and skill in what he does. You don’t spend 7 years as uchideshi for Saito Sensei in Iwama, and come away with ineffective Aikido. The hard training and discipline is there, underpinning the graceful movements.

      I don’t know if the same is true for other “ballet type” Aikido training. Maybe people who see the effective “dance-like” Aikido try to copy it, but don’t have the underlying martial education, so miss out on points which are not easy to see. You have to feel it: give a strong, committed attack and follow-through, and find yourself whisked around as if by the wind.

      I agree that it’s a pity that 18 to 29-year-olds aren’t as interested in Aikido as they are in video games or whatever, but maybe Aikido is something that appeals to more mature people. Those 18 – 29-year-olds won’t stay that age forever! We have an ageing population, in Europe anyway, (I don’t know about America,) so if we want large numbers in Aikido, we need to appeal to the older generation – because that is the majority.

      You don’t die, or stop training, when you reach the ripe old age of 29! And if you train, from the beginning, with good body awareness, you won’t acquire injuries which prevent you from continuing well into REAL old age. Have a look at Tada Sensei on YouTube. He’s 84, I think, and moves superbly.

      Unfortunately I am one of the enthusiastic people, without much body awareness, who trained so enthusiastically and energetically that my body now has lots of wear-and-tear type problems. It’s not age, it’s injuries which make people stop training. I intend to keep going regardless, but that’s only possible because Ray’s dojo is not one which caters to or focuses exclusively on what appeals to 18-year-olds. There are some very athletic and acrobatic younger students, and we have a thriving Kids Class from which young people are moving into the Adults Class, but there are also people in the older age groups, and people who are not very flexible or acrobatic, and that’s seen as perfectly acceptable.

      If Body Awareness Training were incorporated into Aikido training right from the start, it would prevent people from acquiring movement habits which lead to injuries. Paul Linden Sensei’s Being In Movement training is excellent.

      Another thing which needs to be addressed is teacher training.

      Historically, in Japanese martial arts, the responsibility was much more on the learners than on the teachers. The teacher was not under any obligation to actually TEACH. It was up to the student to LEARN.

      By contrast, our traditional “western” method of acquiring/imparting knowledge puts almost all of the responsibility on the teacher.

      I believe it would be helpful to give Aikido teachers some “teacher training” – but I think we should not assume that our own traditional educational methods are the best available.

      Dr. Maria Montessori, a medical doctor who went back to College to get a degree in teaching, developed a system which she proved clearly to be far superior to the traditional (western) methods. She used her learning-focused method to work with children regarded as intellectually sub-normal, and those children did better in State Exams than children of normal ability, being taught in ordinary schools. (This was in Italy).

      Dr. Montessori said that when you look into a classroom, you should not see TEACHING happening, you should see LEARNING happening. Her method was clearly proven to be so effective, that the established Educational System couldn’t justify rejecting it outright – but didn’t want the destruction of their power structure, which recognition of her method would necessitate. So instead they marginalised her method, pretending that it was only suitable for children at pre-school level, (despite the evidence to the contrary.)

      Part of the solution to the waning interest in Aikido could be to improve the teaching skills of Aikido Instructors. But rather than bringing in the usual type of teacher training or coach training, I strongly advocate the adoption of the Montessori Method for Aikido training.

      This teaching/learning method is a much better “fit” for Martial Arts training, as there is more emphasis oin learning and less emphasis on teaching, just as was the case in traditional Japanese Martial Arts. It would also counteract the tendency among people teaching Aikido to allow their egos to take over.

      Part of the reason that we have too many people who want to be Instructors, and not enough people who want to be students, is because of the hierarchical system. Teachers get more respect than is good for them, and new or even intermediate students are (sometimes, in some dojo) treated like inferior beings. Nobody enjoys that.

      I believe it could make a big difference in attracting and maintaining the interest of students of all ages and ability levels, if the Montessori method was used in Aikido training.

      Comments by other people also make excellent suggestions for what we can do. Thank you, Josh, and all at Aikido Journal, for taking the lead in gathering everyone’s ideas and making a serious international attempt to reverse the decline in interest in Aikido, before it’s too late.

      Please keep me posted on progress and let me know if there is anything I can do to help.

      Regards,
      Fiona. (Dublin, Ireland).

    • Honestly, as a woman who doesn’t like violence and has already attained first dan in taekwondo, I like that aikido doesn’t have a huge emphasis on competition and sparring. I’ve done all of that already and it turns out I prefer a style that focuses on philosophy, effective and humane self defense, and community. If my first impression of aikido had been some kind of hot-and-heavy BJJ or judo wrestlefest, I think it would’ve been a turnoff. I’m 115 lbs. and people generally have to go really easy on me in sparring, which is not ideal for my sense of personal strength and accomplishment (“girls are more delicate and can’t take as much force as guys”).

      I’d ask you to please consider the perspectives of young people besides the (mostly) young men who are really into the competitive element – see Elly’s post below. I want to learn how to disable a rapist in a dark alley, not how to score points with a high kick.

  • The insightful comments of both Mark and Clement are an excellent starting point to address aikido’s dramatic decline in popularity.

    Aikido principles are brilliant and as valid today as they were in ancient times, but we must get much better at imparting aiki techniques which are less complex and more easily learned. Training exercises can be far more practical and relevant for today’s students.

    Clement highlights another of our failings. As a non-competitive art disabilities present no barrier, but few dojo actively recruit and encourage disabled students to join. We need to put some of our collective KI into better outreach efforts.

    Another area of great need is imparting the gift of ukemi – the skill of safe falling to our rapidly aging population, who site catastrophic injury from a fall as their greatest fear.

    Samurai means “service.” Perhaps if dojos and aikido federations focused more on service to the community, we might become more relevant. We have so much to offer.

    • I agree 100%, Tom Collings! I’m seriously considering doing this, after I retire from work. Loved your book, by the way, which I read a couple of years ago. At the end, you made some very good suggestions about the way forward for Aikido.

  • Many of the difficulties experienced by students of Aikido and the associated bad press can be traced back to a lack of understanding of Aiki, the initial unbalancing element of a technique. I believe that the reputation of Aikido as a martial art can be significantly raised by teaching Aiki in the early stages of a technique. Most, if not all sensei, have internalised Aiki by osmosis. This makes it difficult for them to explain, verbally, that all important knowledge to students. Consequently, learning Aiki based techniques has been problematic, as a failure to unbalance the opponent will undermine the whole technique. As a scientist, my interest in Aiki started over twenty years ago with the aim of understanding what is Aiki and, is it the same in Aikido and Aikijujutsu? The results of this work has been published in a book titled:- The Principle of Aiki and its Application in Aikido and Aikijujutsu which is available on Amazon. This book would provided a technical reference for the teaching of Aiki.

  • I had been teaching for 20 years in a community of 60,000. During the last years before I stopped teaching the number of students keep diminishing. Sensing there was a lost of interest in Aikido, I encouraged my Aikido Association to set up a national committee to help grow Aikido in Canada.

    I became the chair of the committee but ran into some resistance to change. Simple things like a new more proactive web site, YouTube videos, a curriculum designed specifically for children, more flexibility in testing my own students at least up to shodan, exercises classes based on Aikido, Qi Gong and Yoga to keep the old guys like me fit and healthy.

    I believe that Aikido has become an elitist art. The style is controlled via testing by a central body that is has a vested interested in maintaining the status quo.

    I sometimes believe that we should introduce competition to Aikido somewhat like gymnastics or figure skating, This would help focus training for young students and provide a core of practitioners to help maintain the art. It would foster innovation and encourage more people throughout the world to share their vision of Aikido. At present that vison is shrouded in tradition and suffering a slow death.

    I am not one to focus solely on efficiency of technique. In my perfect world, competition would be judged on fluidity of movement, grace under pressure, respect for one’s partners, originality of technique and how a well a practitioner can demonstrate meditation in movement via Aikido’s self defence techniques.

    Hopefully one day I will find myself back on the mat. For not Aikido is on hold.

  • This is an amazing and valuable piece of research. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into it! In our dojo, our adult program is definitely mirroring the trends you point to here. However, our children’s program is, and has been, always thriving, but it remains a challenge to hold on to students as they mature. I keep wondering how do we turn this thriving children’s program into teen and adult students who continue their aikido when they go off to college?

    This brings me to my question: In your data, have you tried disaggregating according to age? Many parents are attracted to aikido for their children because of its nonviolent philosophy, and its emphasis on positive conflict resolution. I wonder how tracking interests in youth martial arts would reveal interests regarding aikido. While it is mandatory for our dojo to bring new young adult students in, looking at our children’s program as a starting place for lifelong training is very interesting to me. I myself was a child student in the 80’s at the Berkeley YMCA. I quit in 6th grade, but returned to training when I was a junior in college. I’ve been training ever since.

    Thank you again for raising these difficult questions.

