Does all this Aikido stuff work?
by Heather Gawlick
I've been asked more times than I can count whether or not all this Aikido stuff actually works. People always want to know if I've ever had to use it in real life.
Yes, when I needed it, Aikido worked very nicely. Many times. Even when I was underweight and a timid green belt. Even when I didn't know why it was working. Even when I didn't "do" Aikido deliberately.
I always try not to laugh when people look back at me in shock and a bit of horror with my frankness about having lived through some rough experiences they don't expect and can't relate to. Yes, it's true. I've not had as quiet and happily secure a life as most of my current students and neighbors.
Better than the times when Aikido has worked for me when I needed it were the times when the confidence I'd gained made it unnecessary. One example is the time I thwarted a potential date rapist by contemplating the Judo move I was going to use to skewer him with the legs of my coffee table. Something about the look in my eye and the calm question, "Are you sure you want to do that?" made him think twice and leave without saying a word. I'm much more proud of that moment than any of the times I actually had to use physical means to defend myself. How many women can say they prevented getting raped with a look?
The next question people usually ask is, "Well, didn't you say you studied Tae Kwon Do way back when?"
"Didn't it work for you?"
Then they are really surprised. The truth is the two arts are very different from each other. I really didn't study Tae Kwon Do very long, so I'm not at all an expert. However, I see a big philosophical difference between the kicking/punching-type arts and the way we study Aikido, Judo, and Jodo.
From my perspective, those other arts focus on using strength, speed, and force to outdo an opponent. Most of my life has been spent being an underweight, short, not-particularly-strong female. Most of my opponents were tall, muscular, overbearing males. They weren't fair fights regardless whether they were in or out of the dojo. Now, I'm overweight and have medical problems. I can't say I've increased my odds of outpunching or outkicking someone.
This is the main weakness I see in those offensive styles. In order to be really good, you need to be super-dedicated, super-fit, and super-man. This is great for a subset of the population and there are some extraordinary athletes (of both genders) out there doing incredible things. Just look at any YouTube video.
What about the rest of us? How can someone claim to teach self-defense to regular people if their system requires so much more than regular people are willing or able to achieve?
Here's where our stuff comes into play. We specialize in teaching regular and sometimes disabled people (and yes, even sometimes supermen/women) how to defend themselves. Our techniques are effective even when done incorrectly by beginners. Those who stick around and advance to higher levels learn some incredible stuff, but it's not mandatory in order for our Aikido to work as a self-defense art.
Because of my not-so-fairy-tale background, I prefer to teach the regular person how to defend themselves regardless of agility and ability. I think it is pretty cool I can teach even people with bad backs, club hands, and low self-esteem how to move in a way to keep them safe in an emergency. Because what we do doesn't require any strength at all, it works beautifully for regular non-superman-type people.
Better yet, I love watching people grow. I love helping someone who is scared of their own shadow (like me when I started) turn into someone with true confidence and an inner feeling of self-worth. I love watching someone transform from a skeptic (like me when I started) into someone who knows in their bones if something bad were to happen they don't have to panic. They have the tools to stand up for themselves and maybe it won't work 100% of the time (because nothing does), but there is power in not handing yourself over to be a victim.
So, yes, I would have to say I believe the Aikido I teach really works in the real world because I've actually used it myself and have listened to many stories of others vouching for our system.
More importantly, I would say it changes people and teaches them confidence in very unique ways in a safe environment surrounded by loving friends.
Heather and Roy Gawlick love Aikido and have a passion for sharing it with others. They hope you'll catch the Aikido bug, too!
Shinju Dojo Aikido Martial Arts School in Longview / Kelso, Washington