Cross-Training for Aikido Pt 3: Principles Over Techniques

As an aikido practitioner who wants to cross-train in more resistance-based arts, it is best to approach them using lower case ‘a’ aikido, which is a set of principles, than capital ‘A’ Aikido(TM), which is a set of techniques.

Wabi-Sabi Street Art Photo by Robert Van Valkenburgh (artist unknown)

One of the greatest hindrances to aikido practitioners cross-training in other, more competitive arts is the fear that their aikido will be lost in the process, that they will have to become something they are not, and that they, themselves, must change in philosophy and ideology in order to fit in. While this is certainly a risk, it is really more a matter of one’s integrity than an inherent problem within the grappling and/or striking arts themselves. That is to say, there are ways to train in these arts wherein one is doing aikido, regardless of one’s environment.

One of the ways aikido can be ‘found’ in Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), as an example, is in the mastering of escapes and sweeps, in never allowing the action to stop, never allowing a pin to truly settle in, and always looking for dominant, mobile positions until a submission opportunity ‘presents itself.’ The goal should not try be to do an aikido ‘technique,’ but, instead, to look for opportunities to apply aikido principles to keep oneself safe while controlling space (maai and tai sabaki), taking the center (irimi), flanking (irmi-tenkan), and practicing being untakedownable, unpinnable, and unsubmittable (aiki), such that, over time, opportunities for attack (atemi) begin to present themselves (takemusu aiki) when one’s opponent is caught off guard (kuzushi).

The same goes for striking. First, practice not getting hit. Practice parries, slips, and blocks using the same principles mentioned above. As your reflexes improve, see what presents itself from your aikido repertoire. You don’t even have to apply it. Just look for it. Be open to it. Maybe you catch it, maybe you don’t, but a punch or a kick has a profound way of telling you that you failed. Obviously, this takes a lot of practice with good training partners and a teacher open to your experimenting, and you will ‘lose’ a lot in the process, but nothing worth doing comes easy.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a founding member of the Severna Park and Baltimore Holistic Chamber of Commerce.

Street art photo taken by Robert Van Valkenburgh, artist unknown unless otherwise noted.

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