    • John Brenner! I began Judo training at the Berkeley ‘Y’ in 1955! LOL! Then the Hollywood YMCA (late 50s-early 60s) and so on. Now an old Aikido Yondan (15yrs) Somehow I always knew back then that I would be an Aikidoka when I got older.
      Say! Maybe I am on to something there…
      Even in the late 50s/early 60s – as a young macho Judoka doing tournaments, etc. – I thought of Aikido as an old guys thing???? hmmmm…. BECAUSE it seemed kinder, gentler.. If I only KNEW! In reality, when practiced as true ‘Martial Art’, good solid ‘off balance on contact’ Aikido is some of the most violent stuff I have seen. One of our main problems is to make ‘sparring’ safe enough so we can do it vigorously.
      One morning some time ago, I had a little vision: I saw myself as a young pup having a ball doing Randori as ‘dessert’ at the end of Judo class and wondered “How come we don’t – typically – have that much fun as Aikidoka?” Most of the practitioners I have been with seem either very stiff or too flow-y when doing what they call ‘Randori’. Randori is supposed to be FUN and informing – poking holes in our technique and testing our abilities in a ‘controlled chaos’ environment. We should be panting like puppies playing! Not standing around wondering if we are doing it ‘right’!
      I have had many ideas, but ‘traditionalists’ have routinely rejected them out of hand?? I think that the Judo model – somehow timed and coordinated to accommodate the ‘size’ of this (quoting Kano) “Perfect Judo” – Judo at arms length. I know that many of my Tomiki brethren will know what I mean. =)

    • Hi John: Great to hear from you. No, we’ve not desegregated data according to age. We’d need new data gathering initiatives to do that in an accurate way. It’s a great idea and I think we can do quite a bit to research the demographic landscape, look at training lifecycles and perceptions of different segments, etc. We’ll plan for this kind of additional research effort in the near future, but for now will be focusing our limited resources on pinpointing some obvious / high-impact areas we can make a difference and getting those things going as soon as possible.

  • Thank you so much Josh for detailing what many of us have know to be true from our own experience. It’s not just martial arts or Aikido that have issues. I talked to my friend who runs the highly successful dance studio in my complex. We have existed as neighbors for 28 years. She said that, while she still has tons of students and financially her studio is doing well, the quality of the students have changed. She said that the girls who come to train don’t seem interested in actually mastering the art. They come because its fun but she has a hard time finding students who want to be serious.

    Aikido is supposed to be a Budo. It is by its nature intended to be serious. Of course there are gradations. People do not all have to train to become national / international grade teachers, nor do they all have to aspire to run dojos. It was always true that 90% or more of the new students quit before they even got Shodan. But when the number of people coming through the door is so low that the 10% who stay is so small that you get one ever few years, yo are in a death spiral.

    If what people are looking for now is the activity that can be learned in a few months, that can be done once a week or twice a week alongside a million different other activities, Aikido is inherently not that activity. I see many dojos dumbing down the art to make it easier for the average person to succeed. I see standards on testing dropping so that everyone can be validated for whatever effort they feel comfortable putting in.

    Maybe, that has been necessary to keep the doors open. But it has grave implications for the future. Where are the top level teachers of the future coming from? I look around and ask myself, who among the senior teachers I know, has produced a student or student(s) who are going to be as good or better then they are? I see very few people coming along behind us who are going to continue the transmission of anything that resembles the art created by O-Sensei and brought to us by his deshi.

    The world seems to have changed. Traditional arts don’t see to fit the zeitgeist. Maybe we have to accept that Aikido is going to be like the Koryu. Not many people will ever do a Koryu nor do these arts seek to have many students. They focus on quality, maintaining the transmission, and preserving the quality of the arts. I believe that the first priority for us as senior teachers is to focus on quality and creating at least one or more students who can continue the transmission after we are gone.

    Because what I see happening is a fundamental conflict between trying to popularize the art and transmitting a quality version of the art. It’s a sort of Koan that we need to try to solve.

    • Sensei: Thank you so much for joining the conversation. I really appreciate your insights and story. I share your concerns and believe you make an important point about the priority of ensuring the next generation of instructors and leaders in the aikido world will be as prepared as earlier generations. I realized this even more profoundly after spending time with you in Redlands and seeing the depth of your technical knowledge and instructional expertise. I know that knowledge can be more effectively transmitted on a wider basis, but don’t yet know exactly how to make that happen. We have some ideas that we are ready to begin testing soon though and I look forward to talking with you about that and getting your feedback. I don’t think elevating our instructors alone will solve all of our problems, but it will solve one problem and if we don’t do it, I agree wth you that the consequences will be severe. However, I do have hope that we can both maintain and elevate quality, while also restoring the size and health our aikido community (without compromising quality). Maybe it’s just because I haven’t seen as much as you, but for now I want to believe that together, we can make it happen and build a brighter future for our art. I’ll be in Seattle in late January and would love to meet with you and see your dojo if you’re around while I’m in town. I’ll contact you by email in the near future to check with your schedule. Thank you Sensei. Josh

      • I think you and Aikido Journal are on the right track. Virtually all of our senior teachers are in their sixties or older. This is not a generation that is tech forward. I have probably done more with the internet than most of my peers but I know that there is far more that could have been done.

        I think that your explorations into how internet and distance learning technology can contribute to turning things around is spot on. I have some plans to set up some distance mentoring via video exchange but when I ran the numbers, even making this a half time endeavor will only allow me to adequately work with 20 people.

        Your bringing to bear the resources of Aikido Journal to better disseminate the collective experience of our senior teachers will have a far greater effect than any one of us could do on his own.

        This is what it is going to take, Youthful energy and creativity to rethink how we do things. I am looking forward to seeing how it all develops.
        – George

  • Thank you Josh and all the sincere and dedicated aikidoka at AJ.

    You pose a vital question and offer a broad and nuanced way to address the situation of declining enrollment in the Art.

    I began my Martial Arts study in 1970 at the age of 19. I discovered Aikido in 1971 and it became the core practice of my fascination with and my passion for all the Arts. Along the way, I have studied and practiced many, many different disciplines; jitsu, do, empty-hand, weapons, ancient, modern, East, and West.

    When I began Aikido, there were only 4 (yes, count ’em … 4) books in English about the Art. Two by Tohei Sensei, one by Kishomaru Ueshiba, and one by Westbrook & Ratti.

    Dojo’s were small … even very small. We practiced in gyms, garages, people’s lawns, and in Judo and Jujitsu Dojo’s.

    There were no stylistic “boundaries” or “tribes”. Everyone trained with everyone. Our focus and our passion was on helping each other try to grasp, understand, and embody this elusive and mysterious thing called “Aiki”.

    (*) Note: The emphasis back then where I lived (SF Bay Area) was every bit as much on “Aiki” as on it was on “waza”. In retrospect, I feel very fortunate to have been able to jump into the river very close to the headwaters. This emphasis on the “Hidden” as well as the “Manifest” has fueled my lifelong pursuit of an integration of the external and the internal arts.
    __________

    So, allow me to suggest a POV on this issue.

    The nature of a deep and sincere study of an art like Aikido will never appeal to the great majority of people. Never.

    Perhaps, rather than getting too concerned about “numbers” and “metrics”, it might be wiser to accept the fact that Aikido’s most powerful contribution is “qualitative” rather than “quantitative”.

    It’s a bit like recognizing the difference between a conscripted soldier and Special Operations Warrior. Both are legit. Both are necessary. Both are worthy of respect. And … they are very different.

    So, Aikido that is vibrant, meaningful, and true to the Founder’s vision may, perforce, always be pursued by a smaller crowd.

    It is, as they say, an “acquired taste”.

    In a world of increasingly short attention spans, instant gratification, and simplistic answers to complex dilemmas … Aikido cannot (and in MHO should not) judge itself against the popularity of MMA, BJJ, Judo, Karate, or Kramer Maga, etc.

    Maybe, for us, “less is more”.

    In the words of actress Lauren Bacall, “I’m really a woman of simple tastes. I only want the very best.”

    Keep up the great work.
    Thank you for keeping Stan’s amazing contributions alive.

    As O’Sensei said, “I want considerate people to hear the voice of Aikido”.

    Peace.

    ~David Brown

    • David… I too started life in the Bay Area and I draw an interesting parallel analogy from what you said above.
      MUSIC.
      My life has been spent learning and propagating traditional styles of Music. And lately – this century – I have come to realize that only a portion of the listening public is going to care. I look back at things like Jazz and Blue Grass and Blues and other marginalized – by ‘Pop’ standards – styles and think, especially as a professional instructor in these arts on many instruments as well as vocals, ‘Maybe quality IS much more important than quantity’, especially when it comes to mainstream acceptance and validation. Nothing wrong with a well tended niche.
      And there will ALWAYS be real pickers and players and songwriters and singers – just as there will ALWAYS be real Budoka.
      I think your point about not comparing ourselves to MMA, etc is very well taken! I will NEVER compare what I do, Musically to… oh… Justin Bieber. (!!)

