The Misunderstood Martial Art

I often find that in some ways comparing aikido and Tai Chi Chuan can be a useful thing. Aikido, rather like tai chi, has to be one of the most misunderstood martial arts that can be found. A lot of people think tai chi is for old women in parks that have nothing better to do with their time and that it isn’t even a martial art. I’m sure many of you can relate to that last sentiment. When I was starting out in aikido I found myself having to defend its validity as a martial art, now that I can adequately do it I really can’t be bothered, mostly because I’m fed up of explaining when asked, ‘If it’s a martial art, why isn’t it used in MMA and the UFC?’ A complete explanation of that will take some time and it usually doesn’t help.

Back to the tai chi then, what most people fail to realise either because they’ve never been told or they lack the imagination, is that if you were to speed up those really slow old ladies they would be way out in front in the race of ‘Who Really Is The Most Lethal?’

The same misunderstanding occurs when people see aikido. Comments like, “They’re just dancing”, “He just fell over for him”, “That’s not a real attack”, “You don’t have X, then it’s not a real martial art”, “That wouldn’t work in real life”, abound from people. That last one is a real personal favourite of mine, it amuses me a lot when people say that. Partly because I don’t think they are hallucinating so this must be real life (or is this just fantasy?), but also because I know, from personal experience that it does work in ‘real life’.

One of the things that I find particularly sad about these comments though are that I’ve heard such statements not just from novices, but from high ranking martial artists in other styles. If they were as good as they say I would have thought they could see past the obvious that was in front of them.
The people that make these comments about aikido are essentially looking at the old ladies in a park doing tai chi and not understanding what they are truly looking at.

The question for us to consider then really is, “What do people see when they watch aikido, and what have they missed?”

The first part of this is really quite simple, they generally see 1 person making an ineffective attempt to hit the other person and then offering no further resistance until they fall over. By ineffective I don’t mean that they missed with their attack, I mean that they are using an attack that nobody would actually use in a fight. They also see the person that has just been ‘laughably’ attacked perform a complex and time consuming series of motions to make the other person think they should fall over. Regrettably this is, for the most part, completely accurate. In some dojos uncannily so.

Some people see a bit more than that admittedly but most don’t. For instance the first time I saw aikido was a demonstration on Eurosport during the last century. Although I can’t confirm this I’m almost certain it was Christian Tissier that gave it. After an hour of watching people kick through boards and each other, seeing the flowing elegance of highly experienced aikidoka was a breath of fresh air. I didn’t get it though, I thought it looked nice and nobody was getting hit so it was perfect for me. As I said, I didn’t get it.
If what most people are seeing then are complicated techniques against a pointless attack, what is it that they’ve missed? In many ways everything. Leaving aside the philosophical or spiritual aspect of aikido all they’ve seen is a vehicle and missed its potential.

