Most of us know Steven Seagal as an Aikido
master, turned movie star. Despite loosing his strong stand in Hollywood, he is still
loved by many. Yet when you look at his life more closely, many plot holes start to pop
out. Being a controversial figure as he is – one can only stop and wonder – what
was the influence of Seagal to martial arts and his primary art – Aikido? To better
understand the answer, we will have to look at some details that are often left unmentioned.
There are loads of caricaturist montages about Seagal. One could argue, that a caricature
could be made about anyone. Yet it is also said that there is 60% of truth in every joke,
which means that every caricature is actually inspired by something. That seems to be true
about Seagal when you look at the details of his past.
It turns out that Seagal has a strong reputation in Hollywood as a pathological liar. There
are many stories about his distorting of truth. One of the more commonly known: his claim
to have been an operative in CIA and also a member of the NAVY SEAL. In 1988, he told
Los Angeles Times: “”You can say that I became an adviser to several CIA agents in
the field, and. through my friends in the CIA, met many powerful people and did special
works and special favors.” Yet it was stated by many of those associated
with the CIA, that this claim is absurd. As one of the examples, in a story told by Gary
Goldman, an ex-mercenary and former business partner of Steven Seagal, while they were
together on a trip, he realized that Seagal had no clue how to even use a map or a compass.
In his letter to Times magazine he wrote that Seagal: “would surely die of starvation
if he was given a compass and a map that led to a restaurant five miles away.”
A story like this really puts some doubt about the possibility of Seagal ever being a CIA
operative or a former Navy Seal, even more so with him never giving any proof about it.
Actually, even Steven Seagals Aikido background story has been caught being suspicious. Based
on “Peoples” article published in 1990, during various interviews Seagal indicated
that it was anywhere from 1968 to 1973 that he went to Japan. According to enrollment
records at Fullerton College, he attended classes from the fall of 1970 and left after
the fall of 1971, putting him at age 19 before he could have departed for a long stay in
Japan. Of course, it could have been a mix of dates in Seagal’s memory, but what these
dates contradict with, is that Steven was also claiming that he studied with Morichei
Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. This was not only denied by one of Ueshiba’s Western
students, Terry Dobson, who stayed with the founder during that time, but Morihei also
passed away in 1969, during the time when Seagal was recorded to be still in College
in the States, making his claims even more so ridiculous.
One element that is often used to fortify Seagal’s image as a ‘great’ martial
artists, is the often proclaimed statement, that he was the first non-asian person to
open a Dojo in Japan. Based on ‘Peoples’ investigation, it turns out that the Dojo
that he was teaching in Japan, belonged to his former wife’s, Miyako Fujitani’s,
father. Looking at all these claims and contradictions, Seagals role as a martial artist and an Aikidoka
become really peculiar. Seagal had been into other series of trouble
as well. To begin with, he had a series of law suits for sexual harassment and there
are many recorded stories of different women sharing how awful and sexually inappropriately
Seagal was acting with them. Up until now, Seagal has had three law suits for sexual
harassment, spamming from 1995 to 2013. He has also been reported acting unethically
and violently in the filming set, most notably when he intentionally punched actor John Leguizamo
during a rehearsal, when John laughed from Seagals statement: “I’m in command, what
I say is law, anyone not agree?”. There had been numerous other troubling events
that were recorded about Seagal in various situations, yet these alone mentioned before,
are already enough to create a big sense of doubts about his personality and credibility.
One could argue, that maybe some of these stories are not true, that maybe it is just
what happens to actors in Hollywood, with lots of gossiping. Yet then why so much trouble
with Seagal in particular? With so many of these stories and recorded facts, for all
of them to be out of thin air, it becomes hard to believe. Yet trying to prove if it
is true or not, is not our main goal. It is now time to come back to our original question.
Without doubt, Seagal has been an important figure in the development and popularization
of martial arts in the West. Popular culture always had a strong influence on people’s
interests. With Seagals fame rising, rose also the fame of martial arts and Aikido even
more so. Many came trying martial arts after seeing his movies. Yet what image has he presented
about Aikido and martial arts in general? Most martial arts masters who have demonstrated
incredible feet’s, even after turning famous proclaimed self-development and good example
as of utmost importance in martial arts. Up to this day we still look up to the founder
of Jeet-Kun-Do and famous actor Bruce Lee, who would go about saying: “To me, the function
and duty of a quality human being is the sincere and honest development of one’s potential.”
Many other great martial artists would promote good character and example as well [collection
of quotes]. Yet looking at Steven Seagals actions, it alsmost seems that he was acting
the opposite, showing a terrible example of how a true martial artist should be.
What is even worse, is that many still associate Seagal as a representation of Aikido. Yet
the founder of Aikido constantly emphasized that a true martial art should be a means
of creating good individuals. He would often say that: “The goal of Aikido is to reconcile
the world”. Yet did Seagal represent this at all?
Steven Seagals movies not only lacked completely mentioning the philosophy of Aikido, but to
make it worse, in his movies, he would always go about injuring and utterly destroying his
opponents. With the excuse of them being bad guys, he would sometimes be hurting them beyond
common sense. Some could say that Seagal was just playing his role as an actor, but even
then, an actor always has a choice at what movies to start. Although, his support of
violence, which contradicts the essence of Aikido, does not end there.
Even in his life, he is proud to this day of having a close connection to Russia’s
president Vladimir Putin and expressing personal support to the annexation of Crimea. We all
have a choice to whom we connect ourselves with, but here we speak of supporting a leader
with a very controversial situation and worse so, a military war strategy, which has the
outcome of violence and loss of lives. Could that ever be called a representation of Aikido?
It is clear that no human is perfect, but the more we expose ourselves to the general
public, the more conscious we should become that our actions do matter and that others
will potentially take us as an example for what we stand for. When this leads to a strong
impact, we have to be very conscious of what we do, in order to show a good example, not
only for ourselves, but also for what we represent. Seagals movies has brought a lot of attention
and flow to martial arts, yet for what cost? Even these days there are still people who
would come to various Dojo’s wanting to be the next Steven Seagal. But is that what
we really want people to think of martial arts? Is that how we want a true martial artist
to be represented and thought of? A person of pathological lying, sexual harassment,
one using force without sense? Worse so, many people when being asked if
they know Aikido, often connect it to Steven Seagal, as a representation of what it is.
Yet it is so far from what Aikido really stands for, that despite all the attention that it
brought, it only makes one wonder if there was more gain then actual harm, to peoples
ability to understand what Aikido is truly about.
So I ask again to look back at what we might have taken for granted. Steaven Seagal is
for many a representation of a martial arts, and specially that of Aikido. But is that
really a representation that we want to have? Do we really want to take Seagal an example
and support him in that? Or should we rather take him as an example of what a martial artist
shouldn’t be? The more we will be aware of the true situation, the easier it will
be for many to understand how it truly is. Martial arts should not be vehicle for misconduct.
It should be a vehicle for self-development and the bringing of the best of ourselves,
not only in fights, but even more importantly, into our daily life. But as long as we will
accept terrible examples as a representation of it, we will probably never get very far.
Let’s become clear on what is what and start cleaning the harm by supporting those, who
show a true example and doing our best to living a good example ourselves.
What do you think a true martial artist should be? Do You think Steven Seagal is a good example?
Join the discussion bellow in the comments in searching for what true martial art. Also
subscribe, if you like the video, to further explore these topics together. This is Sensei
Rokas and see you on the virtual mat again soon!