As I go about my day job, I like to notice that I can smile where others are becoming angry. Although I am performing a totally different function, I am constantly referring to the insight I have acquired from my Aikido practice. Perhaps Aikido can be called my lifestyle.
I am very attracted to the Aikido philosophy pertaining to the essence of life. The Aikido principle is that the female and male forces, Yin and Yang, are present in all natural things, and when fusion between the two elements are combined with a divine connection, new life and love begins. Based on this principle, Aikido aims to balance the positive and negative to maintain peace and harmony. That is why Aikido is ultimately considered as a spiritual pathway.
Aikido may be regarded as an eternal journey starting from the physical and rising to the spiritual dimension, in a similar way to Yoga and Tai Chi. However, while these are more concerned with the life-force within, Aikido places emphasis on harnessing and harmonising external energies.
Two magnets of different polarity attract each other, but those of the same polarity cause rejection, or confrontation. Aikido teaches the natural principle of non-resistance. This process is reflected in all aspects of confrontation that life presents and, as a result, life becomes peaceful.
In practice, Aikido offers a simple self-defense system which does not require strength, violence and aggression, which is also why it is favoured by women. When a person attacks it is because they have lost their harmony. Why should I risk losing my own balance while defending from such attack? Although winning over someone else may appear to give satisfaction, it is always relative.
Aikido is not competitive, or perhaps it is the hardest competition – it is a pure discipline of competing with self! Aikido is a pathway with the ultimate objective of self-realisation, while not interfering with one’s religious views. Self-improvement is the greatest reward. Apart from acquiring the martial skills, continued practice has made me feel more centred, more myself, and has positively improved my attitude and my understanding of life.
After work I relax by watching real-life footage of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Since he lived quite recently, we are fortunate to be able to observe his movements and motions on film. O’Sensei (Great Teacher), as he is known, was born in Japan in 1883. As a boy, he often witnessed local thugs beat up his father for political reasons. Thoughts of revenge led him to become devoted to hard physical conditioning and eventually to martial training. He received certificates of mastery in several martial arts.
In spite of his impressive physical and martial capabilities, however, Morihei Ueshiba felt unfulfilled. This led him to delve into religions where he hoped to find a deeper significance to life. Meanwhile, he maintained his studies of budo, or the martial arts. In time he combined his spiritual realisations with his martial training to create the modern martial art of Aikido, which emerged in the early 1940s.
I had my first experience of Aikido when I was in my late teenage years. It was November 1993 when I observed a demonstration at the present MCAST performed by Mohab Fahmi Sensei. He was the first to establish Aikido in Malta and became my first Aikido teacher. Before taking up serious training with Fahmi Sensei, at the first Aikido dojo (training hall) in St Andrews, I went to a two-month preliminary course organised by one of his senior students. I had really enjoyed the sessions, the philosophy in particular.
I went on to complete various courses and eventually obtained recognition from the Aikido Head Office in Japan to teach Aikido, since I felt inspired to spread it and enable it to grow in Malta. I began teaching two years ago and at present I teach three times a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays from 6.30pm to 8pm and on Saturdays from 4.30pm to 6pm. Prior to the adult’s class on Saturdays, I now also hold a new Junior class for students aged 10 to 16 years.
Today is a teaching day and I begin to make my preparations. Teaching does not start when I step on the mat. Classes need to be well-planned, based on the technical syllabus, the students’ categories, experience and individual needs, while I like to follow the recommended teaching methods of the Aikido Head Office.
Generally, the techniques which are our means to understand and practice the Aikido philosophy are first taught on a physical level. One needs to learn various skills related to how to walk and turn freely as well as unbalancing, throwing and immobilising. All of these need to be practiced under various conditions with different techniques enabling the student to grasp them from various approaches.
A typical session will begin with fitness work and breathing exercises, proceeding to rolling, footwork, skills and techniques. Defending methods vary from a single hand grab to double hand attack, rear attacks, seated techniques, multiple attacks and so on. Study of weaponry is also part of Aikido, in particular the wooden sword.
While it is hard to find students who are ready to commit themselves to study and learn, since people seem generally distracted nowadays with little time for these things, it is very rewarding to see my students making progress.
Most of my students have no experience of martial arts so when, after a couple of months of practice, I see them rolling safely I feel confident that they have started walking the Aikido way.
I just love it when I see one of our girls controlling a strong man effortlessly! Aikido is extremely suitable for women, since the character of Aikido utilises abilities naturally inherent in them. I strongly recommend it to any woman since it does not require strength but yield and redirection. It is ideal for helping women feel more confident, especially through the ability to defend themselves against possible attack by the stronger sex!
Apart from practicing with my students and learning from teaching, I make time to practice alone. Unfortunately I do not have a local reference master, although this in itself is giving me more opportunity and energy because I must strive harder. I like the discipline and the martial attitude in Aikido and I like to maintain my hour’s personal practice in the evening.
I practice the fundamental movements constantly as they are the foundation of everything we do. I feel very pleased when I am able to perform a movement or technique more naturally, hence utilising less energy than I did previously.
In order to keep receiving instruction from more experienced masters, I travel minimum twice a year for seminars abroad. Presently we are able to receive a high level of knowledge, since it is possible to learn from founder direct students; only one person away from the source. I attend annual seminars by Nobuyoshi Tamura Shihan, an 8th degree black belt, who is one of the top students of Morihei Ueshiba remaining in the Aikido world.
During my more advanced practice I place much focus on meditation and breathing, an essential aspect of Aikido practice. In the early stages a student will study them separately, but as one progress these aspects must be maintained throughout the movements. In a way it can be said that Aikido is a moving meditation similar to that expressed in Zen philosophy.
According to Eastern thought, birth signifies our absolute ideal spirit represented in this world as physical. By the process of time, an individual becomes impure by the influences of eating improper foods, improper breathing and life’s events themselves.
These factors cause the individual to become conditioned by ego, fear, stress, and so on. Aikido practice removes these clouds covering our real self, and by removing these impurities we can reconnect, become whole and pure, but this is a sensitive and lengthy process!
I am really intrigued by this philosophy, and one of my favourite scripts is Budo, composed by the founder and thus a very important book in Aikido. I like to sit with this book quite regularly. In fact, like to read various books on Aikido, Japanese culture, the grandmasters’ recommendations and interviews about their study with the founder and with nature. I feel they complement and improve my practice. I am also interested in other topics that are somewhat related, such as natural food, the universe and Yoga.
Aikido has given me so much more than the benefits of fitness, self-defense techniques and mind-body coordination. Apart from the psychological developments of discipline, self-esteem and inner strength, my greatest gains are in the spiritual sphere: if regarding someone with love during attack is not spiritual, then what is?
For more details about Aikido and beginners’ courses contact: 9989-9733 or visit www.aikidomalta.net
This is the 10th in Melanie Drury’s A Day in the Life of... series. The next one is due on 15 September.