Benefits of practice

Aikido is a study of how to skillfully respond to conflict, both internal and external. It encourages us to develop a daily practice that confirms positive thinking and present -moment awareness. When we step into the training hall, we leave the stress and complexity of our everyday lives at the door. We take our shoes off, change into a gi, bow onto the mat, and spend the next couple of hours (and on occasion, all day) practicing the movement techniques and energy exercises that help us to be more resilient in our lives. We do this over and over. As the years pass, our finesse increases, and our ability to diffuse the pressure of an "attack" deepens. Our practice compels us to reach for our full potential on the mat, which in turn changes our life off the mat.

Physical benefits. Aikido practice invites us to be mindful of how we live in our bodies. Stretching exercises increase our fitness and flexibility. The rolling and falling help us tone and strengthen muscles and ligaments. The aerobic movement increases our endurance and teaches us how to move the whole body, not just parts, in a vigorous and coordinated manner.  Breath control training connects us to our ki-our vital energy source.

Emotional resiliency. By studying the movement patterns of aikido techniques, we become aware of the continuum of our emotional experience. With this information, we increase our ability to work with our feelings appropriately, as they arise, and avoid identifying ourselves through past and future events. We practice maintaining our balance while whirling through space. Though we may lose balance briefly, we learn to restore it quickly.

Self-understandingMasakatsu agatsu (true victory is self victory) is a fundamental teaching in Aikido. Aikido teaches us how to take responsibility for our personal development, encouraging us to identify the patterns we wish to nurture, and release the ones that no longer have relevance. When we address the violence that exists inside us, we develop the abilitiy to be advocates for peace in our personal lives and in our communities. 

Ethical awareness. Aikido is a spiritual practice. It is a way to purify the body and polish the spirit so that we can live in accordance with the laws of nature. We learn how to see things for what and how they essentially are, and how to be completely in harmony with the truth of our reality. Our spiritual evolution as a species is dependent upon our ability to operate with wisdom and clarity.

Metaphysical principles. O'Sensei said, "We are here for no other reason than to celebrate our inner divinity and our innate enlightenment." Aikido is the study of the energetic field. As we develop our intuitive insight, we learn to read intent, paying attention to what happens before something happens. Motomichi Anno Sensei encourages us to go into the void when training, using the blending practice to dissolve all barriers between self and other, so that we feel a connection to the divine spirit of the universe. Aikido invites us to overcome the idea of duality.

Leadership skills. Diplomacy, courage, clarity, and wisdom are qualities that the founder of Aikido adhered to in his teaching philosophy. As practitioners, we embark on a path that challenges us to open our hearts, turn mistakes into success, act decisively in the moment and take responsibility for our actions. Aikido teaches us leadership skills that enable us to take effective action, dynamic power, both on and off the mat.

Self-defense. It is easy to hurt someone; it is more difficult to protect an attacker from his or her own stupidity. The circular and exponential techniques of Aikido follow the opponent's natural movement. When we apply an accelerated version of these movements on an opponent, the effect can be lethal. The more we practice, the more we develop this power, but so too will we cultivate the ability to protect and make peace using efficiency, restraint and compassion. 

Connection to our natural environment. Mitsugi Saotome Sensei says,"Our lives are governed by the forces of nature.  Aikido is a way to recognize these forces and respond to them appropriately."  It is a powerful practice to imitate the movements of nature. If you were a rainstorm moving through the forest, how would you manifest this expression in your movement?  Can we stand straight and resolute like a redwood tree or float like a cumulous cloud?  Aikido reminds us how we are- still and always-a part of nature in body, mind and spirit.

Wound as teacher. Wound as healer. We often find our greatest challenges lead to profound understanding. Training offers us a way to face and work with our feelings of vulnerability, our fears, and our unconscious habits. The actor Christopher Reeve said that his riding accident brought him to the realization that we are all one; that there is no separation. He spoke of how the experience transformed him at every level. Change can happen in a second, and profuond changes require us to look for new ways to find meaning in our lives.

Seiji Ozawa, the famous conductor, took a fall as a youth and broke his fingers. He lamented that he would never again play piano as he once did. A master conductor agreed to train him to be a conductor. This seemingly disastrous accident shaped what would become a brilliant career. Many of us find similar examples of injury leading to growth in our Aikido training.

Redefining power. Many people report that when they see Aikido for the first time, they are struck by the beauty of the movements, but skeptical that it could be an effective martial art. "Where is the part where you take them out?" a gentleman watching class recently asked me. The lethality of the art is often hidden in the 'atemis' (strikes or blows directed to an anatomical weak point). Observers sense the power of the interactions, but note that the students often have focused, yet optimistic facial expressions. Teachers emphasize resolving conflict, but they then toss students across the room. Aikido invites us to reframe our idea of what power is.

Fun. The circular flowing movements we practice in Aikido enhance our 'ki' or energy flow, and bring on a delight in the body and spirit. We train with fellow students, some who are new to the practice and some with whom we may share 20 or 30 years of connection and support. Sometimes we find ourselves laughing out loud when we hardly did anything to create a perfect blend. And the happiness we experience in Aikido is contagious.