n an Aikido class Nandini Nair finds that martial arts can be about harmony

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“Because of Aikido I was able to defend myself from an attack,” says Yulia Pal. Aikido helped in saving her when violently attacked while taking a walk in the city’s Jahapanah park. Paritos Kar, fourth Dan of Aikido Aikikai Foundation of India, who has learnt this art from Japan, has been teaching this non-combative art form for four years in Delhi.

Aikido is different from other marital arts because it is not competitive. With Aikido meaning “harmony” it is little surprise that this form is more about a philosophy than competition. But make no mistake, it’s not a soft spot at all as it provides a complete workout and can disarm attackers. Kar says, “Aikido helps in self defence, fitness, confidence and discipline.”

There are only four members in today’s dojo with the festive season keeping most of the others away. But there’s an unusual dignity and serenity about this class located near Lady Shri Ram College. Everyone speaks in hushed tones and addresses each other with a gentle bow. The members are dressed in the traditional white pants and angrakha-like shirts called keikogi. The seniors and Kar himself wear a hakama, a black drape that is tied waist down.

The class begins with a brief meditation. We sit on our knees, with legs folded back and feet touching each other. This is to clear the mind and help in concentration. While Aikido originated more than 100 years ago in Japan, it has no religious leanings. And the meditation is more about clearing one’s mind than about praying to any force.

Next come the gentle warm up exercises. They include punching the air with one’s fist and drawing back. Then there are body rotations. This is followed by stretches. The stretches are performed standing upright and some other lying on the floor. While standing, the knees are bent gently and rotated. In the floor exercises, one holds the back of ones knees and rolls back and forth like a baby. Then the feet are gently pounded with the hands, followed by a quick and efficient rubbing of the ears and neck. These series of exercises lasts for only about 10 minutes and helps to get the joints lubricated and make the body supple.

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With Aikido being mainly about throws, students first pay attention to rolling and falling. Because of the throws, it is practised indoors and with partners. Rolling requires technique and is not about just barrelling down the floor. 

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I stare open mouthed as students adroitly roll down the 30 feet of padded mat. First they do so silently, and then with a sonorous thud. This is for the experts, and I decide it’s time to roll out of the class.

Nandini Nair (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Photos: Shanker Chakravarty 

The Hindu (Saturday, Nov 01, 2008)
http://www.hindu.com/mp/2008/11/01/stories/2008110152910400.htm

(From the Aikikai Foundation (Aikido World Headquarters) Brochure)

The goal of Aikido training is not perfection of a step or skill, but to improve one's character worshipping the rule of nature so that one becomes "tough" inside in such a way that this strength is expressed softly in movement. This is exactly like nature: Nature's movements are efficient, rational, and soft, but the center is immovable, firm, and stable. This can be said for Space and Earth - they all have a hard core - and must be true for human beings. These cores should become as one, so that the culmination of nature can be expressed.

Maintaining this firm, stable center, Aikido movement, with its emphasis on spherical rotation, is characterized by flowing, almost dance-like, circular motions (pivoting, entering, circling) that are used to overcome and control the strength of the opponent. The principle of spherical rotation makes it possible to defend one's self from an opponent of superior size, strength, and experience.

Although Aikido movements are as soft, rational, and smooth as nature, by applying a bit of force, it can become "tough" and devastating. The soft or gentle quality of Aikido makes it appealing to people of all ages. In fact, Aikido can be enjoyed by all men and women (regardless of age) and children. It not only offers spiritual development, but also provides exercise and teaches proper etiquette and behavior.

At the heart of Aikido is the Oriental concept of the universal creative principle, Ki. Aikido ("the way of harmony with Ki") seeks to achieve the total unification of this universal Ki with the Ki (life force or breath) of the individual self.

(An except from Iron Balls and Elbow Power by Nick Waites. This book captures the teachings of Shihan Terry Ezra Sensei, Birkenhead, England.)

'In aikido the ki of the individual self becomes unified with the ki of the entire universe. We ourselves must ceaselessly work to realise this union.' - Morihei Ueshiba

The system of aikido to which Essani introduced me is based on the aikido ideal of harmony with nature and natural forces. In particular it is concerned primarily with creating unity within oneself, and subsequently between oneself and an attacker. Initially, when learning any new physical skill, our bodies try to continue performing familiar movements while our minds try to make our bodies perform unfamiliar movements. This creates a tension that only begins to disappear through constant repetition.  Essani's system makes us acutely aware of our own physical/mental state so that we are able to recognise unnecessary tension. Once that sensitivity to what the Chinese call 'qi stagnation' is established, further training can work towards removing it. Through constant monitoring of simple movements and exercises we become sensitised to unnecessary tension, and we learn to release it. Eventually, optimum relaxation replaces instinctive but ineffectual body states and establishes itself as a learned instinctive behaviour.

Harmony within oneself leads to a sensitivity to an opponent's weaknesses. Rather than being preoccupied with the need to overpower an opponent, we develop the ability to identify an opponent's intention and attune ourselves to it. Then, together, we find a way to dissipate the attack harmlessly. It becomes rather like dancing with a slightly reluctant partner.

The emphasis on harmonious interactions between ourselves and attackers requires that we become aware of our instinctive need to oppose attackers' intentions. We learn to meet and join with an attack rather than to block it and force it into a new direction. For example, when an opponent grabs my wrist as a precursor to striking me with the other hand or a foot, my natural reaction might be to break the grip by pulling away from it. This gives my attacker energy to oppose and overpower, leading to a struggle between two opposing forces. Essani teaches that in this circumstance I must align my grasped arm so that it becomes an extension of my opponents arm. Then, my neutralisation of his technique will give him nothing to oppose since he will not be conscious of any interruption to his attack.

Aikido manifests a way to order the world to be united as one family. It is to help God build a paradise on earth.

The unity of the world comes from the unity of each country, and the unity of a country depends upon that of each family. As a unit of the universe as well as a part of a family, each person should fulfill his duty to unite the world. What he should first do is train himself well enough for the purpose. Without completing one's training, it is impossible to be of service to God. Every creature on the earth pursues its own way. Even if it is an animal or a plant, its way should not be thwarted. This is the law of Nature. Obey Heaven and God. Respect others and yourself. That is the spirit of Aikido.

God created man as a medium between heaven and earth. The spirit of man, which is his inner part is a means of communication with the heavens, and the body, his outer part, a means of communicating with the earth.

As the body is under the influence of the spirit, our mind should be one with that of God to bring peace and happiness to the human society. It is regrettable, however, that we are too involved in the matters of the physical domain to take the spirit into careful consideration.

Force is frequently used in the material world. Weapons of all sorts are needed there. So long as the two worlds, material and spiritual, are not in parallel with each other, demilitarization is just a dream.

There is no technique of killing in the true Bu, which is based upon the spiritual world. True Bu does not need any weapons. It absorbs everything with bare hands and has a perfect command of the opponent. Aiming to be in accord with the dispensation of nature, true Bu makes more of spiritual training than technical skill. That is what Aikido has as its principle.

AIKI is Love.

By taking the universal spirit of the Heaven and the Earth as our own, we strive to fulfill our individual mission in life through the Great Spirit that lovingly protects all things in Creation.

This is the way of the Bu.

AIKI is to attain victory over oneself and to cause the enemies to lose their aggressive spirit - their will to fight.

AIKI is the path of absolute self-perfection, purging the very concept of enemy from our person; it is the martial technique that transfers Divine Principle into the physical body.

It is the discipline that carries us to a higher plane; one where spirit and flesh are one. It is the very process of Enlightenment.