difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in
that which is small.
If there is no sweat
there is no heat. Warming up the body is prepares for stretching the limbs,
which in turn prepares it for safe work. If designed well, it also prepares the
mind for Aikido.
Do not eat a large meal
before training. Do not eat anything at all, except a small drink, thirty
minutes before the class begins. Hard training or a sudden shock can cause one
to feel or be sick. Also, try to go to the bathroom before class begins.
On approaching the
dojo one typically begins to think about Aikido. The posture straightens;
one automatically seems to stretch the limbs in anticipation. Avoidance
movements and techniques may flash through the mind. We regulate our breathing.
We become more alert. The modern tradition requires that students typically
train in the evenings - the end of the school or working day. Instead, try
training in the mornings in preparation for the whole day. If no Aikido class is
available, what one can do is to warm one's self up with lots of aiki
exercises for at least half an hour, and if one has the time, run through a few
techniques on one's own with an imaginary partner. This is excellent preparation
for the day, a kind of physical and spiritual breakfast.
whether at home or in the dojo, should all be martial in nature and
related to Aikido. Breathing, postures, footwork, taisabaki, torifune,
and ukemi all prepare the body for training, both spiritually and
mentally. Whether doing a gentle or vigorous warm-up, make sure that one's
breathing matches the movements. Concentrating on breathing in rhythm to
movement in the warm-up exercises will eventually, naturally, transfer over to
the techniques - but for beginners it needs a certain amount of conscious
thinking to get the process started, after which, it is often best to forget
about it and let it happen naturally.
(c) The basics
Everyone knows we have
to practice the basics, or kihon, but what does this really mean?
Kihon usually refers to postural, footwork, or avoidance exercises done just
after the warm up. Most dojos seem happy to get them out of the way as
soon as possible. Reality reveals, however, that it is not until you actually
begin to find the basics interesting that you really begin to learn. Further,
the dojo environment is often not conductive to practising them. What one
has to do is to go over them elsewhere in your own time until they feel right.
And by the time you think they are 'right', they will have become interesting.
Soon one will find new minor variations that can ultimately reveal themselves in
modified techniques. And just when one has finally understood, one discovers
something else new - an endless process of self-discovery. A problem in many
dojos is that what is learned in their basics does not seem to be being
shown in their techniques. Do not fall into this trap. If one's basic training
is not useful in one's techniques then one is certainly barking up the wrong
tree. It goes without saying that one needs to practice basic movements with
repetitive vigour until they become ingrained in muscle and sinew memory.
important for safety and for health. Training for flexibility should never be
done until the body is warm as injury could result, and the older the person,
the longer the warm up and the gentler the stretching should be. When training
slowly and gently one can work at the extremities of flexibility. In Karate
working at one's limit might mean slowly stretching a kick to head height. When
training with more speed and power one should stay well away from the
extremities lest injury be invited. A Karateka adding power to a sidekick
at his limit is more likely to hurt himself than his opponent. Obviously, the
more flexible one is, the more range one has within which to work and the safer
one's practice will be. Gentle flexibility exercises in co-ordination with
breathing also help one to relax, perhaps being conductive of a more flexible
mind. The main rule of thumb is to stretch and hold, not bounce. Bouncing at
one’s extremity causes the muscle to involuntarily contract, the opposite of
what is desired.
(e) Twisting the limbs
There seem to be
hundreds of techniques. One way to rationalise the mess is to forget their names
and to look at the shapes the body makes. If one extends the arm out forwards,
it twists in only two directions, what I will call inside and outside. On
bringing the wrist close to the chest, twisting it inwards produces nikyo,
outwards produces kote-gaeshi. When extending the arm outwards, turning
it in produces a twist similar to sankyo, outwards produces a twist
similar to shiho-nage. So, here are four techniques with four tricky
names that boil down to twisting the arm or wrist in or out, far or near, and a
lot of Aikido is based on these twists, which is why they are included in most
warm-up routines. The legs also twist in and out and looking, or feeling, what
happens as one twists one's legs gently to their extremities will offer insight
in analysing how to move in Aikido. For example, a typical warm up exercise is
tenkan-ho, turning by oneself or with a partner. Doing it by one's self
one can feel the legs being twisted naturally. Personally, I like to pivot
placing all the weight on the front foot. The smart learner will also turn in
the opposite direction - often not seen in an Aikido class - but such movement
exists within many of the techniques and practising it will lead to better
understanding. These turning exercises can also be performed with a bokken
or jo, adding further insight.
(f) Aiki yoga
As a warm up, partners
can perform techniques in a kokyu-ho like manner. What this means is that
tori takes control of uke as in say, tenchi-nage, but does
not throw. Instead, uke is stretched over to the rear and uke
holds in that position for about five to ten seconds. Tori does not
support uke, nor does uke hang from tori's grip, rather,
uke simply maintains their position making slight effort to raise up.
Another example is where tori takes ikkyo and stops midway, giving
uke a pleasant stretch that is held for some time, or until uke
signals tori to stop by tapping. When practising like this one emphasises
the slow and careful. Thought is given to both posture and matching breathing
with movement. Here, tori and uke both benefit at the same time.
Of course, this is not really yoga.
This stand-up 'rowing
the boat' exercise is unique to Aikido. Its purpose is to train one to push
forwards and draw backwards strongly using the body, not the arms, thereby
developing the feeling of moving from the centre. Note the use of the word
'draw' as opposed to 'pull' - Aikido people often dislike the word 'pull',
associating it with using unnecessary arm strength. While performing torifune
some people lean slightly forwards and slightly backwards, aligning their spine
with their front or rear legs while moving to and fro. Others just stay
perpendicular. The method of torifune will be apparent in the techniques
these people perform, if not, it makes no sense. Both have merit since there are
times when performing techniques that a slightly forward leaning posture is
useful, other times it is more efficient to be straight. Clearly, if what is
being done in torifune is not reflected in the technique then something
is wrong. Other kokyu exercises can also be included in the warm-up.
One relaxing exercise is to swing the arms left and right while standing on
the spot. Look at your mid-section and while twisting from left to right you
will probably notice a 'hiccup' in the middle of the movement. While your arms
swing once, your mid-section swings-stops-swings. This start-stop-start movement
can be transferred through your arms to uke - with interesting effect -
when performing say katate-dori techniques. Twist the mid-section
slightly, stop, and twist again and uke's grip is lessend - ready for
Note: If your mid-section does not react as stated above, watch others - at
least half a class of people typically do this naturally. It can be learned.