Aikido Because It Is Hard

By William Terrell
William Terrell

I have no romantic notions of what it means to be a warrior. I served in the United States Marine Corps and worked for ten years as a deputy sheriff. I have seen the dead and the dying, the deliberate and the accidental. I have seen people shot, cut, burned, beaten, strangled, crushed, even literally hammered to death. I understand how fast violence can erupt/interrupt into our everydayness and destroy our lives. My goal is simply that of any warrior/father/husband: to be prepared to protect and defend myself, my family, my community.

One of the ways I choose to do that is through Aikido. I enjoy Aikido because it is hard, because it forces me to change, because it forces me to face myself. My first Sensei was irascible and difficult but he gave me a solid foundation in some of the basics. His emphasis was on techniques for the world off the mat, especially the breaking and keeping of uke’s balance and in delivering solid strikes.

He believed (and rightly so) that Aikido is not a game nor is it a sport. Aikido is a matter of life and death. To treat it as anything less is a waste of time and an insult to the memory of O-Sensei. What we do on the mat is sacred. It is life writ small. It is tradition lived in the present. Aikido is the gift to us from O-Sensei and all those who taught him. His gift passed through Yamada Sensei to Dee Sensei to me. I am being forged as the next link in the chain.

Some critics dismiss Aikido as at best anachronistic and at worst a waste of time that instills a false sense of security in the practitioner. Would O-Sensei have developed and promoted Aikido if he did not believe it to be effective? Of course not. My answer to the critics is get on the mat and hang around long enough to understand what is going on. Feel the burn of nikkyo, the swirling confusion and abrupt reversal of irimi nage, the panic of koshi nage done full speed. Test yourself in randori. Find out how to react when facing multiple attackers. Learn that getting your lip busted or being thrown hard will not kill you. Understand the power of Aikido before passing judgment.

Accepting Aikido as a way of life has to be a choice. A choice repeated week after week, day after day. The mat is the battlefield upon which we overcome ourselves and it is in the persistence, the refusal to succumb to inertia that we are made strong. Week in and week out I get on the mat because I have to, because it satisfies a basic primal need and is a way to channel the warrior instincts. It is not just the mat, Aikido permeates my life. Even driving 100 miles round trip is in itself an act of entering, of being uke. Trying to perfect the process of resolving one conflict while looking/preparing for the next. It is in the knowing when to push and when to pull, when to enter and when to turn.

Am I absolutely prepared for anything life throws at me? Of course not.  Am I much better prepared? Indeed, I am.

23 thoughts on “Aikido Because It Is Hard

  1. As always, William is being way more hard core than the rest of us. That deserves ASCII art…

    Admin: Crazy art deleted. Carry on.

  2. Speak for yourself, dichotomy. William isn’t being any more “hard core” than you need to be. His sentiments match my own feelings exactly. The Aikidoka I know and admire look at Aikido precisely the way William has (very eloquently) expressed it.

    I’m being serious about this. I know you meant well with your compliment, but remember what I posted earlier, regarding the nature of praise / criticism? Rather than placing yourself in a position to judge a fellow student, take a moment to consider what he is actually saying. I know you have a higher rank on the mat, but William has a store of real world experience that surpasses yours and mine by an order of magnitude. And remember, he began Aikido training before you.

    I don’t mean to come across harshly; that is not my intent. Rather, I think this is a good “teachable moment” for both of us.

    Peace, brother.

  3. A very real world posting. Its nice to hear from someone that comes from the background that I will be going in to.

    Its good to know my dark, real world outlook in martial arts is not unwarranted

  4. I thought his post was optimistic. Isn’t budo one of the most life affirming acts you can do? And in particular, Aikido? Like William said, it is life writ small.

    The blade in Aikido is the healing blade, not the cutting blade.

    I think his transition is interesting. A Marine, then deputy sheriff, and now budoka. Is there anything you can take away from his experience, DK?

  5. I was referring to his experience in his first paragraph.

    As always, I’m not looking to “heal” or to gain enlightenment through budo. Aikido for me is another means to an end, a tool to use to defend myself and others, and bring a threat to an end.

  6. I like where you said that “Aikido is a matter of life and death.”
    I think that is one reason why sparring and sport is taken out of Aikido. I’ve read around the internet, and found some people who do dis-credit Aikido because they think it would fail in a “sparring” type situation. I think frankly that Aikido is beyond sparring. This isn’t boxing. All the uke’s Atemi is committed. The attacks Aikidoka train to resolve are mortal ones. Our Atemi is not a box jab, nor do we engage in any niwaza.(in Aikikai at least.) Aikidoka don’t struggle with uke to name a winner. Aikido is not about naming the winner of a fight, it is about ending a lethal attack.

