Sunday 30 December 2012

How to do a Jo Kata

I provide the following by way of inspiration...

You can find more invaluable martial arts tips on the Fudebakudo site. The above cartoon may give you a few ideas  about one of the things we'll be studying at the Hartland Aikido Club in 2013. But don't worry, you won't have to learn the 31-count kata. The one I have in mind has just 22 parts. So it should be easy, huh...?  Here's a clue....

Monday 17 December 2012

Hartland Aikido Club Christmas Hols

The Hartland Aikido Club is taking a short break over Christmas and the New Year. There are no more meetings in 2012. Our next Aikido session will be on Thursday 3rd of January, 2013. A good chance for you to start working off all that pudding and mince pies! ;-)

Monday 3 December 2012

Aikido and the ageing sensei!

My mind thinks I'm 20. My body, alas, knows I am not! So why on earth do I persist in doing a very energetic and physically demanding martial art 'at my time of life'? In the words of Lewis Carroll...
"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"
Well, not such much standing on my head. But rolling, maybe...?

Some people prepare for old age in their youth. They do everything they can to avoid risk. An activity such as Aikido necessarily entails risk. Risk of injury - twists, turns, strains and sprains. I got my first Aikido injury some time back in the 1980s when I was still (relatively speaking) quite young. I remember asking my physiotherapist if it would be wise to give up Aikido all together. After all, if I hadn't been doing Aikido, I wouldn't have injured myself. His answer surprised me. If you want to find out what he said and why I am still doing Aikido, read my latest column in The Bideford Buzz magazine.

Monday 19 November 2012

Aikido, Martial Art or Self Defence?

“Aikido,” said Koichi Tohei in his book ‘Aikido, the Co-ordination of mind and body for self-defence’, “is known by the general public as one of the best arts of self defence”.

So there you have it. Aikido is a system of self-defence. But Aikido is also a martial art. Which raises the interesting question: so what’s the difference?

If you look up “martial arts” in the online dictionary, you will see it is defined as:
“Any of the traditional forms of Oriental self-defense or combat that utilize physical skill and coordination without weapons, as karate, aikido, judo, or kung fu, often practiced as sport.”
I find this definition profoundly unsatisfying. Let’s dispense at once with the most glaring error – the assertion that martial arts are “without weapons”. This is simply untrue. Many of the free-hand martial arts, including Aikido, also use weapons sometimes, while some martial arts such as kyudo (archery) and iaido (sword drawing) use weapons all the time.

I’ll also gloss over the sport element. Some martial arts are competitive, others are not. Most Aikido is not. And I won’t even enter into the debate about whether or not martial arts are necessarily Oriental (though it seems clear to me that not all are).

The bit of the definition that troubles me the most is the assertion that a martial art is a form of self-defence. Now, if you’ve never done a martial art, maybe you won’t understand why anyone would query that statement. Surely, you might think, it is self-evident that a martial art is a form of self-defence. Well, yes, they are – up to a point…

Now let’s then ask a different question: if all martial arts are forms of self-defence, are all forms of self-defence martial arts?

This question is easier to answer: NO!

The point I’m trying to make is that while a martial art such as Aikido certainly embodies a systematised form of self-defence, that is not necessarily its most interesting feature. There is more, much more, to Aikido than learning how to win a fight. Moreover, if you want to defend yourself against assault, Aikido is neither the fastest nor the most effective way of doing so. It’s not fast because it takes years of study even  to master the very basic elements of Aikido. It’s not the most effective because the philosophy that underlies Aikido is fundamentally non-violent. Aikido will teach you all the things that you should not do in a fight: you should not deliberately try to hurt someone, you should not initiate a fight, you should do everything in your power to avoid using the most damaging techniques available to you. In short, when it comes to unarmed combat, Aikido puts all kinds of barriers in your way. If you just want to win a fight and you don’t care how much you hurt your opponent, Aikido is not the art for you.

Unarmed Combat?

Let me try to illuminate the difference between self-defence or ‘unarmed combat’ and a martial art such as Aikido, with a few quotations. These include quotations from two supreme martial artists:  Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, and Koichi Tohei who was at one time Ueshiba’s chief instructor and later went on to found the style known as ‘Ki Aikido’. Contrast their words with some quotations taken from manuals of self-defence for members of the armed forces.
"The Way of the Warrior has been misunderstood. It is not a means to kill and destroy others. … To smash, injure, or destroy is the worst thing a human being can do. The real Way of a Warrior is to prevent such slaughter – it is the Art of Peace, the power of love."
(Morihei Ueshiba)
“In many cases, every man and woman may be called on to defend their lives in sudden emergencies. This defence can only be achieved by killing the enemy. To conquer our repugnance to killing at close quarters is essential.”
(‘All-in Fighting’, preface by Lt.-Colonel J P O’Brien Twogig)
“To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury in the Art of Peace.”
(Morihei Ueshiba)
“The majority of the methods shown are drastic in the extreme. In contrast to judo, they recognize no accepted rules…”
(‘All In Fighting’ by Captain A E Fairbairn)
“The martial arts begin with gratitude and end with gratitude. If there is an error at the important starting point, the martial arts can become dangerous to others and merely brutal fighting arts.”
(‘Aikido, the Co-ordination of mind and body for self-defence’ by Koichi Tohei)
“The edge of the hand blow and the chin jab, if applied as demonstrated in this manual, will quickly convince the student that in a matter of days he has developed a blow that is not only as effective as a good punch with the fist, but one which permits him to obtain a knock-out…”
(‘All In Fighting’ by Captain A E Fairbairn, British World War 2 army fighting manual)
“It takes time to train the mind and body to react to each set of conditions instinctively and in the prescribed method. This is one of the weaknesses of the jiu jitsu technique. By certain manoeuvres and movements, a jiu jitsu expert can place an antagonist in the proper position; but for the layman it is much too complicated and, according to American standards, takes too long to learn.”
(‘Kill Or Get Killed’ by Lt. Colonel Rex Applegate, US Marine Corps manual)
“Do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics.”
(Morihei Ueshiba)
How, then, can Aikido be both a martial art and a system of self-defence? Consider this:
“The art of self-defence must be one that can be used in a real fight. … If your opponent wants a no-holds-barred scrap, it will be he who decides how he should attack you and you cannot call foul at anything he does…. In Aikido, you practise always to adapt yourself to real fights.”
(‘Aikido, the Co-ordination of mind and body for self-defence’ by Koichi Tohei)

Self-Defence in Aikido

Last weekend I attended a very enjoyable course given by Sensei John Gaynor, the President of the Aikido Union of England. His style of Aikido is slightly different than the style (Ki Aikido) which I normally practise. Actually, it is not as different as you might think. In Ki Aikido we spend more time working on the ‘inner’ aspects – the calmness, relaxation and so on – and we generally don’t emphasise certain self-defence elements such as atemi (punches, kicks etc.) until students are quite experienced. But in essence we are all practising the same art and the differences are more a matter of differing emphasis rather than a fundamental disagreement.

