Live training and Aikido- What is it, do we need it and if so how do we do it.
Part one: A brief history of modern interest and how Aikido can benefit
While the term “live” is relatively new in the martial arts lexicon, the concept is very old. The Japanese did it, the Europeans did it, the Romans and Greeks did it. In fact “live” training probably predates the kata or form training familiar to most martial artists.
Live training is an ideally safe method of practice that allows us to try out the techniques prescribed by a martial art system. It is a kind of testing ground and more importantly, a way to understand and train the dynamic aspects of applying martial technique — aspects that cannot be found through static (sometimes called “dead”) forms training.
About 20 years ago, the Gracie family demonstrated what good live training can do when applied inside of a misunderstood martial context. The world became aware of “Gracie Jiu jutsu” and a lot of martial artists started to get really excited about training! The martial arts community had a new boom, which lead to the “Mixed Martial Arts” revolution.
I use the word revolution because in the decades before MMA, martial arts training was mostly focused around traditional static forms practice (kata). It didn’t really matter what kind of martial art you practiced, if it was Asian or Western in nature; if you went to a “martial arts” school, you would practice static forms. There were other kinds of practices, but they were usually seen as sports (boxing and wrestling for example). Most people didn’t think of them as “martial arts.” There were martial art styles like Judo and Karate, which had live training, but those aspects were generally ignored and/or not specifically thought about.
The most important part of martial arts for most people from the 1800’s to the beginning of this century, were the exotic techniques these arts offered. There was an unspoken belief, that if you knew one or two of these fancy techniques you would be able to easily defeat anyone who gave you trouble. Static-forms training was so popular because it provided the best way to see the details of a technique in a format that even new people could pick up.
This interest in exotic techniques made Aikido very compelling, as the art is full of techniques that seem very exotic, if you don’t know what you are looking at. And, at a time when the general populace believed that exotic, special techniques were the key to martial success, Aikido flourished. This was the same time that Aikido itself was being organized and Aikido schools embraced this fashion making forms training a key feature. Aikido instructors gave lots of demonstrations showing the art’s unique throwing methods and controls. It captured the imagination of the general populace and Aikido gained great popularity in the 1990’s.
The trouble is, most Aikido teachers today are very happy to not mess with what was once a great thing.
So, just how did the MMA revolution change contemporary martial arts? When Royce Gracie dominated the first of what was then called “no holds barred” or NHB matches, it excited the martial arts communities. Here was a small guy, defeating all kinds of larger oppenents using very special techniques. Royce was doing something that was crazy to most people at the time. He was fighting huge guys who were allowed to do ANYTHING except bite, eye gouge and fish hook. And this little guy wearing an exotic Asian-style uniform was defeating them! This was of course, what everyone at the time was looking for. It met perfectly with their idea of was important.
At the time, people couldn’t really wrap their heads around what was happening!I was in high school at the time and already desperately in love with the martial arts. Taliking about Royce with other kids in school, it was like someone had walked on water. It really caught our attention! This excitement lead to the popularity of MMA, although most people now forget that there were various bannings and refusals to give licensing, etc.
As the popularity of MMA increased, we started to see other styles could beat even the formidable “Gracie Jiu Jutsu.” Eventually, the general populace had to admit that exotic techniques were not really the key to success.
“Live” training was the key.
The term “aliveness” as a training concept was coined by Matt Thornton in late ’90 or early 2000s, as this revolutionary idea caught on with the general public and started to erase the idea that exotic techniques were the thing to learn. People started wanting to do live training.
Live training helped show us flaws in static training that we never would have seen without it. It has really helped the whole martial arts community improve the state of our arts. But is live training important for Aikido people to do? Almost certainly — but not just for the reasons you might expect. Yes, live training will make your Aikido more pragmatic, enabling you to more effectively “use” your Aikido should the situation arise. But this isn’t the most important reason to add live training to your Aikido. The heart of Aikido itself can only be seen in live training. The thing most Aikido practitioners are searching for (what I would call “Aiki”) can only be seen in a live situation. We can use forms to help us understand what Aiki is and to train the the rudimentary skills necessary to practice our art, but true Aiki can only be experienced in a live situation.
This is at the very heart of Takemusu Aiki.
I will put up the second part next week, where we will start to get more into what live training is and how we can add it to our Aikido. I am also planning a series of videos to help illustrate these things.