Compared to the many other martial arts practiced in Utah, Aikido isn’t very well known. Karate and its variants were made popular in the 80s by The Karate Kid and the flood of action movies with stars like Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu rose in the public attention with the rise of MMA. And of course, Bruce Lee captured the imagination of the western world with his athletic and charismatic exhibition of Kung Fu.
Aikido on the other hand has remained obscure for many reasons. It’s not competitive like Judo or Taekwondo, and it’s non-aggressive. So the idea of bringing the philosophy of Aikido to the big screen as an action vehicle has had limited appeal. Actor Steven Seagal is the notable exception. He built himself a moderately successful action movie career that began with 1988’s Above the Law and peaked in the early 90s with Under Siege.
That said, Aikido has slowly been working its way into popular culture—by blending and entering of course—and not by kicking the front door down!
Here are just a few examples of Aikido in today’s popular culture.
The Walking Dead
It’s a little ironic that a TV show about a zombie apocalypse features one of the most effective explorations of the philosophy of Aikido in pop culture. In the season 6 episode “Here’s Not Here”, viewers learn what happened to Morgan, when he changed from a violent killer to a man of peace. His transformation came as the result of an encounter with another survivor named Eastman who taught him Aikido and its principles of peace. Don’t watch this episode for the Aikido technique—the training shown is very inaccurate—but the core principles are there so it’s certainly worth a watch.
The Man in the High Castle
A critically acclaimed Amazon production, The Man in the High Castle explores an alternate history in which the Axis countries, Japan and Germany, won World War II and have split America between them. The connection to Aikido comes in the first episode of season 1, in which Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) demonstrates her prowess in Aikido by repeatedly throwing a larger opponent while training in a dojo.
Yes, that Doctor Who! The intrepid and practically immortal time lord of Gallifrey is also a master of Venusian Aikido. Actor Jon Pertwee brought a new physicality to the role as the third doctor. He wasn’t afraid to mix it up with the bad guys whenever necessary. Naturally, there are a few karate/judo chops thrown into the mix, but his martial art is almost always referred to as Aikido. Who knew that hombu had an affiliate on the second planet!?!
The Dresden Files
Novelist Jim Butcher is one of the most popular writers of urban fantasy working in America today. His series of novels about intrepid wizard-for-hire Harry Dresden have sold millions of copies and been adapted to graphic novels, roleplaying games, and the small screen. A martial artist himself (having trained in Ryukyu Kempo, Taekwondo, and others), Butcher likes to insert martial arts and martial arts philosophy into his novels. One of his major characters, police detective Karrin Murphy, has trained in Aikido since the age of 4. She’s short, scrappy, and willing to throw anyone around the room to make a point (no matter how big they are).
Marvel & D.C. Comics
Although Aikido is rarely the only martial art practiced by characters in the Marvel and D.C. comic universes, it often comes up as one of the styles mastered by some of the favorite characters. Marvel’s Black Widow and D.C.’s Robin being two of the most popular. Both the Tim Drake Robin and Dick Grayson Robin are skilled in Aikido among the many other fighting arts they use.
Plus, there’s good evidence that D.C.’s dark knight himself, Batman is a master of Aikido!
As the spiritual home and origin of Aikido, no list of pop culture references to Aikido would be complete without including a mention of Japanese Anime! Like the rest of pop culture, Aikido hasn’t taken Anime by storm, but here is a fine example for your viewing enjoyment.
Join the Club!
Training Aikido in Salt Lake City is a little like being a part of an exclusive club. It doesn’t have the wide visibility and mass appeal of Karate or MMA, but we have heart, spirit, and most important of all we are a family. Aikido is about developing yourself and making the world a better place. We invite you to join us at Aikido of Salt Lake to experience Aikido for yourself. Just drop in anytime!