Hot takes

On bullshido

Aikido is the martial art of defensive throws, joint locks and using your opponent’s energy against them – except that it isn’t, because it doesn’t really work.

Martial arts practitioners have coined the word bullshido to describe arts that seem legit on paper but that break down in the real world under even the slightest pressure testing.

I would propose that bullshido is everywhere – not just in the martial arts – and that by being alert to it we can protect ourselves from its various dangers.

Bullshido is defined as any art in any field that espouses knowledge and techniques that are falsely claimed to have some effect or utility – poetry, for example, is not bullshido because it doesn’t claim to be anything other than an often difficult and abstract form of linguistic music.

Intellectual bullshido is always trying to take over the world – definitely in the information-poor environments of the past, but even now, when we have easy access to facts, it flourishes.

Bullshido serves a purpose: it fulfills its followers’ fantasies in a way that gritty, painful reality never could; it offers its followers a sense of connection to tradition, community and mastery; it is a vessel for cool stories and aesthetic experiences; it is, in short, religion.

But problems arise, notably when someone walks into a fight armed with aikido and receives a terrible beating, as happened at the dawn of the mixed martial arts era when aikido was tested against other, more practical, arts.

The antidote to bullshido is what martial artists refer to as “aliveness,” which refers to training that regularly incorporates improvisation, contact sparring, competition and pressure testing, as opposed to training that relies on repetition and pro-forma drilling.

As long as there are humans, there will be bullshido, so it pays to learn how to recognize it in the wild.