Sensei Paritos Kar and Takahiro NoguchiLooking for a way to keep fit, de-stress and also learn self defence into the bargain? Aikido, a non-aggressive martial art from Japan, offers just that.

Watching people practicing aikido you could easily get the impression that you have accidentally stumbled across some kind of modern dance class.

Small groups of women, men and even children move back and forth with graceful, coordinated movements which often appear to have little to do with self-defense. Adapted from the more violent fighting art jujutsu, this gentle martial art combines circular movements, breathing and meditation to increase a person's internal energy or ki. But it is still very effective in fending off unwelcome approaches.

Jo PracticeRather than meet an attacker head on, aikido practitioners learn to move out of the way of their opponent and use their energy against them. Participants take turns performing dance-like movements, simulating attacks and defenses which provide an energetic workout. But for many, aikido - known as one of the more spiritual martial arts - is as much about the mind and spirit as the body.

"I was inspired by the philosophy of aikido which says that we must blend and harmonise with the universe and other people," says 24-year-old Sajan Nair. "Since I took it up last April I feel more at peace with myself. I am able to keep my cool."

Alan Nykamp, an American student who started practicing three months ago, claims to have the best of both worlds since he replaced body building and football with the Japanese martial art: "On a physical level I have lost about 10 kgs and have much more energy than before. I feel charged with a great deal of positive energy." Involving a lot of twisting from the waist, bending, rolling on gym mats and stretching, aikido is an excellent way to trim abs, increase flexibility and build up strength without bulking out muscles. This often makes it popular with women as brute force is not part of the training.

Aikido is a gentle martial art which combines breathing and meditation."You will gain inner peace, stay fit and get stronger through regular practice," explains Paritos Kar, the Bengali aikido master who studied in Tokyo for 15 years before returning to India to open a dojo (martial arts centre) in South Delhi. "It's not just about the body but also the mind and oneness with the spirit. Only by combining all of these can we really be healthy."

(Published in HT City on 29th August 2005. Photos: Rajesh Kashyap.)

Randori beginsMartial artists have spent thou­sands of years discovering special skills that enable them to respond to life's challenges quickly and with maximum efficiency. Aikido, which in Japanese means "the way of uniting Ki spirit," is an art that does just that, and my own Aikido practice has given me much practical counsel. Some of my most vivid lessons were from the first day I participated in randori--an exercise where, instead of defending against just one part­ner, several people attack at once. Busi­ness complexity often arises from a sim­ilar spirited interaction of many players with independent motives.

1. Keep your center: In Aikido, your cen­ter (or hara) is a physical place where en­ergy and balance originate. It's also a state of mind. Staying calm, one avoids over-confidence, anger, and fear -- those de­stroyers of intelligence. Keeping your cen­ter means you will always act from the po­sition of your greatest power.

2. Start in a logical place: Complex situa­tions, like randori, throw lots of things at you simultaneously. Like many people, my natural instinct was to react first to the nearest danger. I call this the LIFO (last-in, first-out) reaction to complexity. LIFO people react to stress by abandon­ing important objectives for whatever threat lands in their lap next. However, this reaction allows opponents to dictate the situation. In randori, a LIFO reaction gets you blown hither and yon, frustrat­ing you and accomplishing little. Randori taught me to start proactively in a thought­ful place -- at one end, regardless of the onslaught's source. In complex situations, picking a logical entry point for action (The highest priority? The task with the longest lead time? The player with the most influence?) puts you in control.

3. Keep moving: A mass of attackers comes at you from all sides. Your gut screams, What are you doing walking into that swarm? But your gut is wrong. One of my early senseis, who mashed up Aikido technique with a little street fighting, said, "When you're in a knife fight, you are go­ing to get cut. Your objective is not to die." I learned from Aikido that you can't suc­ceed if you fear moving forward. In com­plex business situations, inexperienced people tend to freeze up, and a common reaction is completing only the minimal requirements in hopes that the situation will resolve itself. Randoriwisdom teaches that even when things are extremely uncertain, you must act, proactively seek­ing a better position of power.

4. Anticipate: Randori throws you into a pack of circling wolves, and you do not want to end up in the middle. Keeping at­tackers in front of you could save your life. However, randori attacks are fast and random, making it difficult to plan maneuvers. As the Star Wars sensei Yoda said, "Al­ways moving is the future."

