Week 16: Aikido [Part One]

This week’s review is slightly different to normal as it’s something I’ve been doing consistently for the past couple of months. I didn’t feel ready to write about it after the first session – I’m barely scratching the surface even now, but thought it was about the right time to write about my experience so far. There will be a Part Two at some point in the future!

My friend Toral has been practicing Aikido (a Japanese martial art) for the past few years, and clearly gets a lot from it, in life as well as practice. Back at the beginning of the year, her dojo was running a beginners’ evening, so I went along to find out what it was all about.

What They Say:

There’s no Big Sell from Aikido, and I found it quite difficult to find much out from a google search. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:

Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. Aikido is often translated as “the way of unifying (with) life energy or as “the way of harmonious spirit”. Ueshiba’s goal was to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.

Any the wiser? Nope. I decided to just turn up and see what happened.

My Experience:

My experience of martial arts is minimal; back in my early twenties I did Taekwondo for a couple of years, but all I really remember from that is how to count to ten in Korean.

I had gathered that Aikido was a somewhat ‘gentler’ martial art than most, but I really had no idea what to expect. In hindsight, that was probably a good thing and fits pretty well with Aikido’s key principles.

The first session blew me away… not physically, you don’t get a sweat on in Aikido, but from a mind & body sense.

As we entered the dojo (a room floored with soft matting) we were told to take our shoes off before stepping on the mat and to start with there was some ceremonial clapping and bowing which didn’t make a lot of sense at the time, but has since been explained.

Adam (our “sensei” or teacher) told us a bit about the history of Aikido and its core principles. There is no black and white description, but the aim of Aikido is certainly not to smash the shit out of your opponent! It’s more to do with resolving conflict and improving yourself (mind and body) through practice.

So the bit that initially blew my mind was a visualisation technique for the ‘unbendable arm’. We were instructed to hold one arm at a right angle by our side while another person tried to bend it. It took lots of force on both sides… think arm wrestle. Then we were given a visualisation technique (which I won’t try to fully explain, but it involved flowing water) and performed the same exercise.

It. Was. Astounding.

Whereas, previously, I’d been resisting with all my might, this time I felt serene and relaxed as I watched on at my opponent struggling to bend my arm. Whaaaaaaaat?! This simple technique is all about tapping into your “ki” or energy, one of the fundamental principles of Aikido.

Every movement in Aikido involves an attacker and a defender, working in pre-arranged forms (rather than freestyle). Essentially, the defender channels both parties’ ki to resolve the attack.

Aikido is as philosophical as it is physical and, as well as learning the moves, it’s equally important to apply the five core values. They are:

CURIOSITY  –  RESPECT  –  HONESTY  –  GRATITUDE  –  GENEROSITY

All else aside, I think these are pretty great values for life, and that’s kind of the point…. everything you do in practice can be applied when it comes to real life. Curiosity is the one that really jumps out to me in terms of learning. If you demonstrate curiosity in everything you do, you can’t help but develop.

I’ve been going on a weekly basis for the past couple of months and we’ve learnt quite a few of the pre-arranged moves and revisited some several times. As I said at the start, I have barely scratched the surface, but have found Aikido to be a very calming addition to my usual exercise regime. Practicing its values in class really does help to apply them in real life too. For example, let’s say your boss gives you an unfair bollocking – taking a moment to think about why they are attacking you (curiosity), considering whether there is actually some merit behind their complaint (honesty) and not immediately reacting with an inflammatory response (respect) could make the situation resolve itself a lot faster and more amicably for both parties.

This probably all sounds quite serious, but it is FUN too. Some of the moves involve things like roly-polys – it’s actually quite important to learn how to roll safely – which propel me back to childhood! The class is small – there are normally 4 or 5 of us of different levels (me being the least experienced). There is a lot of tradition and etiquette, but Adam is teaching us this slowly over time. The classes are often full of laughter, and you can openly ask “but why?” if something doesn’t make sense… curiosity is always welcome!

In Summary

Aikido is a welcome addition to my regime. Part physical, part philosophical, I take something new away from every session. It won’t get you ripped, but it will make you body aware and, more than that, will give you a more balanced and positive approach to life. Pretty cool for a session a week!

Where: Central London Aikido, Vauxhall

Cost:  £10 per session

How to book: email aikidolifebalance@gmail.com


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