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Thoughts On Aikido As A Martial Art

By Paul Barker Sensei, 7th Dan


Over 40 years have passed since I first entered the world of Aikido. Over this time I have changed my practice many times trying to find a true path that captures the essence of this wonderful art - and at times I feel I've touched it.


Aikido is a spiritual martial art but a martial art nonetheless. It is a mistake to view Aikido from a western viewpoint. You need to look at where it came from and recognize that it is unwise to pander to the ego, which is what happens in sport.


You can't learn aikido from books, DVDs and the internet alone. The place to learn is in the dojo and then to take it into the world and to use it in your daily life. When someone says they 'know what you mean' after having watched you demonstrate a technique - or on the back of watching a video - the chances are they don't understand.


We must never forget that O'Sensei was a genius. There is no other word to describe this unique human being. We are riding on the coattails of the greatest martial artist that ever lived and we wouldn't be practicing this wonderful art without him.


Although we should be looking at Aikido for spiritual development it is not a religion. The art comes from the sword and without knowledge of swordsmanship Aikido practice is not complete. Of course, the Jo and the Tanto are also important weapons in Aikido. After all, only a fool would step on a battlefield unarmed.


Aikido in real life situations


We must also think of how techniques would work in a real situation. For most of us practicing Aikido today, not using atemi will be a mistake. In a real combat situation, it would be unwise to rely purely on technique alone.


For example, it is more difficult to defend a chudan strike effectively from the inside. In fact, inside movements are generally more suited for the dojo than the street. Therefore our practice must retain realism.


Not all techniques are suited to every attack and should be left in the dojo where a lot of what we practice is to give the art depth and form - but not necessarily to be used in a real-life situation. It's important to know the difference.


A lot of movements you think are techniques are just exercises leading to a real technique. The techniques themselves are designed to hone the body and discipline the mind and spirit.


Improving your practice


It is wise to keep an open mind to your practice and try new things. Aikido is a growing art and it is better for you to develop than running through the same old training. I am not saying to forget your roots or the old ways of practice, just try something different.


Try not to be content with what you have learned already for there is lots yet to be discovered. Don't think you are already performing a technique to the best of your ability, you should strive to reach for the stars with a loving and open heart. Enjoy every lesson.


Anyone who has done Aikido with me knows that at the dojo where I teach we push training to the limit and make it as real as possible. This, in turn, creates a strong mind, body and spirit.


Don't get me wrong. This art is not for the super fit only. It is for everyone that wants to put his heart and soul into it. It is more a state of mind. I hear students saying they can't seem to motivate themselves, are tired, have a headache, or some other excuse.


As I say, these people are weak in mind and spirit. They need to wake up and stop being so self-indulgent. I am here for anyone that wants to practice Aikido. All they need to do is take that first step and I will meet them half way.


The importance of Aikido


I would like it clear there are my views on practice and are not held by most of the people training in Aikido.


We strengthen the mind and spirit by pushing the body to the limit at every lesson. There is no easy ride and by strengthening the mind and spirit we in turn strengthen the body. We are focusing on all three.


In the west we have lost our way spiritually and are losing direction, but the point of practicing Aikido is to put these back in order. Most people are very shallow, thinking only about the material world and what they can acquire but we should care more for one another and all other creatures that live with us.


As Aikido practitioners we are the guardians of the way, the protectors of that which is good, right and in accordance with the universe. Once you have Aikido in your heart, mind and body, you need very little else other than to share it.


If we all practiced Aikido in the proper way there would be no more wars and the world would be at peace. This may seem simplistic or ever rather naive, but life is not that complicated, we just make it that way.


Four lessons a week - plus lai - is a good amount and although I know it's not always easy to practice as much as we'd like, the point is to put your heart and soul into the classes you can attend. As Chinese sage Lao Tzu noted: "He  who conquers other is strong he who conquers himself is mighty."




The Aikido Circle is an independent organisation that has been training people in this traditional martial art since the 1970s with dojos in the UK and overseas. It is registered with the British Aikido Board which is recognised by Sport England as the only governing body for Aikido in the United Kingdom.

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