I practice Aikido as much as I can. I have done it almost for two years now, on and off.
Aikido is a modern (1930s) japanese martial art created by Morihei Ueshiba. He was a small man that learned most of traditional Japanese martial arts and handled weapons (sword and spear). He was a deeply spiritual man and had a very interesting life, one of the last grand masters in martial arts. You can watch him in a 1935 film performing here or watch this video when he is older.
Today, there are many workout options to keep your body healthy, lean, flexible. Yoga, Pilates, Karate, Tae-Bo, etc.,etc. In addition there are several meditation and breathing techniques to keep the mind healthy: Buddhist or Vipassana, Transcendental meditation, even meditation in motion like Tai Chi, etc.
How can you choose the right one for you? Naturally, I don’t think that one is better than the other, they all have merits and it is way better to do any of them than to watch TV. But you have to find the one that best suits you, and usually that means the activity you can sustain over time. After more than 12 years of trying out and actively practicing many of those disciplines I have settled on Aikido as my main practice for mind and body.
Let me give you 5 reasons:
1) Timeless: Aikido can be practiced from the age of 6 until very old age, if you do it continously. An injury takes a lot of time to recover after you are 40 and sometimes you don’t recover at all. If Aikido is practiced correctly, it is very hard to have injuries and if you are a good aikidoist, it is very hard to get injured doing any other sport due to enhanced sensibility and suppleness.
2) Non-competitive and Non-confrontative: There is no competition in Aikido. No tournaments, no points, no separation of levels, no fighting. Learning to compete and fight between each other is already a full time job for almost everybody in the business world and the world in general. Training yourself NOT to fight and NOT to compete as a response to the world pressures is a relief and if you do practice a lot this becomes a natural response in life.
3) Dynamic suppleness: Aikido movements are very natural and enhance mobility and flexibility, as well a strength and precision. After training an hour, you feel different about the space around you, the way you walk is more solid and direct. You gain consciousness about your own body and the space around you. It is a very addictive feeling.
4) Skill Learning: Instead of just mindlessly doing spinning or running, the workout of Aikido leaves you with something very valuable: a special skill that is yours and nobody can take away. As an example, in a typical Aikido class you fall and roll 30-50 times, so you really learn how to fall and get up again in an instant unharmed. This is not only a useful skill for doing sports or even walking on the street but think about it symbolically and you’ll see that having confidence in falling is an essential skill for life.
5) Fun and social: I’ve done Karate when I was young (from 12 to 16 years old) and although I felt very close to my training partners, it was an exception to actually practice the moves with them. Punching and Kicking arts can never be practiced intensely between two people, because of the inevitable tear and wear of the body subjected to blows and kicks. The grabbing arts (Judo, Aikido, Jiu Jitsu) can be practiced in pairs without fear of injury and with full force. This creates an engaging atmosphere and it’s just plain fun.
Ki (Chi for the chinese) is the name of the vital energy of the universe and Aikido means “The Way of Harmony with Ki”. It is quite surprising to find the way Ki manifest itself in a very tangible and practical way when you unify mind and body. There are several “tests” you can do to see what this energy can do. But I’ll leave that for a different article in the future. If you want to know more about Ki, then follow the path of Koichi Tohei and I specially like his book: “Ki in daily life“. You can watch him practice Ki exercises and Aikido in these 5 videos. Notice de quality of his movements.
Is Aikido perfect? Far from it. You need a bunch of other people that want to practice Aikido to even start to train so the chances of doing it in a small town are slim. You have to go to the dojo at the right times, this is not a gym that you show up whenever you want to. Also, the quality of the people practicing is as important as the quality of the master because, most of the time, they are your hands-on teachers.
In Buenos Aires I have trained with three masters, Kurata , Corbal and Jiterman and all of them are great teachers with very big differences in approach and method. Even though many aikidoists become quite fanatic to defend their own special style of Aikido, there are a lot more coincidences than differences. Aikido is Aikido.
Whatever you do, do not sit all day in chair! That is a recipe for disaster.