Consider a parked car, what is it? It’s a parked car, but it’s more than that. It’s the culmination of decades of design and refinement, the final output from a manufacturing process but it also has the potential to take you a very long way in a vast number of different directions. People see the car but not the potential, people see techniques but not aikido.
The techniques are the vehicle that we can use to take us far along the path. I have been taught, as well as having taught techniques that have no rightful place in the arena of combat. There is no chance they would work and yet we teach them. Why is that? It is because ultimately we are learning the techniques so that we don’t have to do them.
The techniques, like the strikes are simply teaching us to deal with the energy of an attack. There are a near infinite number of ways that a person can attack us but a very finite number of directions that the energy used to propel that attack can come from.
By learning about the energy behind the attack we are learning how to drive the car. The destination is ultimately unimportant, the ability to travel there is king. The attack itself is irrelevant to an aikidoka, the ability to perceive the direction and intent behind it is king and where we should focus.
The most obvious demonstration of this can be found in randori. Randori is one of the purest demonstrations of aikido that can take place in the dojo. If the techniques of aikido are important then why are none of them performed in a randori? Why do you simply not see tenchi nage or juji garame or nikkyo pins? On very rare occasion these might appear but for the most part they do not. It is because the techniques of aikido that are trained in the dojo have achieved their true purpose, to free the aikidoka in body, mind and spirit and permit them to move freely amongst their foe. They have taught the aikidoka about the direction and the energy and as such are no longer required.
It is in this part that the misunderstanding has appeared. This learning is what has been missed by the people who are watching aikido and claiming that it has no use as a martial art.
The real key is to recognise that as each martial art has its gaps in effectiveness each martial art is only effective in certain situations. I have absolutely no doubt in my mind at all that if an aikidoka were to enter an MMA contest it would be short, brief, brutal and end with the aikidoka being carried out. At the same time I’m fairly certain that most MMA fighters would not survive long in a street fight when on their own and outnumbered while the aikidoka stands an extremely good chance of leaving intact. (I have chosen MMA simply because it is the current popular choice, no other reason).
Neither of these statements detract from the validity of either system, it merely emphasises the flaws and highlights the context the arts are designed for. Aikido is not a competition art. It has no rules and does not react well to being constrained by them. It is also primarily an art that is designed for dealing with multiple attackers. In contrast to this MMA is very much based on competition, operates within a strict set of rules and trains its proponents to fight one on one. These 2 systems are chalk and cheese they are so different. This does not make 1 more valid than the other, all it means is that you want a different one for each situation. To continue the car analogy, you can’t take 5 people on a road trip in a sports car, and you can’t drag race in a family saloon.
This is another of the concepts that is the cause of misunderstanding when discussing aikido. People cannot see its value in life because of the way it is taught and trained. Particularly in the West where so much of our lives are based on contest with ourselves and with others the idea that something without it can be effective is quite alien. Sub-consciously it gets associated with knitting in terms of martial effectiveness.
Once a person can see past these misunderstandings though the world of aikido opens up to them and they can see what is truly happening. This will also broaden their view in other areas of martial arts and perhaps help them see the short-comings in their own system as well as ours.

Ukemi- ” The Art of Falling Down ”.

If there was ever a statement that makes my teeth itch it has to be this one! If you will allow me to explain why hopefully it may make sense.
Statement above is such a misnomer that it completely misses the point of ukemi in the first place. Allow me to give my humble thoughts on it.
When I first came to Aikido many years ago the dojo I practised in, and now teach at, I struggled with ukemi to the point where I almost quit. Having come from other martial arts and a lifetime of being involved in training in one discipline/sport or another it wasn’t down to lack of commitment. Quitting is an alien concept to me so it did not sit well and caused many moments of thought and if honest anguish.
I really struggled with being a beginner in Aikido and having a beginners mind, Shoshin, throwing myself was new to me. Having a Judo/Karate/Ju-Jitsu background it wasn’t the ukemi that I struggled with it was that I thought I was expected to throw myself!
Four months into it and I thought this is mad. I watched the others on the mat and it all looked fake. Looked wonderful but to my martial mind it was fake.
I can see where people outside see Aikido and think the same. I once was there myself and partook in the pretence.

