general perception of Aikido is that there are no competitions.
This is largely true, although there are some styles which have limited competitions.
Tomiki style, for example, has matches using tanken (short swords) with dull
blades, and specific rules for scoring points. Also, some trainees like to
test each other to see if they can make their techniques work against other
trainees who are resisting with full power, and vice-versa. This is constructive
in moderation since any weaknesses and defects in technique become immediately
clear, as long as the primary goals of perfecting technique and developing
cordial relationships with other trainees is maintained in the forefront.
However, these diversions are not comparable to the type of competitions found
in karate and other martial arts in which a contestant is free to use a variety
of techniques in a relatively spontaneous manner for the express purpose of
winning a victory over another contestant.
An official explanation for the lack of competition in Aikido is that this
particular martial art is based on harmony, and competition is the antithesis
of its primary objective. Although this is certainly valid, a brief review
of the derivation of Aikido from older martial art forms will show that there
is also a very practical reason for discouraging Aikido trainees from going
at each other flat out.
An interesting little book entitled Judo, Appendix Aikido, by Kenji Tomiki
(the founder of the above referenced Tomiki style of Aikido), which was published
in 1956, includes a chart showing classes of "Judo" technique. These
are classified into two main categories, "Aiki techniques" and "Randori
The Aiki techniques are described as a "system of techniques in the applying
of which it is considered most ideal not to be seized by the opponent"
and include "Kansetsu techniques" (bending or twisting) and "Atemi
techniques" (attacking vital points).
The Randori techniques are described as a "system of techniques to be
applied by seizing hold of each other," and include grappling techniques
and throwing techniques.
Although Tomiki considers Judo to include both classes of techniques, he writes
that "practice in these techniques of attacking the vital points and
bending or twisting the joints is not to be carried on by means of contests
as in the case of the randori techniques, for from the nature of those techniques
it is attended with danger."
Different martial arts focus on different aspects of applying and controlling
force (karate emphasizes atemi, judo emphasizes grappling and throwing, etc.).
In general, however, if a martial art is to provide a forum for competition
which minimizes the possibility of death and serious injury, the forum must
necessarily include rules which prohibit the more dangerous techniques. This
was implemented in the case of judo by allowing only randori techniques in
Aikido went in the opposite direction from Judo. To quote from "Traditional
Aikido", by Morihiro Saito, Vol. V, "It is a well-known fact that
matches are prohibited in Aikido. This is because Aikido has inherited a number
of lethal techniques from its Founder, which render matches too dangerous
an exercise, and also because the art purports to place no restrictions on
every conceivable movement.
If the rules are set and dangerous techniques are excluded from the matches,
Aikido undoubtedly will lose its raison d'etre. If matches are to be held,
all the techniques will have to be scaled down to those consisting mainly
of Atemi or the contestants will have to either stake their lives or wear
protective gear. A question also arises whether the form of the competition
should be limited to empty-handed techniques or should also include the use
Even if only empty-handed techniques are allowed the techniques inherent with
Aikido are too terrific to make Ukemi (rolls and somersaults in defense) possible.
True, such Ukemi against throwing is made possible deliberately in training
sessions. However, execution of techniques becomes uninhibited in matches
and the dangers involved are obvious.
The answer to the question of why Aikido is not identified with a sport or
a contest is simple. No single martial art can provide everything, and Aikido
sacrifices competition in favor of including potentially dangerous techniques
which were originally developed for lethal combat and handed down from our
Fortunately, there are many excellent martial art styles which offer competition
and are available for persons who are so oriented. All people are different,
and those who are interested in martial arts should seek out a style which
best suits their personality and goals. If one martial art does not provide
everything they are looking for, they may consider training in several.
A good strategy is to select the most apparently suitable martial art as primary,
and train long enough to develop a high level of proficiency. Then, seek out
other martial arts and incorporate their teachings into the primary system.
This is, in fact, an excellent way to become a true and well-rounded martial
After graduating from MIT, David Alexander spent ten years in Japan training
at the Iwama dojo of the much-respected Morihiro Saito. A patent agent in
Los Angeles, David teaches traditional aikido at his dojo in Westlake Village,
California. The number is (818) 865-9151.