Many of our students in London come to Aikido Club London looking for a self-defence class that teaches them to fight back. Through aikido, they wish to gain the skills and the strength to cope if they are ambushed by attackers with weapons, or struck from behind by an unseen assailant. Their first question is “what if I am attacked?”
Having lived a long, eventful life, a master of martial arts retired to an almost hermit-like existence in a small cottage. The nearest village was three miles away, through the woods and across some fields. Having learnt of their famous neighbour, the village elders prevailed upon him to train three of their brightest and most promising youths.
The three trained diligently under the master’s tuition every evening after work. One evening, the first student arrived, out of breath. Kneeling, he asked forgiveness, for he had disgraced the master and himself. The old teacher quietly asked him to explain, and the student told of his journey to the dojo. After finishing work at the farm, he crossed the fields and just as he entered the woods he was set upon by three large robbers. His years of training forgotten, he took flight and kept running until he came to the master’s house.
The wise old teacher told him that he had been right to run, and he was proud that he had listened so well to the training. After all, the student had followed the prime rule in avoiding combat and he was completely unhurt, despite being attacked and outnumbered by larger men. The youth was told to go into the dojo to start his training.
A little later, the second student arrived and also begged forgiveness. He told the master that just as he entered the woods he was attacked by three large bandits and immediately sprang into action. He gouged out the eye of the nearest attacker, broke the second’s arm, and some of the third man’s ribs. On viewing the carnage, he realised his error on using such force. The old master praised him for following his training skills. After all, the student was completely unhurt, despite being attacked and outnumbered by larger men.
The third student arrived, and like the two before, he begged the master’s forgiveness. He told of being attacked by three furious robbers, who were bandaged, bleeding, and filthy. Without thinking, the student drew his father’s shotgun, which he meant to take to his uncle after the lesson, and shot his attackers. The old teacher praised the student, for despite being attacked and outnumbered by larger men, he had defeated them with minimal effort, and without injury to himself.
Like most stories, this has many different meanings, and your interpretation will change with your personal development.
If you are assaulted in the street, the three rules are simply these – avoid being injured, avoid being injured, and avoid being injured. If you are able to run away from your assailants, then run away. Martial arts students may forget that the best way to avoid injury is to retreat, but we don’t hold with the impression that we’ll transform a novice student into a world-class street fighter.
Physical self-improvement and spiritual enlightenment are both worthy goals for a novice student. Improved fitness and spatial awareness are both benefits of training. But in terms of self-defence, some students can train for years and be no more inclined towards violence. Your training will help you to avoid aggression and conflict in all its forms, rather than seek to inflict harm.
You are unlikely to meet a sword-wielding attacker in this day and age, and nor would you carry a blade yourself. There is no second chance for the loser in a sword fight, and in days past, swordsmen would train diligently to stay alive. At our aikido classes, we use the training techniques of traditional weapons, translating them into empty-handed movements that are useful and effective in your personal development.
In terms of the self-defence question – if you do run across a knife-wielding thug, a good student remembers that the armed assailant has an advantage and, if possible, retreat is the best option. Nevertheless, we build your character to prepare you to better cope with these confrontations without further violence. Aikido training is a journey of self-development, in which many individuals take different routes, but must find their own interpretation of their journey.
“I view training as climbing a vast mountain with a massive base, the ascent can be approached from any point at the base. The higher one climbs the less the circumference of the mountain, therefore two climbers starting miles apart from opposite sides at the base, gradually reducing their distance apart as they get higher and higher, until they meet at the top, so it is with martial arts.
Differing disciplines – karate, ju-jitsu, kempo, and tai chi, to name but a few – have all approached the mountain at a different base point, and would appear to be vastly different and incompatible, yet as one gains greater understanding the differences reduce until, at the top, they are all the same.
The path of learning is the climb up the mountain, there can be steep slopes and long plateaus. It is a discipline to keep going however hard the climb. One may reach a long plateau, feeling that week after week, month after month, there is no progress. Will and discipline must keep you going, this is all part of training.”
- Stefan Lacey