Sitting at home one night after class, a lot of it spent struggling with getting almost everything wrong, not knowing my left from right, being told to relax- which only agitated me as I thought I was-but mostly just feeling that this really wasn’t for me due to the ukemi and the feeling of falling down for no reason. I said to myself I would give it one more class. Just one! Then if I felt the same I was done and would go on with Ju-Jitsu which I was also doing that at same time.
The Ju-Jitsu I could get as it was like the other arts I had trained it. It was all hard and forceful where you made things happen. Aikido on the other hand was an art where I felt nothing really happened and everyone fell down anyway.
Bit like a stag party in some far off place where no one knows the participants and they get blathered and just fall about. Little did I know as being a beginner and not really able to take ukemi safely or at all I wasn’t being thrown.
I went to class the following Tuesday night and 30 minutes into it I had enough. My Sensei at the time Moylan Ryan was very astute and asked was I ok. Told him of my struggle and he said it was because I was a beginner in an art not like the others and was expecting too much of myself in a short period of time. I asked could I just put a few spare mats to one side and just roll away on my own. He obliged and gave me some things to work on.
I got one roll right. Just one. One solitary roll! But at least I got one and if I could get one then two and so on. I returned the following week with a renewed vigour and sense of purpose. Broke two ribs being thrown and not taking ukemi properly!! Running before walking you might say but rather than put me off it showed that there was no falling down. There was throwing, redirecting, making things happen but in a different way. It was a revelation and I was hooked. Had to take time off to recover, had broken ribs before and it is a truly painful injury so knew what was in store.
After taking about six weeks off, happily coincided with the birth of my second child, I returned to the dojo with a different outlook. Even though I still struggled I knew there was something. The something? No Idea but had felt it in the throw- really painfully as I popped two ribs and not the small ones. Oh no. Not me. The two big meaty ones near in the middle! I decided to throw myself, pardon the pun, into Aikido, and took a break from Ju-Jitsu, which is not too dissimilar from Aikido. O’Sensei began studying Daito-Ryu-Aiki-Jitsu in the first place.
Meeting Alan in my first year of training in Cork was a strange experience. I had heard from the other lads in the dojo about him and how good he was. In my mind I pictured a 7 foot tall 200 lb mountain of a man. A man capable of super human feats. It was strange to see a man, a ” normal ” man. I had no interaction with him that time other than other than watching and trying to learn.

The second time I met him, had been training just about a year and had my ” stuff ” together I was better prepared. Alan almost broke my wrist. Then asked I grab with the hand he didn’t almost break!! He almost broke that one too. Funny thing was I was training with a guy whom had spent less time in Aikido than I and Alan calmly turned and offered him his hand. Needless to say Paul felt what I felt, have to admit I laughed while holding both wrists as had just been through it, but to Alan there was nothing! No force. No pulling, dragging, twisting! I had never seen someone so relaxed and cause so much pain. Having worked security for many years in some hairy places where Shit Hitting The Fan was common place and was used to a little pain. Wasn’t used to this smiling gentleman crushing me with no effort on his part but a ton of pain on mine!!! Can still see Alan smiling as he bowed and walked away leaving us in heaps. I now know that we did it to ourselves by the way- not Alan- as Alan was only meeting what was offered and that was all.

But back to ukemi. Ukemi is that art of receiving technique! This is a far better way to describe it, especially to beginners, as it is the correct way. Having struggled with it at the beginning I have studied ukemi on and off the mat with many different people with the intention of understanding and growing in Aikido. You cannot practice Aikido to any level without understanding ukemi, now having Zanshin- remaining mind- things become clearer each day. For me it is more important to be an uke than nage. Some people will think otherwise and that is fine. Now teaching I emphasize this to all the students I practice with. I spend more time as an uke taking ukemi than I do as a nage. So much goes on in Aikido between uke and nage that some can get lost if both parties are not in tune, especially the uke. Had a fifteen minute conversation outside of the tennis club with Henry some years ago in Galway that made more sense to me that all the time I spent of the mat with him. He explained Ying and Yang and because we were off the mat and it was relaxed and informal it suddenly made sense. I was his original 200 lb man, those of you that know Henry will remember as he always spoke of being grabbed by a bigger/heavier man. The 200 lbs man. Took ukemi for Henry so he could show and explain while using me as an uke. Something I did many times over the years and believe me I grabbed strongly. I always ended up the same way- on the mat or the odd occasion IN it. Never felt like Henry did much but like Alan he did what he had to and that was enough. I attacked Alan once but that’s a story for another day as it’s funny.

Aikido is a journey, lifelong, which takes commitment and lots of study. Just look at the journeys of Alan and Henry just to get a sense of what a journey means. The purpose is to improve oneself and to constantly move forward. Not to compare yourself to others but just to improve and help those you practice with to do the same. It’s not easy and sometimes it is easier to stay at home. The reward will be worth it as I have always left the dojo felling much better than when I entered. If there ever was a secret to Aikido then it has to be practice. Followed closely by ukemi!