  • Onegai shimasu, Sensei Josh Gold.
    Hello, my name is Jose Pedro, Brazilian, practicing 4 months of Aikido. However, I had contact with Aikido 31 years ago. During this period I practiced Taekwondo (Black Belt), Karate, Kung Fu, Iaijutsu, Kenjutsu and Hapkido. After a long journey I went back to Aikido for the philosophy of nonviolence. In a very violent world, I believe it is not encouraging to become as violent as the martial arts contact requires. I really like the Japanese culture in cultivating the internal in harmony with the external. From the labels, rituals and process of physical and mental development. I now feel very well in the practice of Aikido, I perceive the complexity of the movements until reaching a degree of efficiency. I enjoy training with Bokken, Jo and, mainly Tai-jutsu. It is a great pleasure to report my story to this editorial. Domo Arigato! JP.

    • Jose – it’s nice to meet you here! Thank you for introducing yourself and sharing your story with the community. It’s great to get the perceptive from people that are just starting their aikido journey. Welcome to our community.

      • Onegai shimasu Sensei Josh Gold.
        Thank you so much. It is a great pleasure to be part of this community. Domo Arigato gozaimashita! JP.

  • In 2017, globally, there is more fear. And despite a sense of globalism that would suggest a coming together, there is a strong sense of difference and separation that is very influential. Groups that feel like their way of life is under attack and their direct violent response as well as influence on others influence on individuals is remarkable and ongoing. This violent response is likey a reaction to an inherent global shift toward more equality and broad human (and environmental ) rights that is not going to end.

    Modern judo (different from 1960s judo) is more BJJ, and MMA, and Krav Maga and military ops like Navy Seals that make intensive destructive attacks are more appealing in such a world. Yet, more attack as a counter to violence tends to provoke more fear. And if you are physically large and strong, it can seem to work. And yet, tere is always someone stronger. This is where “aiki” begins to appear, going back throughthe ages and clearly present in the deflections of taichi and so forth well before aikido. It is present because it is effective. And it tends to be non-resistant and harmonious rather than clashing to be effective..

    Especially O’Sensei’s late-life more explicit aikido of love–mouthed, but largely ignored as the heart of aikido by aikikai and other aikido systems–would NOT be very appealing to even Japanese people who are not even familiar with aikido, let alone the rest of the globe. Negativity works well if you want to attract folks. Hapkido–a closely, rougher related style–would be more appealing. And bigger and better guns much more appealing.

    Should aikido, and its deep, historical aiki core, become rougher, or more “real” (that which is described on YouTube and real aikido), to attract folks?

    Globally, a non-violent yoga easily outweighs all martial arts in gross numbers of participants. So could that suggest a “softer” aiki model? Modern yoga is more of a strength-oriented workout model than the 1000s-years-old Indo-Asian development of yoga as a transformational experience. Modern yoga is more of a 1900s historical reaction to British oppression that is typically “vinyasa flow.” Initially, it developed as essentially a quest for an indigenous practice to counter the domination of British rule in India. In fact, much of its design–sequences, even some poses–might be said to be fairly European in origin as an aspect of “primitive gymnastics”.

    Deep aikido that O’Sensei grasped as an enlightenment experience, particularly in post-WWII Iwama, seemed quite odd his ardent, war-defeated apprentices. Honestly, they largely ignored him.

    Should aikido and related practices aspire to become more widespread? Definitely, in this time of global fears AND really healthful slow-transitions toward human and environmental rights and equality. But aiki will not save the world. This global process will continue, albeit late with tits efficacy still up in the air, whether or not aiki has any influence on this process.
    Perhaps the greatest problem with aikido in a forward move is its diffusion. What is true aiki? A rich continuum from calmness to clash in a “evolving”, “ever-changing” aiki that includes whatever one decides to include? Isn’t that a dash of MMA here and dance there?

    A bow to Stanley Pranin for his effort to not just historically document aikido, but to reveal aikido contradictions to guide us rather than accept whatever we thought aikido and aiki were. Aiki for mass appeal? If at all successful, it is likely to be appealing rather than transforming, and. as such, stands to be a part of the problem, and facile (i.e, too easy) and mollifying us rather than being a solution.

    • Lance:

      Excellent lay-out. Informed. Thoughtful.

      _____

      “Deep aikido that O’Sensei grasped as an enlightenment experience, particularly in post-WWII Iwama, seemed quite odd his ardent, war-defeated apprentices. Honestly, they largely ignored him.”

      Just to add some verification to your assessment.

      Robert Nadeau Shihan told me that when he was at Hombu in the mid 1960’s, if O’Sensei was teaching, many yudansha (not the urchi deshi) would simply not dress out and would go around the corner for a smoke and a cup of coffee and wait for the next class.

      They simply had no interest in O’Sensei’s philosophical and spiritual message. None.

      Now, to be fair, O’Sensei did not make it ‘easy’ for his deshi to grasp, understand, and embrace his mystical core.

      But as in the highest level of any art, the Master can, in the end, only point the way. He cannot walk the Path for us.

      We must walk it for ourselves.

      Thank you for your insights and perspectives.

      ~David Brown

  • I believe Aikido popularity hit its peak when the movie “Above the Law” came out in the 1990’s. Shortly after that, the UFC was started and that was the start of its demise.

    To resolve one part of the problem is for all styles (or I like to call them learning meathods) of Aikido to join together in the sense of following the principles of Aikido. I went to a small town outside of Valencia, Spain only to learn there were 3 different schools in that very small town. For schools that are struggling, it may be best to call up another Aikido dojo with low numbers and get over the small issues of you lineage and have larger and more diverse class. I find larger schools have a more “community” feel and students stay.

  • Hi Josh,
    While I agree that Aikido is not turning away students because the mats are overfilled, I respectfully disagree with the conclusion as I understand it. It seems to me you are saying that Aikido is anachronistic; that Aikido, to attract new students needs to change. To me there is no greater danger to the art than its modernization. Teaching traditional Aikido, as it was taught to Saito Sensei by O’Sensei, seems to me the best way to preserve the art. It might, however, be an unreliable way to make a living.
    I have been taught that O’Sensei discouraged teaching Aikido full time. He would say that you should farm and teach Aikido. He helped get Saito Sensei a job with the National Railroad. Saito Shihan worked at the Railroad until his retirement and also taught Aikido. It is not easy, but the temptation to change the art to draw students should be avoided at all costs.
    I started training about 42 years ago. My teaching partner is my wife, Ginny Breeland Sensei; she started around 39 years ago. There is still a great deal to be learned.
    My perspective comes from lessons by my teacher of over thirty years.
    My (our) teacher, Hans Goto, trained in Iwama. He trained there with Saito-Shihan in the early years after O’Sensei death. In those early years some times there were only one or two students there in Iwama. He developed, in the years he was there, a close and lifelong relationship with Saito-Shihan. The senior instructor in our organization is Bill Witt Shihan who started in Hombu dojo in Tokyo where he met O’Sensei and a much younger Saito Sensei.

    • Hi Pete: It’s nice to meet you here and thank you for contributing to the discussion! Perhaps I could have found a better way to articulate my thoughts in the article, but I don’t think we need to change or abandon the key principles or technical foundations of our art. I do however, think that we can benefit from evolving certain elements of the aikido ecosystem as we look towards the future. Through AJ, we can all have a dialogue about these topics in a more focused way in the near future. Saito Sensei made a legendary contribution to the aikido world by preserving O-Sensei’s aikido and designing a teaching system to effectively transmit that knowledge in a repeatable and consistent way. However, I think there are also many other great masters that did develop their own expressions of aikido and did believe that through exploration and adaptation, they could also make a valuable contribution to the greater aikido world (Nishio Sensei as one example). I have strong conviction that we must preserve the values, philosophy, and classical techniques of aikido, but I also think there’s room for people to explore and innovate – whether it’s figuring out how we can better use new technology to communicate and support each other, finding better ways to tell authentic stories and communicate about our art, or exploring new technical approaches and training methods. Through my own cross training and R&D projects (like motion capture and analysis of aikido techniques), I’ve made new friends, introduced aikido in a positive way to important allies outside of the aikido world, and gained a deeper understanding and appreciation for the foundations of our art. I also totally understand your point about the temptation to compromise the principles of an art for financial reasons if one relies on aikido for their income as a professional. However, I think this is the same for doctors, financial advisors, and other kinds of professionals that are also bound by ethical codes. Even though that temptation may exist, there are many professionals that valiantly upload their ethics and core values. Whatever ideas Saito Sensei or O-Sensei had about professional instructors were formed in the Industrial Age. The world is very different now. Not everyone has to, or would want to make a choice to be a professional instructor, but I do firmly believe that these people can and do play a valuable role in the aikido world. I know of a few Iwama-ryu instructors that teach aikido full time. I’ve learned a great deal from them and also have seen them make large impacts within the aikido ecosystem through leading global seminars, writing books, etc. Would love to discuss further if you’d like to have a dialogue about this. My perspective is being positively shaped every day through guidance and feedback from senior leaders in the aikido world, like yourself. Please don’t hesitate to drop me an email if you’d ever like to talk. I’m always ready to learn more and access informed perspectives from the community – Josh

  • Hi.

