Thursday, April 11, 2019

Is Aikido a sport?

By Giorgos Sardelis, Aikicosmos editor
The immediate answer would be "No. Aikido is not a sport". And that's because many people and sports bodies consider as a sport an activity which should have an element of competition and aikido as created by Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, and preserved from the current doshu bears no competive elements.

"In Aikido, there is no concept of 'defeating an opponent'. If contests are allowed, the desire to win and the desire to vanquish an opponent arises; that fixation makes it impossible to remain in harmony with nature. Such a fixation is in direct opposition to the natural harmony of heaven and earth. The very purpose of aikido is to unite oneself with nature and act in a harmonious manner with all things in heaven and earth" - Kisshomaru Ueshiba & Moriteru Ueshiba (Kihan Aikido: Kihon-hen, Kodansha) [Approaching the Spirit of Aikido >>>]

The founder’s view on competitions appear into works, written by O-Sensei, his son, the second Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba, and his grandson, the current Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba where the ban on competitions appears. Indeed the founder was a product of his time and culture, yet it could be seen as his views were ahead of his time, foreseeing the unpleasant results of promoting competitions as necessary element on sports definition.

"Ultimately, Master Ueshiba concluded that the true spirit of budo is not to be found in a competitive and combative atmosphere where brute strength dominates and victory at any cost is the paramount objective" - Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Aikido Nidai Doshu (The Spirit of Aikido, Kodansha)

As the years pass, people and sports institutions have come to realise the negative results of placing competitions and tournaments at the heart of sports, as dominant elements, when these cannot characterise the true nature of sports as activities with a much broader content for the people and societies. Thus today the precise definition of what separates a sport from other leisure activities varies between sources. (What is Aikido?)

According to Council of Europe, European Sports Charter, article 2.i, "'Sport' means all forms of physical activity which, through casual or organised participation, aim at expressing or improving physical fitness and mental well-being, forming social relationships or obtaining results in competition at all levels."

While according to the United Nations “Incorporated into the definition of ‘sport’ are all forms of physical activity that contribute to physical fitness, mental well-being and social interaction. These include: play; recreation; organized, casual or competitive sport; and indigenous sports or games.” -United Nations Inter-agency Taskforce on Sport for Development and Peace.

Since 1984 aikido (through the International Aikido Federation-IAF) is recognized officially by international sports governing bodies. The creation of the International Aikido Federation is the result of the vision of the second Doshu UESHIBA Kisshomaru, son of the founder, for UESHIBA Morihei's teaching better securing, spread, promotion and recognition on global scale. [Read more about the International Aikido Federation >>>]

In 1984, the IAF became a full member of the General Association of International Sports Federations (GAISF) - one of the biggest international sports federations in the world after the International Olympic Committee (IOC). GAISF is the umbrella organisation for both Olympic and non-Olympic international sports federations, as well as organisers of international sporting events. In this role it provides expertise in, for example, anti-doping, integrity and social responsibility. By establishing multi-sports games that group together similar sports, GAISF aims to promote the members and the members' visibility.

At that time, when IAF entered the GAISF, GAISF had cancelled the distinction between Full Members and Associate Members with the latter group including those international organizations that did not completely satisfied GAISF's conditions. Thus IAF was admitted as a full member of the GAISF, even though IAF had no competitions and championships, and aikido started coexisting with other sports, martial arts and combat sports; yet GAISF interpreted legally IAF’s demonstrations and training meetings as ‘championship tournaments’. In 2009, GAISF was rebranded SportAccord at the meeting of the 7th SportAccord International Convention in Denver and a decision was made for the organization to hold multi-sport games. Thus the preparatory work for the first ‘Martial Arts Games' was initiated. However the name of the event was changed to ‘SportAccord World Combat Games' in the interests of marketing and participation of combat sports which were not martial arts. This raised questions whether aikido should participate or not. Aikido, it was decided to participate on the condition that the "integrity of aikido was not compromised in any way."

