This is truly an interesting inquiry. In a situation where one is not on the mat in an environment where there are certain agreements in place about how one trains, what can work and what will not work? Given the state of the world’s tensions at this juncture in history, a time where even those of us in the Greater Bay Area may not escape this insanity, perhaps this is a question worth asking now?
This writer as both a teacher and a student has been asked this question many times. That is, does, in this writer’s case focusing on the martial art Aikido, does it really work? Historically, there is no doubt that O Sensei during his early and middle year experienced real attacks. In those pre-WWII years one could challenge a teacher. These were no holds barred attacks. O Sensei flabbergasted his attackers by seeming to disappear at the moment when contact was suppose to occur. (This is an experience that this writer has confirmed in conversations and being in the presence of a number of his surviving direct students. One said, “He simply wasn’t there.”)
Also, the techniques in Aikido and other martial arts are based on powerful joint locks and other moves that were tried and tested in battlefield conditions and handed down in secret scrolls from generation to generation. The techniques were designed to incapacitate an opponent so his battle readiness was stopped. In such situations, there were not quarters given. In other words, these were life and death situations. On the wall at the main Aikido dojo in Tokyo there was a statement in kanji that said in effect all techniques are killing techniques.
Getting back to our inquiry, the question remains given a situation where one had to by choice or chance use Aikido in an aggressive situation, will it work? Not as in the movies with stunt actors, but in real life. In an earlier article written here about Cyndy Hayashi, she recounts potentially life-threatening attacks where she used Aikido principles. They worked. She survived. This writer also had a direct experience from two other situations. One involved a knife put to the throat of a student who was training for his Nidan examination. The student had left a movie theater when a young man came up behind him and put a knife across his throat. Without thinking, this person moved his body into the young man and securing the knife moved under the knife and then propelled the attacker into the street. The result was the young man stood up, and crying demanded to know why this had been done to him? The third example was when a friend was on a tropical beach. Her husband had jogged ahead of her. Suddenly a man came at her and lunged at her with a knife. Her husband saw the attack but was too far away to intervene. Using once again what she had learned in tanto waza (she held the rank of shodan), she was able to successfully deal with the attack and take the knife away.
The key component in each of these situations is that the Aikido students had the presence of mind to simply act. Not to think, “Wow, I’m being attacked! What do I do now?” Which is the essence of Aikido or any martial art: that the techniques are embodied. That is, from one’s training one has the ability to act. The part of the brain that likes to analysis and think of what it is encountering in the world is bypassed. Another part of the brain takes over. Adrenaline is released and focus exists only in the moment. Those who have tested for rank or any kind know that this can happen during the course of being tested. The techniques (moves) are there in the body. This of course, and practice, is what leads to the techniques becoming embodied.
Let us hope that the training we all have will never be need to be used in situations mentioned above. But, if needed, the training will and does work.