    For my view. Aikido is a bit insular to White, cis, hetero older men. And I have seen and heard many dojo’s “everyone is welcome” motto fall flat if you are not a middle-aged man.

    I love the sport. But I see risks with it being lika a sect/cult. And so I view it as a important sport, but just one were we dress in pyjamas and run after eachother with sticks; otherwise uou can lose yourself in whatever your trainer thinks “you should be”.

  • Hi Josh:

    Thanks for the well written and important article. The declining trend of aikido is all too clear. However, this has not been our experience at Mill Valley Aikido and there is simply no real reason for this unfortunate declining trend. If aikido is to survive, it simply needs to be relevant to the needs of our communities. Here are my 4 suggestions to revive aikido:

    1. Build up a strong children’s program. If it is relevant, fun and safe for the kids. the dojo will be a livelier environment, more financially secure, and there will be a path to the future. My guess is that local U.S. karate schools are 80% children. I trained in both Honbu and with Sawa Sensei, this week, and both have thriving kids programs. We still have good memories of assisting Saito Sensei with his good natured Sunday morning kids class.

    2. Serve the needs of your local community. The world has changed significantly in the last 50 years and aikido needs to adapt to the new requirements. Each dojo needs to modify its program whether it is to serve the youth, working and busy adults, older students, and those physically or mentally challenged. Please don’t stay stuck in the past.

    3. The sensei should focus firmly on the mechanics of the techniques. Every student is different and can find their own personal path and how to use aikido in their life. Saito Sensei, who was a brilliant person with a nominal formal education, was a tough task master on the mat. But he rarely spoke of spiritual and philosophical issues while teaching. Of course, the sensei needs to provide some limited non technique related guidance but this may be excessive in the U.S.

    4. Have a day job and don’t rely on aikido for your livelihood. Economic dependence on aikido can lead to compromise and should be avoided if possible. Saito Sensei consistently reminded all of his old students of this point and with good reason.

  • One can look at the current article concerning Tohei sensei and understand some of the struggles students have with Aikido. Tohei sensei stopped doing judo because people were throwing him all over the place which wasn’t very fun or interesting. He became a student of aikido because it was a real skill. Not just conditioning. I feel the discussion is going in the right direction if you are thinking about instructor training, but let it encompass technique, character, building relationships, confidence and respect. Tohei almost quit before he started because of a student who cranked a Nikko on him. Ueshiba sensei took the time to explain, show, and demonstrate on him and he was hooked. When done respectfully appreciating the gift to the dojo that each new student represent that …that’s a pretty good recipe for success. People start Aikido for many reasons, but it is the genuine care for them shown by their sensei and fellow students in their quest for confidence and to feel good about themselves, as well as participating in a “fun and interesting” activity- that keeps them coming back. This needs to be taught and emphasized to many instructors.

  • Josh,

    Its about time more respect was given to Master Steven Seagal and Gracie Jiu Jitsu. The Aikido world missed the party and they never learn. Josh always deletes my posts but he was a student of Steven Seagals Aikido. The answer is very simple.

  • Josh – For the most accurate assessment of the decline in aikido participation, it would be interesting to factor out France and a few eastern European countries where aikido is thriving. I would guess in that case your figures for the decline in the US and Canada would be far more dramatic.

    • Hi Tom! I think you’re probably right. Another related question is why aikido is thriving in those areas vs. North America. We look forward to further research and analysis and are glad to have you taking part in the conversation.

      • Thanks Josh for putting together the question and framework to develop answers. In Colorado, I founded a 501c3 Aikido for Veterans & Families, and am working with Shihan Hiroshi Ikeda and Kei Izawa among others to address the “why Aikido?” question in a direct way. We develop programs with the VA and other VSOs to introduce veterans, their spouses, and their children to Aikido with a special focus on those who have been affected by PTSD. Other research has recently been published by Drs. David Lukoff in San Francisco (American Psychology Association Journal) and Dr. Tobias Weiss (Military Psychology Journal) on the positive effects of Aikido practice on recovery and resilience-building for veterans. Both are long-time Aikido practitioners and VA psychologists. Collectively, evidence shows, and we believe, that Aikido is strengthened on both sides (civilian and military veteran) when the purpose for practice is clear and being present is the only thing. The results, what happens next, recruitment, retention, frequency of practice, sustainability, resilience, authenticity all drops away. I love Aikido too and I’m putting all my faith in the practice. I see opportunity for Aikido to grow in the U.S. not by defining itself but by letting itself be defined by the metric of it’s effectiveness in helping their recovery. O’sensei was a war veteran who suffered from PTSD and developed Aikido out of that experience.

        • Dave – this is very interesting. I’d love to hear more about this project and your results. Please email us if you’d be interested in setting up a short call to talk in the next couple weeks.

      • Hi Josh,

        Great article and something we are seeing here in the Midwest too. I think Aikido suffers from several issues that keep
        younger people from pursuing it,

        1. The attacks are nonsensical, I know, that they are simply simulating a motion, but they are soft, rarely intense, and often poorly done. To this end, I think Aikidoists should spend some time, especially in the kyu ranks learning how to properly punch, strike, and kick. Perhaps have a guest boxing instructor once a month, etc.

        2. STOP this inane focus on “not hurting your attacker” and the “spiritual” side of Aikido. Young people, particularly young men for the most part have no interest in that, and in fact, too much focus on the first might turn them away before they even come. I think we all have to remember that what was meant by that was that you were not trying to kill or permanently maim an opponent, not that they wouldn’t get hurt. It makes Aikido seem weak to young people.

        3. Ridiculous time in rank requirements…..yes, time in rank is important, but people are not widgets. You cannot have static requirements as people, particularly young people need to feel unique. I think the BJJ approach to this is much better! In BJJ, it may take 10 years to get to black belt, but, there is no time in rank. You are tested EVERY time you are on the mat and when the instructor thinks you are ready, you are promoted. No need for formal testing. Young people I think tend to gravitate to that more.

        4. Focus on what Aikido DOES WELL. For the record, I was in the military, USMC Recon (Force and regular) as a Navy corpsman. I boxed intramurals and wrestled. I’ve studied Okinawan Karate, and BJJ. If I were in an unarmed fight, one on one, almost all of these other arts are great choices and maybe even better than Aikido, in fact, I would likely try to blend some boxing and Aikido together. However, all of these other arts have weaknesses. What if there are weapons? Well, BJJ, boxing, and wrestling become quite ineffective! What about multiple attackers? In these situations Aikido is much better than the other arts…. we need to highlight our strengths and not be afraid of other arts..,

        Those are some preliminary thoughts. Josh, I want to thank you for all the work you’ve done on this. This is really quite impressive in valuable.

  • At one stage I read some books by the founders of NLP, if we want success and increase the number of students then we should look at successful dojos and find out what they are doing right. If we can then teach that to other dojos and they become successful we have found the “secret”, if not we have picked the wrong thing and need to rework our model.

    I think our product is right and even more important now in these increasingly dangerous times, to change aikido from being a win-win martial art to being winner takes all is obviously throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    • Denis – I agree that we can definitely benefit from looking at successful dojo models, distilling down key insights, and then ensuring the entire aikido community can benefit from that knowledge. We have projects underway in this area now 🙂

  • I think we have to see Aikido within this context. Sorry, it´s in Spanish.

    JAPÓN: LA RESTAURACIÓN MEIJI, EL CONSTRUCTIVISMO OCCIDENTAL, EL SHINTOÍSMO NO NACIONALISTA Y EL CRISTIANISMO.

    Por Gabriel J. Zanotti. Publicado el 11/6/17 en: http://gzanotti.blogspot.com.ar/2017/06/japon-la-restauracion-meiji-el.html

    La historia de Japón es muy poco conocida excepto para sus estudiosos, pero el cine se ha encargado de mostrarnos un momento crucial, difícil de interpretar, a través del film El último Samurai –que repite fielmente el mismo esquema de Danza con Lobos; Avatar sigue el mismo argumento-. Todos seguramente se han conmovido cuando las ametralladoras occidentales arrasan con “los últimos samurai” que con honor y valentía atacan con su destreza, sus espadas y sus caballos a un ejército menos honorable pero, como siempre sucede en la historia humana, dotado con una capacidad técnica imposible de superar.