I found this short video in which Sensei Gaynor illustrates the use of atemi. Bearing in mind the topic of the discussion above, I think it’s interesting how he makes a distinction between the “lovely movement” used in the martial art and the somewhat more brutal approach to the same technique if you had to do it “for real”. It’s a good example of both the martial art and the self-defence aspects of Aikido and the subtle difference between the two…

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Aikido Dojo Etiquette

A couple of people have asked me for a few tips on correct etiquette in the dojo. Etiquette describes the standards of behaviour expected from people practising in the dojo and it has two purposes:

1) Safety
For example, when the Sensei claps his hands, students should stop practising. It may be that the Sensei has seen someone do something hazardous and wants to correct it before any damage is done. Naturally, it is bad etiquette for anyone other than the Sensei to clap their hands during practice.

2) Politeness
There is more to politeness than just the trivia of daily life. I mean, it really doesn’t matter whether or not you consider it polite to raise your little finger when drinking tea. But it does matter that you adopt a serious and respectful approach to the study of a martial art. When you enter the dojo you may be feeling angry after an argument or frustrated after a hard day at work. But for the next two hours, you have to put that behind you. The etiquette of the dojo is one way in which you show yourself prepared for serious practice. It shows both your respect for the art which you are studying and your respect for the people with whom you are practising. If you need a quick overview, see the Dojo Etiquette page on this site.

Different dojos may adopt some slightly different conventions, in particular in regard to bowing in and bowing out of practice. Some dojos, for example, display a picture of the founder of Aikido (O-Sensei) or of the founder of that particular school of Aikido (for example, Tohei Sensei, the founder of Ki Aikido). If a picture is displayed, it is normal to bow to that picture when stepping onto or off the mat. The entire class may also bow towards the picture at the start and end of practice.

This video provides one example of ‘bowing in’ at the start of a class…

Another common point of difference is found in the use of Japanese phrases at the start or end of a lesson. In some dojos, no Japanese is used and the class may simply bow silently to the teacher at the start of a class and either bow silently at the end or bow and say “Thank you, Sensei”. Other dojos (and this is the case at the Hartland dojo) bow in using the phrase “Onegaishimasu” (the pronunciation is, approximately: Oh-ne-guy-shmass) which means “Please” or  “Please, let’s begin”. And we end practice by saying, “Domo arigatou gozaimashita” (pronounced: Doe-mow, Arigat-oh, goes-aye-mash-ta) which means, “Thank you very much”. It doesn’t matter if you can’t remember the Japanese phrases. A respectful mumble will suffice at first! J However, if you want to practise your pronunciation, I recommend this site:

Sunday 11 November 2012

Martial arts, Doctor Who, and Me

Doctor Who and I have something in common. We both do aikido. There is a difference though: the aikido which I do was developed in Japan whereas the Doctor’s preferred variety comes from the planet Venus!

What on earth am I talking about....? Find out the full story in my latest article for The Bideford Buzz.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Jo Nage, exercises in Aikido

Over the next few weeks, 1st dan instructor, Pete Blayney, will be exploring the use of the jo (wooden staff) in Aikido. For about half an hour each lesson, Sensei Blayney will look at ways of using the jo to increase our understanding of Aikido - stance, stability, power, softness and awareness. These are not formal jo exercises such as katas but, rather, free-flowing experiments using the jo. We will, of course, also be practising Ki development and free-hand Aikido in the rest of the class.

The Hartland Aikido Club always welcomes beginners, so please come along and join in the fun! We meet in Bucks Cross Village Hall every Thursday at 7:00 in the evening  In the meantime, here is something to whet your appetite - some jo nage exercises demonstrated by Kashiwaya Sensei...

Saturday 29 September 2012

Class Rescheduled

IMPORTANT: This week only (the first week of October, 2012), the Hartland Aikido Club meets on Friday (the 5th), not Thursday (the 4th). The time stays the same - 7:00 to 9:00 in the evening - only the day changes. The Friday class is this week only. Thereafter we meet, as usual, on Thursdays between 7:00 and 9:00.

Friday 28 September 2012

Self-defence in North Devon

No, I really haven't spent years studying Aikido on the off-chance that one day I'll be able to defend myself against rampaging Ninja hordes on the streets of North Devon. In fact, if you really want to defend yourself against injury, learning a martial art can be useful in ways that have nothing to do with fighting. Read more in my latest article for the Bideford Buzz.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Learn Aikido In North Devon

Now that the nights are drawing in, you may find that there is even less to do in the evening than there was during summer. What will you do to pass the time? Watch TV? Listen to the radio? …or learn a new skill that is not only interesting but is also a lot of fun? Yup, I’m talking about Aikido.

Our Aikido club in Bucks Cross has only been going a few months but already we have a keen group of students ranging from complete beginners through to black belt. We have a mix of men and women (let me correct that – only one of our regular students is a woman, but we’d love to have more!) and I like to think that we have a friendly and fun atmosphere (even though we practise very seriously). The club is based in the Bucks Cross Village Hall, a few miles to the west of Bideford just off the A39 towards Hartland – see HERE.

Let me give you an idea of what to expect. We practise for two hours from 7:00 to 9:00 on Thursday evenings. We have some excellent mats which we put down at the start of the lesson – and if you can arrive ten minutes early to help us put them down that would be much appreciated. Lessons start with about 15 to 20 minutes of warm-up exercises. Then we generally practise some ‘Ki’ exercises which are aimed at generating a sense of calmness and relaxation which is useful both in Aikido and in daily life.

Sometimes we may also do a few exercises or ‘katas’ with traditional Japanese wooden weapons (bokken and jo) – again aimed at developing calmness, as well as helping to develop the skills needs for Aikido.
After an hour we take a five minute break. In the second hour, we practise nothing but Aikido. If you don’t know much about Aikido, browse around on this web site and you’ll find lots of articles, information and videos. HERE would be a good place to start. A simple description would be: Aikido is a powerful yet gentle, non-competitive Japanese martial art for both men and women. 

If you have already done Aikido before, you too would be very welcome to join us. My name is Huw and I am the teacher or ‘Sensei’. While I have trained in the style known as Ki Aikido (in which I graded to 2nd dan black belt), we welcome people from other styles. Our club already has some members who previously graded with other Aikido associations practising different styles of Aikido. In short, if you are happy to practise with us, we are happy to practise with you.

It’s a long, dark winter ahead of us. So why not give the TV a rest once a week and come and give Aikdo a go…?

Tuesday 11 September 2012

High breakfalls in Aikido

Some breakfalls are scarier than others and, for many people, 'high breakfalls' - when someone sweeps your feet from under you or throws you into the mat without giving you the chance to do a normal backward or forward breakfall - are the scariest of all!

