Is Aikido a Martial Art?
Sensei Henry Ellis - 2005.
Author of the new book Positive Aikido.
Henry Ellis ([email protected]) a direct
student of the legendary master Kenshiro Abbe sensei from 1957.
At first sight of the above
title I am sure that a lot of Aikidoist's will be angry, they will assume
that this is yet another attack on the credibility of Aikido by other
On this occasion they are totally wrong, I have been a student of Aikido
since 1956, In those early days I first started Judo in 1955 at the
Kenshiro Abbe School of Budo, I studied Karate with Harada Sensei and
Kendo with Tomio O'Tani Sensei, so with my background I feel that I have
something to offer to this debate.
The Aikido that I first saw
being demonstrated by Abbe Sensei in 1956 was without doubt a positive
I was immediately impressed by its positive techniques and power, and in
those days my fellow martial artists and I were in no doubt that we were
witnessing a devastating new form of self-defence as demonstrated by
Kenshiro Abbe Sensei.
Abbe Sensei had begun his martial arts career at the age of five and
became a legend in his own lifetime. At eighteen he was the youngest ever
all Japan Judo champion and also the youngest ever 5th Dan at the world
renowned Kodokan. He later became the oldest ever all Japan Judo champion
at the age of thirty three.
When Abbe Sensei arrived in
the UK in 1955 he was 8th Dan Judo, 6th Dan Karate, 6th Dan Kendo, 6th Dan
Kyudo, 6th Dan Aikido,
the question must be asked; would this Budo master have studied Aikido if
he did not believe it to be a martial art?
It is my opinion that Abbe
Sensei would not have studied Aikido as it is today.
Please break my finger
As a direct student of Abbe
Sensei I asked one day whilst we were traveling to a seminar
"Sensei, how did you first become a student of O'Sensei and Aikido"?
He smiled as he reminisced for a few moments; then told me the following
He said that he was a young
man at the time and the Judo champion of all Japan and traveling on a
crowded train across Japan to yet another Judo competion.
Sitting opposite him in the same carriage was an old man who was trying to
make some conversation with him, Abbe had his eyes closed as he tried to
The old man said to him " I know who you are" Abbe Sensei replied rather
modestly " everyone knows who I am, I am Kenshiro Abbe champion of all
Japan" he politely asked the old man who he was, the old man replied
"I am Morihei Ueshiba founder of Aikido" Abbe Sensei nodded politely and
suggested that they now try to get some sleep, the old man suddenly stuck
his hand forward and offered the smallest digit to this powerfully built
young man, Abbe was stunned as the old man said "
please break my finger" Abbe thought I will break his neck if he doesn't
go to sleep, he was now becoming irritated by this old man, he immediately
grasped the old mans finger in an attempt to shut him up, he freely
admitted that in his frustration it was his intention to break the
offending digit. To his total amazement he was suddenly slammed onto the
carriage floor. As he lay prostrate and unable to move he knew he had to
study with this master. He asked O'Sensei if he could study with him,
O'Sensei agreed and Abbe stayed with O'Sensei for ten years.
O'Sensei had spent many
years studying various martial arts, I believe that the art of Daito-ryu
and Ju-jitsu had more influence on the development of Aikido than anything
else he had studied, and we know he went to Mongolia to fight and this
would be the perfect opportunity to test his many skills in a real
situation, so we can be in no doubt that this incredible man was a true
warrior and modern Samurai.
A knife for my enemy
It was this early positive
style of Aikido that Abbe Sensei brought to the UK in 1955, at this time
there was also the first Japanese master to Europe, this was Tadashi Abe
Sensei 6th Dan who was based in France, he was a small man even by
Japanese standards, but to my mind he was the hardest man I have ever met.
He was very similar to
Kazuo Chiba Sensei who I met with in London's West End last week, When he
traveled he always carried a knife with him, this was not for his own
protection but to hand to his shocked opponent, he would say "please, this
is for you".
He said that an opponent with his bare fists was no challenge, but a man
with a knife was "very interesting".
I think we can safely
assume that as these teachers were so hard and positive then this must
have been the style of Aikido that was being taught at the Hombu dojo in
Japan, this was the Aikido of O'Sensei as a young man, the Aikido being
taught today is that of O'Sensei as an old man, there is no doubt that as
people get older they lose the spirit of their youth and become more
philosophical in their approach to life.
My father who was once
regarded as the toughest man in town later in life found his peace taking
his dog for long walks. I believe that we now have two aikido's,
traditional aikido which if truly traditional (this word is much abused)
is the martial side of Aikido, the soft fantasy and dancing style of
Aikido should simply be categorized as an "Art".
Those who are true
traditional Aikidoists will take no offence at this article, yet the
dancers will probably be offended and I care little for their feelings as
I honestly believe that this soft Aikido has no more right to call itself
a martial art than has synchronized swimming has a right to be in the