Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bernie Lau and Aikido Efficacy

Bernie Lau was leaving a mutually esteemed Chinese restaurant last night as I was coming in with a Congolese priest stationed in Seattle and a daughter in from Paris.  The restaurant allows double parking in their lot by patrons so you can sit and order and then the staff will come get you if a properly parked patron desires to leave by the path you have blocked by double parking.  Sometimes they have a runner who facilitates all of this for tips, a situation that is responsive and sensible, with rules made up on the fly.  Anarchy in action.

As Bernie, my daughter and the priest chatted amiably in French,  I moved the car to best position.  Bernie looks good, and is still travelling far and wide.  As he was just leaving, we said our good-byes, and inside the restaurant the priest was intrigued by the fellow he had just met, so I apprised the priest of Bernie's background.

For the purposes of this blog, I'll add this about Lau Sensei:

When I started aikido in 1971, there were about 30 regulars at a club that had a 4th degree and a 3rd degree as instructors, the late Hirata Yoshihiko Sensei and Lau Sensei. Both had been direct students of Tohei sensei, the 10th degree chief instructor of aikido.  I was able to practice as uke when Tohei sensei visited a couple of times, and since Seattle was a regular stop-over for USA-Japan flights, we had a steady progression of top aikidoists visiting, Imaizumi one of the most memorable.  Pound for pound, I don’t think you could find more aikido instruction talent per student outside of Tokyo.  And then, circa 1974, Tohei sensei sent Kashiwaya Koichi, an aggressive and fresh san dan, to teach in Seattle too.

Bernie Lau as a police officer began his transformation from one of the original students of aikido 1954 in Hawaii under Tohei sensei.  Lau Sensei gained his first two black belts from O sensei, and his 3rd and 4th from the Ni Dai Dosshu.  Lau Sensei’s style was  crisp, efficient,  and matched his size and build. He taught a half dozen of us high school students Tuesdays and Thursdays after school in the early 1970s, before he went to work on the police night shift.

As he did more and more police work, he began to change his style. How come he changed his style?  As he puts it, aikido does not work.

Very, very true.  Depending on the context.

In his work as a policeman, he found aikido doesn’t work if you use it to initiate violence against someone who is no threat to you.  But police officers must initiate violence against people who are no threat to them.  Police must make arrests upon people who are not fighting, but are not cooperating.  People who refuse to turn around and put their hands behind their back.  In these instances police must use aggressive force.  All the more so for people who resist being forced around.

But aikido has no techniques that employ aggressive force. Aikido is unique as a martial art, it is nonviolent, it has no techniques for initiating aggression.  In aikido we use the aggressive force of the attacker, like in judo.  But as opposed to judo, we initiate no aggressive moves.

Aikido does not work if you wish to use your power to defeat someone else.

Aikido does not work if your opponent is merely resisting, if your opponent is not combative, not aggressive.

Aikido does not work if your opponent is merely noncooperative.

Aikido only works when someone is initiating a forceful attack upon you.  Since aikido is focussed on dealing only with forceful attacks, it is pretty useless if you plan to initiate force and defeat an opponent.

Aikido is not for police work.

On the other hand, since the aikido is limited to dealing with any any all attacks in any and all forms, in the measure the opponent offers force, aikido is superior to all other martial arts as a defensive martial art.

If someone is not initiating violence, why fight, let alone use aikido?  Otherwise you’d be using aikido to attack, and aikido is pretty useless as a means for that.

On the other hand, aikido, since it uses the opponent’s force, is pitch perfect condign response to an attacked initiated by an aggressor. This is necessary to be a martial art, it is sufficient to be a martial art.  I leave it to other martial artists to include in their contexts the problem of defeating someone who is not initiating violence, and includes using one's own power or force.

As a conscientious objector I can neither initiate force nor bring my own power into defeating anyone.  At the same time, I have effected about a dozen arrests in the last four decades (most recently a hit and run absconder who tried to escape on foot.)  In this instance, his attempt to use force to get past me earned him  pin up against the wall, with his feet back and spread (as I said, one of my first instructors was Bernie Lau, a cop.)  He was uncooperative, but not violent, so we both stopped there.  When he stops using force, I stop acting.  As he relaxes his body, I relax the tension of the pin.  As he tests the pin under relaxation, I ramped up the pin so experiences force feedback.  (Aikido is fairly unique in the pins hurt only if the bad guy tries to get away; also the pins are actually beneficial, they promote a healthy stretch, as opposed to arm bars which break bones and joints.)

If I ever had to exchange blows with someone, I am pretty sure I’d get hurt.  On the other hand to answer a bum’s rush with tomoe nage takes little extra energy from me to execute, but can be quite devastating when the attackers face hits the sidewalk, body upside down, at the velocity the attacker brought, for lack of training on how to roll out of a throw.  Ouch. 

To legally effect an arrest (in most jurisdictions), you must place your hand on the person you are arresting while stating they are under arrest (largely so the prisoner cannot later claim he did not know you were referring to him.)  In aikido, you always get close enough to place a hand on someone, which allows you to deflect a close-quarters attack if they violently disagree with being arrested.  Only about 1/2 the times have I had to get physical when making an arrest, and oddly, the more serious the crimes, the less likely the resistance. (the rapist, kidnapper and burglars all gave up without resistance.  (Not sure if that holds true in general, and if so, how come?)

In Bernie's Change of Heart story, as he tells it, aikido did not work when he in plainclothes he tried to use it to initiate violence against someone who was not resisting, let alone offering violence.  When the drunk lumber jack in Bernie's story failed to respond to aikido applied as an offensive tactic, Bernie switched to his considerable training in shotokan karate, a style he had studied assiduously, and began attacking the lumberjack with those striking techniques.  No effect there either.  The lumberjack simply proceeded to his car to drive off, whereupon Bernie in desperation tore off the antenna, which pissed of the lumberjack, and brought him back out to deal with Bernie.  By this time dozens of police officers arrived to answer the officer assistance call, and proceeded to beat down the lumberjack with good old fashioned police work, the night stick shampoo.

Another aspect of the case is Bernie had felt so bad about the turn of events that he quietly disposed of the evidence of the lumberjack drinking, and the lumberjack won  $65000 lawsuit against the city for police brutality.

So the whole truth is, no martial art worked on this lunberjack, and certainly not aikido as an offensive art.   Aikido never was intended for the purpose of violence against someone who was not resisting let alone offering violence  If your context includes initiating violence, or attacking nonviolent offenders, then truly aikido sucks.  But as the original mixed martial art (kendo, judo, jiu jitsu, ki-ai breathing) and stripped of offensive techniques, it is a superior self defense system.

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