I just discovered this rather good example of how to work your way up from very simple rolling falls to very dramatic whizzing-through-the-air breakfalls. I shall be introducing a few of these exercises into our Aikido classes here in North Devon soon so my students may want to study this video closely. In the meantime, I hope it goes without saying that, without proper instruction, you should not even attempt these. So, for the time being, watch but don't do!

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Self-defence in Bideford!

The topic of my latest article in The Bideford Buzz (our local magazine in this part of North Devon) was suggested to me by the editor. Nameley: how to stay safe on the streets at night.

The good news is that people usually greatly overestimate the risk of unprovoked attacks, as you can read:

It turns out that people also routinely underestimate other sorts of risk. And I'll have more to say about that in next month's issue.

Friday 24 August 2012

Inspiring Aikido

Every once in a while you stumble upon an Aikido video with the "wow!" factor. And this is one of those. It's a beautifully executed demonstration of free-hand, sword and jo techniques given by Pat Hendricks (7th dan, Aikiki) and Kayla Feder (6th dan, Iwama). Oh, and by the way, we'd love to have a few more women students at our dojo here in North Devon. This video should give both men and women students something to aspire to...

Saturday 18 August 2012

Kokyu in Aikido – "Breath power"? Really…?

Kokyu ("呼吸") is a much used word in Aikido. Not only does the term occur in one of the fundamental throws, Kokyu-nage, but it is also used in the exercise, Kokyu-dosa (which, by tradition, should be practised at the end of every Aikido session) and Kokyu-ho (various exercises often involving movement while being held).

Kokyu is the Japanese word for ‘breath’ and many books translate ‘Kokyu-nage’ as ‘the breath throw’ – which seems to suggest that you should be doing some pretty nifty breathing while throwing. It is certainly the case that some people may find ‘kokyu’ exercises, such as kokyu-dosa,  easier to do if they breathe in harmony with the technique. Even so, I have to admit that I have never really felt that kokyu-nage involves more or less ‘breath power’ than any other aikido throw.

In Koichi Tohei’s classic book "Aikido, The Co-ordination of Mind and Body for Self-Defence", Kokyu is defined as “movement of your Ki or the movement of your body following Ki.” Tohei says that “The arts of Aikido are concerned not only with physical matters but also with Ki, Kokyu Ho is the way that leads others by Kokyu, and Kokyu Nage is the art of throwing others by Kokyu.”

The one thing you may notice in this description is the complete absence of the word “breath”!

Gozo Shioda, founder of the Yoshinkan school of Aikido describes kokyu power as “focused power” (you can read a free sample chapter on Kokyu from Shioda’s book, ‘Aikido Shugyo: Harmony In Confrontation’ here:

To help clarify this confusion, I asked a Japanese friend for some assistance in making sense of the Japanese meaning of the word, kokyu. She tells me that “Kokyu” has four main meanings, the first of which is, indeed, ‘breath’. But it can also mean ‘an art or knack’, ‘the gist of something’ or a ‘rhythm, tone or tune’ and that it may suggest a sense of harmony.

Thinking of kokyu-nage as a throw that uses ‘focused power’ or harmony with Ki makes much more sense to me than its rather prosaically literal translation of ‘breath throw’. This is, after all, what we try to do throughout our practice of Aikido.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Martial Arts in Bideford Buzz

This month – The Sherlock Holmes School of Self-defence!

If you happen to live in North Devon, you can grab a printed copy of the local Bideford magazine, The Bideford Buzz, at a variety of locations. If not, you can download a PDF copy here: In July I began writing a monthly column which has a fairly freewheeling ‘martial arts’ theme. Of course, since I am an Aikido teacher, you won’t be surprised to know that Aikido is likely to be one of my main topics of discussion. However, this month (August, 2012) I’ve branched out a bit by taking a look at Bartitsu?

Bar-what-su? you ask…?

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes you may have come across the name minus the first ‘t’. In The Adventure of the Empty House, Holmes says: “I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me.”

Contrary to what you may have thought, Bar(t)itsu was not an invention of Conan Doyle’s fertile imagination. It was a real fighting art which was taught to gentlemen in London. These days there are even some Bartitsu clubs and associations that attempt to revive the art (see, for example, I can’t promise that we’ll be doing any authentic Bartitsu in our Aikido Club in Bucks Cross. Even so, I must admit that I am tempted to encourage students to dress somewhat more elegantly. Never mind those wrinkly white gis. Possibly a smart blazer, straw boater and silver-topped cane might add a touch of class to the proceedings…?

Monday 9 July 2012

Japanese pronunciation for Aikido

A couple of my students have asked me where they can find a reference to the Japanese terms we use in Aikido. These include not only the names of the techniques but also the Japanese expressions we use when asking someone to practise with us or thanking them after practising. Not all Aikido clubs use Japanese terms at the start and end of practice. However, at the Hartland (North Devon) dojo, we do.

At the start of practice we say Onegaishimasu (お願いします) which is a polite term of request that can be translated, approximately, as 'please'. At the end of practice, we say, Domo arigatou gozaimashita (どうもありがとうございました) which means 'Thank you very much' and, being in the past tense, is used at the end of practice only.

If you want to work on your pronunciation, I recommend the excellent AikiWeb guide to Aikido Japanese. This includes short audio files so you can hear the words spoken:

If you want to take your Japanese studies even further, there are lots of free resources on the Internet. For a gentle introduction to basic spoken and written (hiragana) Japanese, I'd suggest the video series Irasshai from Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

British Ki Aikido Association on Facebook

There are now two places where you can keep in touch with the BKAA on Facebook. We have a Facebook page and a Facebook group.

The page is public and anyone can add it to their links just by 'liking' it. The group requires that you ask for membership. Once you've been added to the group, you can post or reply to messages and you will be informed when others post or reply. I'd suggest using the page for formal announcements and general information about the BKAA; use the group to interact with other members by posting news, announcements or just chatting together.

By the way, you don't need to be a BKAA member to join the group. If you share our interests in Aikido (and you don't even have to be practising "Ki Aikido" - we welcome people from all styles), please feel free to join us.

Here are the links:

The BKAA Facebook Page (public - just 'like' it):

The BKAA Facebook Group (join up by requesting membership):

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Jo Kata Number 1 - this is how it should be done!

I just discovered this rather wonderful video of Koichi Kashiwaya Sensei doing Jo Kata Number One (as we call it in Ki Aikido, though other styles may refer to it as the 22 movement kata or by some other name). This is beautifully done: light, quick and precise...


Thursday 7 June 2012

Martial Arts, Self-Defence and the perception of risk

Or, to put it another way: why learn a martial art in North Devon?

I live in a beautiful, quiet, rural area of North Devon in the South-west of Britain. If asked to describe this area, ‘tranquil’ and ‘peaceful’ (rather than ‘violent’ and ‘dangerous’), are words that immediately spring to mind. I’d say the chances of being mugged down a dark alley (or down a dark country lane) are pretty small. So why on earth would anyone want to devote hours, weeks, months and years of hard work to learn a martial art?

