Unfortunately, far too many practitioners of martial arts lean precariously forwards, backwards, or sideways. At our aikido classes in London, we teach you to improve your posture, control your breathing, and carry out your desired movement without overreaching.
Good posture and ease of movement are essential in order to perform well-practised martial arts. A straight back is most desirable, as leaning too far in one direction leads to feeling unsteady after making a strenuous effort such as striking or throwing.
If you are standing too far from your opponent to strike without reaching, you must position yourself closer and learn to attack without losing your posture. After you strike, you should be settled and balanced at a full stop. Ideally, you should be able to hold that pose for a count of 3. This ease of movement makes for graceful motion in martial arts. This is especially crucial in aikido, where turning and balance are of the utmost importance in facing multiple opponents.
You must learn to turn with your hips, instead of your upper body. As an exercise, stand up straight with one foot forward and imagine a rod running vertically through your middle. Focus your mind on your hips and turn 90 degrees around the rod, letting your feet follow.
Turning from your hip utilises the largest muscles in your body, rather than relying on your biceps and shoulders to do the work. Without tensing your upper body, the strength in your hips will generate much more powerful blows. It is said that if you have carried out a movement 10,000 times in your life, you must practise a replacement 10,001 times, but once you get used to turning correctly, you’ll deliver strong blows without even stepping forward.
Switching your focus from your shoulders to your hips will give you stability and power. To understand the benefits of a low centre of gravity, try this exercise. Stand up straight and tall, and get a partner to push both your shoulders simultaneously. If pushed from the front, you may well lean or fall backwards. Now, stand again, but this time, concentrate on your hips and ask your partner to push again, just as hard. You will immediately feel the difference in how this affects you, which shows the importance of a low centre of gravity.
Various disciplines have their variations of breathing exercises. Accepting that we draw energy from taking in oxygen, we must appreciate that increasing our lung capacity enhances our ability to generate energy.
In general, we tend to breathe shallow, which changes only the air at the top of our lungs. By using their full capacity, we draw on deeper reserves of energy. Imagine your lungs as being divided into four different sections – top-right, top-left, bottom-left, and bottom-right.
Exhale fully and then inhale slowly, concentrating on filling the top-right section. When that part feels full, keep inhaling into the top-left section, and continue until you have filled your lungs with air in a counter-clockwise motion. Having fully expanded your lungs, exhale and release the air in a clockwise motion. The extra oxygen you are now able to pass through your lungs provides a vital reserve of energy.
To tap another source of energy, stand fully and exhale, then breathe in deeply. This time, think of inhaling as taking in energy, instead of breathing in air, and enhance this thought by raising your arms as if to draw from the sun and the stars. When your lungs are full, hold your breath and press it downwards, while slowly lowering your arms. Focus on your centre as you expel your breath with an explosive movement and feel your inner power.
Having felt this inner energy, we must strive to understand it. Different martial arts have different concepts of inner power. Some have 24 inner powers and others, only one. Similar to our breathing exercises, we think of this energy as building up inside us, and then being released. This ki energy flows through us, and each of us has a well of power inside us that we are able to channel into both martial arts and our everyday life.