Some Preliminary Surveys of Aikido Practitioners (And Other Fun Data)

Chucking these ideas in here about preliminary research I've done into the general population of those who practice Aikido. The reason I'm compiling these here is because they provide a very good framework as to future types of surveys that can be done. The results give a peek as to the demographics of who practices it, and gives rise to understanding of who the market will most likely attract.

TL;DR It might be a good idea not to mis-align marketing efforts/advertising campaigns with primary motivations for practicing a martial art (which, very surprisingly, research has indicated shifting towards health and wellness rather than combat/self defense, with self defense falling behind several other motivators.) Most successful marketing campaigns make sure their marketing efforts and the primary motivations of their customers align, for example, yoga, which is growing insanely. 

(An example I like to use is fishing equipment companies don't make advertisements centered around "You will be the best fisherman in the world if you buys this product!" because while it can be a motivator, it isn't a strong enough one that is meant to create lifelong clients. Instead, they might show a family or a group of friends having fun together, tranquility and peace in a beautiful waterscape, the excitement of fighting a big fish, etc. because those are stronger motivators.)

When I first saw these results, I was confused at the large disparity of what the general public think Aikidoka are practicing for versus what they really are training for. I was also confused because my own personal assumptions about motivation were also seemingly disproved. In finding out what the demographics are, it also allows us to come to an understanding of who we are looking to market to, and what their actual intentions are when they practice. It can shape the direction of the type of perception we hope for Aikido, and what kind of marketing campaigns would be most effective. This also gave a good foundation for the studies we wanted to run in the future.

This is all super fun information I hope you guys can find useful. Again, I'll have some commentary sprinkled here or there.

First, here's a link to a cool meta-analysis (which is basically a paper studying all research that's been done on a topic) of studies that have been of Aikido and the physiological and physiological benefits. It notes limitations of the studies as well, if you have time, I would read through it. It's a good place to point people who are curious as to the benefits of the art that's cited properly. (Great thanks to Reddit user Platanoplata for digging it up.)

Second, the Rurh University Bochum in Germany surveyed Aikidoka on personality traits which is also worth a gander. In general, Aikidoka fall within the average range for all the values, however, men scored relatively higher in their gender on agreeableness, but slightly lower in their open-mindedness.

Finally, the Aikido subreddit ran a survey in 2015 of the general Aikido demographic (located here, although if it one day gets taken off, you can still get to it in my drive here.)

Some limitations of this survey was that there was a little more than 120 responses so the sample size is small, and of course it's skewed towards practitioners who were active Reddit users at that time, which might have a demographic of its own.

What interested me most about the results of the last survey were this:

  • 50% of practitioners are also training in another art--then why does there seem to be an undercurrent of cross training being taboo? Arguments arise also both for and against cross training, but if it's something that is common for the demographic to do, then it might be a good idea to encourage Aikido as something that is beneficial to train in tandem, rather than an either or situation.
  • Only 33% practiced it for "self defense," while 77% of the people contribute physical and mental wellness as to their number one reason for continuing to train. Only 5% planned to cage fight. Why then, have our marketing efforts on most dojo websites been geared toward "self defense" and "efficacy" in the street when that is not what 2/3rd of the Aikidoka population is interested in as far as their motivations for training? Why has our online perception been disproportionately skewed towards how effective/ineffective Aikido is in terms of fighting? (Follow this link to my previous post on the current correlated search trends for the topic of Aikido.) Why is that the most heated argument even within the Aikido forums when it's not the focus of a large percentage of the population that practices Aikido? Isn't it counterproductive to be marketing towards the smaller percentage than the higher one especially if the general consensus of the outside community is that it isn't? Were we swept up in the "fighting" craze as well when MMA made its debut?
  • Following that, if we have inadvertently directed our marketing to those who have self-defense and fighting as their primary motivation to starting martial arts, then isn't it possible that if a large portion of our our current curriculum is not geared towards it, it makes students more likely to quit, have a bad impression of their time, thus lowering retention?
This next article (sorry, this will be a continuous dump as we find more information) is about the motivation of participation in martial arts. The limitations of this study that were addressed were the gender discrepancies, and my personal critiques are that it is geographically dependent and the small sample size (75 returned questionnaires.)

The most important take away are their three key points, which I have included with their abstract (if you didn't want to follow the link.

Following that, this research paper cites three more papers (Stefanek, Breese, and Zaggedilis) with similar findings--fitness, health, and friendship being the strongest motivating factors, while self defense is a motivator, it is not the main one.

Additionally, this paper by Jason E. Thomas: Exploring Primary Target Market Segment Buyer Motivation for Martial Arts Businesses cites further studies of interest:

"Participants in martial arts were found to have high levels of motivation in growth-related factors and aesthetics (Ko & Kim, 2010). Fun, which had been added by the researchers, was found rated as the most important factor for motivation. The researchers cited a shift in emphasis from self-defense to sport-oriented fun activities in martial arts and called for additional research to support the validity and reliability of the study (Ko & Kim, 2010). Ko and Kim’s (2010) findings of martial arts student motivations support the findings of Jones et al. (2006) and indicate a shift in perception for consumers.