Is this why you want to learn a martial art...?
Actually, even if you live in a big city – where the chances of being mugged may be higher – the same question is relevant. It all comes down to the perception of risk. While people certainly are mugged in London, Paris and New York, the chances that this will happen are relatively small. So, unless you happen to work in a profession where the risk of random violence is unusually elevated – if, for example, you are a policeman or policewoman, a bouncer or a security guard – your risk of injury or death from a violent attack will be significantly lower than from a variety of other possible causes.

Fighting and Falling

In 2011 The Guardian newspaper published a table of mortality statistics in England and Wales for the preceding five years. Let’s just look at the most recent figures (for 2009). This shows that there were 318 deaths from assault. It doesn’t state how many of these assaults were ‘on the street’ and how many were in the home or elsewhere. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume the worst and imagine that a large number of these might have been ‘on the street’ assaults. That may sound scary. But wait a minute, let’s see how many people died in traffic accidents: 2,284. Yikes! And deaths from all types of accident: 11,917.  Now let’s see how many people died from falling –  3,593.  So it turns out that you have about 38 times the change of being killed by an accident and more than 11 times the chance of dying from falling than from being assaulted. 

But even that is nothing compared to the risks posed from ill health. The top killer was circulatory diseases  which accounted for 168,238 deaths. I won’t go down the rest of the list. It would be too depressing but you can read it here:

The point is that, if you want to defend yourself against serious or fatal harm, learning to defend yourself against an attack on the street should not, logically, be at the top of your list of priorities. Top of your list should be maintaining a healthy lifestyle – that is doing all the things that doctors tell us can help us to maintain a healthy heart and circulation: good diet, regular exercise, lowering stress and so on.

Did I say “exercise”? “lowering stress”? Hmm…. isn’t Aikido pretty good at that?

And then, of course, there are all those deaths from falling. Now, I don’t think Aikido will help you much if you happen to fall from the top of the Eiffel Tower. But if you slip over a carpet or trip over a branch. Well, making a safe ‘breakfall’ an instinctive reaction could certainly help.

Life (and death) On The Street

The perception of risk ‘on the street’ is described this way in the excellent book, ‘Aikido Exercises For Teaching and Training’.
“What’s really On The Street is cars. You may be in a hurry, lost, angry or frightened – and so may the other person. Therefore practice ma-ai, patience, awareness, flowing and blending…
"What’s really On The Street is concrete. You may trip on the sub, slip on the ice, miss a step, break a wrist, an arm, a leg, a head. Therefore practice your rolls and ukemi.”
But let’s not minimise the importance of Aikido as a self-defence system that can indeed be used against a violent attack. Let’s consider what sorts of violent attacks you might encounter in your life. Violent attacks don’t always come from malicious strangers. They may also come from a family member or a friend. If you work in a pub or a hospital, an attack might come from a client or a patient. When dealing with such an attack you probably don’t want to use such force against the attacker that you will end up doing them serious damage. On the contrary, you just want to keep yourself safe and restrain the person attacking.

I once taught an Aikido course for ‘Crisis’ - a London-based organisation which looks after homeless people. Over the Christmas period, a number of volunteers assist in housing, feeding and caring for homeless people. The trouble is that sometimes those volunteers are attacked by the people they are caring for. The volunteers who attended my course wanted to know how they could avoid harm to themselves – while also avoiding harm to the person attacking them.

So, in short, while Aikido can be an effective form of self-defence against a violent ‘street’ attack, for most people this is unlikely to be the most practically valuable reason for learning Aikido. Of much more benefit are: learning to relax under pressure, taking regular exercise, learning to fall safely, learning to prevent an aggressive confrontation safely and – maybe most important of all – the sheer fun and satisfaction of learning a beautiful art that requires so much skill.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

Ki in Aikido - what is it?

“Aikido” means “The way of harmonizing with Ki”. OK, fair enough. But what, exactly is Ki?

In different books on Aikido, you will find a number of different descriptions of Ki. In his book, The Spirit of Aikido, Kisshomaru Ueshiba (the founder’s son) describes Ki as “The world-forming energy which also lies at the core of each human being”. In Ki In Daily Life, Koichi Tohei (founder of Ki Aikido) describes ki as “the real substance of the universe”. In their classic text on Aikido, Aikido and The Dynamic Sphere, Adele Westbrook and Oscar Ratti describe ki as “inner energy” and they go on to state: “No ki – no Aikido.”

So, in short, what are we to make of this? Ki would seem to be some sort of energy that is both inside you and beyond you? And it is fundamental to Aikido. Which may make you wonder whether you need to be a physicist or a philosopher to understand ki. And, once you’ve understood it, you then have to find out how to use it in Aikido.
If this is confusing, don’t panic! The good news is that you don’t need to study any esoteric arts to understand how to put the ki into aikido. For some people ki may have a spiritual or mystical dimension – and that’s fine. For other people, ki is no more than a convenient shorthand term for a way of thinking and acting that has more to do with psychology and physics than parapsychology and metaphysics – and that’s fine too.

In Ki Aikido we talk a great deal about “extending Ki”. I like the description that Koretoshu Maruyama gives in his book, Aikido With Ki: “To extend ki is to have a positive spirit.” In my view, the simplest explanations are often the best and this, it seems to me, is a perfect summary of ki extension – a positive spirit. When you go to embrace someone you love you naturally extend ki. You don’t have to think about how to do it; it just happens.

In Ki Aikido, we have an exercise called ‘unbendable arm’ in which we learn to extend an arm and, even though we keep the arm loose and relaxed, it is very hard for someone to use force to bend the arm at the elbow. Beginners may find this exercise very hard to master. They constantly want to use strength, and tension, to ‘fake’ unbendable arm. To explain the feeling we are looking for, I sometimes ask a student to walk towards me and shake my hand. Assuming they are happy to do that (if they found me intimidating, the exercise would be counter-productive!) they generally find that the mere action of shaking my hand automatically gives them unbendable arm.  That’s because they are naturally extending a positive feeling; it is no longer a difficult ‘test’; it is something that is easy to do without making a conscious effort.

That is a fundamental feature of ki extension. It isn’t a clever martial art technique at all. It is something that everyone does naturally. The secret is to be able to put yourself into a frame of mind in which that positive feeling is natural all the time – even when you are practising Aikido at high speed. It’s not something you turn on and off – it’s just there.

When students first get the feeling for ‘extending ki’, they are often surprised at how easy and natural it is. Prior to getting that feeling they often assume that is something that is incredibly difficult to achieve and not at all natural. But even those of us who have practised Aikido for a long time may sometimes lose that feeling: we allow ourselves to become tense, to try to do something with force rather than with a positive spirit. That is one of the reasons for all the many Ki development exercises we practise in Ki Aikido. Sometimes “doing what comes naturally” can be surprisingly difficult!

