One of the reasons Aikido is waning in popularity is that it’s becoming a ‘dead’ art. Most people won’t explore the Aikido universe creatively, so they can’t use creative methods to teach. I recommend to everyone I share with to do quality experimentation – to make a reasonable investment in a method, and to see what the outcomes of that are for their context. This article is an extract from the “Innovator – Interview with John Bailey”, a booklet full of ideas and suggestions about how to develop creativity in our daily Aikido practice
by JOHN BAILEY
[SC] “I understand that your background includes a career in hands-on work with violent people and training law enforcement. You conjugated academic theory and scientific study with real application. Our environment today is full of prejudices about the Art, and is characterised as much by a non-existent scientific approach to learning tools as by an amount of confusion or outright lies about their application results.
“I read your work and was impressed with your approach and methodology. It shows a holistic vision of Budo training without the traditional constraints of it, while most are learning thousands of techniques as separate entities. I believe that the (many) grey areas in Aikido are just too handy for those teaching it. It’s easier to keep drawing letters one by one than to understand how to compose words with them.
“It seems to me that the entire Aikido community is sadly passing down the same didactic mistakes from one generation of students to the next. Then you wonder why someone is accusing contemporary Aikido practice of having become an insipid jam of everything: nobody really knows what they are doing. We are only collecting techniques!
“Glad to find an exception!”
Interview with John Bailey
The Aiki Dialogues #12
by Simone Chierchini, John Bailey
John Bailey studied Aikido under Tony Graziano and Tom Walker. He is a graduate of Executive Security International and has an extensive background in security and investigations, having worked as a bouncer, security officer, bodyguard, undercover operative and tactical instructor.
He was a practical firearms competitor and instructor and has provided tactical training for law enforcement and private security agencies in Florida, Colorado, California and Oregon. He’s a life-long student of violence, the behavioral factors and practical implications of it.
He is a certified clinical hypnotist, and co-creator of the Motivational Literacy system of self-development, innovating anger management strategies.
He’s presently focused on the navigation of crisis periods, and creating fulfillment through life design.
John has studied Aikido for four decades, the past two of which have been dedicated to exploring better ways to train and to teach the art in a quickly changing world.
[JB] “Thank you for your kind assessment. I hope it provides some ideas you may find useful to open your own experimentation.
“ ‘Easier to keep drawing letters one by one than to understand how to compose words with them’, this is an excellent way of putting it. Concerning the current technique collecting habit, Tony Graziano sensei used to say: ‘A man with a bag of tricks is not a complete man. If that’s all we produce then we are a failure’.
“One of the reasons, I think, Aikido is waning in popularity is that it’s becoming a ‘dead’ art. Most people won’t explore the Aikido universe creatively, so they can’t use creative methods to teach.
“The material I shared with you is 20 years old now. We have continued with the development of our training methods, adopting and adapting some methods from Filipino martial arts. We also don’t do ‘polite’ randori. We pile uke on top of uke, and carry a percussive fight to them in a randori setting. This is training for the real world. It is dangerous training, even with energy being moderated – which we do.
“Care for training partners can remain paramount while still conducting dynamic and effective training. We’ve been very happy with the outcome, in reaction times, in the ability to apply waza in conflict environments – and also in fun on the mat.”
[SC] “Many are starting to ask questions these days. Maybe the lockdown and subsequent inactivity in Budo has helped people in rationalising that they have a teaching problem – even though there seem to be very few factual proposals to overcome those problems.”
“I think I would mostly try to answer questions that people may have based on my background from hands-on professional work, to my work as a clinical hypnotist in understanding neurological factors, and having spent decades experimenting with different training methods and testing outcomes. Everything I do is science-based, and I recommend to everyone I share with to do quality experimentation – to make a reasonable investment in a method, and to see what the outcomes of that are for their context.
“My personal context has always been both self-protection and self-development. So, we’re concerned that things work in the real world, reliably – and, we’re concerned with the long-term mental and physical integrity of the practitioner and the dojo community. We train to fight, and we also train with great care for our partners. These things are not mutually exclusive, and in many ways actually synergise.
“This I got from my first two Aikido sensei, one of whom was a SWAT commander and very scary. He once threatened to beat me if I didn’t stop going to the local Karate dojo to spar because he said it was going to instill bad habits. At this point in my career, I understand he was right.
“ ‘Sparring’ and ‘competing’ are not the only ways to train with non-compliant or even combative uke. They are certainly not the best ways, though they can seem ‘fun’ – at least part of which is ego gratification and (mostly false) confidence-building. The full understanding of this eludes many – and especially those with delicate egos. There are two approaches common to the delicate ego issue:
1. Everything is always gentle and controlled, ‘because it’s too deadly to practice dynamically’.
2. ‘Competition is the only way to ensure it works. What we don’t see ‘in the cage’ is worthless’.
“I see both of these as pandering to ego, and in their own ways manifestations of machinations described in terror management theory. SWAT and Special Forces operators do not kill or injure each other consistently or regularly during training, even with firearms and knives. Yet, they’re consistently the winners in real, life-and-death encounters.
“How are you going to practice eyeball-poking technique? Certainly, not in a competitive way…
“The question becomes: ‘What ways are there?’
“As far as I can tell, there are few, if any ‘Aikido techniques’. For example, every martial art in Asia offers some approximation of kotegaeshi. What makes it ‘Aikido’? The answer is: the movement one does before the part we call ‘kotegaeshi’ – as well as nuances of how it’s applied – and the ways practitioners receive the energy of it. The threat to the wrist joint is not special.
“What ways are there to practise what we call ‘kotegaeshi’ – or anything else we have pasted an Aikido™ name onto?
“There are answers to be found beyond our own experience and history, if we are willing to seek, experiment, and adopt them. Unfortunately, there’s a general squeamishness about that – and a magnetic attraction to the familiar – to practice as we always have. In a rut.
“Try abandoning the hakama.
“Try wearing street clothing.
“Try tying your hands together.
“Try tying one hand into the belt.
“Try training in the park, and with shoes on. You will be surprised how much shoes influence your movement, mess with your distancing, force your timing to change.
“Try playing music during practice – something else I took from FMA. Notice that different music enhances different parts of practice – and different types of practice. Notice what happens to timing, spontaneously, if you simply play heavily syncopated music in the background while training. Music has a powerful influence on our cognition, processing, and emotional/performance state.
“Try giving NAGE the tanto: then, attack katate dori – grabbing nage’s wrist the way someone might to try to arrest the knife-hand on the street. From there practise all the standard katate dori curriculum, using the knife in the ways that present themselves. This one experiment, done with curiosity and intention, can shine a light into the deep and dark corners of the real Budo of which most of Aikido is now a faint shadow.
“We have several training methods, some adapted from FMA practices, that are standard parts of our practice – and all of which were formed through curiosity and experimentation, asking: ‘What would that sound like in the language of Aikido?’
“A friend with whom I used to train Kali used to say something like: ‘The job of sensei is to conceal the repetition of training – to protect from tedium, to keep the view and the approach fresh and exciting’. If this is all we achieve, then the variations are worthy, though what we really want is to find ‘best practices’ and to continually escape our comfort (tedium) zone. Because that last bit is what Budo is really about.”
Read more by purchasing “The Innovator – Interview with John Bailey“
Copyright © 2022 Aikido Italia Network Publishing
All rights reserved. Any reproduction not expressly authorised is strictly prohibited.