Aikido For Swimmers

Last week I had my first chance to visit an aikido class. I have been intrigued by this martial art for some time, even before reading George Leonard’s book, “Mastery” that is standard reading for TI Coaches.

I am intrigued on several levels by it:

  1. It is exacting- they say (the aikidoists at least) that it’s the most demanding of all martial arts.
  2. It is totally neuro-muscular.No ‘power-training’ necessary.
  3. It embodies a way of harmonizing with forces rather than opposing them.
  4. It requires becoming unbelievably sensitive to the energy and forces around you- in the earth, in my body, in my opponent, and being able to harness and redirect those forces.
  5. It can be practiced by any body- I mean any human body shape, size, age, strength.
  6. It requires intense and patient focus, and a life-time pursuit of mastery- just like TI.
  7. I want to develop a land-based art in the way we do TI in water.
  8.  I want to learn from aikido senseis to develop methods I can use for training swimmer and coaching in the water. A water-dojo!

There’s a few more reasons but I’ll rest with these.

I was invited to this class by a friend and I would have been totally content, even prefered to just sit at the side and watch and take notes. I expected it to be overwhelming since my coaching eyes would pay attention to every detail, and I would want time to assess the most basic skills before trying anything more complex.

However, I was pulled into the lesson by my friend and by this exceptional sensei (I am told he is one of the best and best-hearted in Turkey). They were so gracious and welcoming though I didn’t even know how to bow to the training area properly, and a hundred other things I had no idea how to do yet.

A few observations of my first aikido lesson:

  • I needed time to work on the simplest first skills, but everything kept moving along too fast for me to absorb. Now I am reminded how overwhelmed my first-time TI workshop students feel!
  • I would have been content to just take the few things I watched in the first 5 minutes and used the rest of the hour to practice alone. But I surrendered to the possibility that there was benefit to being caught up in the flow of the practice- after all, this is what aikido classes are like as far as I have read. Everyone practices together, the various skills levels working side-by-side, in pairs, the sensei giving demonstrations to everyone.
  • I am visual- I need a written list to look at, I need to see the Japanese names for the movements before I can memorize them. I was already having to process in my less-than-fluent Turkish. Now I had to deal with Japanese Turkish!
  • I felt confident that I had the mindset for this art and already have a strong practice in the learning method that would make me learn quickly- I felt the sensei recognized my attention and patience, though he had no idea that we have similar mindset in TI practice.
  • I don’t know how to attack anyone! Not that I am a sissy and I don’t doubt I could pummel someone if my defend-my-family instinct was provoked, but I just don’t practice violence (or even like to watch movies with it). Aikido is not a ‘kata’ art- you don’t practice moves with shadows. You practice by working with the energy of your opponent- so you need someone to come at you with energy in order to learn to detect the patterns and practice the moves.
  • This art requires the kind of dedication I put into swimming- or at least I could not practice it with less. As much as I love it there is a reason why I don’t rock climb right now- I don’t ‘dabble’ in things. If I would pick up aikido I would have to make a decision of priorities between swimming as well. I could see myself setting aside a few months to focus on this and set some goals on a few basic skills.

I love the things I can learn from cross-discipline examinations. I have many things on my list I want to learn specifically from aikido- things that I believe may have great benefits to what we do in the water.

George Leonard’s book really inspired me and every TI coach that I know who has read it. It’s not about aikido directly though this is where he draws many of his examples from. I highly recommend it. I think you would find encouragement for whatever arts and practices you want to master.

I’ll let you know when I get to go again and what I am learning there.

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