Why is it Different on the Street? by E.C. Estrella


“It turns out that the “flow” of Aikido can be VERY EASILY adapted
to law enforcement as long as you train like you mean it.”

“But I do stuff different on the street than in the dojo.”

How many of us who live or work in environments that are physically threatening say that when we do something in the dojo, dojang, kwoon, etc. that it is not the same as in the streets? How many of us try a technique and our practice partner does something to counter it that’s “not Aiki?” Do we know how to react?

The quote above was said to me only a short time ago by a fellow budoka who happens to be a highly skilled police officer in the Central Florida area. I am very much aware as a former police officer and police trainer what his training was, and confident that he has learned well. Unfortunately, he has echoed a statement that I know as a professional trainer can be deadly. The NUMBER ONE RULE of almost any life and death situation is that good or bad, you ALWAYS fall back on your training. This has been demonstrated many times “on the street” and unfortunately, not every “good guy” has survived to tell the tale.

Aikido is unique among the “martial arts,” as it is an “art of peace.” Instead of trying to maximize damage or even “just restrain,” the aikidoka tries to help his “partner” achieve peace, or as said by the Aikikai, unify the body and spirit. Law enforcement officers and security personnel who have the authority and/or mandate to restrain individuals often take Aikido as an alternative to more “rough and tumble” arts in order to reduce personal and departmental liability and increase the likelihood that they will survive an encounter without resorting to lethal force. Aikido techniques however, even if done properly, may not take into account things like firearms (not the suspect/offender, but rather the officer’s sidearm), side handle/straight/collapsible batons, chem protectants (MACE, OC, etc.) and so on. Conversely, combining traditional Aikido techniques with modern “police techniques” may not work either, since most traditional and even more modern police techniques go against the “flow” or “spirit” of Aikido. As an example, the recent encounter I had with my police officer friend on the mat started out with me doing a combination throat and firearm grab (he is a right-handed officer, so my left hand went for his sidearm and my right hand went for the throat). He immediately went into an aiki technique, then changed up midstream and went into a protective lock where his sidearm was (for security purposes, I am leaving a description of the technique itself). Though he temporarily kept security on his “firearm” he’d forgotten that I was still at his throat and I “reminded” him by choking him, making him forget his gun hand.

Now I know what many of you are thinking… it’s only the dojo. Unfortunately, what he and many readers tend to forget is that if you are practicing Aikido, it’s for harmony and if you practice defensive tactics it’s for police work street defense*. Now before I have a revolt among the police aikidoka reading this, let’s think about something I said earlier: “the NUMBER ONE RULE of almost any life and death situation is that good or bad, you ALWAYS fall back on your training.” If you are a police officer who does Aikido, you have an AMAZING arsenal of locks and redirections you can use that are also very traditional. If you forget to think about weapon safety (or your instructor doesn’t know and accommodate your unique needs), you can end up being the best dead “aiki-cop” on the beat.

Now that I’ve thrown some cold water on you, let me offer some hope—lest you think that as a cop (or legally-armed civilian, military member, etc.) that all is lost. It turns out that the “flow” of Aikido can be VERY EASILY adapted to law enforcement (as many police Aikido instructors can attest to) as long as you train like you mean it. That means that at least for a while, there is a distinct possibility that the “art of peace” will have to become the “art of self preservation” (or isn’t that the same thing?). As an example, the next time you are tempted to handle an overhead strike with shomenuchi iriminage, try blending into a wrist technique then (if authorized with arrest powers) a handcuffing technique. Why not turn that combo gun throat grab into jujigarame or a comparable technique then go into handcuffing? In other words, work with your training, so when “it” happens, you’re better prepared. Also, you don’t have to “give up” on Aikido as being valuable in police work.

Keep in mind that these are only suggestions and if you are in law enforcement, you need to talk to both your police tactics instructor and your Aikido instructor for advice. If one or both aren’t receptive, don’t be afraid to do your own research, keeping in mind that you are responsible for knowing department guidelines and will be held liable for non approved techniques. It’s a shame to worry about the “legality” of self defense but for a police officer, it’s a fact of life.

“Train it like you mean it,” is a quote from Bob Elder, 5th Dan Toyama Ryu (and most likely many other instructors). That’s a good motto for men and women who put themselves on the line and who need to train hard. When it comes to combining law enforcement tactics and Aikido, the student/officer must train in the dojo, all respect to the beauty and harmony of Aikido, as Ueshiba O-Sensei, Takeda Sokaku and all the others who have had to know how to “protect oneself,” not just perform “joyful dancing” did.

Stay safe!


I know many will disagree with this statement—even I disagree depending on my mood. The fact is however, that though one could argue that “living Aikido” would allow you to diffuse a dangerous situation before it becomes one, we are rarely able to maintain that state of calm in the presence of a gun or knife in the hands of a deranged individual. That (hopefully) comes with time, more training and positive introspection.

About the author

Mr. Estrella is a technologist, trainer and lecturer, specializing in technology issues within Native American tribes and organizations. He is also a lifelong student of the martial arts and is currently a student of Toyama Ryu Iaido, Nakamura Ryu Battodo, Icho Ryu and Daito Ryu. In addition, he a certified police officer, defensive tactics instructor and former Chief Investigator for a tribal police department. He has written for Aikido Journal and other martial arts publications and can be contacted at: cestrell@email.com

Members please log in here to continue…



Already a member? Login below

Remember me (for 2 weeks)

Forgot Password

Not yet a member?

Click here to sign up as a free member and gain immediate access!