I found this positioning task the great­est randori challenge, because it requires an extraordinary degree of anticipation. You have to sense where your opponents will go next. Aikido trained me to antici­pate by extending my attention beyond the action in my face to see the larger situa­tion. Everyone can do this -- otherwise we'd be watching the windshield wipers instead of the road. In business, this is an infor­mation task. Expanding your horizons with diverse experiences and data from a wide range of sources helps you envision a more accurate future. This dynamic vi­sion gives you a place to anchor information as the wolves circle. You can priori­tize actions and make better choices.

5. Extend Ki: Finally, randori requires you to reach out to the world with gusto. Ki (the energy force) transforms the situation in an inexplicable way. Situations with energy cycle through to resolution, while situations without energy muddle endlessly. We often underestimate how much power we add to the environment simply with our own personal force. Self-discipline and leading effectively are the simple and practical principles behind many martial-arts techniques. (FORBES)

There are some thoughts about O-sensei's Aikido and its practical application in our lives. There is much more about Aikido, but even these three principles are too much for us to handle…

1. The Principle of Non-resistance to Force

An Aikido response is opposite to what many of us are conditioned to do when facing a difficult situation. The society-conditioned reaction of an average person is to resist or to deny the situation. An aikidoist' momentary approach would be: "This is the situation. How can I use it to my advantage?" In fact, the whole Aikido training is about ingraining this approach on the level of your intuition.

In aikido you learn to go with the flow, accepting the aggressiveness of your partner and redirecting his own force creatively in order to neutralize him without harming.

"This is the situation. What is the lesson to learn here? How can I use it to my advantage?" - when you apply the same approach in life, your life stops being "hard" or "depressing". Life becomes interesting, you start evolving.

2. The Principle of Emotional Non-Reaction

Aikido is a unique martial art because it's not about fighting. There are no opponents - only partners. There is no aggressive sparring - you cooperate with your partner. There are even no competitions and medals - your victory is the victory over your "smaller" self.

Aikido is not even about defending yourself. When you feel no anger - you have no enemy to fight against. When you have no guilt, you have nothing to defend. When you have no emotional reaction to a life situation, you have the power to solve it constructively.

Your shield is your righteousness: when you do the right thing, you harmonize yourself with the Universe. When you are ONE with the Universe, it will automatically protect you through the Law of Karma.

3. The Principle of Ki (Qi) or Life Energy

There are many debates in the Aikido world about the existence of mysterious Кi. Whether you believe in it or not, does not matter. People-who-know work with and use Ki in their Aikido practice. There are many levels of Aikido training. In the beginning, it's all about techniques and body mechanics. On the higher levels, it's about energy. And that is why learning Aikido takes a lifetime. You do not learn Aikido, you mature into it.

On the surface, in your training you keep repeating the same basic techniques over and over again; but the act of constant polishing slowly opens a new dimension - the dimension of energy, even to a rationalist. You can get a glimpse of "Aikido magic" while training with a Master. And from that moment on you are hooked for life because you will ever seek to learn THAT-what-you-cannot-put-in-words.

We are multi-dimensional beings, not only physical. However, very few people know what are the implications and practical applications of this fact. When you become aware of the energy aspect of your being and when you learn how to utilize it positively and constructively, you will be able to enhance all aspects of your life - your physical, financial, relationship and spiritual wellbeing.

Yulia Pal. Sept. 2008
New Delhi Aikido Dojo

Rajiv JainI don’t like going to the gym. I have tried and tried hard. In the years during my under-graduate studies, MA training was not available where I studied. So I tried to do running, gym, games like soccer, basketball etc. I did something or the other throughout. But I did not diligently train any particular thing. That is I burned calories, in many different ways, but there was very little skill acquired for all the work I put in. There just wasn’t enough motivation to continue training beyond a few weeks when the initial tempo gave out and sustained motivation was required to train diligently.

Surprisingly I could not pin point the exact reason why I did not feel motivated. I like being fit. I don’t mind physical hardwork and pain. And I love the feel when after long practice , things I was clumsy and ungainly with initially, I execute with economy and beauty.

One exception to this was martial arts. I have practiced karate and jeet kune do at different times. As long as I was practicing in the dojo, nothing was too hard, over strenuous or boring. Even on days when the practice involved huge number of repetitions, arms and legs felt like lead but inside I was raring to go for the next class.

This feeling was even more pronounced when I started Aikido with Sensei Kar in March 2007. Even with twisted elbows and knees, pain in the back from so many botched ukemies, the desire to go to the next class was always as strong.

