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.

Lessons from martial arts to beat biz challenges

Randori begins

Martial 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)

The Spirit of Aikido

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.

“One of the most wise decisions…”

I recently have joined the Aikido dojo at Delhi. And I am convinced that it is one of the most wise decisions I have made since a long time.

The incentive for me to join the dojo was purely because of the viewing of the website.

The creativity and the content of the website is remarkable for any individual who is seeking to learn about the art. The compilation of the information, the images does provoke one to visit the dojo and experience the teaching of our sensei.

It is definitely a job well done.


Harish Iyyer

BUDO – Some thoughts – II

(An incomplete attempt at completing the line of thought of the first article )

There is a peculiar characteristic of any effort to intellectualizing an issue – it raises more questions than it answers. Probably why old veterans are quiet people, who appear reluctant to answer questions, and even when they do, the answers are short and terse, not long winded and elaborate. Anyway I think I will go a bit deeper into my mess and see what more can be found.

The “ What I should do? “ vs. “ What I desire to do? “ conflict seemed to clear the air somewhat around the warrior/saint anomaly. The ‘warrior’ is one who trains for strength, so this ‘desire Vs duty’ battle can be won. On the other hand the ‘saint’ has no battle to fight, there is no ‘desire’ and hence no ‘duty’, merger with nature is complete, all actions are spontaneous and in accord with the natural flow of things, effortlessness in everything – Ai-Ki-Do.

But all this understanding is still an intellectual exercise, efforts to integrate  this in my routine run into another wall – “What I want” is easy to identify, how to determine “what I should”?

A warrior is steadfast and consistent in his actions. But when I am not sure of what determines correct actions, how can I be steadfast. If there is any lingering doubt, all spontaneity is lost, the strength of purpose actually leaks away. Many times there have been instances where I thought I had the answers, only to find later that they were incomplete, partial and sometimes wrong.

My actions which at that time seemed to be ‘What I should do’ turned out to be ‘What I should not have done’ later.

None of the warrior codes seem to leave any space for growth. As I age, my perspective changes. Some things I did, when I was young, now seem inappropriate. So what to do. Does a Samurai cut his belly open when he is old and finds that he did something in his youth that seemed absolutely correct then but now appears inappropriate.

Course correction is an integral part of life. The right path seems to be so narrow that I am always going this way or that. Slightest gap in alertness and the mind goes on a tangent, and when I regain my balance the boat is so off course.

I have no answers, not even an outline or part outline of one. But some possible patterns have emerged. I use the word ‘pattern’ because this feeling of having caught the correct thread happens during events and actions so diverse and different with no common characteristics that it must be some kind underlying pattern.

For example – my Aikido training. As a novice I tried to learn the technique like 1-2-3, you know step wise. Get out of the way, slide hand along arm and grab palm, tenkan and so on. But I found that more I concentrated on getting each step right, more I lost the overall spirit of the technique.

When using the ‘Jo’, if I tried to get my ‘Tsuki’ correct by watching each action, first stance, then move left hand like this then right hand like that … , it invariably went wrong. Instead if I concentrated on taking the Jo and thrusting it into my opponent’s solar plexus most efficiently, everything falls into place easily. Somehow the technique self corrected itself when I am simply aware of the spirit of what I am doing.

It seems that the more I focus on one thing, the other things, equally important things, went out of focus.

It seems like driving, a new driver always holds the steering tight, haunches the shoulders and concentrates hard on the front. While the veterans hold the wheel loosely, and give equal importance to central and peripheral vision, easily retaining awareness of what is in front and coming from the side at the same time.