Saturday 26 May 2012

Aikido in North Devon - Bideford to Bucks Cross

Out in the wilds of North Devon, you might imagine that the opportunities to practise Aikido are few and far between. In fact, in the few miles between Bideford and Bucks Cross alone, you have a choice of no less than two classes. In the beautiful wooded valley of Bucks Cross, I teach the full range of Ki Development and Aikido techniques in the Village Hall (see here for more information). Meanwhile, in the town of Bideford, 3rd dan, Richard Small, teaches aiki-jo – the art of the wooden staff, derived principally from the teachings of Morihiro Saito, the founder of the Iwama school of Aikido.

I went along to one of Richard’s classes last week and spent a thoroughly enjoyable two hours learning the basics of aiki-jo. In spite of having studied and taught Ki Aikido for more years than I care to remember, aiko-jo is completely new to me and I’m sure I make just as many mistakes as any other beginner (it’s always useful for a teacher to experience life as a beginner, by the way – my students can feel assured that when I practise aiki-jo, I feel their pain!).

I won’t go into the details of the differences between the way we practise with the jo in Ki and Iwama styles of aikido. Suffice to say, the differences are considerable and students of Iwama Aikido devote much more time than students of Ki Aikido to the study of jo techniques and katas.

Now, some Aikido teachers are very protective of their particular ‘styles’ of Aikido and don’t encourage their students to mix one style with another. There is a logic to this, of course. There are all kinds of subtlety of technique, style and attitude which vary from one school of Aikido to another, and switching between styles could risk confusing a beginner. But, fundamentally, Aikido is Aikido no matter what the ‘style’ and it is my view that we can all learn from one another. Moreover, since Richard teaches a specific aspect of Iwama-style Aikido (jo and bokken techniques) which don’t much overlap with the practice of Ki Aikido, it seems to me that the two arts are complementary.

At any rate, whether or not you already practise Aikido, if you are interested in learning or refining your jo technique, I’d wholeheartedly recommend that you try out Richard’s classes. More Information on the Aiki Jo Bideford web site.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Buying Aikido clothing, weapons etc.

I am not aware of any specialist martial arts shop within easy travelling distance of Hartland and Bucks Cross (but if anyone can recommend one, please let me know!) So where do you go in order to buy a judo-style practice outfit (gi) or wooden practice weapons such as a bokken and jo? You can, of course, search for suppliers on eBay. However, some other club Senseis have recommended the suppliers below who can send kit by mail order:

If you are unsure of the size you require, contact the supplier to verify your requirements before you place an order.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Irimi - a simple guide for Aikido beginners

Irimi is one of the basic escapes in Aikido. In the BKAA, we often talk about two essential variants which (with stunning originality) we call Irimi 1 and Irimi 2. The foot positions involved in the escapes can be confusing to people who are just starting to learn Aikido, so here I've broken down the movements in Irimi 1 and Irimi 2 into bite-sized chunks. Bear in mind that this video aims to show only a very simplified version of Irimi. In real technques the movements are likely to be far bigger and faster than anything shown here. But, as with all subjects, when you are learning it's best to start with the absolute basics. So here goes...

Friday 11 May 2012

BKAA Ki Aikido Newsletter, 20 years ago

I was searching for something in the bottom drawer of my desk the other day when I noticed, scrunched away at the back, a few scrappy pages of paper stapled together. Thinking it must be some old tax demand that I’d hidden away out of sight, I took it out with the intension of throwing it away. Much to my surprise (and delight!) I discovered that it was in fact an ancient issue of the BKAA ‘Ki’ newsletter dating from over twenty years ago!

Back in the early 1990s our newsletters were printed on paper rather than disseminated over the Internet.  The disadvantage was that they took huge amounts of effort to produce, print and distribute. But the advantage is that at least this one venerable specimen has lasted to this very day, hidden away in the bottom drawer of my desk.

For the benefit of ‘old timers’, let me take you down memory lane with a quick summary of the contents of BKAA Newsletter #5, March 1992. The front page article is about a series of courses for beginners taught by Sensei Currie and Sav Evangelou. I myself taught one of the first (I’m not sure if it may even have been the very first?) BKAA beginners’ courses at the Finsbury Leisure Centre so I can appreciate the observation that the most effusively keen students are not the ones who will, necessarily, stick with it:
“One newcomer from my second course uttered the old chestnut, ‘This is just what I’ve been looking for. I’ve tried other relaxation classes but this is unbelievable.’ I haven’t seen him since. By contrast, one of our most regular new members was, for a while, the BKAA’s greatest sceptic’."
The page 2 article muses upon the problems of building up membership. Something that is as difficult now as it was then! On page 3, David Currie, our chief instructor back then, writes the ‘Sensei Says’ column. This discusses issues of potentially ‘unfair’ dan gradings…
“I have seen black belt gradings where the examiner has been in a bad mood, so everybody failed, or in a good mood, so everybody passed… A grading is not a competition where the best people win and everybody else loses… at the same time, standards must be upheld and there can be no question of passing a candidate out of sympathy or because we like them or feel sorry for them.”
Sue Currie writes a long article on dojo etiquette. This covers everything from the importance of clean feet to the protocols of appropriate bowing and the traditions of dan grades lining up in front of kyu grades on the mat.

Rhod Colins does an interview with John Hicks, the Reading Club sensei.
“I was a brown belt when we moved to reading,” John says, “Angela and I were concerned about being able to continue practising Aikido so we opened a club. That’s when I became involved with Sensei Currie because he helped us out.”

 At the end of the newsletter it states, tantalisingly, “Next copy date: Monday 6th April 1992”. I wonder if that issue may be lurking in a drawer somewhere…?

Saturday 5 May 2012

Aikido Books - recommended

People often ask me to recommend books to help them to learn aikido. Here I’ve put together a short list of some of the aikido books that I find most useful and instructive.

Please bear in mind a few important points: 1) I would never recommend trying to learn aikido from a book alone. You must study with a qualified instructor.  2) This list is by no means comprehensive.  There are many more books on aikido and some of them may be just as good as the ones listed below. However, these are the books that have proved most useful to me and I have no qualms in recommending them to other people. 3) Different ‘schools’ of Aikido (Ki, Iwama, Yoshinkan etc.) may use different variations on certain techniques. Moreover, each individual teacher may emphasise different approaches or use techniques that differ from those in these books. You should, of course, always follow your teacher’s advice. That said, I am very much of the opinion that students can learn from every great teacher. Even though my own ‘style’ is Ki Aikido, I am very open to learning from teachers of other styles and the books in my list are not all aimed specifically at students of Ki Aikido.

Aikido and The Dynamic Sphere is a superb book. While probably no single book can claim to be the ‘definitive’ reference to aikido, this book comes very close. It is available in hardback and in paperback. Even though it’s expensive, I’d say the hardback edition is worth every penny. It does a great job of describing the techniques of aikido in a coherent and well structured way. But what really makes this book so great are the illustrations. The techniques are superbly illustrated and many of them are annotated with arrows to show the direction of force in each movement. My only caveat is that the book is so detailed that it may be a bit overwhelming for a beginner. However, if you’ve been practising a technique and want to study it in detail outside the dojo, this book cannot be beaten.