Previously, the primary driver for attending martial arts classes was self-defense (Friman, 1998). Ko and Kim’s study supports the findings of researchers who have observed the martial arts business as evolving from small niche products that teach self-defense lessons, to a few students interested in exotic fighting skills, to more mainstream participative sports and professional entertainment events. These findings are a part of the first step to validate those observations and pave the way for discussions and future research about the need for martial arts business owners to adapt to new potential customer demand."

Another interesting thing to note, at least for children, is that the theme of self-defense itself may have changed from a focus of physical confrontation to non-physical. This may be an important issue for those who are growing children's programs.

"The implication of this theme is that self-defense is a motivator for parents to place their children in martial arts classes and that the needs around this benefit may have changed in light of evolving social practices such as zero-tolerance policies in schools."

The 2010 Ko & Kim study cited (here), concludes "Overall, the results suggest that regardless of types of martial arts and competitionorientation, two existence factors (i.e. fun and physical fitness) and one sport-specific characteristic (i.e. aesthetics) were found to be the three most important reasons why people participate in martial arts." They do note self defense is a motivator, but not the top motivator.

This 2015 study based on TKD practitioners found that "self defense" placed as "a medium impact factor" in at #8 of of #18 factors in terms of motivational impact scoring behind high impact factors of  technical/unique content, foster self esteem, fun/boredom relief, body shape, physical health, and other medium impact factors like teaching aspirations, and skill acquiring.

This actually reflects the survey of the Aikido Reddit community, in that situation/competition/reward-status were not the highest motivating factors.

  • So my question is now becoming more of a hypothesis--that this preoccupation with efficacy is detracting away from the true value practitioners find, and markets things that would be of least motivation (and thus be the weakest factors to help retention) towards the population, creating a sort of weird, negative feedback loop. 
  • If skill development is a strong motivation factor, but situational and competition is not, then we may have to define what tangible skills it is developing, rather than vague claims.
  • On the marketing perspective, here is a paragraph from the paper that highlights an interesting phenomena "In his investigation of 72 Taekwon-Do participants in New Zealand, Breese,  also identified that motivation for participation was different dependent upon overall time involved in the martial art with those involved for greater than 4 years identifying personal power and control as their primary motivation whilst those involved for less than 2 years identified fitness as their main motivation. Breese,  concluded that instructors should be aware of these differential motivations and customise their training regimes accordingly." Therefore depending on whether you're working on retention or working on new recruitment, your campaigns have to change.

At the hunch of George Kennedy-sensei, I chased down an interesting comparison with Yoga and how the primary motivators are similar to the message Aikido tries to send (read the study here)--the abstract summarized it well. "We examined motives for adopting and maintaining yoga practice in a national survey of yoga practitioners (360 yoga students, 156 yoga teachers). Both students and teachers adopted yoga practice primarily for exercise and stress relief, but reported many other reasons, including flexibility, getting into shape, and depression/anxiety relief. Over 62 percent of students and 85 percent of teachers reported having changed their primary reason for practicing or discovering other reasons; for both, the top changed primary reason was spirituality. Findings suggest that most initiate yoga practice for exercise and stress relief, but for many, spirituality becomes their primary reason for maintaining practice."


This next bit might be difficult to swallow, but please keep in mind that I'm not posting these two points here to get into the argument of whether or not it is effective (for some reason, everyone seems preoccupied with latching onto that and the conversation devolves into that), but what, from a business and marketing standpoint, how we are contributing to the issues that plague the Aikido community. That's not to say it is the direction we should take, since it's insane to change what is done based on just a few people's criticisms, but it is something to think about.

1. Inside perception: Of the most recent personal videos people have posted of their training in the Aikido FB group, the vast majority have at least one aggressive criticism on martial effectiveness by other practitioners. A great portion also has general aggressive criticisms of how the technique is done. Why are Aikidoka so obsessed with criticizing each other in an offensive manner, rather than being able to kindly say, "Hey, thanks for sharing, it's a scary thing to do. Can you tell me a little more about why you do it this way? I see, thanks for taking the time to respond, there's always interesting perspectives to be learned, I was personally taught this way but can see how you could do it that way, did you ever think... etc." There's a huge difference between engaging in productive conversation, and one that just makes a person look like they criticize for the sake of feeling good about themselves.

I saw this comment on a post sharing the Perceptions of the Aikido community, and it provided a visible, tangible result to what would happen at the worst if how we interact with one another doesn't change.

"I found the easiest solution was to just leave any of the Aikido related Facebook groups I was a part of. It’s looking like leaving Aikido might be an option too."

"Thank you. I’ve decided for my own well being that it’s time to leave Aikido behind. I’ve made good friends, but the politics and bickering are a bit much."

I hope this particular response resonated as deeply with you as it did me.

