Sunday, January 31, 2016
Why I Love Aikido
I love Aikido. I mean I REALLY love it.
Many of you who know me well know that it is a big part of my martial arts background. I studied Aikikai in 1987, Takeda-Ryu Aiki-Jujitsu from 1994-1997 and Yoshinkan from 2005-2010 in both Tokyo and Singapore. This blog started in 2005 and the first few years of posts are dedicated exclusively to Aikido topics.
With my current focus being the learning and teaching of Southeast Asian martial arts, specifically Kali Majapahit, it would be easy to think I had "moved on" from Aikido. Nothing could be further from the truth. I recently spoke for hours with a close friend who started his Aikido journey and have recommended Aikido training to many people before, including my son, and would still do so. The other day someone asked me WHY? Given that the Southeast Asian martial arts I do and Aikido are so very different, why would I still be interested in Aikido?
Aikido works because of body mechanics. Good Aikidoka are very concerned with control of the opponents' structure, and the techniques of Aikido operate on the structure and balance from touch points located on the wrist, arm, shoulder and head. Without the principles of Aikido, I must resort to percussion to disrupt the attacker. Aikido allows me to move the other person without (necessarily) striking them. It is important to consider the detailed body mechanics of every technique in order to uncover the learning objective for each one. Every technique offers a different scenario, a different relationship between the participants, and highlights a different principle. The concepts of Aikido remain at the heart of everything I do.
Aikido begins and ends with connection. From the initial entry (called IRIMI) to the final control (OSAE), we establish and maintain a connection to the other person. "Connectedness" is one of the most important principles in Aikido and one I try to use every single day of my life. As the level of skill increases, the immediacy of the connection increases, until we reach a state of constant connectedness with those around us. Done well, you do not do Aikido TO someone, you do Aikido WITH someone. This idea is worth thinking about.
Footwork is essential in Aikido. At the beginning, the steps are slow and clumsy. later, after practice, we become able to move with grace and speed. My current study of social dance is only possible due to my years of aikido training, and the movements of waltz, tango, etc. are far easier for me to absorb because of my Aikido training.
Hips, Elbows, Knees
The first half of power generation in Aikido comes from understanding the application of hips, elbows and knees to deliver body weight through the opponent. My teacher would often refer to Aikido as "all your power, all your force, on a single point, at a single time." Delivery of that power and force is done principally via the hips, elbows and knees.
Energy and Breathing
The other half of power generation in Aikido comes from energy and breathing. Energy derives from proper posture and proper breathing, both of which are topics of study in good Aikido dojo.
I have often relied on the focus I get from good posture and breathing not just for martial arts techniques, but also for concentration, stress management and other situations. For those who cannot sit Zazen, Aikido is a next-best option.
Ukemi, or breakfalls, are a part of nearly every Aikido class. There is some controversy as to the effectiveness of slapping the mats (which Aikido people regularly do), but no doubt as to the usefulness of knowing how to fall without fear or injury. Breakfalls should be taught to everyone, regardless of their martial arts preference, since these techniques can literally save your life. I have used breakfalls when falling down on ice and even when tossed from a motorcycle. In every case I have been able to protect my head and avoid serious injury. This alone is worth studying Aikido.
Honestly, I do not consider Aikido as a fighting art. This does not mean it can't be used in a fighting situation, or that it has no merit in self-defense. Rather, I think the principles and concepts are some of the most valuable of any martial arts training. I do suggest, however, that Aikido, especially as it is taught in modern times, is not mainly for fighting.
I like the fact that Aikido is a non-lethal art. Many "tactical" fighting systems and MMA schools emphasize striking, kicking and choking, and this can often result in extreme injury or death to the victim. This often results in excessive-force related legal problems for the martial artist. The use of deadly force is no trivial matter in modern society, and it is often far better to err on the side of caution. Most confrontations are not life-threatening, and can be diffused with a simple Aikido technique that disrupts the attackers' aggressive intent without causing permanent damage. This is always the preferable outcome.
It is also the reason that I like Aikido for children. No parent wants a call from school saying that their child has smashed another kid's face, broken their neck, or stabbed them in the eye socket with a pencil (thanks for the image, Frank!). I spent several years reverse-engineering Aikido techniques to make them a bit more street-capable (which is how they look in my Kali flow), but it is still a very safe art for children to learn.
If I could live my life all over again, I would still be a martial artist. I would still have studied Aikido, perhaps started earlier and trained longer. To me, it is an essential body of knowledge for anyone that wants a well-rounded martial arts perspective. I encourage everyone to study it. Please let me know if you need help finding a good school.
I am forever grateful to Sensei Rosen, Sensei Roland, Sensei Mike, Sensei Saori, Sensei Ramlan, Sensei Mark, Shihan Joe and all the others that have made the Aikido Way such a fantastic journey for me. A large part of my martial way is thanks to your patient, careful instruction. Thank you for your inspiration.