Aikido Exercises for Teaching and Training. I’ve only discovered this book quite recently. It was recommended to me by one of the high-ranking teachers in the British Ki Aikido Association – and I am really glad of the recommendation. It’s terrific. In principle, it is aimed at teachers of aikido rather than students and it includes many very useful tips on how to teach certain tricky techniques and how to explain some of the underlying principles. But I have to say that the techniques themselves are so clearly explained that I think this would be a valuable book for learners as well as teachers. But if you are a teacher, consider this essential reading.

Aikido, The Co-ordination of Mind and Body for Self-defense. This is another ‘classic’ text. Written by Koichi Tohei under the supervision of Morihei Ueshiba (the founder of Aikido),  the book was published in 1961 when Tohei was the chief instructor at Aikido Headquarters, many years before Tohei  went on to found the ‘style’ of Ki Aikido. As a consequence, it may be regarded as an authoritative guide to Aikido as taught by Ueshiba at that time. This is a good reference to the essential techniques including the warm-up and ‘Ki Development’ exercises and it also has some short essays on the philosophy of aikido. It’s pretty well illustrated with some mostly rather grainy black-and-white photographs. Although not as slickly produced as some more modern books, it remains a good reference work. As far as I can see it is not currently in  print but second-hand copies are available on Amazon and EBay.

Aikido With Ki. Written by Koretoshi Maruyama under the supervision of Tohei Sensei in the early ‘80s, this book covers, to a large degree, much of the same ground as Tohei’s Aikido (reviewed above). Once again, the essential techniques plus the warm-up and Ki Development exercises are described and photographically illustrated. By the time this book was published, Tohei Sensei had founded the style of Ki Aikido and this book has more explicit references to the principles of “Ki training. The techniques are well explained and – as an added bonus for black belts – there is an appendix on how to fold your hakama. I have to admit that this is one of the arts of aikido that, to this day, I cannot claim to have mastered! As with Tohei’s book, new copies of ‘Aikido With Ki’ may be hard to find but second-hand copies are available.

Now, since I teach Ki Aikido, ‘Dynamic Aikido’ may seem an odd choice. Written by Gozo Shioda, who founded the Yoshinkan school of aikido, several of the techniques described here are substantially different from the techniques as we normally practise them in Ki Aikido. Even the default ‘backward breakfall’ is different. Nevertheless, I have no hesitation in recommending this as one of my top books on aikido.

It’s worth knowing a bit about Shioda in order to understand why and how his style of aikido is a bit different from the style taught in other schools. Shioda was one of Ueshiba’s senior students. He began studying with Ueshiba in the early 1930s and eventually founded the Yoshinkan style in 1955. It is sometimes said that Shioda’s style is representative of an earlier and ‘harder’ style of aikido whereas Tohei’s style is based upon the softer style which Ueshiba developed later in life. Well, maybe there’s some truth in that. Though, anyone who’s practised Ki Aikido at a high level will tell you that ‘soft’ is certainly not the whole story! And I am not really sure that ‘hard’ is a correct description of Shioda’s style either. A better description might be that Shioda’s style is more direct with lots of ‘entering’ throws whereas Ki Aikido tends to be more indirect with lots of turning and deflecting throws. At any rate, if you have any doubt about just how good Shioda was, go and watch some of his videos on YouTube. He was one of the great masters and I defy anyone in any style of aikido to suggest that they are incapable of learning from him.

In my view, ‘Dynamic Aikido’ is one of the core texts of Aikido and deserves to be studied by practitioners of all aikido styles. It is beautifully illustrated both with line illustrations and with photographs of Shioda performing the techniques, many of the photos being annotated with lines and arrows to emphasises the critical angles and directions of force. A very good book indeed, even if some of the technical details may differ from those taught by other aikido styles.

And here is a short video review...

Saturday 21 April 2012

Aikido Warm-up and Ki exercises

It never ceases to amaze me what you can find on YouTube. I just discovered this excellent short video in which Tohei Sensei (founder of the school of Ki Aikido) demonstrates a number of the warm-up and 'Ki development' exercises which often precede classes of Aikido. If you are learning Aikido, this video provides a good reference. I am in the process of providing some annotations to help you recognise the various exercises being demonstrated.

The names of each exercise and a short description are given below. The numbers refer to the times in the video:

0:3 – Nikkyo Exercise
0:09 – Kote Gaeshi Exercise
0:16 – Arm-shaking Exercise
0:24 – Funakogi Undo – Rowing Exercise
0:54 – Shomenuchi Ikkyo Undo – arms extended, fingertips to eye-level
1:27 – Zengo Undo (two-ways exercise)
1:36 – Happo Undo (eight-ways exercise)
1:55 – Kokyuho Undo (turning around wrists with tenkan-2)
2:07 – Tekubi Kosa Undo (crossing wrists i) at  one point, ii) in front of face)
2:40 – Sayo Undo (‘sideways’ exercise i) standing, ii) moving sideways)
2:56 – Ude Furi Undo (Arm swinging to shoulder level i) standing, ii) with big tenkan 2)
3:22 – Ushiro Tori Undo (turn ‘to throw an attacker from ‘bearhug’)
3:30 – Ushiro Tekubi Tori  (Zenshin Undo) arms up, bend forward throw
3:42 – Ushiro Tekubi Tori (Kotai Undo) arms up, step back, bend forward throw
4:00 – Unbendable arm exercise (first incorrect/tense, then, at 4:09, correct, relaxed)
4:25 – Unraisable body (first incorrect/tense, then, at 4:34, correct, relaxed)

Sunday 8 April 2012

Gozo Shioda - ah, if only we could all be this good!

I am posting this video because it shows the beauty and power of aikido. The great master Gozo Shioda is shown here. Shioda Sensei founded the Yoshinkan school of aikido whose training methods and techniques are sometimes a bit different from those we practise in Ki Aikido. Personally, that doesn't bother me at all. The plain fact of the matter is that Shioda was a true master of aikido, and anyone who practises aikido (no matter what 'style') can always learn from the great masters of the art. At any rate, I just love watching him. I hope you do too...

Wednesday 4 April 2012

Aikido Escapes – the basics

While most of our lessons are conducted in English there are inevitably some Japanese terms which we use when describing fundamental aikido techniques. To help students learn these terms, I plan to write some blog posts to explain some the most commonly used terms. Here I look at four basic escapes - movements we use to ‘get out of the way’ of an attack.


Irimi is an entering motion, a movement forward and slightly to an angle, which will take you towards and slightly to the side of the attacker. There are two basic variants on irimi.

Irimi 1 – slide forward on the forward foot. For example, if the left foot is forward initially, the left foot will still be forward after the irimi.

