Gently Strong


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


“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.


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. 


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 (

Photos: Shanker Chakravarty 

The Hindu (Saturday, Nov 01, 2008)

Self-defense for women: a lonely park scenario

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)

Things Aikido is Giving me

1. Faster Reaction

Recently I was driving home from the aikido class. It was dark. Suddenly the car to my left abruptly swerved, almost “jumped” towards my car. The driver of this car did to avoid an accident – when he was just about to pass a stationary vehicle, its door suddenly opened. Thankfully, I also reacted immediately by “jumping” to the left. I am so grateful to my Aikido training for my fast reaction in this incident.

2. A State of Alert Relaxation

In Aikido you learn to consciously keep your body and mind relaxed. When you are relaxed, you are fast and precise in whatever you do. When your body is tense, you become erratic and prone to injury.


3. Falling Correctly

When you fall on the mat 20-30 times during a practice, 7 days a week, 356 days a year, for several years, your body’s response to a fall becomes automatic. Knowing how to fall correctly saved me from injuries at home and on the street on several occasions.

In our dojo we had a student who was a respected martial artist. One day, while driving a motorcycle, he was his hit by a car from behind. The force of the impact propelled him forward but he was able to do an ukemi in the air and landed on his hands, thus saving his head.

4. Peaceful Mind

Learning a martial art gives you peace of mind, the inner confidence that you can protect yourself in case of a need. Normally, knowledge of a martial art does not make a person aggressive. It removes the fear of facing an aggressive person. If a “situation” arises, you need not fight, you may just run away, but you will do it in conscious awareness, without panic.

5. Discipline and Etiquette

Japanese martial arts are famous for their ceremonial etiquette and for the discipline they instill in a student. It gives certain unmistakable grace and dignity to a person, which is rare to find in our “fast everything” times.

6. Good Friends

It seems Aikido attracts certain type of people. They are “intelligentsia” of they martial art world – not “brainless, fight-happy” guys and gals. Aikido is tough, out of hundred newcomers only few students will continue to practice, but whoever stays on, are “good people”.

7. Physical Fitness

It goes without saying that a fit body makes you feel good about yourself.

8. Weapons Training

It may have no practical value, but knowing how to handle the traditional Japanese sword, tanto (knife) and staff is COOL.

Yulia Pal. September 2008.

Aikido Principles for Life

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

Aikido vs Gym-On why I prefer to practice Aikido than go to Gym

Rajiv Jain

I 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.