Dance your way to de-stress

Sensei Paritos Kar and Takahiro Noguchi

Looking 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.)

Experience the Power of Aikido

Experience the Power of Aikido

Aikido is a non-aggressive Japanese martial art with graceful flowing circular movements and powerful techniques. The word Aikido can be translated as “the Way of Harmony with the Universal Energy”. This spiritual art has been born out of enlightenment of the great teacher Morihei Ueshiba (known as O-Sensei) in the early 20th century. Aikido emphasizes the idea of striving towards harmony and unity with every living being by following the rules of Nature.

Aikido enjoyed a steady growth in popularity both in Japan and abroad starting in the early 1950s. India, however, is still a virgin territory for this martial art. The good news are that now New Delhi can be proud of its own active Aikido dojo where classes are held twice daily, thanks to the sole effort of a selfless, dedicated individual. New Delhi Aikido dojo was opened in November 2004 by Sensei Paritos Kar who is a 4th degree black belt from Aikikai Hombu Dojo, Tokyo. Sensei Kar has been living for 15 years in Japan learning this art before he decided to come back to India to promote Aikido in his birth country. According to him, this is his life’s goal and sole purpose.

Although Aikido is considered to be one of the most technically difficult martial arts, is can be practiced by everyone, men and women, till a very mature age, unlike other martial arts. In fact, newcomers are very easily get assimilated into Aikido and in a very short period of time they start experiencing positive effects of their practice: higher levels of physical fitness and overall energy, calm mind, increased self-confidence, and ability to remain relaxed and centered in adverse circumstances.

Whatever one’s motive for learning Aikido is, one should remember that, like in all true paths of self-development, a life-long dedicated practice is the only secret of success.

Popularizing Aikido in India may not be an easy task for a single individual to accomplish, but Sensei Paritos Kar’s single-minded determination and love for this martial art, combined with help of his enthusiastic students, will surely bear good fruits in the nearest future.

Words of the Founder – Morihei Ueshiba, O-Sensei

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.

Characteristics of Aikido Techniques

(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.

Punching and Kicking Hide the True Nature of Children

(From Gaku Homma Sensei’s book Children and the Martial Arts)

Shihan Gaku Homma Sensei and Paritos Kar Sensei with childrenNearly all new students – adults as well as children – begin taking Aikido classes with preconceptions about martial arts. They believe that with a little practice, they’ll be performing the same techniques they’ve seen their Hollywood heroes perform.

Children are constantly experiencing new things, but they don’t yet have enough experience to evaluate all the new information. They’re eager to try just about anything. (…)

What then are the natural actions of children? Why is it that a children’s fight is usually grabbing and wrestling rather than punching and kicking? Because most children begin receiving martial arts training as soon as they are born. Infants quickly learn that mother’s face must be grabbed gently. Punching-like movements are discouraged. Children learn that they must not “hurt” toy animals or dolls. As for kicking, children use their legs primarily for balance, which means that kicking is not a natural movement for them. When children become old enough to play with other children, their parents teach them to be nice. Most parents want their children to be accepted and liked by other children; they don’t want to raise social misfits. Even if a parent is a martial artist themselves they do not encourage young children to act aggressively, to hit or kick their playmates. In other words abrupt physical contact such as punching, kicking, and scratching is discouraged during early childhood. But, on the other hand, parents want their children to be active, running around the yard with friends, throwing balls, and wrestling with the neighbor kids. (Major complaints focus on dirty clothes!) When children frolic, like puppies, parents do not complain. I believe that these basic “techniques” that children learn at an early age – how to get along with each other – should continue to be developed in martial art training.

“Truce, not aggression. Harmony, not confrontation.” These are basic principles of Aikido. Children who study Aikido learn that harmony is preferable to confrontation, that peaceful solutions are preferable to non-peaceful solutions.

When I think of how much energy parents spend teaching their children how to be nice to their brothers, sisters, and other children, I find it strange that many parents decide to enroll their five- and six-year-olds in martial arts classes that teach them how to punch and kick other children. What kind of message are we sending to the children who win trophies at martial arts tournaments? That a winner is the person who can outpunch and outkick the opponent? That conflicts are best resolved by beating up your adversaries?

I mentioned earlier that there is no competition in Aikido; only classes. Children learn to perform techniques within a general set of rules. Every child who studies Aikido has a unique personality, and Aikido is not guaranteed to make every child happy. But it certainly nourishes a positive attitude, and it helps develop children who can live in harmony with other children. I don’t know if the same thing can be said of all martial art dojos. As an instructor of a martial art, I sometimes question why children should study martial arts which teach aggressive techniques and promote competition.

I believe that a certain gentleness of spirit is part of the ethical foundation of the United States. Because I am first a concerned citizen, second a martial arts instructor, I am concerned about the kind of people that kids will grow into.