Tag Archives: aikido

Beginner’s Point of View – How’s it going so far? (Blog #6)

I’m coming to the end of the beginner’s blog… I think! Not because I’ve suddenly stopped being a beginner (the journey is long I think) but because I’ve probably covered all the pearls of wisdom stuck in this little head that I’ve experienced so far. Hopefully there are things that have given you enough of an idea how and what to expect when trying Aikido. Hopefully it will have pricked your curiosity to try this martial art. I think it is brilliant and I am hooked but you’ll never know unless you try it.

Personally, I would love to train more frequently but life gets in the way. I manage one day a week at the Komyokan dojo which I am hoping to improve but at the moment it’s all I can schedule with work, family life and other things that must be important!

I admit sometimes it is so easy to just sit at home and think “ah I’ve had a busy day, maybe I’ll give it a miss tonight” but then every time I finish training I’m so glad I turned up.

Do I sometimes ache after training? … Oh yes – in places I didn’t know could ache.

Do I sometimes feel incompetent & an idiot? … oh frequently. Sometime I have long nights of it. 😉

But having a good sensei is so important. Good ones understand you’re a beginner, have the patience to let you develop in your own time and most of all, which I find essential, provide support & constant encouragement. Beginners need to know when they are doing well more frequently than anyone else.

So there you have it… stop reading this and get along to your local Aikido dojo today!

Aikido needs you as much as you need it 😊

Beginner’s Point of View – So many Words (Blog #5)

One of things that I still struggle with, which might very well be my age, is learning the range of terms in Aikido. This is compounded during training by having to then associate them with the things I’m actually doing.

This blog isn’t about providing a whole list of terms for you remember. You can find loads of them on the web but it will hopefully provide you some ideas and tips, that certainly helped me.  Depending on your learn style this may be useful or not 😊.

The first thing you’ll probably experience as a beginner is a very long set of Japanese words every time you get taught a technique. Initially this will be confusing but I can assure you you’re not supposed memorise them off by heart at the start… so don’t worry. However, first tip… there is a structure to the order of the words spoken and generally it goes like this…

Stance , Attack, Technique, Direction

Tip 2: Break it down – don’t try to learn it all at once. As I progress (slowly) I find focusing on part of the total description works better for me. For example, when sensei is demonstrating I’ll try to second guess part the total technique either the stance or the attack or the technique or the direction part only. Then, the next time I will try name two bits …and so on. Slowly building up to naming the full movement during demonstration.

Tip 3: If you have the time, do some homework off the mat. As I’ve said, there is loads of information/videos on “The Google”, plus links for beginners such as here, books you can buy, online flash cards and in this dojo we’re very lucky as sensei has made some cracking videos which certainly helps noobs like me.

Tip 4: Like everything, there is no substitute for determination and repetition. The more you try, and want to try, the better you will become.

Next blog. How’s it going so far?

Beginner’s Point of View – When to use it? (Blog #4)

Ever been in a fight? Not the playground type? A proper one? Highly unlikely for the vast majority of people. The chances of it happening to you are very, very slim. However, if you have, you will know the unpredictable, unstructured, fast nature of one.

So, as a beginner will Aikido, or any martial art for that matter, mean you’re suddenly Bruce Lee’ing your way out… absolutely not. In fact, my personal opinion, it is highly likely to be more detrimental to odds of success than if you flailed about like a demented windmill.

This is not because Aikido isn’t a very capable martial art but it’s you or me, the beginner, we’re not skilled yet. If you have to think about what your going to do or you try to direct the conflict into a direction so as to apply an Aikido move…. then unfortunately it’s unlikely the outcome will be in your favour… Only very competent trained individuals are likely to instinctively respond to the random nature of a street fight.

So, if it is no good in a fight for a beginner, what’s the point training in Aikido?

Well, here’s my thinking.

First, remember Aikido is a defensive martial art. The intention is not to instigate a conflict but to safely extricate yourself from one.

As you train, unknowingly your awareness is improving, your responses are getting faster and you’re developing abilities to control your breathing, body and mind. As these develop subconsciously, they are laying the foundation to being able to control yourself in threatening situations, both physical and verbal through the application of skills and technique.

So finally, when to use Aikido… as a beginner, use it to help your daily “normal” life. Let it help you manage day-to-day stressful situations and conflicts by developing a confidence and calmness that this martial art brings. Use the exercises to improve your coordination and responsiveness. Use it to avoid conflict but if not possible, to reduce the impact of conflict. Ultimately at this stage of skill development avoid over self-confidence in your abilities and walk away. 😊

Next Blog – So many words!

