Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Book Review: Aikido Comes to America

Aikido Comes to America by Antonio Aloia is published by Tambuli Media

This is a really different book on about aikido. This isn't a book about techniques or philosophy. It's about the rise and decline of akido in the US. 

I love the history of martial arts, particularly that period from the 50's through the 70's where martial arts practice in the US was emerging and forming. 

Aloia recounts how servicemen stationed in Japan brought back karate, judo and to a lesser extent, aikido and began to establish dojo. Americans began to brush up against Asian cultures and interest began to stir in Asian martial arts. The seeds of the idea of budo training were being planted

I have dim memories of Honey West. Certainly Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet was a shot in the arm. When the one-two punch (ha!) of The Kung Fu TV series and Enter the Dragon arrived, then asian martial arts experienced a boom and aikido road the rising tide along with everything else.

All along, the major aikido styles: AikiKai, Yoshinkan and Shodokan (Tomiki style) began to send senior instructors to the US and Canada to help foster the growth. Americans began to travel to Japan, learn aikido and eventually return to establish themselves.

Love or hate him, Steven Seagal was responsible for a huge boom in interest, unique to aikido, that arrived when his movies were released, beginning with Above the Law. Whatever you may think about him as a person, an actor or even about his aikido, he filled dojos.

 Aloia doesn't shy from describing the politics that took root. Where judo for instance, is pretty straight forward in what it is - it's philosophy and practice; aikido , for better or worse, is not. 

Philosophically, what aikido actually is depends on the practitioner. And so, with many American teachers reaching mature rank, and more Japanese senior teachers arriving, rival organizations were established, some split and split again. He describes it all.

There has been a decline in interest in the practice of martial arts. The UFC has helped to buoy up mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but all martial arts are in decline and aikido is under-performing. 

Citing a survey, only 15% of active aikido practitioners (at the time, probably less now) had been practicing for less than 4 years.

Alioa explores some of the many reasons for this. His description of the poor state of martial arts practice in general and aikido in particular was written before Covid has taken a wrecking ball to the industry. 

Many dojo have closed and most of them will likely not reopen. 

Near my last home, a mixed martial arts gym was just about to open. The owner had finished his renovations and moved in his training equipment, when Covid caused a statewide lock down. He never opened his doors. I hope that the would-be owner survives the financial loss.

Near my new home is a well established karate dojo that hosts a small aikido class during normal times. I joined, but instead of 6 to 8 students practicing aikido, there are now 2 or 3 of us practicing iaido; keeping the training habit, working on skills that applicable to akido once the lock down is lifted, and biding our time.

Aloia goes on to offer suggestions for what the martial arts community at large and aikido organizations and teachers specifically can do to help turn around or at least mitigate the trend so that our practice is sustainable for the future.

I liked Aikido Comes to America and I think that you would too.

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