Life Lessons: Aikido Part Two

February 16, 2009

After the first session on Friday as an active participant in the class, I’m officially in love with aikido.

My friend prepped me before the class about some of the etiquette which was incredibly helpful, and it was really nice to have someone there to show me the ropes. There’s even a special way to bow with the way that your hands are placed on the mat and everything. I have a fair amount to learn terminology-wise but I think that will just come with repetition.

When I think about some of the circuit training that we did in boot camp, one minute can last a very long time. Try a minute of lateral raises. Hold the plank for a minute. Or a wall sit. The seconds tick by so slow you’d swear that the hands on the clock aren’t even moving. Bearing that in mind, two hours of martial arts is an especially long amount of time. Yet somehow, the time passed so quickly I barely noticed it go by.

My mind wandered once during the session, when the sensei was demonstrating a certain hold. I must have stopped paying rapt attention for only a few seconds but that was enough to make me completely lost when we paired up to practice the hold; any amount of time that your attention is not entirely focused on the task at hand costs dear in martial arts!

Taking aikido reminded me why it is that I love diversity in my workouts. Walking is my favorite activity, and a large part of the is because my mind can wander; I can explore ideas and thoughts and dreams with no need to focus on where my legs are taking me (except when its icy out. Well, no, that’s a lie- rather than pay attention to my footing I just fall down a lot). One session of aikido and I’m hooked. I know it is going to be right up there with walking for activities that I absolutely adore. And a large part of the reason that I admire aikido so much is because my mind cannot wander.

Losing your focus at all is the same as if you hadn’t been focused in the first place. With an activity like aikido, you just can’t afford to drift off into other worlds. It’s a whole new way of training your mind, being in the moment, and being aware of yourself and your attacker. Beautiful.

Something else I found interesting about aikido was that when I asked another student if I was performing the move correctly and getting the technique right, they would look at me with a bemused expression and shrug, saying that they are not the sensei so they don’t know. These students are far more advanced than I am, but even with that being the case, because they weren’t willing to correct me (because of the notion of the empty glass discussed in Aikido Part One), it increased my confidence. Knowing that we are all in the same boat as students made me bolder and I think that keeping that in mind is going to be beneficial to increasing my ability with mastering the moves.

At the end of the class we did a brief exercise of defending ourselves against two attackers. The idea was to keep moving our shoulders; sensei instructed me to keep my hands behind my back so I wouldn’t be tempted to bring them up in front of my body to defend myself that way. Applied to the everyday, the message I took home from this exercise was that when we face obstacles, sometimes the most obvious solution (using hands) is not the best choice. Sometimes we need to handicap ourselves by not using our hands and instead let our shoulders and hips do the work. We need to appreciate that although we might not think of moving our shoulders as the best way to get around an obstacle, it is better to move around it than aggressively attack with our hands which could create more problems.

Aikido requires full-body movements. Getting out of a hold isn’t something that your arms do on their own; your whole body needs to move into the movement for maximum power, strength, and balance. And when you think about it, it makes sense. It’s when we give it our all and fully believe in what we are doing that we are most successful. We need to put our whole bodies into what we are doing for the best results. No wishy-washing about it! It’s time to follow through and move with confidence.


  1. oooooh thank you for both of these posts.

    the bottom line for me and reason I know Id benefit is precisely what you say about about ones mind NOT being allowed to wander if you wanna keep up/comprehend whats happening.

    even with yoga I can mindwander a little.

    a little TOO MUCH for my linking as Im so striving to be present.

  2. Great post Sagan!

    Loving Aikido! I wanna try…it definitely sounds like you are getting some good life lessons in. I find that it makes a big difference in the overall feeling I get about the activity if I can apply it to other parts of my life.

    Have a good one!

  3. Aikido sounds like fun. I used to do yoga and I really miss the way it forced me to focus. I try to do it at home but it’s not the same… I think I need the discipline of the instructor and class to keep me focused. But talk about follow-through… I haven’t done a lick of yoga in weeks. This reminds me how important it is to give myself the time to be focused, but it through yoga, meditation, aikido, whatever. Why is that kind of discipline so hard?

    BTW – walking is my favorite activity, too!

  4. One of the reasons the martial arts resonated with me is that there is so much philosophy incorporated into the physical process. If not for that, I probably would have stopped training, but I have never stopped. When someone asks me if I’ve ever used it, I smile and reply, yes, every day πŸ™‚

  5. I love that you are learning more than just a martial art in your lessons! Sounds like you are really enjoying Aikido and making the most of your lessons:)

  6. Wonderful! So much more to it then just the physical aspects! thanks for sharing!

  7. Sounds wonderful! I too love (actually NEED) diversity in my workouts…there is a martial arts studio less than a mile from my home, maybe I should look into it!