4th Alan Ruddock Memorial Weekend

Hi folks,

Having just attended this event I thought I might share my experiences with you. This was the 4th year this event was held and just goes to show time really does fly. Feels like only yesterday I was talking to Alan or contacting him by mail. As we all know Alan always finished his mail with God Bless which is so missed.

Following on from Belfast last year, Cork the year before and Limerick as the inaugural course,  this years event was hosted by Kieran Barrett of Midleton Aikido. Kieran is also a long time student of Alan and had him give class many times in Midleton. The biggest difference this year is another great teacher and friend Henry Kono also passed away. Alan and Henry had been lifelong friends having met in Japan where they both studied with O’Sensei. So this year was like an end of an era in some ways. It is also a new beginning. The teachings of O’Sensei having passed directly to Alan and Henry, whom spent a lifetime spreading these teachings and the spirit which O’Sensei intended Aikido to be practised and lived, have now passed to all their students. It is indeed a legacy of huge proportions and one I personally feel we can rise to the task. There are students of both these great teachers all over the world so sharing this task will make it easier. Something I’m sure as time goes by we will communicate on and organize more events to spread the message and teaching left in trust to us all equally.


Weekend began on the Saturday morning, 9/04/2016, in glorious sunshine. Midleton is an easy place to navigate and we found the dojo easily enough. We were all greeted by many old friends and some new and were made to feel very welcome from the moment we arrived. The dojo space was light and airy with many windows letting in natural light. Before class began we caught up with friends from Cork, Belfast, Dublin and Limerick. It was the same relaxed friendly atmosphere that is always present at these events. It just goes to show the spirit both Alan and Henry instilled in all of us and this in turn is something we pass on to our own students.

Kieran Shows IrimiClass began with Kieran Barrett taking the first session. He worked on irimi and really filling the space. Class was relaxed but with with the same message we have all heard many times from Alan about if it’s 50/50 make your 50 70 or 80! Kieran worked on this throughout the session and as people became warmed up the class became a little faster with some projections thrown in. He also worked on putting the uke straight into the mat, a theme which would continue through the weekend. A couple of ukes were unceremoniously dumped into the floor but all done with the minimum power on Kieran’s part and done with both uke/nage smiling. It was good to train with a lot of old friends and some new ones. Ukemi was at times challenging as the hall was long and narrow with many of us flying off the mats. Once we had adjusted to the space it was the just the odd few that went flying off. Thankfully the dojo has a nice wooden sprung floor. before we knew it two hours had passed.

As there was a break before next session a bunch of us headed down the town just to explore. Having never been to Midleton before it was a nice place where everything was within walking distance. We ventured to an open air market where food and refreshments were available. After spending a pleasant hour or more it was time to head back to the dojo for the second session.

Mike McNamaraI, Mike Mc Namara, Circle of Harmony Limerick – for it is I writing this post, was up to do the next session. Started with tae-no-henko followed by koyko as I do in every class. Followed this with some kihon wasa and once people were warmed up moved on to Embu Aikido. I felt that in a short session of 90 minutes we would have some fun with the vast array of techniques that make up the Aikido curriculum as opposed to Keikeo Aikido which people work on in their own dojos all the time. Session was fast and dynamic with very little instruction from me other than just to demo the technique. People enjoyed it, judging from the smiling sweaty faces, and the overriding theme was atemi, irimi and really blending. As I said to one beginner who was shy and made herself as small as she could. ” I’m 5 ft 8 in but when I am practicing as nage I’m 7 ft tall and a giant on the mats ”. All too quickly session ended and water break before next one was called for.

IMGP1339Next up was Fiona McCauley, Aikido in Dublin City, another long term student of Alan’s and Henry’s. In recent years she has worked more with Henry and had just recently returned from a visit to Canada where she practiced with him. Fiona began her session with connection and being on the edge for both uke and nage. This connection was neither dominant nor submissive and both uke and nage were both aware and in their center. Having trained with Henry many times and also with Fiona this is not easy to do and I can still hear Henry giving out to me for pushing or pulling. Fiona worked on the part of the uke more than the nage and keeping the connection all through the movement. She also worked on keeping your back straight and relaxed as a nage, again not that easy to do, through the movement all the while allowing the uke to take ukemi in a softer way. Even though softer it was in and down as opposed to out and in the end the uke was closer to nage so connection was kept between them with neither side moving apart. Finished with people closing their eyes and just relaxing in the moment.


