Better Than The Gym

Everything done in the modern gym is done within Aikido.

There is no doubt that gymnasium activity is extremely popular these days and that most people wish to be fit. It's perhaps also true that many gymnasium activities are actually quite boring and not always very effective. The Japanese martial art of Aikido is one way of addressing all the considerations that most people seek from the gymnasium while at the same time learning something useful, practical, and interesting. Aikido practitioners learn to be fit, agile, supple and powerful at the same time as embracing a high degree of physical and mental alertness and control. Aikido is for the mind the body and the spirit - and in uniting these three it has a very potent advantage over all raw physical activity. The buzzword in almost all gymnasium work is core. Aikido never uses the word 'core' but we universally talk about the centre. All Aikido work derives from using the body as a single integrated unit with the power emanating from the centre at the same time that the balance is challenged. It is an instinctive core. Another buzzword is functionality. This is to say that physical skill developed in a gymnasium should be transferable to everyday life. In particular isolated muscle, training is of limited application to general use. All Aikido incorporates the idea of the kinetic chain. The muscles acting in sequence so that the body functions as a single powerful unit. Cardio, of course, is the constant emphasis of many fitness programs and rightly so. If the heart muscle is not developed there is not much point developing everything else. I have occasionally practised Aikido wearing a heart rate monitor, and the nature of the training, particularly going down to the floor and coming up again, keeps the pulse rate high. Much modern thinking on cardio is that steady-state cardio for long periods of time is of little value and that variety and intensity are more important. Intensity is the new buzzword, especially linked to the Tabata protocol, which also originated in Japan. The point is that it is not how long you work out for, but how intensively you work out for comparatively short periods of time - which gives good results. Aikido practice is varied with slow, careful physical training intermingled with bursts of high-intensity activity. As everybody knows it is important to build gradually. Too much too quickly only leads to injury and Aikido is very strong in adopting a carefully graduated approach. No level of physical fitness is required to begin and there is no pressure other than the encouragement to keep going at a pace appropriate to the individual. The principal called adaptation is also much addressed by personal trainers. The idea, of course, is that quite rapid progress can be made with any set of exercises in a short space of time, but then the body adapts to those exercises and becomes better at them but does not become inherently better. The Aikido movements are so varied while focusing on common basic principles of working from the centre (core), using the kinetic chain, maintaining balance (proprioception), and developing suppleness and flexibility. There are no physical biases in Aikido training. What is performed on the right is performed on the left? Everything is done with a mirror image. This also exercises both sides of the brain. For this reason, there is research which has indicated Aikido to be useful in recovery from a stroke and in delaying the onset of Alzheimer's. All these physical attributes are pursued as a by-product of studying an interesting and effective martial art. Martial art is about much more than fighting. In fact, it is much more about conflict avoidance than winning fights. Aikido, in particular, aspires to resolve conflict without violence. Understanding this paradox of learning to fight in order to avoid a fight is a very interesting process. A dojo is a community based on trust and as such, it is socially and ethically very enjoyable entity in which to participate. You may never have thought of learning a martial art, but they do have a lot to offer beyond the obvious. The popular views in the media, particularly on films, where usually martial arts are little more than glorified violence is extremely misleading. The point I am making is, above all, that Aikido has great deal to offer everyone. Different people take different things from it, but the training is the same for everyone. Careful, steady, graduated, friendly, encouraging, positive work which leaves you physically fitter, much more self-disciplined, more centred and grounded, more alert and prepared, and, with advanced training, more spiritually aware.


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