2. Outside perception: After spending quite a lot of time with different people who were vocal in their dislike of Aikido, having productive conversations and wading through a lot of noise to discern their actual issue is with Aikido (and making some friends in the process), one such person summed it up quite well:

"If Aikido billed itself as a "wellness" practice, that happens to have a few little martially useful tid bits, rather than a "martial art" that has wellness side effects, it would be much more honest with itself and its practitioners. However, as long as Aikido is going to call itself Budo/Martial Art, it better be able to hold its own against someone who really knows how to punch, kick, and grapple."

As far as that sample demographics show, that's exactly how most Aikidoka view their training--however, why is it that the online perception is that we are pre-occupied with effectiveness and thus earning the ire of other fighting arts? Something we should be mindful of now is that are we contributing to this discussion in a negative way, and thus to skewing this perception negatively? And if we personally aren't, are we allowing others to speak for us thinking as long as we're not personally doing it, it's not our problem?

Having open, non-retaliatory discussions with those who hold negative perceptions of Aikido provides valuable insight as to what their true issue is, regardless if we agree with those perceptions. I found that once I detangled myself from the art in my conversation partner's mind, formed a meaningful connection with them, rather than wanting to attack me AND the art, they were more likely to give measured responses because they didn't have to resort to personal jabs, therefore getting to the true heart of what they mean when they say "Aikido is fake." They were also more open to understanding Aikido rather than just dismissing it on the whole.

Likewise, how we engage with our fellow practitioners molds a perception of how we treat other people.

This information can then be used to shape how we want to approach marketing Aikido in the future. Is it the right one? I don't have the answer (at least, not without doing large scale testing), but I'd just like to give some food for thought.


  1. Thank you for doing all this research! It's very helpful as I work on marketing my dojo.

    1. Thank you for reading! If I can help even a little, I'm happy!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. As a University professor in natural science, this is great to read, and it makes my argument cells itch at the same time!

    1. I have so many questions about how I'm interpreting the results so I'm hugely curious about what you make of these studies!

  3. I teach statistical analysis among other things ( even if it's not my main subject). Basically these types of studies should be analysed with great care and subject to critical thinking. The sample size and bias are both really important of course, so is the cohort groups or what other hidden connections exists that might matter. I'm sure you are aware of these things.
    Finally, for a subject like aikido, a deeper appreciation of what unites practitioners rather than separates them, why aikido is interesting or perhaps reframed as: what separates aikido from other activities of sports.
    It might be my own bias, but I wrote elsewhere something like the following:
    The notion that martial efficiency is important or whether it "works" kind of misses the point sometimes... it's not that it's important (or unimportant) that "it" works against MMA or what have you, it's that the training,....the training itself, work relentlessly at polishing those techniques... finding the openings... closing them... grinding down ones own imperfections,
    it's that process that gives the rewards... that promises to give the rewards. Without this at its core, we soon end up becoming the mcdojo of TKD at every strip mall, without history, depth or connection to the 道 , but definately promise and delivers fun and quick results. Especially for kids.

    1. I want to continue with the obvious fact that the "why do you train aikido?" vary so much for the single individual before first class, after 1 year, 10 years, and 30 years. So depending on what one wants to achieve with training, teaching, or ad campaigns, these things have to be taken into account as well as just bringing people in the door.
      I will say this however, a dojo where there is a nice influx of new people and nice numbers on the mat will also feed into it's own success. Without this "social energy " or positive dojo vibe that comes with the sheer number of people, it doesn't matter however serious one is about ones own training being budo or not. But with the numbers, there will be opportunities for precisely the type of training the suits the serious budoka as well.
      Not sure my comment made any sense. Nevertheless, well done!

    2. ok, one final thought...
      Commercial interest (being s professional, living off the dojo) versus not having to worry about paying rent for facility (garage dojo?) or paycheck generated by students (comes from other profession) will factor in when making the necessary decisions.

    3. <3 Thank you so much for taking the time to respond! I absolutely agree with everything you're saying (and funny enough I'm still reading through more research papers--and one of them said exactly what you did, that cultural aspects for Aikido/Hapkido practitioners was ranked higher as a motivator than those practicing Karate/Judo/TKD.) ...maybe be prepared for an onslaught of questions from Adam soon? He's going through his PhD for something related to data analytics (I think specifically for higher ed, not really sure, I try not to listen...)

    4. Also, I'm so used to Facebook and Instagram that I kept looking for the darn like button....

  4. I'm glad the wordy comments were appreciated. I'm used to onslaughts of questions from students, so that's fine.

  5. Thank you for all the hard work Josephine. I also run my own dojo and have a large kids program with a hundred families involved. I am about to launch a survey for my student's parents to understand how they make their decisions and how they decide to put their kids in our aikido program. I would be happy to share my findings with you. I am also curious if you have some questions that you feel are essential for such a survey. I look forward to hearing back from you.

  6. Thank you for all the hard work Josephine. I also run my own dojo and have a large kids program with a hundred families involved. I am about to launch a survey for my student's parents to understand how they make their decisions and how they decide to put their kids in our aikido program. I would be happy to share my findings with you. I am also curious if you have some questions that you feel are essential for such a survey. I look forward to hearing back from you.


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