Beginner’s Point of View – Why Aikido? (Blog #3)

This blog is a tricky one as I don’t have the experience or the knowledge to talk authoritatively about Aikido… beginner right! I’ll leave that to the Sensei to explain when you try it 😉… and I’ve already explained in Blog #1 the things I enjoy from it but it did get me thinking “why?”. 

Why not another martial art, like MMA, Karate… or something completely different… yoga, swimming, gym, running (which I firmly believe you should only do if you’re chasing or being chased by something 😊) so here’s my opinion of Aikido. Please bear in mind that this is only my opinion and if you have different views that’s fine too but I think….

1)      Expertly done this is lovely to watch. It looks like a well-coordinated dance, more Art than Martial. Expert proponents can make this look unbelievably contrived… but I assure you its not. Even a beginner learns the fundamental martial principles that, if done properly, are highly effective. If you have time watch this – “Aikido, The Samurai Spirit

2)      It’s a really, really “clever” martial art. It’s protective rather than confrontational formulated around very sound use of force, mechanics, balance, and timing. I find this fascinating for two reasons 1) I like the use of applied scientific logic wrapped up in a martial art and 2) When I do get it right (rarely by the way… but it’s getting better… got a 7 out of 10 the other week😊) it’s so gratifying.  This means that really anyone (any age or ability) has a chance to do it.

3)      The tradition is essential. People are so busy nowadays that they have little time to stop and take stock and I include myself in that. Aikido has formality, direction and structure that hasn’t changed too much for a long time. This is good right? Its somewhere where history is being maintained and practiced. It occurs to me that if we travel too fast in our lives we’re more likely to trip (deep I know! 😊). This is a place to slow down, re-evaluate or take a break from this fast, demanding world.

Next Blog – When to use it?

Beginner’s Point of View – Turning Up (Blog #2)

Think I’ve got the hang of this blog thing now so here are some hints and tips if you are thinking of turning up for the first time…

Can I just turn up? Yep – just look for “Mat Fees/Class Times” on this website for a time that suits you and pop along. No appointment or calling ahead required. I would suggest coming earlier as it gives you time to take everything in, for someone to spend some time with you plus you will have to fill a medical form. Yes, there is even paperwork in Aikido!

What should I wear? Clothing wise, ideally if you have loose joggers and a t-shirt or sweat shirt with no zips or metal buttons. Footwear, if you have some flip-flops or slip on shoes.

Basic Bowing Etiquette. First, don’t worry about making mistakes, people will help you with all this. but here’s a starter for 10.

  • As you enter or leave the dojo you should turn towards the central picture where the founder of Aikido is (O’Sensei) and bow. This area is called the Shomen.
  • Getting on the mat. Avoid stepping on the dojo mat with your shoes. Scuttle along the side, turn your back to the mat and use the mat edge to slip out of your shoes (this is where flip-flops are really handy), then step onto the mat with your bear feet.
  • Once on the mat turn around facing the Shomen again, kneel down and bow again. People will show you how or there are some good tips on YouTube 😉
  • When deciding where to sit beginners usually sit the back left of the mat when facing the Shomen.

For me the first visit was definitely nerve racking. It can be quite daunting walking into a world you’re not familiar with, where you don’t know what to do and you don’t know anyone but I found everyone wanted to help me.

So there I am kneeing on the mat and the class starts. Everyone spritely jumps up in a coordinated fashion for warm ups. I attempt to follow. To say I was “dad dancing” is an understatement. You’ll see a lot of movements and put your body in positions you thought it could never go in and be out of time with everyone else but I promise you the more you do them the more you’ll go “I can do this”.

Once I was all “warmed up” the teacher (Sensei) started demonstrating a move. This is where my brain starts overheating. There combinations of foot movements, hand movements, and all the Japanese names all smoothly demonstrated in split second. For me it’s too much information. It’s too much for any beginner so don’t panic, you’re not expected to reproduce any of it. Remember this is your first visit so it will be confusing.

To make matter worse after being shown what to do, it was my turn. You’ll find someone will come to “play” with you and you’ll probably stand there like the kid with no friend at a party. Again, don’t worry… the person your training with will help you through it. Don’t try to remember it because you won’t. Instead just remember the simple things like starting feet position, or which hand to grab each time at the start and do everything slowly.

Finally, after two hours of seemly doing everything wrong I actually came off with a massive smile on my face. Everyone was chatting to me telling how well I had done and was I coming back. Here’s the thing, whether you come back or not is completely up to you. You’ll know if it right for you and there’s no hard sell, there’s no point, right?.

Next blog. Why Aikido!