Irimi 2 – step forward with the backward foot. For example, if the left foot is forward initially, the right foot will be forward after the irimi.


Tenkan is a turning motion ‘outside’ the line of the attack. There are two basic variants on tenkan.

Tenkan 1 – ‘pivot’ on the forward foot. For example, if the left foot is forward, turn 180 degrees by moving the right foot behind your body. You will end up facing in the opposite direction to that in which you started but your left foot will still be the forward foot.

Tenkan 2 – this is, in effect, an irimi 2 (step forward) followed by a tenkan 1 but you should attempt to perform this escape as a single fluid movement. For example, if the  left foot is forward, step forward with the right foot and immediately ‘pivot’ on the right foot to perform a tenkan 1. You will now face in the opposite direction to that in which you started and the other foot (here, the right foot) will now be forward.

Saturday 31 March 2012

What is the point of Aikido?

Why would anyone spend hours every week (or if you are really keen, hours every day) for many years (quite possibly until you finally shuffle off this mortal coil) learning Aikido?

What, in other words, is the point?

Here are some of the reasons that I’ve heard people give:

  • Self-Defence
  • Fitness
  • Calmness
  • Fun

There are probably others too, but that’s enough to be going on with. The trouble is that, taken on its own, no one reason is sufficient. Let’s consider them one by one.


There are many arts of self-defence ranging from Karate to boxing, a can of mace-spray to a pair of knuckle-dusters. What do people mean when they say they want to learn ‘self-defence’ anyway? Maybe they have a fear that a mugger will leap out down a dark alley one night and demand all their money? Well, yes, that might happen. But for most people most of the time it won’t. And even if it does, the simplest form of self-defence would do give the mugger your money and worry about it later. To be honest, that is probably going to be a lot cheaper than spending years of your time and money learning Aikido.


Once again, there are innumerable ways of getting fit – play a sport, take the dog for long walks, go swimming. It’s true that Aikido, practised regularly, builds both stamina and flexibility. Then again, as with any dynamic physical activity, there is always the risk of injury. Years ago, I hurt my knee after some particularly vigorous multi-person attack practice. When I saw the physiotherapist, I said, “Maybe I should give up Aikido?” His answer was: “Definitely not! While it’s true that people get injuries from physical activities, by far the worst problems I have to deal with affect people who don’t take regular exercise.” OK, so Aikido is generally good to maintain fitness. But not good enough, in my view, to make it worth practising with that goal alone as your ultimate aim.


Aikido definitely is a great way of learning to keep calm under pressure. I can tell you from my own experience, that when I practise Aikido regularly, I can cope with most of the problems life flings in my direction. When I don’t practise Aikido regularly (and there have been long periods in my life when I haven’t had the opportunity) I react much more negatively to pressure. Trivial concerns of everyday life may seem like major problems. I remember when I was editing a magazine once and we were on deadline and everything and everyone was in a terrific panic, the deputy editor looked at me and said, “How can you stay so calm at a time like this?” I looked at her and said, “Last night I was being attacked by four black belts with knives. Believe me, editing a magazine is child’s play.” I was joking - but only slightly. The point is that just as Aikido had taught me to stay calm in a multi-person attack so it had taught me to stay calm in any high-pressure situation.


The enjoyment you get from an activity is entirely subjective. Some people love weight training. I don’t. I used to do it regularly but found it essentially dull. Other people like swimming or playing team sports. I don’t. I don’t get a thrill out of doing lengths up and down a pool or kicking a ball and scoring points. But I do find Aikido a lot of fun. Partly it’s the pure adrenaline rush: the joy of fast movement and dramatic break-falls. Partly it’s the intellectual fun of dealing with complicated and difficult attacks. It’s the same sort of joy some people get from playing chess. It’s puzzle-solving. But at high speed.

Other Things?

There are lots of other things that people get out of Aikido. For some it is learning coordination – becoming aware of exactly how to place their feet, move their arms and maintain a good posture with perfect balance. Or it may be that Aikido provides a purely mental pleasure – the meditative quality of working precisely on formal techniques such as katas. Or it may be simply the beauty and fluidity of movement – the dance-like grace and elegance of masterful Aikido.

So what is it about Aikido that continues to draw me to it after all these years? The simple answer would be “all of the above”. I enjoy learning practical defence techniques to maintain fitness, develop calmness and have fun. And, up to a point, that answer is true. But it’s not the whole truth.

The real truth is that my reasons for doing Aikido have changed over time. When I first took it up, in the early 80s, I was looking for a way of getting fit. I wasn’t looking for Aikido specifically. In fact, I tried several other martial arts (Wing Chun, Taekwondo and Karate) before chancing upon an Aikido class taught by Sensei David Currie. Sensei Currie was quite unlike the other martial arts teachers I’d practised with. He was so laid-back, so quiet and self-effacing, that I rapidly came to the conclusion he must either be very bad or very good and I’d better hang around for a few lessons to find out which. Luckily for me, it was the latter.

Once I’d committed to Aikido, I (as many new students do) started on the assumption that I would learn lots of self-defence skills with which to defeat ruthless criminals down dark alleys – and that was the whole ‘point’ of it. But the more I practised, the less important that began to seem. Soon I was getting so much of a kick out of doing the Aikido itself that my main reason for learning came to be, well, for the pleasure of learning. Aikido of itself became a sufficient end result. And that, fundamentally, is the joy that has stuck with me to this day.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Aikido in the dark

At last week’s aikido class in Bucks Cross we did about ten minutes of practice in the dark! Some sort of strange punishment for my students? Nope, a power cut.

In the wilds of North Devon, power cuts are fairly regular occurrences. You learn to live with them. When one happened half way through our class we had two choices – either struggle to stack the mats away in the dark, or just carry on. We opted for the latter. There was a very dim emergency light still in operation so we could just about see where people were, but not much more than that. And, surprisingly, the absence of light was no obstacle to our practice. On the contrary, in fact. It was my impression that, if anything, the techniques were executed more smoothly in the darkness than when the hall was fully lit.

By chance, I happened to be reading a book called “Aikido exercises for teaching and training” by C. M. Shifflett this morning (a great book, by the way, which has much to offer to students as well as to teachers) in which there is a discussion of the problems of relying too much in aikido on what we see rather than what we feel or hear. What you see is obviously vitally important. On the other hand, sometimes, if an attacker is punching (for example), it is all too easy to concentrate too much on the hand rather than on the whole body. In darkness, that’s not an option.

I was struck by this observation from Shifflett’s book:
“To decrease the emphasis on the visual, simply turning out the lights and practicing in the dark can change everything. Classes held during power failures have been some of our most memorable experiences. Awareness of surroundings actually improves when students must rely on alternate senses.”
I’m tempted to practise ‘aikido in the dark’ more often in future. You have been warned!

Saturday 17 March 2012

Bucks Cross Aikido – the story so far

Well, we had our first meeting last Thursday. Many thanks to everyone who came. I hope you had as much fun as I did!

