Is Aikido not interesting? The reasons of tradition

We frequently come across articles, essays, conferences and studies that more or less contain the sentence: “What future for…” to which must be added the topic on which we are debating, in a more or less worried way.

It is therefore normal that this also happens for martial disciplines and therefore also for Aikido. Don’t worry: this will not be a post that will question…”what future for Aikido”.

Many have already written and spoken about that and it does not seem to us that this has led to trend reversals at a macro level over time, compared at least to the report that Josh Gold edited for Aikido Journal in 2020 or to the italian Aikicensimento in 2015.

Compared to the aforementioned report, we were struck by the evidence reported by Google Trends: a decline in interest in Aikido – in searches and content – of approximately 93% since 2004. This data reflected a trend in relation to the United States but if we restrict the research to Italy or the major European Countries, the proportions do not change.

When we see a phenomenon of this kind we are actually faced with something that happens all the time. Let’s think, for example, of the spread of browsers for surfing the internet: exactly twenty years ago Internet Explorer was the undisputed dominator on the world scene. Now its successor, Edge, has a negligible share, with a market dominated by Google Chrome and Safari.

Of course, it’s one thing to talk about a product that establishes itself – at least for a certain period – as the dominant standard and it’s another thing to think about the decline in interest in Aikido.

But is it that different? Probably not. So here are four points to reflect on.

1 How clear are our reasons really?

It’s a fact: you can buy a product as long as the product is known and visible. When car manufacturers launch a new model, they put several brand new cars on the road. If the reasons behind our choice to practice a discipline are clear, it is difficult for this not to somehow contaminate others too.

2 Is our communication credible?

Contaminating, yes. But how? Positively or negatively? What do we really communicate through our being on a tatami for years? Freedom? Lack of alternatives? Boredom? Sadness? Completeness? Duplicity? Constance? Habit? How and what does our physical condition, our ability to relate to others, communicate to others? In a word: are we credible?

3 Who is our audience?

The Aikido Journal report clearly illustrated how the vast majority of Aikido regular practitioners were in the adult range (41% of them over 55 years old) and only 2% under 24 years old. Two percent.

This probably means that we are convinced that we are speaking to everyone. In fact we are simply talking to ourselves, generally, without bothering to learn to communicate with a tone of voice and content that can be understood by a truly broader -and younger- audience.

4 How deaf are we to real requests?

The environments of our martial disciplines are environments full of good will and on average good people. Sometimes, however, they are environments in which deafness plays nasty tricks. If the reasons are not brought to life in a credible way in front of an audience that you really know, you end up in a dead end. On the one hand, a few hard and pure people who continue to make and propose technical gestures. On the other hand, people who appear and disappear, even where the initial enthusiasm had transformed them into ornaments of the Dojo, since they were always there. We believe that this also happens due to a certain inability to listen to others. And it is tragic, in a discipline that should make sensitivity its strong point.

It is blasphemy to say that it is not true that the proposal of a discipline to the audience must necessarily be aimed at “for life”?
Is it so disconcerting to remember that the pyramid of commitments and values -even for senior practitioners- may not even be based on a martial discipline?

Is it so dishonorable to simply want to feel good through a practice that doesn’t necessarily include one class a day every day, all year round, including holidays?

And finally: isn’t it healthy to remember that every human group, no matter how good it works, ends? By handing its tasks and values and activities over to other people who, if they have the desire, time and inspiration, will continue further?

In conclusion

Transmitting a habit over time is what connects generations in all areas of human existence. It is also the meaning of the term tradition. And it would be really silly to think that in tradition there are no contaminations, adaptations to the culture and sensitivity of the time, changes…

Tradition delivers, in a martial discipline, a deposit of techniques designed to clearly highlight the principles on which the discipline itself is based. But the principles must be able to be expressed by the people who practice it “now“. Today.

For this reason we are convinced that tradition is immutable in its principles, much, very much less in its technical, methodological, didactic, organizational and, why not?, martial technical language. Because we would betray tradition if it became a pure uncritical repetition, without the human being in the middle. Who, in some ways never changes, while in others is no longer even a distant relative not only of the Japanese who went to Iwama attending Morihei Ueshiba since 1942 but of our own people of five, ten years ago.

There are exercises and techniques that in some environments are proposed in accordance with tradition; it doesn’t matter that these were part of training for people who studied Aikido every day, all day, often with physical skills already developed elsewhere. What’s does lead offering them up without any adaptation, both to the middle-aged computer progrmmer who spends ten hours at the PC every day and has decided to do something “not too competitive”, and to a skinny teenager?

Probably nowhere. Indeed: it could be that with certain routines proposed in an uncritical way the average western practitioner goes into a sort of lock-in between two extremes: on the one hand he/she will try to understand, relegating physical activity to the sphere of ideas. On the other hand he will be tempted (if not encouraged) to swallow it all because “one day you will understand”. Is this what we want, for ourselves and for others?

Recovering the reasons, understanding what “tradition” really is and communicating accordingly: perhaps this will not globally reverse the loss of interest in certain disciplines such as Aikido but for those who know how to do it, probably at a local level, it will.

Disclaimer picture by Anna Nekrashevich from Pexels 

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