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Hollywood and the Real World

By David Lynch on October 6, 2021
No moral message seems to be required for the success of this kind of movie, so long as there is plenty of violence, blood and death—all of which are just the opposite of aikido.

With permission from Sensei David Lynch, I have decided to republish articles from a periodical he ran from 1995 to 2005, called Hakama Magazine. David Lynch practised in Japan for 18 years under some of the great pioneers of Aikido, and returned to his native New Zealand to teach there. I believe his writings offer valuable insights into Aikido at the present time when there seems uncertainty about its identity and direction. - Gerald Lopez

(November/December 1995)

After seeing movies featuring Steven Seagal people sometimes ask us, “Is this guy for real?”

The fact that Seagal is a Hollywood star should be sufficient answer to the question, but he is “real” in the sense of having practised aikido in the USA and Japan for several years.

I met Seagal in 1974 when he arrived at the Ki no Kenkyu Kai dojo in Tokyo where I was training. He trained there for several months and then moved to Osaka, married the daughter of the owner of a dojo there and became its chief instructor, thereby attracting a lot of publicity as a non-Japanese heading a dojo in Japan.

Steven Seagal (looking down) at Ki No Kenkyu Kai in the 1970s. Photo: David Lynch

He switched allegiance to the Aikikai, was rapidly promoted through the ranks and now runs his own dojo in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the Seagal movies have presented aikido in a very violent way, overlooking its ethical and moral principles entirely, which is a pity as the real message of aikido, i.e., that one can deal with violence in a non-violent way, ought to make a great movie theme.

It is relatively easy to hurt or injure someone by abbreviating an aikido technique so that it changes from one designed to preserve and protect an attacker to one that snaps his arm, or neck, with or without Hollywood sound-effects. In the process you turn something creative and humanistic into something brutal and ugly.

But then Seagal movies to date have not just ignored the ethics of aikido they have ignored ordinary morality altogether. In one example, as an off-duty policeman, our hero kills dozens of people with a variety of military hardware (somehow carried on a scheduled airline), yet returns to ordinary life apparently without anyone questioning his actions. You would think he would have at least had to fill out a form!

No moral message seems to be required for the success of this kind of movie, so long as there is plenty of violence, blood and death—all of which are just the opposite of aikido.

I suppose we should give Seagal credit for widely publicising aikido, albeit in a distorted form, and thus leading a lot of people into dojos around the world, where it is to be hoped they will be disabused of the notion that aikido is for maiming and killing and shown that there is a vast difference between the Hollywood portrayal of the art and the real thing.

Hollywood photo by De'Andre Bush on Unsplash

Article written by David Lynch

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