  7. And not just in a martial context either, MM.

    To choose Aikido is to choose life. You are choosing to engage with your fellows, to interact with the world.

    Remember, O-Sensei was witness to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as being the inheritor of the samurai tradition, with all that implied. He saw first hand what war lead to.

  8. On another note, there is an interesting juxtaposition between this discussion and grassHopper’s lesson this week.

    I’ll leave it up to her whether she wants to engage in this topic on the blog.

  9. I didn’t mean it as a joke. You misunderstand the context of what I am saying. Hardcore is a catcher running into a wall to get the ball before it becomes a home run, hardcore is reaching your naked hand down a muddy hole and bulling up the fish that has swallowed it whole up to the wrist, hardcore is applying stage makeup as a means of protecting oneself from an angry bull that someone has just finished making upset… Hardcore is a good thing, consult your local metal scene for more information.

  10. Scarlet O’Hara said “War, war, war, I shant hear anything further about this war business, it’s spoiling the bar-b-que.”

    Scarlet, at that time in her life, did not want to face up to the realities of life. Life is hard at times, things happen that shape us everyday. Some are so subtle we never notice. While others explode in psyche.

    The death of a childhood friend, I will never forget, has impacted me all my days. The birth of my daughter, the same. The martial arts training…these are things that are a part of me, they have impacted my life.

    Aikido is the latest impact in/on my life. I would have most likely abandon all other forms of martial arts early if I had discovered Aikido as a teenager. The essence of Aikido is fascinating…does it permeate throughout my life? In some ways yes. I do ponder various situations and how they might develop. Because of my experience, I naturally try to mess Aikido and other disciplines.

    Example, in training last night, we were working on randori with uke’s tsuki attack…admittedly tough. Previous training teaches me to ignore an attack that is not committed to me, or one that will not cause me damage/harm. Don’t waste the energy on it. That is my training, however, in a “real” randori situation, would I truly ignore it? I have multiple attackers approaching, maybe once or even twice I might ignore the non-committed attack, but the individual has to be dealt with…previous training teaches me to “take them out”, hence, not having to deal with them any more. Class training is re-educating my thought process and reaction.

    Training is just that, training. To move from thought to reaction. This happens all our lives…training, re-training, constantly developing. I’m sure O’Sensei did not train the same at 30 as he did at 60. More thought, experience and training causes us to develop or grow. Just like Scarlet O’Hara, growing from only thinking about boys and the bar-b-que to how to survive in an ever changing world…the essence is Aikido is a part of the trainee’s life and has an effect on the life. For some, its small, for others, it’s huge.

    My challenge for all is to find something of Aikido, no matter what and apply it to everyday life.

    Boy, this is way to deep for me. As Forrest Gump said,”…and that’s all I’ve got to say about that.”


  11. Quoting Gone with the Wind and Forrest Gump in the same sir..are a G…

    But joking aside, I enjoyed it. I too have a problem with prior experience. For me, the reason why my randori is not good (being rank/experience a bit of a factor) but personally I feel its not good because I am constantly thinking “ok, dont Roundhouse kick Fabian…Ryan is too my left, dont spear hand him…Christine coming from behind, dont back pivot kick her”. And the longer I do it, or the more people added, the more dangerous I feel i get because I want to so badly kick you 🙂

    And I dont want to come off like I dont appreciate Aikido teaching and principles, like my first posts on This topic. If I didnt believe in it, I wouldnt train in it. I take from aikido a non-agressive (relatively non-agressive to MY experience, since Jerry and I have already discussed) method to use in the not too distant future 😛

  12. Ah, the “holding back” technique. I have “practiced” that exact technique during randori. As the speed ramps up and my confidence rises, I move from a state of “what technique to use?” to flowing (harmonizing, in a way) or reacting and not thinking. I have caught myself, at the ramped up speeds when the randori is flowing, pulling away from uke because my “trained” response would be to…(fill in the blank w/ your favorite technique). I thinks it’s okay…potentially not so okay for uke :)…because we are retraining our mind and body to respond a little differently. The previous training will always be there and in the proper situation it will reveal itself. Same with Aikido training for those of us who have other martial arts training. (and the Gump training…ruunning)

    During training, I see so many openings or points of attack or weaknesses. However, every attack creates its own opening and they are certainly easy to see during training, especially practicing technique one step at a time, but at full speed, it happens so fast, there is no time to think, there is only time to react. This is the point when “other training” will reveal itself.

    I am training or retraining myself. I am not abandoning my previous training. I am adding to my knowledge and technique. To blend it all is my ultimate goal. As a preacher once said about studying the bible, “As we read scripture, we may not understand all we read at the moment, but a little here and a little there, over time, it comes together.” I think my previous training and current training are similar to that quote.


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