I love Aikido. I really do. I often feel like it’s a classic bad romance though since I love Aikido but I also really struggle with it. Sometimes I’m not so sure it loves me back! I’ve been a student at the Aiki Budo Centre (ABC) of London for about 5 years now, though I’ve had two 1 year leaves for travel to Australia and New Zealand where I dabbled with other forms of Aikido. I recommend Aikido to all of my friends who want to try a martial art.
I also train with the Western Aikido Club on the university campus. (Both ABC and WAC practice the Yoshikan style of Aikido. There’s a quick run down on the different styles of Aikido here.)
I began Aikido when my children were younger and it was the one activity that attracted both sons, the ballet dancer and the now football/rugby player. One liked its grace and beauty and the other liked the more martial aspects. That is, he liked the fighting part! I noticed after about six months of watching the boys and thinking it looked fun that some of the parents stuck around for the adult class and the children stayed in the room and played. Now it’s my 20 year old daughter and me who are students of Aikido. Her brothers have moved on, as teenagers do, but I hope one day they’ll come back.
Some of the things I love:
- Learning to fall. I keep thinking that senior citizens should all take Aikido just for the practice in falling. A few winters ago I hit the ice getting out of my car and went for a wild ride. I was never sure if the techniques I’d learned in Aikido would be useful but I didn’t even think. I just rolled properly and didn’t hurt a thing, pride aside. It was so nice to know that after all that practice my Aikido falling technique had become second nature. And while I’m not usually that taken with the psychological and spiritual aspects of martial arts, there really is something about being knocked down and getting back up again hundreds and hundreds of times that’s very useful in life. (Good for fitness too.)
- The structure, the rhythm, the ritual. I love bowing in and feeling like we are creating a special, sacred place. We create the mood of seriousness and mindful playfulness.
- I love that Aikido is such a gentle martial art. It’s a self defense technique that works by using the energy of one’s attacker and redirecting it. When done right the movement of one’s partner is not forceful, but it can’t be resisted (well, not without a great deal of unnecessary pain.) I’m not convinced I’d execute any of our techniques perfectly, if attacked, but I’m very certain I don’t look like an easy target. I know how to walk with confidence. I can yell pretty loudly in someone’s face and I am pretty sure I’d be able to strike someone and knock them to the ground if need be.
- The diversity of the participants. Aikido is the activity I do with the greatest range of age, size, backgrounds of practitioners. I really enjoy my Aikido companions. A welcome switch from university life….We have to trust one another and we get to know the bodies of each other quite well. I can tell you who has the flexible shoulders, who has stuff knee joints, and who bounces really well when thrown. We lend our bodies to one another to train and that takes a lot of trust. I need to know that if I tap on the mat that my training partner will stop applying the technique. It’s a pretty special community.
- Our teachers are volunteers and they’re wonderful. They give so much to the community and are excellent both at teaching the techniques and as role models. There’s terrific leadership and a real sense that they work as a team.
- Throwing large men around! I confess that I like throwing big men around the dojo. It’s satisfying to know you’ve got a technique right because you can fling someone much stronger and larger around the room. They also make good noises when they land. “Whee! Thump!” we joke though our goal is less thump, and more quiet, soft landings.
What I struggle with:
- Rolling! I’m lousy at rolling and sometimes I hurt myself. I keep trying but it’s not coming easily.
- Where are the women? I wish there were more women on the mats. There are some but only a couple of the black belts are women.
- Kneeling really hurts my knees.
- I had to work very hard to learn how to hit people! If I don’t put enough energy into a technique my training partner can’t learn how to defend himself. If my punch stops a few inches shy of my partner’s face, they aren’t really learning to block.
- Learning the names of techniques in Japanese.
- Testing makes me nervous but I’m getting better about that. I don’t like people watching me but once you’re in the zone and concentrating on the technique you forget that people are there.
It’s my goal during my run up to “fittest at fifty” to test for a new belt at Aikido. I’ll keep you posted!
And if you want to come watch Aikido or give it a try, just send me a note. It’s a lot of fun.