The Why of Aikido

Aikido

I’ve been taking aikido classes for a few years now, and one of the things that interests me is how people respond to this.

“Oh, what’s that?”

“Is that like judo?”

“I used to do karate.”

What people never, ever ask me is why I go. Perhaps they make assumptions about learning self defence or keeping fit, or assume that I just enjoy it (sometimes I do love it, and sometimes I struggle with it). Or maybe they don’t ask the question because their exposure to martial arts is limited and they’re worried they won’t understand the answer. Or maybe they think it looks cool and people generally like to look cool.

So today’s post is about what I get from the mat, for anyone who is curious or toying with the idea of trying it out.

Patience. When I went for my first lessons I went home and cried afterwards. Not because people were being mean to me, or because I was taking a beating. Just out of pure frustration; aikido is subtle, multi-layered, and can’t be mastered in a hurry. In aikido, there are no short cuts, and most people develop in bursts between (sometimes agonising) periods of incomprehension. You’ll be patient, or you’ll give up. Aikido is a very good exercise in Not Giving Up.

Posture. As time goes by, I wear the deepening imprint of my teachers’ words. “Sink. Settle. Relax. Be soft. Be ready. Keep your energy in your centre.”  Somebody who recently came to watch a tai chi class observed that sinking is the opposite of conventional wisdom. “We’re supposed to stand up tall with our shoulders back and our head up, right?” Right; and aligned posture is a good thing. However, it’s pretty damn easy to knock someone off balance physically or emotionally when their energy is up in their shoulders and their head. I frequently marvel at how different I feel making the drinks or going up and down stairs at work now, compared to five years ago. Posture affects everything. It matters.

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Leading and blending. The philosophy of aikido is to seek a win-win; take what you’re given, add to it and direct it. This is a philosophy, as well as a way of dealing with a physical attack. Aikido is a mindset.

Fear. I was afraid to try. I’d had numerous bad experiences at school where language, conventions and subject matter were foreign to me and sporting prowess was king (I am not sporty). I’d been made to feel small for a long time so taking part in activity that involves a fair amount of Japanese, where most of the class are high grades and men, strangers, and bigger than me and where there is a realistic possibility that I might get hurt was very, very unattractive. But my rule is, if it scares me, I have to find a way to do it. I won’t let my worst enemy live between my ears. And as it turns out, I am a perfectly adequate human being, capable of learning a martial art and getting along with people. Hooray!

Dealing with threat. The first rule of aikido is Stay Safe, which begins with awareness and observation. If trouble comes your way, don’t be there. If you have to be there, time on the mat helps to practise the possibilities available to you. Practising techniques trains my brain to watch what is happening and move my body in response, rather than freezing like a rabbit in the headlights. Providing I can remember what I’m doing, of course 😉

Finding out what I am, and learning how I learn. Don’t talk to me in degrees and angles. Give me images of hosepipes, turntables, little birds, roller coasters, glasses of milk and crocodiles and I’m there. I’m understanding the architecture and traits of my body, movement and reactions. I am training both sides of my body and brain. As a dinky person, some techniques seem practically useless to me, yet others bring a 6’4″ hulk of a man to his knees so fast, you’re left wondering what happened (and so is he). Know what you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

Aikido is beautiful. Go and see for yourself.

Friendship. I went to aikido for mental discipline and self defence. There I found the most eclectic, lively and warm group of people there from all walks of life, with different religions, occupations and demeanours. Class kicks the winter blues in the butt, learning and laughing and getting things wrong together. Which leads me on to…

Love, and I’ve never been happier. Now, I’m not saying you can be assured of romantic attachment with an aikido club, but you never can tell… 🙂

So if there’s a bit of you that thinks “Hmmm, maybe that would be fun”, you owe it to yourself to find out if you like it. And of course, be patient…