Aikido in The Walking Dead

Aikido in The Walking Dead

Aikido Among the Zombies in Episode 4, Season 6, of the TV-series

Aikido is prominent in the season 6 episode 4 of The Walking Dead, which was released on November 1st, 2015. The same day I had a significant increase of visitors to this aikido website, but it took me a while to figure out why.

Here's Not Here

The title of the Walking Dead episode is Here's Not Here, which certainly has a the ring of a Zen koan to it. The more accurate Zen saying would be something like There's Only Here, since Zen is very much about living in the moment — but close enough. As a koan, the thought provoking riddles used in Zen teaching, it definitely qualifies.

       In the episode, Morgan, who is one of the lead characters of the TV-series, reluctantly befriends the loner Eastman, who practices aikido both physcially and as a pacifist principle for how to live. Eastman takes on Morgan as kind of an aikido disciple.

The Art of Peace in The Walking Dead.

       The bible of sorts that Eastman refers to and wants Morgan to read is a mini sized pocket book version of The Art of Peace, with sayings of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, translated by John Stevens. Click the title to see the book at Amazon. I would also most definitely recommend that reading.

       As for the aikido action, there are just a few glimpses of it. Evidently, the actors did not practice very much before the filming, but the general idea of aikido comes across, although in a rudimentary way. At least, Eastman uses taisabaki, the evasive step fundamental in all aikido.

Aikido taisabaki in The Walking Dead.

       To the disappointment of any aikidoka, there are no really clear examples of actual aikido techniques, which would have been fun. There's a throw that seems more like shoving, and a takedown that comes close to stumbling. There's also a pinning, which might be decent but it is shown in angles that only allow for guesses.

Sticks in the aikido scenes of The Walking Dead.

       Mainly, Eastman and Morgan use sticks that have the approximate dimensions of a jo, but the way they swing them don't have much resemblance with the jodo and aikijo I have come across. It looks more like what is done in Robin Hood movies.

       Except for the gentle bows they start and finish with. That's a nice budo ingredient to keep.

Bowing in the aikido scenes of The Walking Dead.

       The jo is practiced in most aikido dojos, though differently from what is seen in the Walking Dead episode. But also, the jo practice is far from as dominant in aikido as seems to be the case in the Walking Dead version.

       On the other hand, when dealing with zombies it might be better to do it with a stick instead of one's bare hands. Even that is gross. As the saying goes: "I would not touch it with a ten foot pole".

Here is an example of what jo movements in aikido often look like. It is the 31 step kata, although I have allowed myself to do it in four directions instead of the usual two.

Bo Not Jo

Of course, the jo is far from ten feet, but a mere 4.2 feet (1.27 meters), with small variations. One of the longest of the Japanese weapons is the naginata, which can be twice the size of the jo, i.e. eight feet. That comes close to the saying about the pole. I believe that in history, there have been naginata both reaching and exceeding the length of that pole. But the naginata is also equipped with a steel blade at the top of it.

       That goes for yari, the spear, as well. Some are no more than three feet, but the very longest ones reach as much as 20 feet (thanks to Altan Shuki Uludag for reminding me in a Facebook comment below).

       Somewhere between the lengths of the above mentioned poles is the bo, the older big brother of the jo. Normally, the bo is six feet, but there are those up to nine. The latter would be very difficult to handle swiftly.

       The jo was invented by the samurai Gonnosuke in the 17th century. He used a bo when he met Miyamoto Musashi, the most famous of all samurais, in a practice duel. Musashi won easily. Then Gonnosuke got the idea of shortening his bo to a length compromising between reach and speed. That was the jo. In their next duel, Gonnosuke did not lose. If he won is a matter of opinion. Musashi had it that they were even.

       The jo is actually still in use with the Japanese police.

Here is an example of traditional jodo, where the jo is used as a defense against sword attacks. In training, a wooden sword (bokken) is used instead of a real one, for obvious reasons.

       The bo is not practiced in aikido — at least not in widespread use — but quite often in karatedo. And it hit me (after far too long) that the staff movements showed in The Walking Dead are quite similar to what I have seen from bo practice in karatedo. So, that's surely where the inspiration comes from.

       In other words, the staff movements in The Walking Dead are quite authentic, but for bo instead of jo. I haven't followed the TV series, but I bet that other scenes with Morgan swinging his staff will confirm that they show karatedo bo style techniques. And as far as I understand, they do so quite authentically.

Here is a karatedo instructor teaching his class a bo kata (a set pattern of movements).

       The fight coordinator of this episode of The Walking Dead is Steven Ho, who has worked as a stuntman, stunt coordinator and fight coordinator on a lot of movies and TV series. Click his name to read about him on IMDB. He has a background in karatedo, with several championship medals. Lennie James, the actor playing Morgan, has learned his stick fighting from Steven Ho.

Spoiler Alert

What irritates me the most with the aikido bits in this episode of The Walking Dead is how Eastman fatally fumbles at a moment of crisis, where he takes the trouble to push his friend away instead of simply striking that zombie.

Clumsy aikido in The Walking Dead.

       But that's so typical for Hollywood. They need a crisis and use some sloppy scriptwriting to induce it — in this case maybe also the fight scene instructor was kind of lazy?

Stefan Stenudd
November 3, 2015

My Aikido Books

Click the images to see the books at Amazon (paid link).
Aikido Principles. Book by Stefan Stenudd. Aikido Principles
Basic Concepts of the Peaceful Martial Art. The basic principles, philosophy and traditional budo concepts in aikido.
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Attacks in Aikido, by Stefan Stenudd. Attacks in Aikido
How to do kogeki, the attack techniques. All the attack techniques in aikido explained, and how to do them correctly.
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Aikibatto, by Stefan Stenudd. Aikibatto
Aikiken Sword Exercises for Aikido. The aikibatto exercises, practical and spiritual aspects of the sword arts, advice on equipment for training.
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Stefan Stenudd

Stefan Stenudd

About me
I'm a Swedish author of fiction and non-fiction books in both English and Swedish. I'm also an artist, a historian of ideas, and a 7 dan Aikikai Shihan aikido instructor. Click the header to read my full bio.