Before you learn aikido, you must find your centre. At our classes in London, we teach that strength comes not from your upper body muscles, but from your core. Explore how to tap into your centre in the next part of our guide.
Place both your hands on a solid wall and try to push it down for about 10 seconds. Now, try again, but turn slightly away. If the wall is your 12 o’clock, then face 10 or 2, and try to push the wall again. You’ll feel that you can’t push quite as hard. Now push with one hand, and slowly turn to place your other hand on it and push with that too. As you move, you will feel the pressure in your shoulder release as you push from your centre, rather than your arms.
When standing upright, your centre is approximately 5cm below the navel. Once you mentally isolate your centre, you use it, rather than using your upper body, to direct your efforts. This enables you to project and extend your inner power without wasting energy or straining yourself.
Relaxing your shoulders is easier said than done. The stronger you are, the greater the tendency to use your upper body, which creates unhelpful tension and causes you to tire more quickly. To feel our inner flow of energy, we must let go of this strength and look to our centre. If force always overpowered skill, you would not need to learn a martial art, so relax and focus on what is within you.
It must be understood that tense muscles detract from our combat ability, rather than enhancing it. In a race, we easily understand that running under tension is not an effective way to achieve great speed. Why then, would we hamper ourselves similarly while practising martial arts?
In paired training, if we only used muscular strength to overpower our partner, we won’t learn. The thought of conflict and the temptation to use brute strength must be put aside. The aim is to overcome your opponent using the minimum effort required.
To paraphrase an old story, the mighty oak tree snaps under the assault of a gale-force wind, while the slender willow bends, and returns to its original position once the wind has abated. There is much to learn from this, as we accept that we have inner strength, or “ki”, to give it one name. When our muscles are tense, we put pressure on our body and deny the flow of ki energy when we need it.
Banish thoughts of being strong and competitive, or “looking the part”, and relax your body to achieve maximum efficiency. Through focusing on ki energy from your centre, you maintain balance and posture without overreaching your physical self.
Though technically correct, the advice to “push from the floor” often conjures up the wrong mental image. The action of pushing from the floor raises the centre of gravity and creates tension in the upper body. Think of yourself holding a heavy weight aloft with both hands, pushing the weight upwards from the floor. You put a lot of pressure on the toe and none on the heel of the foot, which means you lose stability and strength.
How do we push from the floor without losing our posture? Imagine holding the weight again, but this time, don’t push from the floor, but into it, with your toes and heels firmly on the ground. By adjusting your approach, you feel the energy returning up through your body instead. The principle of pushing into the ground, and using the returning energy to punch or throw, is one of the important basics we must master to maximise strong movements.
Just like we learn the alphabet one way when we are young, only to be told in the following school year that grown-ups do it a different way, so we treat these principles as the basics, or the ABCs, of our training. Just like handwriting, there is freedom for expression in the shape and style of martial arts as we grow and use these essential skills.