    ¿Pero qué había detrás de ello, más allá del soldado occidental que se convierte en samurai? Lo que vemos, lejanamente y entre sombras, es lo que fue la Restauración Meiji, un decidido empeño por parte de cierta aristocracia japonesa para sacar a su nación del auto-encerramiento cultural que duró de 1603 a 1868. O sea, un intento de hacer un Japón “moderno”, con instituciones occidentales, y que aparentemente tuvo éxito: Japón se convirtió en la potencia industrial, técnica y política más poderosa de Oriente desde fines del s. XIX hasta fines de la Primera Guerra, en la cual se sentó, en Versalles, como cuarta potencia después de los delegados de Francia, Inglaterra y EEUU.

    Por ende los supuestos malos de la peli eran en realidad los buenos. Si, tal vez el imaginario Omura era un corrupto malo malo malo pero en realidad formaba parte de un gobierno que quería sacar a Japón de su feudalismo y llevarlo hacia una modernización occidental donde los samurai ya no tendrían cabida como servidores de los señores feudales del Japón.

    ¿Pero qué intenta copiar, de Occidente, la Restauración Meiji?

    Aquí entra la clave de la cuestión: no el liberalismo clásico, sino el racionalismo constructivista explicado una y otra vez por F. Hayek.

    Esto es, no las libertades individuales con un gobierno limitado a custodiarlas, sino la construcción de un estado centralizado e imperial, dispuesto a barrer con el Antiguo Régimen anterior. O sea, los estados napoleónicos posteriores a la Revolución Francesa.

    Por lo tanto, bajo aparentes instituciones liberales tales como las cámaras de representantes, las supuestas divisiones de poderes, las vestimentas occidentales y, por supuesto, la ciencia occidental, estaba la visión constructivista, bajo la cual el imperialismo y el dominio de otras naciones era también su directiva. Pero eso, vuelvo a decir, directamente importado de esa visión occidental de planificación central que quebró la evolución del liberalismo clásico y llevó a Occidente a los nacionalismos e imperialismos europeos que terminaron en la Primera Guerra. La dinastía Meiji no hizo nada más ni nada menos que llevar eso a Japón.

    El Japón feudal tenía por supuesto sus bellezas culturales. Entre ellas el Bushido, relativamente similar[1] (pero creo que superior) a la tradición caballeresca medieval occidental. Algunos de sus valores eran muy similares al Cristianismo, pero esa unión no se pudo concretar no sólo porque la Dinastía Edo vio en el cristianismo una pérdida de la identidad nacional japonesa, sino porque, si ya en el Cristianismo occidental la noción de persona y sus implicaciones morales tardaron mucho en florecer, mucho más en Japón.

    La religión nacional japonesa, el Shintoísmo, es una conmovedora mitología animista-politeísta, con preciosas consecuencias artísticas y ceremoniales. Es en principio una mitología nacionalista, porque Japón como nación se origina con la pareja de dioses fundacionales, Izanami e Izanagi, cuyo amor y descendencia da origen a las islas y a los habitantes de Japón, sin distinción entre lo viviente y lo no viviente, o entre lo divino y lo no divino[2]. Una de las características más interesantes del Shinto es que lo individual no aparece, sino en red, en conjunto, casi como neuronas que individualmente no tendrían sentido sino sólo en sus millones de conexiones sinápticas. Por eso, para dar sólo un ejemplo, no hay plato principal en la comida japonesa, sino varios relativamente diminutos que en conjunto constituyen el alimento.

    En esa tradición de casi 2000 años era muy difícil introducir la noción de libertades individuales, pero fue coherente que la modernización coincidiera entonces con el constructivismo occidental, esencialmente colectivista.

    Por eso la dinastía Meiji es primero una restauración, porque tiene que basar la nueva nación japonesa moderna en el seguimiento del linaje de un emperador-dios, que, aunque no cumpliera funciones de gobierno, siempre había simbolizado en Japón la continuidad de su origen divino. Pero además esa restauración convierte al Shinto, más que en una religión, en un conjunto de ceremonias de estado[3]. No había libertad para no seguir ese ceremonial –análogo al culto a los símbolos nacionales que los occidentales, acríticamente, siguen practicando- pero sí había libertad para otras “religiones”. Pero no para el Shinto, que se convirtió más bien en un conjunto de ceremoniales parecidos a la pietas romana del Imperio. Esa pietas formó parte del contenido obligatoria de la educación pública japonesa hasta 1945.

    Por ende, para comprender la acción internacional del Imperio Japonés después de la Primera Guerra, hay que entender que ellos no podían ver las alianzas o no alianzas con las potencias occidentales con el ojo crítico de un libertario, sino sencillamente con la mirada de una nación colectiva donde lo individual no contaba sino el éxito o no de un proyecto nacional en los cuales otros proyectos nacionales –sea Inglaterra, Alemania, o quienes fueren- no eran más que aliados o enemigos en el logro de la grandeza del Japón Divino e Imperial.

    Por eso tiene razón W. G. Beasley cuando explica el triunfo de políticas nacionalistas, después de 1918, frente a partidos más de izquierda –o sea no nacionalistas- en Japón: “…el fracaso en lograr apoyo popular fue lo que condenó a ambas clases de partido a la guerra. Las razones de ésta no han de buscarse en ningún factor singular y ni siquiera enteramente en las deficiencias de los políticos. Estribaban más bien en aquellas ideas e instituciones que habían desviado al pueblo japonés de la persecución de las libertades individuales para dirigirlo hacia el alcance de metas colectivas: las presiones formativas del sistema educativo; una religión estatal centrada en el emperador; la conscripción con el adoctrinamiento que la acompañaba; y la persistencia de actitudes autoritarias y tradicionales en sectores importantes de la conducta burocrática y familiar”[4].

    Desde aquí se entiende también que el fundador del Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, haya tenido una concepción universalista y no-nacionalista del Shinto japonés: porque basó sus convicciones en la secta Omoto[5], que, con elementos budistas, mantenía las tradiciones shinto pero separadas del culto al Emperador, por lo cual fue severamente perseguida. Ueshiba se salvó por su prestigio personal pero todo esto explica también que se auto-exiliara en el “muy” interior de Japón durante la Segunda Guerra y que su Aikido haya surgido luego como una cuasi-religión sintoísta exo-térica, universalista, que predicaba a todas las naciones la paz y el amor universal. No de casualidad fue el primer arte marcial que los Aliados permitieron luego de la Segunda Guerra.

    Dicho todo esto, la pregunta es de qué modo o cómo subsiste hoy en Japón toda esta historicidad. La historicidad no es la Historia estudiada, es más bien el horizonte cultural pasado que vive en el presente.

    ¿Es plausible que una bomba atómica, por técnicamente poderosa y horrorosa que fuera, y la posterior anexión de Japón, prácticamente, como un protectorado de los EEUU, logren borrar la tradición shinto nacionalista y la nostalgia de la Gran Nación Divina Imperial?

    En la historia humana,1945 a 2017 es un casi nada para responder.

    Por eso creo que la clave es la gran intuición que Morihei Ueshiba tuvo de un shinto universalista y pacífico. Ello tiene un potencial diálogo con el Cristianismo y su noción de persona, donde el samurai seguirá siendo servidor de su señor, pero el Señor será Cristo[6] y por ende el shinto ya no será un colectivo, “el borg”, sino un orden comunitario donde cada persona tendrá ante todo el mandato de su conciencia.

    El futuro de Japón no está en una vuelta a su nacionalismo pero tampoco, desde luego, en su desaparición bajo las peores y más decadentes formas de indiferentismo religioso occidental. Está en una síntesis entre su historicidad sintoísta, el shinto universalista de Ueshiba y la noción de persona del Cristianismo.

    En todo esto hay que seguir trabajando.

    [1] Ver Nitobe, Inazo: Bushido: The Soul of Japan (1904); Layout and Cover Disign, 2010.

    [2] No hay Sagradas Escrituras relativamente oficiales en el Shinto, pero uno de los textos fundacionales de la mitología japonesa es el Kojiki, crónica de antiguos hechos de Japón; (datada aproximadamente en el 712 D.C.); Trotta, Madrid, 2008; Introducción y traducción de Carlos Rubio y Rumi Tani Moratalla.

    [3] Ver al respecto State Shinto: A Religion Interrupted, by Eryk, 2016, enhttps://www.tofugu.com/japan/state-shinto/

    [4] Beasly, W.G.: Historia moderna del Japón, Sur, Buenos Aires, 1968, p. 246.

    [5] Entre los biógrafos de Morihei Ueshiba, el que más se ocupó de esta crucial cuestión fue Stevens, J.: ver sus libros Invincible Warrior, Shambala, 1999, y Paz abundante, Kayrós, Barcelona, 1998.

