This is a blog detailing my thoughts about Aikido… one would think that talking about exercise wouldn’t be necessary. After, it is a martial art, is it not? You’re supposed to be spending your time running, jumping, throwing, falling, punching, kicking, right? That should keep you in pretty good shape!

Well, it does and it doesn’t.

Some time ago, I noticed something about my aikido practice. I noticed that, for some reason, I wasn’t getting the workout I used to get. What was going on? I wondered. It didn’t take me long to realize the answer was quite simple: as I was improving my technique, I was staying calmer, more relaxed. My movements were becoming more efficient. The number of people I could count on to be my “peers” was growing less and less, so I was often training with folks who were junior than me and counting on me to help them learn. In short, I got better, to the point that the challenge of aikido was not necessary a question of physical fitness, but a question of developing a deeper understanding of myself and the world around me.

This transition, if I can call it that, would not have bothered me so much were it not for two things happening:

  1. When I attended camps and seminars, in which there were a lot more people my level or higher, the amount of physical energy I had to exert increased dramatically. I didn’t like the fact that I was getting tired faster.
  2. When I started teaching, the time previously allotted to training and working out was consumed by the time required to either teach class or prepare to teach class. To be sure, I did occasionally try to sneak in a workout while I was teaching, but I have some problems with that in an aikido setting–especially one in which there are few students with any experience on the mat. (The short version: I worry that the time I spend trying to get my heart rate up is time I’m not spending either helping my students or ensuring they are practicing safely. I would rather ensure they are practicing safely. Perhaps that is a result of my inexperience as an aikido instructor…)

To be sure, there are other factors that come into play here: I am older now–early 30s as opposed to my early 20s. I am now a father–taking care of my wife and daughter consumes a great deal of my time and attention. My knees and ankles, which have been described as “poorly designed for martial arts” by my physical therapist, can ache quite a bit–in fact, I can’t jog any more because of them. But I was, and am, dissatisfied. I don’t expect to be an olympic-caliber athlete, but I do expect a certain level of physical ability.

So, two months ago, I started to exercise. I’ve progressed to a solid six-day-a-week program. The bulk of my workout is several variations of a cardio workout on my elliptical trainer. Mixed in is a series of exercises employing the use of weights and an exercise ball. The results? Still up in the air. But I’m certainly trimmer than I was two months ago, and I certainly am sore a lot more often as well. But most importantly, I realized something: the physical workout in aikido practice is a side benefit. Of course, most of realize this. The strategies behind aikido focus on positioning and manipulation of our opponent’s posture, not our necessarily our physical prowess. Yet I took this side benefit for granted until I got to the point where it was nearly completely absent.

Perhaps–though I cannot say for sure–this is one of the advantages offered by an art such as Karate or Tae Kwon Do. I cannot imagine participating in those arts without each and every practice session becoming a serious workout. Then again, I have also met several people who study these arts who show little understanding of, or interest in, the calm and relaxed mindset that I think makes aikido such a potent martial art.

It would be interesting, I think, to see how often other martial artists feel that they no longer get the same workout from their practice as they previously did, and what they did to adjust. For my part, I am glad that I am getting into better shape, as it seems to free my mind to look more at my technique and my mindset when I am on the mat.

Of course, no amount of conditioning can match getting thrown across the room; but that’s another post.

3 thoughts on “Exercise

  1. The reposed mindsets you mention really belong in all styles. Internal styles have a more Zen-like approach, whereas the karate styles favor the sweaty gym mentality. There’s no reason why these concepts can’t be integrated where needed. I’ve never met an Aikidoka who appeared out if shape, though. However, the average karate guy probably has no clue what mushin is. Every black belt (regardless of style) should be in good physical condition.

  2. John,

    I completely agree. One of the challenges (or presumed challenges) that arises in Aikido is that physical fitness can actually appear to impede progress in the art. Many people cannot build up muscle without wanting to use it; consequently, they attempt to muscle their way through techniques, which is incorrect.

    I also am still dealing with the fact that I was caught unprepared by how different my workout would become once I started teaching. Were a new potential instructor to ask me for advice, one of the first things I’d say is: make sure you get your exercise in, because you can no longer rely on your time on the mat to test you physically.

    An additional thought: although you don’t explicitly state it, I presonally define “good physical condition” to be highly dependent on the person involved. In today’s culture, it’s easy to think of good physical condition as some sort of Olympic-caliber fitness level; it’s not. It’s an attainable goal for anyone, although the results of that goal might vary.

    And I don’t think I ever fell out of being in good physical condition. I think this post really stems from my desire to move into “excellent” physical condition…

  3. Hi Dave, Thanks for your comment. I know about Jo do, but I don’t think I’ve heard of San Jo. I also don’t think I saw your blog before. I’ll add it to my links.

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