Martial Arts, Self-Defense, Fighting

Martial Arts, Self-Defense, Fighting

Martial ArtsTo be serious about Aikido as one of the martial arts, is to eventually reconcile the concepts of martial arts, self-defense and fighting. We inevitably see and hear and read about many of these ideas. But before we can speak intelligently, we must really think them through and decide for ourselves the meaning of each. And to get our thoughts rolling, here are some things to consider.

First, in looking at these ideas, we must recognize the overlap between them. Also, we must recognize the distinction between an academic understanding and a popular understanding. We are only concerned with the popular understanding of each one. With that said, let’s take a crack at them …

Martial Arts

We’re all familiar with the term martial arts. Aikido is one of the martial arts. And, of course, we can argue that it means different things to different people – it’s different for non-students, different for students, different for instructors.

  • For those who have never studied, the martial arts are what they see on TV or at the movies  – meditating and kicking ass.
  • There are those who have started studying and quickly stopped and the martial arts are not what they thought.
  • For those students who have studied less than a year, the martial arts are the belief that you can indeed learn how to kick ass. (The thought of meditation is long gone.)
  • For those students who have studied more than a year, the martial arts are a good way to hang out with friends, to get a bit of a workout and to convince yourself that you are learning something useful. (The thoughts of meditating and kicking ass are long gone.)
  • Finally, for most instructors, the martial arts are a way to make a living.

The fact, that most instructors and long-time students realize, is that most martial arts are not martial in the literal sense (a combat art) and are not martial in the TV sense (meditating and kicking ass). Most long-time students of the martial arts have never meditated. And most have never actually ever hit someone with true intent and most have never gotten hit with true intent and most never want to!

So, for most long-time practitioners, the martial arts provide a regular social, physical and practical part to one’s life – with the bonus that there are times when you actually do use something that you learned. (Many Aikido students, for example, talk of slipping and tripping and falling without getting hurt.)


Most of us have an intuitive notion of self-defense – but we rarely think this through completely. We know that many martial arts claim to teach self-defense. And we know that there are many self-defense systems that are not martial arts. But what exactly does it mean to defend oneself?

In a way, this is the heart of the matter. We all know the stereotypical confrontation with four or five thugs – with our hero leaving a pile of battered bodies. But what if that were ten or fifteen thugs? What if that were twenty-five or thirty? What would self-defense look like then? And even with (just) a handful of attackers, when does a pile of battered bodies look more like judge, jury and a sentencing being carried out, and not just some person coming away from a dicey situation intact?

So, what is self-defense – what is self-defense for you? Occasionally I get asked if I’ve ever used Aikido. I usually reply that “I am using it now”. In a certain sense, we are defending ourselves all the time. The fact is that the true nature of life is competition. We compete for resources, for mates, for status, for reputation. And as we’ve talked about in another article, the dilemma for members of complex social groups is that we are inevitably competing with the very people that we also depend upon (at some level) for survival. And so, ultimately, what is the best outcome in the majority of encounters? When no harm occurs!


Most of us use the concept of fighting in evaluating the martial arts. And most of us confuse fighting with self-defense. When someone says that this or that martial art is best – or good – or useless, they invariably gauge it from the standpoint of fighting – of a one-on-one match-up between two competitors willing to stand toe-to-toe and.wail on each other. In fighting, competitors agree to continue until they have resolution – usually one person giving up or not getting up.

One could argue that, in a certain sense, fighting is self-defense – the defense of one’s status and reputation. But for most of us, this is not what we mean, and we should conclude that fighting is different from self-defense. In fact, we can be fairly certain that most fights are not a matter of self-defense. And we can also be fairly certain that most self-defense occurs without fighting.

And so where does Aikido fit in?

Aikido is a martial art based on this more expansive notion of self-defense vs. fighting. It is unique in acknowledging one’s right to personal safety while also assuming an obligation for the safety of the attacker. In essence, we might consider the Aikido philosophy of self-defense as

Conflict is inevitable. We recognize that others have the right to do stupid things. But we also have the right to protect ourselves. And the world is ultimately a better place when we can resolve conflict without undue harm – to either ourselves or to others.

As you can see, Aikido is not the judgement and sentencing of an attacker. And Aikido is not fighting. Aikidoists recognize that the competition for resources, mates, status and reputation creates natural conflict – conflict that one can rise above.

A Quick Reminder of the Upcoming Zen Aikido Class

Our Summer 2017 Zen Aikido Class Summer 2017 Session starts the week of May 22nd – with both noon and evening classes. You can get more information on that here.

Both noon and evening sessions:
Both Hands Clapping Aikido / Albuquerque Judokai
670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque

And, finally, you can subscribe to our weekly newsletter and receive notices of upcoming sessions here.

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