    [6] Es muy interesante al respecto la historia de Ukon Takayama, llamado el Samurai de Cristo (ver http://www.proyectoemaus.com/takayama-ukon-el-samurai-de-cristo/ ). Fue beatificado el 7 de Febrero de este año:http://es.catholic.net/op/articulos/61280/hoy-es-beatificado-justo-takayama-ukon-el-samurai-de-dios

    Gabriel J. Zanotti es Profesor y Licenciado en Filosofía por la Universidad del Norte Santo Tomás de Aquino (UNSTA), Doctor en Filosofía, Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA). Es Profesor titular, de Epistemología de la Comunicación Social en la Facultad de Comunicación de la Universidad Austral. Profesor de la Escuela de Post-grado de la Facultad de Comunicación de la Universidad Austral. Profesor co-titular del seminario de epistemología en el doctorado en Administración del CEMA. Director Académico del Instituto Acton Argentina. Profesor visitante de la Universidad Francisco Marroquín de Guatemala. Fue profesor Titular de Metodología de las Ciencias Sociales en el Master en Economía y Ciencias Políticas de ESEADE, y miembro de su departamento de investigación.

  • Look at the rise of combat sport. Muay Thai rising rapidly in the west. MMA and BJJ as well. These are styles that teach people to train practically and efficiently. It has proven itself. Aikidoka still have this desire to adhere to tradition, which I don’t think was the intentions of O’sensei. The art needs to evolve. Not a website.

  • I suppose that when one compares one thing with or to another, like oranges and mushrooms, even in a critical and non biased fashion. they will be able to identify those aspects they see as strengths and weaknesses in each. To be open to adaptation in order to grow should not be a problem for an Akido-ka. Just so long as they remember that the only “other” that they are competing with is the one staring back at them in the mirror is themself. Aikido could easily be compared to almost any biological entity, like a little tree on a rocky cliff face. Some might say that the tree is struggling for life whilst others might simply see the tree as having accepted it’s place on that craggy ledge and having suitably adapted is merely living within it’s current circumstance to the full. It looks down from it’s precarious perch to the fields below to see other plants and it might wonder at their number and apparent health but I would doubt that it would distract itself with feelings of worry at it’s own situation or allow resentment to cloud any sensation at the wonder and joy that the other plants are flourishing… assuming of course it even cares… it’s a tree after all… Everything has it’s seasons and Aikido will have it’s resurgence just as others in fields will experience their own challenges and setbacks. Aikido’s “challenge” is not so much to constantly expand but to simply remain true to itself… This apparent need for more is a nonsense that encourages impatience and greed. There will always be those who never are happy with what they have unless they have more or more than others and even then they will grab and grasp at the unobtainable and the unsustainable. Aikido is not a business plan or a career path though some would have us believe otherwise… It is a state of mind and being that despite the change in seasons and circumstances, will endure… Or maybe it won’t… In the grand scheme of things that too is also possible.. some manure is good for a plant where too much manure will overwhelm it… such is nature.

  • We have toy phones with apps now and can imagine we are mastering something when we are not. With such immense “advancements” why bother doing any real work? It will play out as it will play out. And then one day someone will disconnect the electricity. Most will die. Many will be too old. A few may or may nor have retained the lessons of value and may or may not be able to use them to survive and hopefully rebuild. For the greater part most of Aikido is already extinct. “Lets pretend ki do” has mostly replaced it. As for relevance. Remains to be seen. I admire your courage and dedication but you can not grow fruit on barren rock, only fertile soil. Where there is no hunger for self mastery and skill there will be decline. Look at history. Self deception is easier than the pain of change and waking up. The peripherals are more cosy than raw life as it really is!

  • Josh,

    Can I ask you a few important questions? I think you are all missing the boat and are afraid to address the real issues. I’m talking from my 30 years of experience in Aikido. I’d love to give you a call if possible?

  • First, let me say I appreciate this article and Aikido Journal greatly.
    It is heartbreaking to read this and recognize the decline in something I care so deeply about. But there is no denying what is happening.

    I am truly blessed to have an incredible Sensei who has dedicated his life to mastery and to passing that knowledge along. In turn, his Sensei trained directly with O’Sensei in Iwama.
    Despite this incredible pedigree and enthusiasm, we have struggled greatly to attract and retain new students.

    If I were to venture a guess as to why, I’d look to our society’s obsession with instant gratification.
    Aikido takes dedication and patience. As we all know, it can take years to earn even a working knowledge of the basics.
    While I find this a compelling aspect to our art, it is certainly a mismatch to the modern world.
    Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers. I can only promise to continue training and try and promote O’Sensei’s vision for our troubled world.

  • Great article. I believe that younger generations just don’t understand or have the initial patience for Aikido. As I look around my dojo during class, I find myself being the youngest one most of the time. I think that making Aikido look more beautiful would attract younger students. I understand that aikido should not be about showing off or competing but I am referring to making Aikido look more beautiful. To be honest, one of the main things that attracts me to Aikido is the visual beauty with which the masters I follow practice it. It’s the beauty of Aikido. This in turn makes me want to go to my dojo and apply the principles and techniques I just saw.

    Also, unfortunately, a little bit of marketing will go a long way. I mean for instance having videos of techniques or demos associated with a dojo’s website would help. Although there are many dojo websites, many are archaic and the last time recent pictures were uploaded was years ago. I think dojos would benefit from using a little bit of social media. One perfect example is Facebook and Instagram. The IAF is now becoming more active on Facebook but don’t really see any official accounts of Aikido on instagram at all.

    I’m 30 now and started at 27. What kept me going is the progression that I was seeing, the spiritual cleansing after class, my attitude, and my vision.

  • As a master level martial artist with over 20 years of teaching experience in the Japanese, Korean MA and Chinese martial arts I enjoy the Aikido Journal articles as one of the many ways I keep up with martial arts irregardless of style. I’ll share some of my observations and experiences over several years which may address your concerns about the decline of Aikido. The first graph you show of Aikido, MMA, BJJ and another which includes Karate and some other arts is far from a complete exhaustive study, though the downward trend of Aikido is real and believable. Very popular martial arts/sports martial arts are missing from this statistical presentation. For example, Tae Kwon Do (TKD) a competitive sports martial art is missing from the graph and analysis even though every year it shows astounding growth throughout the world and at present much more than BJJ or MMA. Throughout my travels in the US it appears that more than one TKD school can be found in almost every major city and many small towns. Successful Japanese and Okiniwan Karate schools, and some Chinese Martial Arts can be found in some large cities as well though lesser numbers. BJJ continues to increase in numbers but will it lose popularity like wrestling did. This is not true of Aikido Schools. Your article tries to address this decline in Aikido but I think it misses many important points. So hopefully my comments based on extensive experience will provide some insights and ways to make Aikido a productive and continuing martial art.

    Tae Kwon Do, BJJ, MMA, some Karate Styles (ex. Shotokan, Shorin Ryu,…), and many Chinese Martial Arts, Judo are heavily into competition and in most play a significant role in ranking. Tae Kwon Do and Judo are Olympic sports. Traditional martial arts such as these have over a few to several decades shifted their focus to become “sports martial arts”. Judo has always been a sport and came out of many Jujutsu styles through Jigoro Kano’s efforts. The pro’s and con’s of this will not be discussed but is left to new students how they want to proceed when they start a martial art. Aikido has no competition and to knowledgeable people many Aikido demonstrations though entertaining, they are not convincing.
    This is not to say that Aikido should change into a competitive sport which would destroy it. It is mentioned to describe why it doesn’t compete with faster growing arts and may be declining.

    Part of the population of the USA is sports oriented and competitions are welcome both by practitioners and observers. It is accurate to say that less people are motivated by intellectual pursuits and the finer points offered by traditional martial arts that have been around for much longer periods of time and in my opinion have a lot more to offer. A good comparison would be little league baseball versus competitive martial arts such as TKD, BJJ, MMA, etc. etc. – the same type of attraction. It is no wonder that many successful schools have such a large number of young students who are attracted by competition and the thrill of winning trophies. The few Aikido schools that I have visited have little or no young students, and the majority are over 30 years of age, and with few or none of senior age. Quite often the motivations come from movies and then are supported by willing parents who don’t have a clue as to Martial Arts Sports or Traditional (non-competitive) MA such as Aikido and others as well as the pro’s and con’s of each type. Even a significant number of students who have been in the martial arts a few years have a poor idea of what martial arts are all about, often base their thoughts totally on what “sensei said” and with knowledge and practice of only one martial art which they claim is “the best”. Certainly becoming very good in one martial arts is commendable but being narrow has its drawbacks.

    So why the decline in Aikido and lack of significant growth in some traditional martial arts and numbers of schools?

    1- Martial Arts such as Aikido, Judo, Hapkido, etc. that have takedown and throwing techniques require shock absorbing mats for safety – and they are expensive! At the same time many people do not take well to learning how to take falls safely. A very good experienced instructor is clearly needed. A school that wants to stay in business needs to attract a significant number of students to pay the bills before earning an income. Those instructors who want to make it a full time career need to bring in even larger numbers of students and maintain that number through the years. Business expertise is needed as well to be successful in addition to setting up the school in a good location. The school owner makes a large commitment of time, even more than a full time job which usually allows weekends off as well as vacations. Many school owners who have taken a vacation find that when they come back a significant number of students have left!

