Flip on an action film of the '70s, '80s or '90s and you are likely to see the high-flying, acrobatic martial arts moves of Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan, or any number of talented martial artists that impressed the Western world with their unique style of defense and fighting.
Whatever forms of martial arts we the audience were witness to, the physicality was undeniable. The pure athleticism and ferocious nature of their movements were, and continue to be, exciting.
As the popularity of martial arts soared in the late '80s and early '90s, kids across the country took up Karate, Judo or Kung Fu. They wanted to emulate their silver screen action stars, become a black belt and strike fear into the hearts of their foes. They wanted respect and adulation from their peers, while their parents saw martial arts as an excellent workout for kids otherwise disinterested in traditional sports, like football or baseball.
With Kung Fu and Karate assimilating into American culture, countless other forms of martial arts slipped through the crevasses, becoming largely unknown and untaught.
So what happened? When did the rise and fall of the martial arts superstar occur? Do we have the more chic and accessible Yoga and Pilates to thank for martial arts demise as a viable workout? Or were martial arts just a “shooting star” type physical activity that came just as fast as it went?
In search of a few answers, and ever curious, I did a bit of research on various martial arts beyond that of Karate, Judo and Kung Fu. It was during this time that I came across Aikido, a Japanese self-defense martial art developed in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s by Morihei Ueshiba (an incredibly talented martial arts master).
Having watched a few videos of Aikido online, and seeing the free flowing, yet nearly choreographed, movements of the participants, I was intrigued and wanted to know more about this martial art and how it benefits both the mind and body. Aikido after all, has been described “the way of harmonizing with the life energy of the universe.”
I sat down with Chris Warden, a seasoned Aikido instructor of more than 20 years, to delve deeper into exactly what Aikido was in relation to other martial arts.
“Aikido, traditionally, is not competitive like other martial arts. It does not promote hurting or beating your attacker or opponent. You strive to work cooperatively with a partner through a series of joint locking, striking and throwing. Aikido is both intense physical and spiritual training to help develop human character and wisdom,” Warden said.
“If you watch people thoroughly trained and knowledgeable in Aikido, it looks like they are dancing with how flowing their movements are. They use dynamic motions, tossing their partner through the air either forwards or backwards; lots of up and down, twisting and turning. Aikido masters learn to deal with not only their own energy, but that of their attackers.”
When it comes to how Aikido can benefit an individual looking for an emotional and physical workout, this martial art helps to improve posture, breathing, flexibility, strength and stamina; and aids in focusing the mind through increased positivity. Practitioners of Aikido, overtime, also acquire a heightened sense of harmony, perception and awareness towards themselves and those around them. In turn, Aikido training makes individuals stronger and more complete human beings better apt at reducing negativity many of us face regularly.
“Think of Aikido as a form of conflict management.” Warden said. “You focus of dealing with conflict by not just tensing up and becoming angry, or surrendering and becoming defeated, but by accepting situations and moving forward in a positive way. It’s personal development. You connect with your partner, there is an energy there while you are performing Aikido, it can be, when it’s done right, very powerful. Think of Aikido as meditation in motion.”
The goal, or ideal result from practicing Aikido is to become centered with yourself, not just while performing the movements with a partner, but in everyday situations and life. You will, over time, have an enlightened sense of being, and feel better about yourself physically through emotional empowerment.
At its most intrinsic value, Aikido is a self-defense martial arts that trains the body by training the mind. The maturation process of this activity is transcendental. You become whole by teaching yourself to engage mentally, emotionally and physically. Aikido is the total mind and body workout.