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Aikido, the Way of Harmony

By Dianne Abbott and Joan Elson

Aikido, "The Way of Harmony." A martial art. Sound inconsistent? Not at all. Aikido is a non-violent discipline which develops harmony of movement and a high degree of concordance among the mind, the spirit and the body.

Many martial arts have emphasized spiritual development through martial training. These disciplines are called "budo" in Japanese. Modern budo include Karate-do and Judo. However, the concept of integrating harmony into a non-violent martial art was the creation of Morihei Uyeshiba, known as O'Sensei or "great teacher." O'sensei was raised in an environment that encouraged pursuit of martial ability. He studied both Eastern and Western martial traditions and eventually became recognized as unbeatable in competition.

O'Sensei was also a profoundly spiritual man. He believed in the Oneness of the Universe; that all things represent a unique expression of the same energy. He ultimately realized that victory at another's expense is not true victory at all; it is not peace producing. The essence of O'Sensei's art lies in its ability to resolve conflict without bringing harm to oneself or one's attacker. "The Way of Harmony" or Aikido was officially recognized in 1942 and there are currently dojos, or practice halls, throughout the world.

It may be difficult to believe that such a peaceful martial art could be effective, but it is. There are remarkable films of O'Sensei, as an aged master, calmly throwing half a dozen attackers at once. Students of Aikido similarly learn to remain relaxed and to blend with the attack, using its energy to fuel there technique. When students move with the energy of the attack, rather than against it, they are tapping the universal energy that connects all of us. By incorporating abdominal breathing, proper stance, and extension of internal energy, one maintains a balanced presence. By using the aggressor's energy to resolve the conflict, one maintains harmony. Although Aikido techniques are not injury-producing, they can bring about compliance in the most angry attacker, transforming hostile intent into surprised acquiescence.

Aikido is an excellent form of self-defense for people of all ages and abilities because it is not based on superior upper body strength. In fact, trying to "muscle" one of the throws or pins of Aikido actually inhibits effectiveness. Aikido is a form of rigorous physical conditioning. Practice is interactive. The teacher demonstrates a technique and supervises as partners alternate attacking and performing the technique. New students are taught the essentials of falling safely and presenting a realistic attack.

In observing a class in Aikido, one may be surprised to see students rebounding from repeated falls to the mat with smiles on their faces, actually enjoying themselves. The class is fast paced and there seems to be joy in the exchanges, eluding attacks and responding with renewed vigor. What one will never see in Aikido is competition. This would be contradictory to the nature of the art.

Although one does not measure oneself by combating others, tests are given at regular intervals. It typically takes four to five years for an adult to progress from 6th degree white belt to 1st dan or black belt rank. There are ten degrees of black belt.

In children's classes a ten step system of colored belts is used prior to regular dan ranking. Children should probably be at least six or seven years old before beginning to study, mainly because they need to have developed a reasonable attention span.

Aikido can be very beneficial for young people, helping to create focus and yet exhausting potential attraction to violence. They soon learn that there is much more to being a master than screaming and smashing bricks.

Adult students of all levels and abilities train together, with those more advanced well aware of their responsibility to protect and encourage beginners. This environment offers an opportunity for each individual to deal with all levels of skills, different body types and different attitudes. And it encourages the practitioner to face. In O'Sensei's words, "the opponent within."

Training in the martial arts is a process that challenges every aspect of one's being. When practiced with an attitude of perseverance, it becomes a deeply rewarding experience. In addition to the benefits of regular exercise, Aikido leads to increased flexibility, balance, coordination and stamina. Students develop greater sensitivity to posture and body alignment, learning to relax under pressure. Honing physical skills translates into more efficient use of effort in daily life, reducing stress and building discipline and self-esteem.

It is true that one may never be forced to use this martial art in self-defense. However, developing these skills instills confidence and the peace of mind that follows. Aikido combines an attitude of responsible martial skill with effective physical technique and harmonious spirit.

Dianne Abbott began studying Aikido in the mid 1980's. She has trained in Napa and in Tokyo and Iwama, Japan. Dianne is also a student of Tai Chi.

Joan Elson has studied Aikido in Napa for nine years with Mark Jones. She currently holds the rank of shodan or 1st degree black belt.


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