Meantime, I’d also like to thank all those people who’ve helped us promote our new club. First and foremost, Torridge Council who, through the Active Villages project, has been instrumental in helping us to get the club going. Without their help, the club would not exist.  More info on their web site.

Thanks too to Shep and Jo at BBC Radio Devon who interviewed me live on air this week – actually, they phoned me about 25 minutes before I had to rush out to teach the class. Look upon that as a test of my ability to relax under pressure. Well, that’s one of the benefits of learning Aikido, after all… The Shep and Jo interview is still available online (if you are quick). It’s the show of 15/03/2012. I’m on at around 3:29:50 into the show.

The Bideford Buzz has been very supportive too. This is Bideford’s local community newspaper. They also have a web site here, where you can read about the Aikido club.

The local radio, Voice of North Devon, has also been generous enough to mention us and has posted an announcement on its web site.

I’ve been told a few other local newspapers and newsletters will be giving us a mention too. As soon as I see these, I’ll let you know. If anyone spots any mentions of the club which I haven’t noticed, please let me know.

In the meantime, remember we’ll be practising again at 7 o’clock this Thursday evening. If everyone could arrive a few minutes early, you will be able to help me put out the mats so that we can get the lesson started on time. See you then!

Sunday 11 March 2012

Ki Exercises (a resource for learning)

Before practising we generally go through a series of exercises that help us to warm up, get into the right frame of mind, practise relaxation and get ourselves ready to do some Aikido. At first even these exercises may be quite confusing and hard to remember. I've just discovered a very useful guide to the exercises created by the Aikido Kokikai Rochester Dojo of New York. If you are having problems remembering the warm-up exercises, you might want to take a look:

Friday 24 February 2012

Aikido in Bucks Cross, North Devon

I'm pleased to say that I can finally announce the start date for the Hartland Aikido Club. The venue will be the Bucks Cross Village Hall, between Bideford and Hartland, and the first lesson will be on March 15th this year (2012). Thereafter, we'll be practising regularly on Thursdays between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. Directions can be found HERE.

If you've never practised Aikido before, let me give you an idea of what to expect. Aikido is a Japanese martial art that emphasises the power of relaxation. So while you will learn practical self-defence techniques, you will also learn how to remain calm under pressure - something that you may find useful in daily life.

Our Aikido Club aims to be a welcoming and friendly place for both women and men to practise.

Aikido is an enjoyable art and you can practise Aikido even if you are not in the first flush of youth! If you have any worries about practising, or if you have any specific medical problems that might prevent you practising certain techniques, please just have a word with the instructor (that's me) at the start of the class. Almost always it is possible to find ways of practising Aikido even if you are not 100% fit. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a vigorous, active activity, Aikido provides that too.

We are incredibly lucky to be able to run our Aikido Club in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain. If you do Aikido elsewhere in the UK and you want to visit our club, we'd be delighted to see you. If you need more information, use the Contact form to send me an email.

If you live locally, please help us spread the word about our new club. Perhaps you could display a small poster in a window or on a noticeboard (similar to the one shown above)? If so, let me know and I'll email you a file which you can print out on A4 paper.

Remember, we start at 7 o'clock on Thursday, March 15th. The lessons are suitable for beginners. Just be sure to wear something loose-fitting and comfortable (such as a tracksuit) and please wear slippers or sandals so that you can leave them at the side of the mat during the lesson.

I look forward to seeing you there!

Monday 13 February 2012

What Is Aikido?

This is an edited version of an article which I wrote some years ago for ‘Legal Business’ magazine.

Strange as it may seem, Aikido is a fighting system in which the overriding aim of its practitioners is to avoid getting into a fight. Even so, Aikido is a highly spectacular martial art. Its explosively powerful throws could have been custom-made to emphasise the prowess of the typical muscle-bound Hollywood hero. What is more interesting, to the less naturally heroic amongst us, is that these throws are every bit as powerful when executed by somebody of more mundane proportions.

In Aikido, brute strength is not an important factor. Skill, timing and sensitivity count for a great deal more. This probably explains why Aikido is more popular among adults than teenagers and is widely practised by women as well as men.

Aikido was developed in early years of this century by Morihei Ueshiba who drew on his expertise in several existing martial arts. Master Ueshiba felt that the highest goal of the Japanese fighting tradition (budo) was spiritual rather than merely physical. He believed that competitive fighting had no place in budo.

‘There is no opponent or enemy in true budo,’ Ueshiba wrote, ‘True budo is a labour of love. It involves giving life to all that exists and not killing or opposing one another... Aikido is the realisation of love.’

The paradox of preaching peace while performing a fighting art has been trivialised time and again in martial arts films and on TV. David Carradine was endlessly subjected to the inscrutable ramblings of his blind master in the old TV Kung Fu series. And both the Karate Kid and the Ninja Turtles have peace-loving sages in a similarly mystical tradition. But Master Ueshiba was the real-life version of those fictional masters. His high aims are summarised in the name of the art itself. Aikido means ‘the way of harmonising with Ki’ — ‘Ki’ being a Japanese word for the universal creative spirit.

Aikido techniques are designed to blend with the force of an attack rather than attempting to oppose it. When performed by an expert, the throws look so effortless that it is tempting for the observer to dismiss them as mere theatrical displays. Only someone who has been on the wrong end of such a throw knows that this is decidedly not the case!

The late Koichi Tohei, one of the greatest masters of Aikido, recalled that when he first saw Ueshiba doing a demonstration in the 1930s, he was quite convinced that the whole thing was ‘a frame-up’. Tohei was already highly skilled in judo, so when Master Ueshiba asked him to attempt an attack, he obliged with the greatest of vigour. The next thing Tohei remembers was finding himself flat out on the floor.

In his book, Aikido, The Co-ordination of Mind and Body For Self-Defence, Tohei says that ‘the author had confidence in Judo at the time because he could throw any fourth-rank black-belt at Keio University, but he was absolutely impotent against Professor Ueshiba.’ Tohei subsequently devoted his life to the study of Aikido.

Following Master Ueshiba’s death in 1969, several of his high-ranking students started teaching their own variations of Aikido. Some teachers emphasised the purely technical aspects of the art. One teacher has even developed a competitive sporting form called Tomiki Aikido which tends to be more popular with younger people.

Tohei, meanwhile, was concerned to help people understand the meaning of ‘Ki’ which is the central concern of Aikido. He therefore founded the style of Ki Aikido, which is the style practised at the Hartland Aikido Club. Ki Aikido  incorporates various exercises to help people develop the relaxation and co-ordination required when practising Aikido ‘with Ki’.

Many people find that one of the greatest benefits of practising Ki Aikido is the calmness it gives them when coping with the pressures of everyday life. While this may not be quite as thrilling as jumping over pagodas and defeating bloodthirsty hordes with your bare hands, perhaps it is, for most people most of the time. just a bit more useful.