The first Combat Games took place in Beijing in 2010 and was very successful for the IAF and aikido. The second Combat Games took place in St. Petersburg in 2013 and IAF’s participation combining demonstrations with seminars was revised and repeated with great success. The SportAccord's 2015 convention in Sochi had as a result IAAF, ISSF, and World Archery to withdrew from SportAccord followed by a number of other withdrawals, including the International Rowing Federation. Yet at the 2017 SportAccord was reorganized and renamed GAISF.

Also in 1984, the IAF joined the International World Games Association (IWGA). IWGA is an international association, recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), that, since 1981, organises every four years a multi-sport event called ‘The World Games’, meant for sports, or disciplines or events within a sport, that are not contested in the Olympic Games. When aikido came into the IWGA, it was presented as a demonstration (initational) sport/discipline, a temporary category, for the sports that did not yet comply with IWGA’s. Since then, different patterns have been suggested that do not satisfy aikido and as a result the 2005 World Games, the 7th World Games, held in Duisburg, was the last in which aikido was demonstrated. Suggestions for IAF's withdraw from the IWGA were made. Yet is was decided aikido to hold its ground until a suitable resolution will be found, especially when groups who use the name of aikido and hold competitions have approached IWGA. 

Aikido is also a prominent member of AIMS (Association of Independent Members of SportAccord), with the current IAF DC Chairman Kei Izawa Sensei holding the position of AIMS Treasurer. AIMS was founded in 2009 by the non-IOC recognised members of GAISF and is the fourth group in GAISF along side ARISF, ASOIF and AIOWF. After the 2015 situation within SportAccord, in 2016, AIMS signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the International Olympic Committee (IOC). By granting recognition to AIMS, the IOC acknowledges the role of AIMS and it’s valuable contribution to support the Olympic Movement in the achievement of its missions and goals; in the fields of the development of sport, promotion of sport in support of athletes. As a result, aikido's position has been strengthen in international sporting environment.  

"Although we welcome the internationalization of aikido, if it does not preserve the basic philosophy and ideals as formulated by the founder, Master Ueshiba Morihei, it would be indeed regretable" - Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Aikido Nidai Doshu (The Spirit of Aikido, Kodansha)

During global sports events, aikido participates only with a series of demonstrations yet its success along with IAF membership to international sports bodies, such as GAISF, AIMS, IWGA and the recognition of these organizations by the IOC have paved the way for greater attention and recognition on aikido as a martial art with no competitions and tournaments.

It is clear that aikido has no competitions, not because competition is something bad in itself, but because, as it is already proven, focusing only on that diminishes the true nature of Olympic Movement, athleticism and ofcourse budo by bringing harmful results mentally, spiritually, physically and socially. 

"This is not intended as criticism of other martial arts for becoming modern sports. Historically, this direction was inevitable for their survival, especially in Japan immediately after World War II, when all martial arts were banned by the Allied Occupation authorities".
"Aikido refuses to become a competitive sport and rejects all forms of contests or tournaments, including weight divisions, ranking based on the numbers of wins and the crowning of champion. Such things are seen as fueling only egotism, self-concern and disregard for others. A great temptation lures  people into combatitve sports - everyone wants to be a winner- but there is nothing more detrimental to budo, whose ultimate aim is to become free of self, attain no-self and thus realize what is truly human." - Kisshomaru Ueshiba, Aikido Nidai Doshu (The Spirit of Aikido, Kodansha)

Whether or not aikido can be considered as a sport is a matter of the definition of sport. Sport is generally recognised as a system of activities which are based in physical athleticism or physical dexterity, with the largest major competitions such as the Olympic Games admitting only sports meeting this definition. However, keeping an open perception, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through ARISF (Association of IOC Recognised International Sports Federations) has recognised both chess and bridge as bona fide sports. Thus, beyond any imagination and ambition perhaps one day aikido will be seen closer to the Olympic family.