At our aikido classes in London, we understand the importance of technique over physical strength. While improved strength and fitness is a real benefit of training, some instructors over-emphasise its importance. Bulging biceps do not necessarily deliver hard-hitting blows, and equally, it is possible to develop great strength with a less impressive physical build. If any larger and stronger novice could overcome your skills and training, there would be little point in learning a martial art, so let’s look at how we address this.
Regular training will sufficiently tone your muscles, but a muscled body is not essential to becoming a proficient martial artist. In any good club, the smaller and weaker members must be just as capable as the biggest and the strongest.
In terms of speed, we teach you to feel an opponent’s energy, rather than seeing and reacting to what has happened. By the time you see a blow coming, you are already one step behind your attacker. In training you to feel, rather than relying on what you see, you will be able to trust your instincts and rely on your natural reflexes in everyday life, rather than reacting to what is happening in front of you.
To understand the power of mental and physical strength combined, try this exercise. Lift your arm and punch the air in front of you.
Now, let’s try again, but this time, wind your shoulder back with your arm ready to punch, and throw your shoulder forward with the punch.
Let’s do it once more. But this time, wind your hip back instead of your shoulder, and then throw it forward, using that power to throw your punch, all while keeping your shoulders fixed and your upper body relaxed.
You should feel that the third way carried the most power, yet required little muscular strength in your arms. Instead, the power is generated in the large muscles around your centre. In martial arts, one learns to glide, rather than step, with our mind on our centre.
Although it is possible to focus solely on either physical or mental development in your training, both are equally important. To understand an egg, you would have to study both yolk and white, and your mind and your body are equally important in understanding yourself. As we climb the mountain of knowledge, pathways converge on the way to the summit. But once we reach it, we all interpret the view differently as a result of the route we have taken.
“There is a world, situated somewhere in the universe. On that world stands a man. While he wishes to stand there that is his place in the universe.
The man is subjected to tremendous forces, howling wind, heavy downpours of rain, snow, and sleet, or the moon that can change behaviours of oceans. Not one of these moves the man. The world spinning around the sun at tremendous speed leaves him firmly rooted to his chosen spot in the universe.
We should be able to flow into his weak energy area, with no feeling of conflict or aggression, and he will fall. On the surface, this could just mean that one has to get into the right position and he falls. Even if one is inch perfect in positioning, there’s more to it than that. If you are too tense, you could bounce off. Even the intention to throw could be negative.
So, how do we get there? We feel the energy. Having trained to get the basics right, we must now relax and learn to feel the energy and avoided the “sharp” energy and flow into the holes, like water flowing into an empty area, flowing around areas of strength as it softly enters gaps in energy.”
- Stefan Lacey