On my better days I steal a glance in the mirror. I generally see a scalp that -could- make a claim for grey hairs still being a minority; teeth slowly losing a war of attrition with Diet Coke, a mono-brow that routinely sprouts no matter how well policed. Whilst I don’t have the body of Adonis, I am at my ideal weight. Since I didn’t have the commitment to start jogging, I needed another activity to ensure my body remained roughly in shape. To this end, for the past year I’ve practised Aikido 2-3x per week.
Many people’s primary contact with Aikido would be portly ninja Steven Seagal’s magnus opus Under Siege; and a fine Die Hard imitation it may be – but is this necessarily the best ambassador for the art? For the uninitiated, Aikido is relatively unique in that it doesn’t focus on teaching punches or kicks (a boon really, I think my high-kicking days are a bleary & ever more misty memory) though that’s not to suggest Aikido is in some way a concession for those unable to split kick an apple off a giraffe’s head…
Aikido places the emphasis on locks, pins & throws. Or, were we to analyse the system more philosophically, the emphasis is on a spirit of cooperation. The uke (translated as receiving body) initiates an attack & the shite (…Japanese pronunciation differs from Glaswegian pronunciation… shh-tay) will counter the attack. The shite will use the momentum of the uke’s attack & redirect it to neutralise & gain a position of control over their attacker. The attacker will move with the shite with minimal resistance to complete the technique. In this respect Aikido could be equated with choreographed dance; albeit a form of dance where the underlying intent is to disable / contort the body in ways you’d never usually want.
Some observers claim there’s a “magic” in Aikido – that certain offensive movements can be countered or redirected so succinctly & with such economy of motion. When practiced correctly, the allusion to some sleight of hand is unfair & undermines the accomplished Aikido practitioners’ training & understanding of body physics. There’s a fundamental reason why momentum can be redirected in so many different ways;
One of Aikido’s fundamental challenges is learning to utilise your own body so that strength is no longer a consideration. I’m 5’10” & weigh less than 12 stone; I am in no way physically imposing to anyone besides 4 year old kids who, I hope, I’m unlikely to be caught up in a fight with. Given my physical limitations, using strength to resolve a conflict is only going to work on the 3% of the male population weaker than I am.
That said, with many Martial Arts there’s a degree of machismo that appeals to men grasping for some vestige of a hunter/gatherer mind-set that modern society –amenities, comfort, processed foods- has neutered. The idea of strength being redundant in self-defence can be difficult to grasp. If I could make an anecdotal observation, I wonder if this might make the art more accessible to women. Whilst there’s not quite a gender parity at our dojo; the balance between men & women is more evenly distributed compared with other clubs… Possibly down to Aikido’s emphasis on co-operation and, as discussed, outright strength & speed not being the primary concern.
Frankly, Aikido is a fascinating way to spend a few hours each week and, unlike jogging, it isn’t at all mentally numbing after two minutes. I hate jogging.
The author trains at Shobukai Dojo Preston, open 5 nights a week with classes for mixed adults, women only & children. The dojo is currently offering a month taster of free training – quote Podio.
Contact: 01772 561352 or via their website