    2. A major problem with Aikido and many other martial arts styles is the headquarters in this case the Hombu Dojo in Japan that wants to maintain control over all its practitioners but with poor management, ridiculous rules, rigid promotion guidelines etc. These problems face other styles as well, More a do as we say but not as we do. For example: The Aikido Journal has had numerous articles in the past on “ranking” and how many Japanese Aikido Instructors were quickly promoted or even jumped a few Dan grades. My visits to some Aikido schools in their discussions put forth very rigid guidelines for promotion, i.e. three or more years with a large number of regular required documented hours in the dojo. Certainly it takes time to attain sufficient skill for promotion to 1st Dan and then again to advance to higher rank. But attaining this skill varies depending on the gifts of each student, the time they put into good practice as well as the quality of instruction they receive, and in some cases extensive previous martial arts experience. The same ranking guidelines were still used to apply to Back belt holders in related styles such as Hapkido, Jujutsu, Taijutsu, etc. Many would conclude that ranking in Aikido uses the “old boy club approach” and that management from HQ is poor with perhaps a double arrogant standard.

    3. Traditional Martial Arts should all have as their basis a means of learning effective self defense skills. Martial Arts are contact arts which require interactions that could lead to injury and correctly learning techniques to minimize injuries. However, many sports, football, tennis, skiing, judo, boxing etc. have the same risks and require higher levels of contact and those risks are accepted by many. However, in my observations of many Aikido classes as well as attendance at Aikido Seminars I see extremely light to almost no physical contact when practicing a given technique. If anything, a complaint if the slightest level of discomfort is produced in practicing the technique, and with appropriate excuses given. The attacks that are defended against are nowhere near what an actual attack would be and rollouts as the technique is applied are done almost though they are beautifully choreographed. Having trained in Korean Hapkido (some of its lineage comes from Daito-Ryu Jujutsu – the same lineage as Aikido) and having trained extensively in Japan in similar techniques the practice is far more realistic and at a much higher required skill level for a given rank. I certainly find may Aikido techniques instructive and provide insight on the same techniques found in other arts I have studied. Certainly slow practice is recommended and used in the early stages of training but the same approaches seem to still be used at even high Dan levels in Aikido. From my observations many Aikido Black Belts, even as high as 4th DAN would not fare well in an actual self defense situation especially if the attacker has martial arts training in other styles. Certainly higher Dan Aikido practitioners have thoroughly learned the art than can be applied in actual self defense situations , though the feedback/opinions I get from many advanced level martial artists is that many Dan rated Aikido practitioners lack these defensive skills unless they have seriously practiced for 20 years. Few or none of them recommend Aikido to new potential students. Though I believe that Aikido has much to offer I think it needs to rethink its training curriculum, goals, and methods of practice.
    Another criticism by many martial artists is that Ueshiba turned Aikido into a religion. One of the schools I visited one of the students shaved his head and tried to look and act like Ueshiba. Though this may be extremely rare what kind of impressions were made at that school to newcomers?

    3- Some people begin to study martial arts to learn to defend themselves. This is why BJJ, MMA, Krav Maga, Kick Boxing, and others are growing. These arts are better at promoting themselves (though not always accurately) have attracted more students. Many students are teenagers, in their 20’s and early 30’s. Very few start these arts in their middle or later years.
    Does every Aikido school present to visitors a large number of students of all ages? One of the local schools that I have visited a number of times has predominately middle age adults. What kinds of impressions are made on possible new students when they visit an Aikido school? Is there sufficient motivation for them to try Aikido? How often is the head instructor at the school or are they always out of town giving seminars somewhere?

    4- One of the Aikido schools I visited gave no credit for my Master level ranking in the martial arts which included high Dan ranking in Hapkido, Jujutsu styles, ChinNa, if I wanted to come to practice with them. I would have to go through a beginner course, though I didn’t have to do this at Aikido seminars I attended. The insight I could provide through an exchange of information and experience between all us practicing together was flatly refused! It seems that many Aikido practitioners would prefer to remain ignorant of all other martial arts, and even those that share common lineages. This shortcoming is shown to some varying extents by many other styles of martial arts as well, whether, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Phillipine, etc.

    5- In your analysis Yoga is listed even though it is not a martial art. Many people, especially as they get older, are looking for physical activities that promote good health, flexibility and are open to all ages. This idea is not really put forward by Aikido to any extent even though it does offer health benefits.

    6- Though Yoga is listed in your analysis, it is surprising that there is no mention of Tai Chi or the Internal and External Chinese Martial Arts, and Qigong. These arts are open to people of all ages, have excellent health benefits and are practiced by over 100 million people worldwide, Tai Chi is used in many hospital rehab clinics as well. Qigong, Acupressure, Acupuncture and the Internal Martial arts are also used in TCM – Traditional Chinese Medicine which is quite effective. For those who want to study them as a martial art they have as much to offer and require the same time frame for learning as Aikido but require instructors trained at a much higher level. In addition, they can be safely practiced at any age and wide range of physical condition whereas external arts such as Tae Kwon Do, Karate, BJJ, Kick Boxing, etc. practitioners as they get older may practice less which may be affected by joint, knee, and hip problems. I saw few Aikido practitioners over 55. To keep schools going, Aikido may need to produce safe practice programs for seniors so it becomes a lifetime pursuit for everyone .

    7- Lastly – every style wants to be competitive with other styles in terms of numbers and continue to grow in size. Is this healthy? Yes, it makes it easier for someone who relocates to another city to continue or to find an Aikido School, but you cant keep everyone happy in every city and town. I would think that it would be better to focus on quality than quantity and if someone is really interested in Aikido they will find a way. Some proficient martial artists may want Aikido as an additional martial art if their time permits. Motivation for Aikido shouldn’t depend on Steven Seagal Movies!
    New approaches are needed for Aikido to survive and that requires realistic thinking and several new approaches, In my opinion that is not going to come from Japan and the Ueshiba family is not going to keep it going with their current approach.
    All martial arts evolve and times are different today than 50, 100,years or centuries ago.

  • The biggest problem I see is that until Aikido goes back to the Founder’s way and not the Son’s and be comes a Combat Art that it was then it will die.

  • Is it possible that the numerous Aikido styles/schools/organizations are detrimental to the promotion of the art? I know that a number of schools operate under the Aikikai, but it seems that there are just too many schools acting separately and independently of each other when a lot more could be accomplished by working together. Then again perhaps part of the problem is that each of these school/organizations sees Aikido as something different than how the others see it. If someone want to take up tennis, he/she does not have 100+ different varieties/styles to choose from.

  • Thank you for this wonderful article on the future of Aikido. Several years ago I met Pat Hendricks Sensei at a party. I spoke with her about the different styles of Aikido that I had experienced attending workshops with visiting Senseis. From my point of view, each Sensei had quite a different approach to the art. Hendricks Sensei stressed that the differences are superficial. She said that Aikido is all one, just like the elephant in the story about blind people each feeling a different part and drawing the conclusion that the elephant is a tail, or a foot. And yet, in my home city, San Francisco, I know of 5 dojos. And the people in these dojos have rarely, in my experience, come together to train. I think that in the future Aikido would benefit if the different organizations trained together to highlight the underlying similarities of different styles and approaches.

  • I came late to aikido, at age 50, 14 years ago. I’ve worked hard to achieve my nidan rank, going 2-3 times a week, like the average student-who-will-never-be-a-sensei. I’ve been a member of different dojos, with different styles, and visited many others, including around the world and gone to many seminars. Unlike the earliest generation of American practitioners my education has been entirely in the hands of non-Japanese senseis, all of whom had day jobs.
    I’ve never used aikido to defend myself, nor met anyone who has, nor met anyone where that is the driving motivation behind why they remain in aikido year after year. I do believe I am much better prepared to defend myself if the need arose than if I had done nothing at all to prepare, and in the meantime I have accrued benefits the telling of which would take too long.
    In other words, i’m an example of the lifelong student aikido needs to survive and prosper, and hopefully representative of the kind of experience students of aikido undergo in this age and country. Someone who loves it for his own reasons and makes it a part of his life no matter where he might go.
    I’m also a physician specializing in musculoskeletal medicine and chronic pain and a father who paid a lot of money to support his daughter through black belt in TBD and someone who has thought a lot about aikido.
    My daughter’s TKD school thrived off of its large children’s program, which fed into a family program, which created a self-sustaining social organization with picnics, tournaments, exhibitions, and more. The sensei was a former Korean high school champion who was full time. Aikido dojos I have belonged to gave small children’s programs that never teach real aikido for obvious reasons. My daughter broke a board with her bare hand at age 6 and was hooked on TKD for 8 years. I agree that chikdren’s programs are essential but I think there are differences with other martial arts that limit its ability to compete, as currently structured, based upon my limited experience.
    I have worked with the Arthritis Foundation and watched what has happened with Tai Chi in the last 20 years. Then I read about the most common call for an ambulance being a fallen old person, and then about a program teaching older individuals to fall down safely using, by their description, a modified back fall, and then about the increasing number of elderly and I see an opportunity. Aikido by its very design is the best anti-falling program I can think of. Properly presented and shepherded aikido has much to offer the middle aged population, like I was when I started.
    It is no longer post-WW2 Japan. I am pretty sure the world doesn’t need another way for people to injure one another. If aikido is to become a world historical force for good, like O’Sensei imagined, it must first survive in a rapidly changing and increasingly complicated world, very different than old Japan. Since, in my opinion, aikido’s benefits are many, from the physical to the mental to the spiritual, aikido has much to offer to people of any age when it’s benefits are known, and can in fact be a force for good. Unfortunately, there is no significant body of research to document what I believe to be true, reducing the problem to one of marketing. If you can’t get people’s attention it will drift away. I have no solution for that. But, I believe there are many different reasons why someone should pursue aikido and that maximizing the ability of each student to take something away is important. It may not be self-defense. Tai Chi is representative of that kind of evolution.
    I believe if someone checks it will be determined that French aikido dojos may obtain government support without undergoing particularly onerous requirements. That makes France not a useful comparison point.
    As a statistician, noticing your Google trend, I think your analysis needs to be adjusted for a possible “Seagal” effect. It may well be his name recognition, as it rose and fell, accounted for some of the effect you are seeing. Extending the analysis back farther and attempting to control for him would do more to establish a real trend. On the other hand, I can only bow to the experience of senseis who have been in aikido for 40+ years. If they say things are changing, I am not certain statistical analysis is needed.

