Aikido and Injuries: Special Report, by Fumiaki Shishida

Editor’s comment: This article was originally published in Aiki News back in 1989. On a recent trip to Japan, I had an opportunity to meet again with Professor Shishida. The subject of injuries and deaths in aikido again arose in our conversation and I was appalled to learn that the type of incident described in this article has continued unabated in subsequent years resulting in more aikido-related deaths. In one extreme case, Professor Shishida related that two deaths occurred at the same university within a relatively short time span. He also mentioned that despite the fact that parents of the victims have sued the concerned universities on various occasions, the courts have consistently found the schools blameless. I feel this situation is intolerable and would encourage readers to post their comments on the Aikido Journal bulletin board with an eye toward exposing this horrible situation in the hope that even a single life might be saved!

This section of the complete thesis was printed in the Nihon Budo Gakkai Gakujutsushi. (Scientific Journal of Japanese Martial Arts Studies) was published in Volume 21, No. 1, 1988. The bibliography has been omitted.

Professor Fumiaki Shishida

Chapter Two: Cases of Serious Accidents Resulting in Death and Serious Injury

The cases contained in the documents in Chapter 1 and other materials and testimonies offered by the individuals in question such as alumni who responded to my requests for data are listed in the table included. I chose to reproduce all information in cases where data was limited and attempted to select information for its instructional value in those cases where space limitations caused me to omit details where the data was ample. I have omitted the names of the victims and universities in consideration of the persons involved. I have assigned numbers to the cases according to the date of occurrence of the accident.

III. Proposals for Countermeasures for the Prevention of Serious Accidents

(1) Recognition of Danger—Inherent Characteristics of Kata Practice Method: In aikido in general, a training method is adopted where the uke (person taking the fall) and tori (person throwing) practice a predetermined technique. This kata method was also adopted by the Japan Aikido Association which employes the randori method in competition. The method appears to be safer than the randori method used in judo since it requires less physical contact even though methods of kata practice differ slightly depending on the school. What about the case of aikido?

First, I would like to mention the fact that out of the cases of serious accidents in the chart of Chapter 2, all except 3 and 4 occurred in sport clubs affiliated with aikido schools which do not practice the competitive randori method. The schools involved in cases 3 and 4 are not known because of a scarcity of documentation. This writer who has experience in both the Association kata and randori method considered that the randori method was much more dangerous than the kata method. Hence, I was extremely surprised by the nature of accidents cited.

Why are most of the victims physically weak such as university freshmen or sophomores or female students? Why weren’t the senior students or leaders able to prevent the accidents? Naturally, we must seek the reasons in the descriptions of the accidents. However, I believe that there is a common cause to the accidents in all 11 cases. Therefore, I wish to point out the inherent danger of the kata method of practice which is a conclusion I have arrived at as a result of an examination of the cases.

The point is that the safety of the uke is one-sidedly placed in the hands of the tori. In the kata, the uke and tori are generally decided beforehand, and the tori can decide the intensity and sometimes the type of technique according to his purpose. On the other hand, not only is the first action of the uke limited, but it is also tacitly assumed that he will not offer any resistance to the technique. In this way, both can perform their roles. In this sense, it can be said that the kata method is safer than randori training where one can be thrown with an unexpected technique.

However, even in kata practice it must be recognized that serious accidents may occur, a) if the uke is inexperienced; and b) if the uke is very tired, and even more importantly; c) as a result of the intensity and application of the tori’s technique apart from categories a) and b). In the 11 cases cited, the victims are all uke and, except for several sophomores, are freshmen and thus fall into category a). Insofar as concerns category b), except for cases 4, 8 and 9, the accidents occurred during training camps. That is, fatigue under unusual circumstances can result in accidents. The case of category c) is not clear. However, if we assume in principle that accidents never happen for categories a) and b) alone without category c), then we can control the proper behavior of the tori given a) and b), that is, attention to safety and the method of practicing techniques.

One must assume a heavy moral responsibility if he places the uke in a situation where he is not permitted to resist in a kata practice which results in an accident. The tori must practice keeping in mind the inherent dangers of kata practice and proceed carefully. Furthermore, I think aikido leaders should reexamine the present practice and teaching methods in order to make this approach a custom.

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