Thursday, August 22, 2013


Hypocrite! What’s wrong with you? Someday it is aikido and some day it is krav maga! Your are confused and you are confusing your readers too… That’s what you are doing”, said Joy, as tossed an old issue of TSI on the table and flung his head with such vehemence that it was a wonder that it hadn’t wrenched itself off his neck and tumbled onto the table. I recoiled at his feedback and at that point, I would have confessed to a certain degree of involuntary amusement at the thought, assuming of course I could screw that bowling ball of a head back on… at an appropriate hour in the for now distant future. And anyway, it was I who brought this spit spattered deluge of criticism upon my evening by badgering him for feedback in the middle of a party.

Joy was pattering on about one of my recent columns about an encounter with my Aikido teacher. And I guess i must have been showing off a few moves for effect in rather pleasant company and that must have pushed sweet old Joy over the edge a little... And of course we single kids have these attention seeking kinks which tend to get on people’s nerves. I’ll give Joy that...

So once the air, thick with my ‘pet me, I’m cool’ purring and punctuated with Joy’s ‘I’m sick of you’ outburst, had settled, I thought it was time for an honest assessment of these two formidable martial systems which while so different on the surface, are close kin under the skin.

Unlike other martial arts from around the world, like karate, Judo, muay thai, boxing, wrestling, taekwondo and most others that you can think of, Aikido and Krav Maga are both what the great O Sensei, martial artist extraordinaire, perhaps the greatest in the last 100 years and the creator of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, would have called ‘true Budo!’ Unlike the above mentioned arts, Aikido and Krav Maga practitioners do not seek to score points or win tournaments. In fact within the original template of these dissimilar twins, there is no winning and losing in aikido or Krav maga. On the contrary, kravists and aikidokas train for the real battles of life where opponents do not follow a code of conduct, morals or rules; where opponents might seek to maim, hurt or kill, with or without weapons, and the mission of training in either system is the same, and ironically, perhaps aikido, more than any other art mirrors the philosophy that drove one of the bravest civilian warriors of the second world war, Imi Lichtenfeld to acts of true heroism that helped him save both lives and honour of his fellow Jews in the face of barbaric anti-Semitic persecution. All that Imi fought and trained others to fight for was so that ‘one may walk in peace’... While WWII pushed Morihei to create an art that sought peace even in the midst of violence, the same war pushed Imi to create a system that oft en was brutally violent, in its quest for peace.

While Japan was an aggressor in the war, and after bloodying her hands in the Pacific War theatre, and aft er experiencing retributive carnage in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Morihei and perhaps even the rest of Japan realized the futility of war. Morihei’s art evolved out of that urgent need for pacifism, that realization that violence shall beget violence, and so you have Aikidoan art that stresses the need to avoid confrontation, to be gentle albeit with control.

On the other hand, Imi Lichtenfeld and his people were persecuted and stripped, of dignity, opportunity, independence and even the right to live. And when cornered thus, when flight is not an option, fight is what one does, and Imi and his students did that really well. Krav Maga’s attitude towards a situation is like that of a cornered tiger, brutally violent until left in peace - incredibly effective, though susceptible to possible overreactions.

And here’s where the arts (incidentally KM masters refer to it as a system of self defense, not an art, but more on that later) diverge. Imi and his people were a minority, persecuted and insecure, and pushed into corners where the threat was always greater and far more formidable than their meager and rather unprepared means of defending themselves. The situation demanded a degree of viciousness to compensate for both the greater odds as well as their own inadequacies in terms of preparedness and strength. Imi had to train virtual novices in the art of unarmed combat - bakers, bankers, housewives and children to defend themselves against divisions and minions of the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel or defence corps). Even today, Israel bristles at the slightest provocation. Needle them and they strike back doubly hard. Scars of the Holocaust don’t heal easy, and so there’s this constant looking over one’s shoulder, this unbridled aggression, this innate understanding of one’s strengths and the opponent’s corresponding weaknesses and commitment to at least partial destruction and complete immobilisation of the source of the threat. This is also an attempt to erase the nightmares of a trauma that is barely a generation old and even today Israel’s geography does not let her forget her history.

Ueshiba on the other hand was part of a society that had deified martial culture and woven it into the fabric of their lives. The Samurai code, the Samurai spirit drove the growth of Japan as a nation, its spirit of subjugating self for the greater good of the community or nation like the samurai did for his shogun, the spirit of death before dishonour that still drives Japanese corporations into creating quality that every employee and citizen can hold up and say ‘I’m proud of this... This is Japanese!’, just the way the Samurai would give his all for honour or commit harakiri if he failed. And it is the same battlefield forged samurai spirit that made Japan into a military powerhouse that shook up the world during two world wars. The same martial wisdom and vigour enabled a tiny nation to stare down mighty Russia and dominate a gigantic neighbour like China. From kamikaze to kaizen, it is the same samurai inspired martial spirit that guides Japan’s rise as a nation and as a people.

And when ‘Budo’ (the martial path) defines a society, it begins to learn the pitfalls as much as the bonuses of living on the edge of a katana.

So when the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki followed the Nanking Massacre and Pearl Harbour, Ueshiba, with his samurai heritage, could understand that it is not budo itself that is at fault but the purpose and manner in which it is conducted that opposes the laws of the universe, causing disharmony and destruction. Thus aikido emerged as a combat system that honoured the opponent, no matter how violent the threat, and sought to remove and immobilise the thought of violence rather than the perpetrator of violence. I know this needs explaining so in the next issue I will take your thoughts and mine to two masters of these apparently different but surprisingly similar systems/art forms and try and explain to you and good old Joy why I’ve been crusading for both.

For now, let’s just understand that krav maga and aikido are both similar in their philosophy of seeking peace and not points or trophies. Both understand the reality of death and pain far more than arts preoccupied with the idea of ‘victory’ and both are mirrors of the society and heritage that created them. Where they differ is that while krav maga seeks to hurt an opponent WHERE he is weak, aikido aims to challenge an opponent WHEN he is weak. Now take these two radically different approaches to the same problem and extrapolate that into a verbal argument. That will tell you how an opponent would respond to you, when at the end of either counter. Which method works better? Well, that’s a debate for next week, but until then, what you should mull over is, who are you? And, what do you want?


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