This finished the first enjoyable day and a lot of tired bodies were off to find food and refreshments after a long day of training. Have to give a special mention here to Miriam White from Midleton Aikido who organized a session in her family pub, Canty’s who do a good pint of Guinness- always the mark of a good pub, with music to entertain those who ventured out. Meetings were had and friendships were strengthened over a few sociable drinks.

Colin TurnerSunday morning began with Colin Turner, Belfast Aikido Circle, taking the mat and after a warm up he began with Shomen Uchi Irimi Nage. After people had done this for some time Colin stopped and spoke of Newtons Laws of Physics. Force, nage, acting on an object, uke, and changing the direction of the object. He then showed just blending and not changing the uke’s line and sending uke straight into the mat. Have done this before with Colin and the urge to change uke can be overwhelming. We worked on this for sometime and people got the hang of it. Colin also spoke, and it’s sometime since I have heard it said, of how Alan said the quickest way was down and let the planet hit the uke! A more formidable weapon doesn’t exist and this drew smiles and laughter from the group. Colin spent the rest of the session working on extension and feeling where the uke was and where he wasn’t. Once found space was filled and uke sent on his way. Which more often than not was into the mat as opposed to a nice safe place where uke took ukemi and returned to his/her feet to launch another attack.


This session finished all too soon as well. As it was Ireland whether outside was torrential rain so no one really ventured outside and we just chatted in the dojo waiting for next session.

Niall O'Leary

Niall O’Leary, UCC Aikido, took the next session. He began with a very simple irimi nage movement, simple when Niall did it, but all too often people began to engage and change the uke too much. This was over complicating the movement and Niall showed again. This session too followed along the same themes as before of filling the space and entering. Niall would have not known what went before on the Saturday and was just following the Aikido he had learnt from Alan, as were we all. Have practiced with Niall many times over the years and for a tall man he covers the mat and moves really well. His ukemi is very soft and again for a tall man he can become really small when taking it. Also having just arrived that morning he was full of energy and was buzzing around the mat taking ukemi for lots of people.


IMGP1695Next on the mat was Brian Ó Donnchadha, Nenagh, who started off working on ukemi. More accurately being an active uke. Following the nage not just because you are supposed to but to actually keep the attack going. Brian demoed from Shomen Uchi Shio Nage where he was able to strike at nage in parts. Brian then turned it over to class and instantly some people began to block and compete, the exact opposite of what he had explained. On a side note there hung in Saito Sensei’s dojo a sign saying do not block your partner which came directly from O’Sensei. Something Alan and Henry spoke of many times but on this occasion a little was lost in translation. Brian stopped class clarified and then we went on. We worked on ukemi from various attacks being active all the way and keeping the connection going.

Brian demonstrated Ukemi

With that the weekend came to a close. Though tired and worn out and a few with stiff backs and sore knees we thoroughly enjoyed the weekend. On a plus side we had Colin and Kim Farrelly snap away over the two days and many great photos were taken. Kim is a professional photographer and has a good eye for a pic so many online through FaceBook at the Aiki no Michi page. We all came away from the weekend with the same sense of similarity in all our Aikido. Even thought we are in different places and dojos the one connecting thread is Alan and Henry. Those of us who took sessions even though different the similarities were greater than the differences. This is the whole point of these sessions where we can come together in an open and joyous space where we can all practice in harmony. If this is the legacy our two friends left us it is indeed alive and well and will continue on as both Alan and Henry expected it would. Looking forward to next years event and catching up with people whenever I can.

Thank you for your time and hope you enjoyed weekend if there or reading a brief account of it.

Yours in Aiki


Course Attendees
Course Attendees