My friends and peers frequently ask what is so great about going to my class in spite of the injuries and pain. I used to say that look –

•    I have lost 14 kgs in 10 months, without dieting!

•    I am so much fitter and strong

•    my stamina is up

•    I feel full of energy

•    I am so much more flexible

•    I feel relaxed

What else do you want? But they say, you can get the same benefit by going to a gym, yoga, jogging or any combination of these, and so safe  and soft on the body.

I had no answer.

But now I think I see the difference. The difference lies in my objective. If my objective was to get fit and nice looking body and no more, then he gym approach is good. But that alone did not satisfy me so very soon I get bored with only the physical exercise.

My satisfaction seemed to relate to the control and awareness over my body that results from taking ukemi, the loss of fear. The ever increasing capacity to adapt my body in response to the stress put on it.

Learning to take ukemi I think is the key to the heart of Aikido. To adapt to the force and its direction as applied by the Nage, to go along with its application and finding your balance again without loosing the combat initiative.

The sense of relaxation was, I think, a result of reduced anxiety. Anxiety and fear for getting hurt, over uncertainty about a situation, physical or otherwise. It is this loss of fear and the accompanying confidence in my capacity to control my body to ever changing physical and social environment, that makes me feel relaxed and aware at the same time.

‘Relaxed and aware’, I think yogis call this state the ‘witness state’ where one is able to look at one’s circumstance without being emotionally effected by it. To be able to maintain it permanently, for it to become part one’s nature, is the elusive goal for most of us, even though many may not be aware of it.

An attact can happen to anyone, at any age, in any place. There are some tips on what you can do in such a situation.

1. Avoid and Prevent

It is best to avoid isolated, dark places. Avoid dressing provocatively - you are inviting trouble.

2. Be aware of your surroundings

In a potentially dangerous place increase your level of alertness. Be aware of who is walking in front of you and behind you. Mentally be prepared for any eventuality.

3. Be firm. Show no fear

If someone makes suggestive remarks to you, be calm, firm, do not insult or inflame the potential aggressor. Show no fear. Immediately head or run towards a safer place.

4. Run

Even if you are trained in martial arts, Running away is still the most sensible option.

5. Never turn your back on a potential aggressor

Attacks frequently happen from behind, unexpectedly.

6. Take your dog on a leash

If you have your dog with you but he is non-aggressive (not likely to attack human beings), immediately take him on the leash and keep close to yourself. Any threat to you will be interpreted by your dog as a threat to him. His aggressive pose, growling or barking is likely to scare off the aggressor.

7. Yell for help

If you have been attacked, do not be shy to shout for help. Yell as loudly as possible, even if there is no one around.

8. Fight on

Do not feel inhibited if your clothes are torn during the fight. When the situation is over, you will receive all necessary help from people/police.

9. Pick up objects of self-defense

Ordinary objects like sticks, rocks, a handbag, an umbrella, keys or a pen can be used. Shoe heals are powerful weapons. Do no hesitate to inflict pain to the aggressor - your life is in danger.

10. Painful/critical points on the body

Temples, eyes, throat, septum of the nose, solar plexus area, groin, knee caps, shin bone, instep (for a heal attack), armpits.

11. Do not loose your mind

Calculate: what is really happening? what is the worst thing that can happen? what are the possible options? what is the best option for you NOW? Then act accordingly and decisively.

12. Assess the threat

An aggressor may threaten to use a knife on you. Access whether the knife threat is real or not. Access whether the attacker is alone or his buddies are nearby.

13. Do not get paralyzed with fear. Do not panic. Do not attribute any powers to the attacker

Put up a resistance. Look for a weakness in your attacker. Look for an opening. Pre-empty. Never mentally assume that your attacker is more powerful than you.

14. In case of a ground fight, do not give up

Continue resistance. Make yourself a hard target. Your endurance for a length of time may wear out your aggressor.

15. Maintain the presence of mind

During a fight, both the sides are in an altered psychological state: their powers are increased manifold, they feel no pain. In such a situation, a person who maintains the presence of mind, who is not overcome with emotion wins.

Remember, people under the influence of narcotic drugs, FEEL NO PAIN. Physical injuries will not deter them.

16. Invoke for Divine guidance, help and protection

In comes as the last point, but this is the first thing I personally advise you to do.

 

(Yulia Pal. September 2008)