Aikido is a self defence art developed in Japan in the early twentieth century, but has roots which go back to the samurai era. While remaining true to its roots, the art has been developed into an activity suitable for the twenty-first century and modern life.
Aikido practice has three main components:
- Exercises to maintain health and flexibility
- Meditation and breathing practice
- Self defence techniques
You may be wondering how a martial art can involve harmony. If someone attacks you, how can you avoid fighting back without giving in to the attacker? A major principle of Aikido is that it is better to lead an attacker in such a way that their attack fails, rather than trying to beat them at their own game by fighting back. In order to do this, you must understand how to lead the mind of the attacker, not just their body. This involves an understanding of the concept of ‘ki’.
Ki is a Japanese term which can be translated into English in many ways. Often, it is use to mean something like ‘spirit’ or ‘energy’. However neither of these translations is very useful. In Aikido, ki is used to mean the subconscious intention of the attacker. For example, when you walk you do, not consciously control the many muscles involved in moving your arm and legs and maintaining your balance – this is all done subconsciously. Similarly, when someone attacks you their movements are controlled at a subconscious level and it is this which you have to control to prevent their attack. These ideas may seem very strange or even unbelievable, and you have to be prepared to test them out for yourself.
Since in Aikido we aim to lead the attackers mind, the art is very suitable for women as well as men, since it does not depend on having a superior physical strength to the attacker. There is no point in trying to physically subdue someone who is stronger than you are! But your mind can be stronger than that of a much bigger antagonist.
What happens in an Aikido class? This will vary, depending partly on the ability and experience of the students. However, no student is asked to do anything which they do not wish to do. Typically, the class will begin with some gentle exercises to promote and maintain good posture and flexibility. Don’t worry if you are not very flexible – as you practice your flexibility will gradually increase. Stretching exercises may be carried out to reduce the chance of injury during the more active parts of the class. Exercises to develop your understanding of ki and how it is applied in Aikido techniques may follow.
I believe that students who practice an art such as Aikido for many years, and yet who are never attacked, must gain some other benefit as a result. It is not just an insurance, there if you need it but wasted if it is never used. Perhaps the major benefit stems from the fact that attacks are not just physical – they can be verbal or psychological as well. The philosophical side of Aikido develops your ability to deal with these non-physical’ attacks which are more usually known as stress. This, in fact, is more common than a physical attack. In Aikido you will learn to deal with stressful situations in a way which does not involve confrontation (fighting back), taking it out on others (bullying) or simply giving in, which may result in mental illness. Either way, there are many aspects of this art that benefit each of its students and provide a rewarding pastime or hobby.