“Practical Aikido”
Gary Snyder Sensei

June 2023

Practical Aikido is a new practice of Aikido developed by 7th degree Black Belt Gary Snyder that offers effective submissions based on Aikido principles, techniques and grips developed through training with jiu jitsu practitioners. This fall Snyder will launch a website, www.practicalaikido with demonstrations of techniques and principles, and detailed instruction. Snyder will also upon a school for Practical Aikido in a large converted gymnasium in Whitehall, Montana.

Snyder recognized that for the most part traditional Aikido was not effective against jiu jitsu practitioners. One reason for this ineffectiveness was that, unlike jiu jitsu, traditional Aikido discourages resistance training.

Snyder’s Aikido lineage is under Sensei Shuji Maruyama, one of the very first Aikido instructors to come from Japan to the United States. Sensei Maruyama, unlike most other first generation teachers, built resistance training in to his curriculum, along with new techniques to confront the challenges of modern day fighting.

Snyder took the strong foundation of Sensei Maruyama’s Kokikai Aikido and worked with high level jiu jitsu instructors for over five years to create a new system of Aikido with over twenty basic techniques.

In training, Practical Aikido places an emphasis on the beginning of a jiu jitsu match, when the opponents are standing. Where most jiu jitsu practitioners use judo or wrestling moves to take the opponent to the ground, Practical Aikido sets as an ideal ending the fight before going to the ground through a range of techniques and submissions, most based on five primary wrist grips. More advanced training does incorporate ground techniques.

Snyder emphasizes that Practical Aikido is an Aikido school, not a jiu jitsu school. Although many would think that means only Aikido techniques are taught, in fact a number of jiu jitsu submissions, such as chokes, wrist and arm locks and arm bars are taught. The primary difference is that although resistance training is central, Practical Aikido is not practiced competitively.

Snyder holds on to the idealism of Aikido as developed by its founder, Morehei Ueshiba, not to be sport or competition, and understands that rather than trying to win or beat your opponent, you are always working to challenge your partner to grow. With this emphasis, Snyder draws a very strong line between practicing with partners in an Aikido dojo, and the use of Practical Aikido for self-defense. Practical Aikido techniques are never practiced at more than 80%, with the belief most training at over 80% makes it hard to care for your partner, and also the belief that one will call on the extra 20% only in a self-defense situation.

Practical Aikido also offers exercises for Ki development, the training of internal energy to create relaxed strength. These Ki exercises, and their practice in training, help the practitioner to find their strongest state, which is also their most natural, relaxed and happy state.

By creating an Aikido system that can hold its own in a jiu jitsu setting, Snyder hopes to rebuild an interest in Aikido for both young and older students.

Snyder sees his Practical Aikido as a young and evolving style of Aikido, and welcomes Aikido practitioners of all styles to train and offer insights for the future evolution of Practical Aikido. 

Gary Snyder began his martial arts training in 1976 with Goju Ryu Karate. He trained in other karate styles before training in Wing Woo Gung Fu in Los Angeles with Victor Walker. In 1981 Snyder moved to New York City where he began his Aikido training under Yamada Sensei at New York Aikikai. He moved to Princeton, New Jersey, in 1982 and began studying under his current teacher, Sensei Shuji Maruyama.

Snyder has a life-long practice of Yoga and meditation, and has practiced Bikram Yoga for the last 15 years. He has been a Tai Chi student of Master William CC Chen for 15 years. Snyder began training in jiu jitsu after moving to Bozeman, Montana in 2018 at Montana Mixed Martial arts, and it is there that he has worked with senior instructors to develop Practical Aikido.

May 2021

Robert Savoca Sensei’s article in Aikido Journal, “What Aikido is, What it is Not, and What is of Value”, is another well written, insightful and sincere essay exploring Aikido as both martial art and spiritual path. It joins a host of similarly themed essays published in Aikido Journal since Josh Gold took over the helm of Aikido Journal.