Achieving regular practice in Aikido by Terry Ezra Shihan

O Sensei, the founder of Aikido, told us that we should practise every day. In our modern and demanding world, this may well be an impossibility, as family and work demands bite into our time and energy.

However, having made a choice to make some time for ourselves and to practise aikido, it is good to focus on the fact that aikido is, after all, a martial art. Although unlikely, we may be attacked at any time, for example, when we are tired, too cold, too hot, too sleepy or just not at our best. A martial discipline should be just that, “disciplined”. Keying in to the discipline and responding to attack teaches us to move beyond the lack of focus within ourselves to new levels of understanding. An important point to remember in our training is that there is the training that we want, when we feel like training; or the training that we need, like it or not, when it’s our time to train. Real Aikido practice is training to become self-reliant, to overcome our discomfort, to push ourselves out of our comfort zone and to learn to cope with any situation that we find ourselves in. This is not just for ourselves, but for the people around us as well, who we may even be called upon to protect. Real aikido takes regular practice.

There are so many diversions these days. Just returning from our work, we perhaps find ourselves exhausted and fatigued. The serious Aikido practitioner knows that s/he could be attacked when tired and fatigued. S/he goes to practice irrespective of how they are feeling, often feeling better after training. Indeed, when we least feel like training, we can, surprisingly, have our best practices as Aikido has brought us back into balance and in to harmony with ourselves, others and the world in general.

When we stay at home watching too much television, we are watching someone else’s experience in the unconscious illusion that perhaps it is our own experience. We can become anesthetised into a mindless apathy that adds no value to our lives and, in fact, can subtract from our awareness of life itself! When we practise Aikido, it is real. We use our body, mind and spirit. We have the opportunity to develop as a human being, to develop the physical skills as well as being able to evolve emotionally and spiritually. Even in our discomfort, or pain, we can say ‘Yes! I am alive!’ Aikido is not to correct others, but to overcome our own negativity and illusion and to realise, through intensive training, the deep harmony of all things. O Sensei said “I am at one with the Universe”.

How do you achieve regular Aikido practice? What helps you to find the motivation to come in those times when you think you don’t want to?

Sitting In Seiza by Terry Ezra Shihan (7th Dan so Hombu)

Aikido has many facets, one of which that it is very important is posture. In our daily lives we can see that our physical posture is often a reflection of our mental and emotional state. For example, if we are feeling down our physical posture will quite often reflect this; there may be a slight shift in our centre of gravity, we may even slouch a little. This posture is quite different to the posture of a person who is jubilant. Again, an aggressive person will have what may be described as an ‘aggressive’ posture, and an anxious person will have an ‘anxious’ posture. So we can see that different mental, emotional and spiritual states are reflected in a person’s physical posture.

If we are lucky enough to see an experienced Zen monk seated in meditation, it is possible, just from his posture alone, to gain a feeling of serenity and peace. When we are sitting in seiza during an aikido class, we have a special opportunity to develop this same feeling. Therefore the time sitting in seiza can be used to our benefit to develop our physical posture and mental state, or can be needlessly wasted. During seiza your posture should be erect and firm, but with your shoulders and upper body relaxed allowing your Tanden (lower belly) to open and gently expand against your obi, which should ideally be tied just below your navel. The distance between your knees should be approximately the width of two fists. Your chin should be slightly pushed back so that the back of your neck feels like it is almost touching the collar of your keikogi (in other words, your chin should not protrude forward). Your head should be upright as if someone were gently pulling your head upwards by your hair. Your face should be perpendicular as if pressed against a sheet of glass. Your hands, with your fingers together, should be placed at the top of your thighs with your elbows close to your body. Sitting in this manner will allow your gravitational centre to stabilize. Breathe naturally from your Tanden inhaling and exhaling through your nose with your mouth closed and jaw relaxed. Develop a continuity of consciousness from moment to moment as you sit, using peripheral vision (ten direction eyes). Cultivate being alert whilst centred in a state of calmness. Try not to move whilst sitting in seiza, remaining still for as long as possible, but if you do experience some physical discomfort try to let go of the pain from moment to moment. If the pain becomes unbearable, then briefly wriggle to alleviate the discomfort and return to sitting motionless.

If you have a physical problem that prevents you from sitting in seiza, then ask permission to use either a small bench, zafu (meditation cushion), or chair (if necessary). However, there is no need to torture yourself! But having said that, learn to deal with minor discomfort as this is part of your training.

In conclusion, by sitting in seiza as described above we have the opportunity to cultivate a calm and serene state of being which we can take into our Aikido practice as well as our daily lives, providing that we are mindful to do so. There is an ancient saying, ‘Seiza can set you free’. This is our practice.