QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR BEGINNERS
What does it mean that Aikido is a martial art based on harmony?
Aikido is a martial art that does not fight. It is a practical expression of harmony in a complex and often violent world. There are options that are neither fight nor flight, that move beyond paranoia and aggression, or victimization and retaliation. Aikido's inspiration is the harmony of nature, its waves, spirals and powerful rhythms. It is a dynamic self-defense system rooted in existential essence -- love, change, unity.
What is the value of noncompetitive training in Aikido?
Aikido doesn't see others as competitors or enemies. Its victory is over conflict itself, so the categories of winner and loser are irrelevant. The model we see all around us is one of proving we are somebody by being stronger, smarter, quicker or more cunning than someone else. The need to validate ourselves by competing with others is a reverse face of insecurity. Real victory doesn't come from defeating others. It doesn't come from others at all. It comes from an awareness of who we are and how we fit into the harmonious web of life.
Can Aikido training help reduce stress?
Stress is a major factor in modern life. We know we need to relax, but anxieties, frustrations and commitments keep piling up. Aikido emphasizes centering and grounding, which begins to calm the mind. We attempt to reframe conflict by connecting with the energy of an attack and working with it rather than reacting to it or attempting to avoid it. The vigorous physical practice also tones and energizes the body. A natural alertness develops -- we can't be thinking about other problems while under attack! As the ability to relax and flow under pressure deepens, increased energy becomes available, which can bring balance and a sense of vibrant well being to an otherwise stressful time.
Is Aikido an effective form of self-defense?
Aikido cuts the roots of violence through the intelligent application of the principle of harmony. Aikido techniques, which are designed to unbalance and control an attacker, can be devastatingly effective martially, but Aikido's first approach to self-defense is through grounding, centering and relaxation. Do you project yourself as a "victim" through fearfulness? Can you see what is happening around you? Can you move fluidly to a position where the attack is rendered harmless? Can you assess your options without panicking? Aikido skills develop with training -- it is not a weekend course on disabling an attacker. However, even after a short time many practitioners experience fewer fearful and potentially hostile situations. Proceeding peacefully, we attract peacefulness, and deal more skillfully with conflict when it arises.
Is it true that Aikido is not dependent on physical size or strength?
Of course it is a great asset to have a strong, healthy body. But a human being is much more than body parts. The quest to discover the meaning of true strength was a driving force in the life of Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba. He concluded that true strength is not the capacity to defeat an opponent, but the capacity to embody the harmony of nature, which in Aikido becomes the spirit of loving protection. In a force-against-force encounter muscular strength may be central to the outcome. But in Aikido we blend with an attacker's force rather than opposing it. Therefore centering, balance, timing and the ability to move smoothly are more important than physical power.
Is prior experience or a certain level of physical fitness needed to start?
A beginning Aikido class presupposes no particular level of physical fitness or experience with movement or other martial arts. Each person starts from his or her present level of flexibility and strength, and gradually expands what is possible. Aikido involves learning a different way of moving and perceiving. Relaxation, centering and integrated movement are qualities each human being can develop regardless of physical condition. Over time, fitness increases and the practice can become more vigorous, but the fascinating world of Aikido makes getting in shape an enjoyable sideline. Of course, if you have a medical condition that might make your participation in a physical activity risky, you should consult with a qualified health practitioner before enrolling.