On this past Sunday, we attended an Aikido lesson with a few people from the club here at Virginia Tech. I went into the lesson skeptical of Aikido and the potential effectiveness of the “twirley” techniques. I was actually very surprised.
Sensei John, the club’s instructor, was demonstrating part of a throwing technique on me. This part consisted Sensei John of breaking a wrist grab, and then using a joint lock to throw me to the ground. There are two interesting things here. First, after he broke my wrist grab, he pulled me to one side much harder than I was expecting. I was honestly shocked at how much power he could put into it, though it has been a long time since I have actually wrestled someone so I may be forgetting. However, I completely agree that some of these techniques could work very well if the person was not expecting them. This I believe to be especially true because, though the techniques were performed in purposefully slow motion, one could clearly see that the techniques could be easily sped up in an actual situation.
The second thing I found very surprising was how effective the joint locks were. The technique that Sensei John was demonstrating on me then followed into a joint lock into a throw. The joint lock almost makes the person throw themselves to the ground. It consisted of a hand hold and elbow manipulation. My natural reaction to this was to drop my shoulder to escape the elbow discomfort, which could easily be made painful in a real fight. As I was dropping my shoulder, it was a simple matter to merely help me to the ground. There is surely a way to escape the hand lock, and thus the entire technique, but the window for such a counter would be very short.
I now have no doubt that Aikido techniques would work extremely well in a few cases. First, the attacker would either not expect such a counter technique or not be trained to deal with it. These techniques may worked against others trained in martial arts, but I do not know enough to say. Second, the attacker would have to be in a semi-static position where the techniques could be initiated. For example, a wrist grab leaves the defender time to react to such a grab, whereas a fast technique like a punch would not. In the case of a punch, the techniques I have seen call for the defender to dodge the punch, which I do not think is always realistic. I think that, unless you predicted that the punch would come, you would simply get hit.
I still have doubts about the overall effectiveness of Aikido. I don’t believe the practitioner would have enough time to react to a quick attack like a punch or a kick. At the very least, successful use of Aikido would appear to require some element of prediction. In any case, I am significantly more impressed with Aikido that I was before attending the session.