  8. There is a reason they are called “martial arts” and not just self-defense or “learn to kick butt”.

    What sets them apart from every other form of “combat” is their use of the entire mind, body, and spirit. The mindfulness that is learned through their study allows one to connect with deep energy stores that are unavailable to the closed mind.

    Excellent blog and excellent information!


  9. Thanks for all the info – I had never even heard of that before!

  10. I’ve heard great things about aikido. My son is taking Tae Kwon Do right now and loves it. I hope that continues with the martial arts and moves on to aikido in the future. Maybe we could do a mother/son class! (Or maybe he would die of embarrassment…)

  11. Good writeup…. makes me wanna go and attend aikido lessons too, no kidding.

  12. MizFit- and I was thinking of you and being present as I wrote this post! Am with you on the yoga.

    Rupal- there’s a lesson in everything πŸ™‚

    Monica- WALKING BUDDIES!! And I definitely need an instructor to keep me disciplined.

    Dr. J- agreed!

    Charlotte- I am, so much.

    Mark & Missicat- its fun, I’m looking forward to seeing how it all progresses.

    Roger- thanks! (am giggling at the thought of calling it “learn to kick butt”)

    Biz319 & Alik- I heart it.

    Cathy- aw that’d be sweet! You should get him to show you some of the moves.

  13. interesting about the mind not being allowed to wander! i think that’s one of the reasons i like walking so much as well. and, like someone else said in the comments, even with yoga your mind can wander a little. this sounds like a really fun exercise.

  14. Wow. Aikido sounds great. I love the idea of feeling strong if someone was to attack… very empowering. Thank you for the very thoughtful assessment. I wonder…do you think would be difficult to go alone without someone to prep you beforehand?

  15. That was a beautifully written post, Sagan. I felt like I was in the dojo with you :-).

    Martial arts training is something I’ve always wanted to do once my kids are a bit older (I took karate as a one-credit elective in college and loved it!). Aikido sounds delightful.

  16. This sounds so interesting! I have never heard of Aikido before. I tell myself if I were rich I would try all news classes and new things. πŸ™‚ It’s so exhilerating to try a new activity and really conquer it – not as in being at the “top of your class,” but to really grow to love it and understand it. Keep up the great work!

  17. I took Tai Chi classes for a while and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I find it so beautiful to watch and I had wanted to try it for a long time. Someone had asked about whether/how Tai Chi would help with stress. I think the question was asked at the beginning of the first class and the instructor said he’d answer at the end of the class.

    After we spent a couple of hours concentrating on memorizing sequences and learning how to properly execute each move, the instructor asked how many of us had been thinking about our problems during the class…Of course the answer was none! It was a good lesson; aside from the physical benefits, practicing an activity that takes all of our concentration has the mental benefit of helping us to clear our minds of our problems and leave us feeling refreshed.

    One of these days I’d love to take up Tai Chi classes again…

  18. The mind is really the main thing that needs to be trained. All of the other physical parts will follow. Very good post Sagan.

  19. Maggie- yeah, I was surprised at just HOW MUCH I needed to concentrate… so used to being distracted easily, I guess!

    Juliet- no, the sensei is really nice and explained it all again when I was there. I think in any situation you can rely on the instructor to give you all the info you need to know, and they won’t be scary or anything πŸ™‚

    Dara- ooh you should do some martial arts WITH the kids.

    Holly- feels great. And it’s surprisingly cheap, only $60/month… especially compared to the $200/month I was paying for boot camp. But the fun and the exercise is all worth the cost.

    JavaChick- thanks for that! Tai Chi sounds great, it’s something I’ve been kind of interested in for a while now too.

    Tom- yes, absolutely. Mind first, body after.

  20. I love reading your blog =) I’m totally interested in Aikido now (even thou i can barley spell it).

    I also love verity in my daily activity exercise ect. Yesterday i did one of my Turbo Jam videos and it was fun to do something different. I also love reading while biking (stationary of coarse, I’m not that talented.) I’m very close to finishing a book. Which will end up being the first book i’ve finished sense College 10 years ago, even then i would just skim read them to past the test =) Happy Tuesday!

  21. I think the mental aspect of Aikido would be particularly good for me. I’ve been trying hard to be more mindful of things in general, and it seems like it would bolster my efforts. Keep us updated on how you progress πŸ™‚

  22. Thanks for the response. πŸ™‚ I might just try it… ! I’ll let you know if I do.

  23. this sounds very kewl, i’ll have to look into it a bit more πŸ™‚

  24. A friend of mine is really into Aikido. I’ve never tried it. I was always intrigued with his description of moving away from his opponent and letting them collapse into their own “energy” exertion while he just got out of the way. I loved that metaphor. Something I would love to try, literally and figuratively πŸ™‚

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