Read this comprehensive introduction to aikido techniques and the principles behind them, before you join our classes in London. Written by our senior instructor, Stefan Lacey, this introduction covers the foundation and applications of this Japanese martial art and tells you everything you need to know before you sign up for aikido training.
All martial arts share a “sameness”. Without conflating different disciplines together, the following should help both students and instructors to understand that if learning is a process, it is a natural one.
In the west, we have tended to mechanise the way we teach compared to the traditional eastern way. This begins early on in life, when we are infants. We learn by remembering where our hands and feet are supposed to go, and replicating sequences in the manner demonstrated by our elders. It continues into adulthood with some martial arts instructors, where the teacher demonstrates the “move” and tells the student to “practise”, with no further explanation.
The difference in teaching styles is greater than is first apparent, particularly in religious teachings. The concept that “God made the world” is the clearest signifier of this. The story of creation contains different parts, suggesting that the world can be disassembled and analysed, just the same as it was put together. It drives us to invent and tinker with things, but it also encourages mechanical learning.
Meanwhile, the idea that “Buddha grew the world” is closer to the teaching and learning techniques in aikido. We tend to accept that things grow, and thinking of training as a means of growth and personal development, rather than a pre-designed programme incorporates a feeling of inner peace and harmony. We do not create ourselves, but we grow.
“Years ago, I was under an instructor who taught in this manner, he would show his displeasure at my lack of understanding by attacking me harder and harder, this was his way of telling me that my last effort was hopeless. But no word to help me correct my errors, week after week, month after month, year after year I would leave the dojo black and blue, on one occasion he became particularly communicative and told me to “feel the move”. This is excellent advice but at the time meant little to me. There are instructors who will make their students practise for years with no verbal explanation of how or why.”
- Stefan Lacey
Elsewhere, far too many teachers and students practise movements as if they were a dance. There is a vast difference in martial arts and dance. Although there are various important physical aspects, including posture, spatial awareness, and a strong connection to your centre, aikido is focused on developing a oneness between self and the universe.
Remembering where your hands and feet go is where martial arts begin. Whether you’re using katas or paired techniques, the repeated movement establishes new body architecture and automatic response. But it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. Instructors cannot train their students by constantly repeating complex instructions and demonstrations, without also promoting understanding.
For beginners, it is often useful to have a mental image of an aggressor projected in front of you. This image helps focus and stabilise our movement. As you progress, you learn to banish this thought as power flows through you from a mental focus on your centre. Once you tap into the energy of the universe, your mental and physical development is such that you abolish the image of the aggressor, and become able to perform in harmony and peace.
“There are some instructors who teach their students to be over-aggressive. It is my humble opinion that such training mostly covers the teacher’s lack of ability. It is unfortunate that students are being asked to hit wood, bricks and suchlike objects with hands or other parts of the body, and take blows from sticks and mallets. I look in amazement at the Herculean displays in competitions and shows.
It must be said that as mighty as the displays are, they share much more in common to a stage act in a traditional music hall, than they do with today’s martial arts.”
- Stefan Lacey
In modern times, we are unlikely to fight on battlefields using weapons or hand-to-hand contact. Back when someone might traditionally be expected to fight for their family, lord, or emperor, and skill and strength were a matter of life and death, chances of surviving to an old age were limited.
Nowadays, life expectancy is much longer, and over-aggressive training will surely result in damaged health in your later years. Instead, we consider it our instructors’ duty to promote safe training and long-term health. Instead of fighting for others, you learn for yourself. In learning aikido, you improve your mental and physical health and connect with your centre.