  • Aikido is great. The main problem is that not many people know about it. Aikido is not for everyone but it could be for many, many more. Josh Sensei and other commentators have identified some of the other issues.

    If there are social scientists reading this that would like to work on brand awareness and market penetration surveys, please contact me.

    We have a thriving dojo in a rural area. We use modern business principles and teach/train traditional Iwama-style Aikido. We have a state-of-the-art green dojo building and an uchideshi program.

    I am training successor sensei and dojo cho. This is what Aikido needs to do to continue. This year we offered our first “How To Run an Aikido Dojo” seminar and it was warmly received. Children and youth classes contribute the dojo community, and the dojo contributes to the broader community with Special Ed and Seniors Classes.

    O-Sensei said that Aikido can be medicine for a sick world. Let’s share that medicine as best we can.

    Peace,

    Aviv Goldsmith
    Chief Instructor
    Aikido in Fredericksburg
    http://www.familyaikido.org

  • I love Aikido – 37 years in. Spent 20 years of that time training in Asia. Speak three Asian languages (2.5 to be fair). Degrees in languages/linguistics. Wrote a book on Aikido. I satisfied my own curiosity by studying other arts but continued Aikido all along as I always saw great benefit in it. However, some instructors, even good ones, fail to see reality. For example, I taught high school wrestling for 5 years. Occasionally I would do an Aikido style waza, or Judo, or Jujutsu. Instinctively, they found ‘formality’ ridiculous (but were always respectful and polite) and as soon as they got their new technique they immediately set out to test it out in a variety of formats – totally naturally – the young inquisitive mind. And by testing it, they could learn to use it effectively almost instantly, and safely, which always surprised me. In Judo it takes a couple of years to pick up a good armlock, but a wrestler, an hour. Seriously – armlocks/strangles are banned in amateur wrestling but show one and they lap it up. Wrestlers have very, very flexible minds. Aikido and Jujutsu and various other arts are like libraries of waza. Indeed, Kano set out to collect and preserve such. You visit the library, take something out, and test it for practical use. It is the natural way of things. So, the most any Aikidoka can hope to be is a good librarian to feed inquisitive minds. However, many Aikidoka today – they have their library – but believe it to be the whole world. Well, for most it is their only insight in the martial world and as such – tunnel vision is the norm. When I go on seminars and listen to instructors explaining stuff I just cringe sometimes – I can only wonder what those less dedicated to Aikido than myself think. A modern trend is ‘Aikido for self-defence’ – this is a mistake. My take is simple: Aikido is The Way of Aiki. People need to quit their supposed Aikido ‘traditions’ (such and such a school) and seek to put the aiki back into Aikido. Then, people form all arts will come searching.

  • Coming late to this topic – my wife and I (Shodan in Goju and Shito schools of Karate) have a very keen interest in Aikido and have attempted to get started in this martial art for a number of years. At least in my area of the world, Aikido is what I refer to as a ‘premium’ martial art. By this I mean the costs both initially and ongoing are sometimes significantly more than say your Karate and BJJ schools.

    Monthly training fees are *always* more expensive in the vicinity of 20-30% more, sometimes greater. Add the usually (not always) more expensive gi’s, and depending on the Aikido you do the Jo’s and Bokuto’s.

  • I don’t know if this story helps, but as someone who didn’t know about Aikido until I was in my twenties, I figured you may find this useful.

    First of all I live in Canada so distances are an issue. I started Aikido because of my size, but I took Karate for many years growing up. If Aikido was available at our local Y.M.C.A, my entire family would have taken Aikido. We were a family of 9, and due to finances being a concern, obtained a special Y.M.C.A. pass. Because our Karate sensei was able to sell us dogis, we were able to continue to participate. This, along with the fact that it was one of the only martial arts classes available at the Y.M.C.A. in our community, is why none of us took Aikido. We also weren’t aware it existed until I decided to take a martial art better suited for my size. I recently convinced a sister to take Aikido with me, and because she is going into post-secondary, finances are a concern again. Our sensei has cut the cost down for students and this greatly helps. An Aikido club is available at her university, and this also makes it more visible to people her age but I’m unsure how well the attendance is.

  • Thank you Josh for this very insightful article. And thank you for taking over Aikido Joyrnal and doing such a stellar job.

    As a practitioner who started my Aikido journey at age nine in 1972 I’ve seen Aikido go through many years of change and growth. As a dojo cho I’m awkways interested in knowing how I and my dojo can best support our magnificent art. My dojo in Berkeley California has continued to thrive but I’d like to help in any way I can to make sure that Aikido thrives around the world.

    One of the things I do, other than teach and run adult and children’s programs in my own dojo is to teach and give demonstrations in the schools (public and private).. This has created much interest among young people in my community. Another thing that I think helps keep young people passionate about Aikido and helps train them to be instructors are uchi deshi programs. I’ve run an uchi deshi program the entire thirty-five Years I’ve had a Dojo. Thanks to that program I’ve trained dozens of passionate young people but most importantly it’s the reason some of those people became trained instructors.

    If you’d like any more feedback from me that you think can help with your quest feel free to contact me. You can email me directly by going to my website: aikidoofberkeley.com

    Kayla Feder

    • Thank you Sensei! I sincerely appreciate your support and input. I’d love to learn more about your uchi deshi programs. I’ll be in touch later this month and would love to set up a time to talk and learn more.

  • It isn’t just the 18-29 demographic. The 8-17 year old demographic has, in my opinion, also taken a huge loss and also needs to be addressed.

    This is not only an important age group to target for developing healthy habits and life long attitudes towards training in martial arts, but one that is crucial to the future of aikido.

    This is also the age group that is the most targeted for for just about every other activity under the sun from soccer to scouting, and highly targeted by other martial arts such as karate, kung fu, and tae kwon do.

    Incedentaly, this also happens to be the age group with the highest detractions and distractions from entering or continuing training…friends, video games, eventually cars, relationships, television, and so on.

    The value and benifits of an art and discipline such as aikido, the “why” people and families should invest their time and money into aikido…to essentially have their children grow up in a dojo and become young adults in the aikido community, and how this is all presented to prospective students and parents has been lost in the mix.

    This is perhaps the greatest detriment to the future of aikido.

  • Too much politics. Too much bullshit. Not enough sparring. Self delusion as to the efficacy of techniques. After years of training to 1st Kyu level I didn’t feel confident at all that Aikido would actually work in a real situation. I left and went to BJJ which I love because it has none of the issues outlined above. When you first spar with full resistance (every class) Aikido techniques sail out the window. It doesn’t work with any resisting opponent. It’s not at all effective. BJJ is real. No bullshit. No fussy etiquette and no navel gazing. People are friendly and most importantly realistic and honest. Most shodan from my Aikido couldn’t get through the warm up. I would rather be a white belt in that environment than a black belt in Aikido. A BJJ purple belt would demolish any Shodan in any Aikido dojo all day long (I’m being diplomatic it would be a blue belt) I speak from personal experience. I’ve felt both. No contest. My time in Aikido has thus far confirmed my suspicions and proved utterly useless. It’s too late for me but Aikido needs a revamp. Get real, stop the bullshit and do it under pressure. It is held in low esteem and that is unfortunately deserved. Otherwise if the offer is to be peace loving and esoteric then do Yoga. The numbers don’t lie. I have simply provided a contribution as to WHY.