Savoca Sensei has boxed seriously for seven years and trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for fifteen years. When he asks “Could Aikido be used for fighting or self-defense?”, he answers:

“Yes and no. [Aikido] movements are excellent. But for them to be used in real situations there must be an active testing of the techniques with resistance and duress. It is not my interest to offer Aikido in this way [as it is then] no longer Aikido.”

In part to justify and explain this belief, he states, “[in Aikido] there is no competition.”

Consider this scenario:

An Aikido practitioner enters a jiu jitsu competition with a mindset that transcends winning and losing. Where others see the match as sport or competition, the Aikido practitioner sees it as Misogi – ritual purification – that allows one to polish mind and body and show the divine love and power of Aikido. The practitioner’s skill level in Aikido allows them to submit the opponent, but in heart and mind it is understood that the connection of one human being to another is a sacred trust, that Aikido allows submission through consent, not force, that the discomfort attendant to submission awakens our opponents awareness of the power and love of Aikido, and is the opposite of violence.

Can this be Aikido?  

My guess is if Savoca Sensei, and other high level Aikido practitioners, including Bruce Bookman Sensei, Roy Dean and others were asked about the scenario above, rather than commenting on the issue of Aikido and competition, they simply would say “I don’t think the Aikido guy would end up submitting the Jiu Jitsu guy” (look at Roy Dean’s “Bulletproof Pins” video, which basically presents jiu jitsu techniques when Aikido pins don’t work, and Bruce Bookman Sensei’s separation of jiu jitsu and “Traditional Aikido” in his dojo.)

And for the most part I would agree with them. Most Aikido at this moment in its evolution would not prevail in a jiu jitsu match. But this is the point – that does not have to be the case. Aikido can and should rise to the challenge of any other martial art, and it does not have to sacrifice its idealism to do that. 

I have been developing a system of Aikido that can be used in both jiu jitsu and Aikido practice. The working name for this system is “Practical Aikido”, and it prioritizes Aikido grips, particularly ikkyo, sankyo, shihonage, and kotegaeshi, with the belief that attaining any of these grips can and should lead to a submission. With that, I have developed a system of strong submissions out of these grips, along with “unbalancing techniques”, based on traditional principles of ki strength and blending with an opponents energy, that allow proper grip, technique and submission.

Practical Aikido places an emphasis on the beginning of a match or fight, when both opponents are standing. Most jiu jitsu practitioners use wrestling or judo moves when standing to take their opponent to the ground – Practical Aikido instead finds ways to get grips. With these grips, a range of submissions are explored, both standing and to the ground.

As Practical Aikido has evolved, I am also finding more and more applications for this grip-based system to work on the ground.

As many of these ideas and techniques are new, I expect Practical Aikido to be a dynamic and growing system, and look forward to feedback from teachers throughout the Aikido and Jiu Jitsu worlds.

I hold on to the idealism of Aikido and its stated belief that it should not be sport or competition – but believe that is more the state of mind of the practitioner than a limitation of how and with whom we can practice. I value traditional Aikido practice as foundational. I believe that if Practical Aikido can show its martial arts efficacy against other martial arts styles, it can carry with it the idealism that has made it such an important path for character development and an envisioned more ideal world.

“The appearance of an opponent should be thought of as an opportunity to test the depth of one’s mental and physical training, to see if one is actually responding to the divine will.”

“Use budo [martial way] to enter the main gate. Aikido is the heavenly principle of the universe. It is the way that harmonized heaven, earth and humankind. It is the way to maintain universal justice. Aikido is the truth of the martial spirit”.

Morehei Ueshiba, Founder of Aikido

Snyder Sensei wishes to acknowledge his debt to his Aikido teacher of forty years, Sensei Shuji Maruyama, founder of Kokikai Aikido.

Snyder Sensei is developing a website which will present many hours of detailed technique and training exercises. To be notified when the website is up, or to contact Snyder Sensei, please use the below contact form.

Practical Aikido