A Martial Art for Everyone

by Grasshopper

For most of my life I have been interested in martial arts but never took the step to start. The timing wasn't right or maybe I was somewhat intimidated. A close friend of mine who is also nearing sixty said to his wife (who is a black belt in Karate) that he would like to join Karate. She looked at him and said "No. Join Aikido. It is the martial art for seniors."

The next time I spoke with him, he and his wife had been in Aikido for about a year and he stated that they love Aikido and that it is much more than what he or his wife expected. They stated it is a martial arts for all ages and conditioning. Their excitement and passion convinced me to explore Aikido and my search for a suitable dojo began.

I attended three sessions at one dojo. I had a different teacher at each session and felt that there was not a consistent system of instruction. Then I decided to try Aikido Jiseikan. When I walked in to the dojo there were about eight students training. To my surprise, without stopping their practice, all eight students and the Sensei said hello to me. This was my first experience of how this dojo has a welcoming and supportive atmosphere.

After three sessions I knew I had found a home as it was quite evident that there was a consistent instructional system in place. At the end of one practice I asked Sensei what the difference is between his dojo and others. Sensei responded "Me, I am here."

In the year that I have been at this dojo Sensei has not only been at the practices but has been fully engaged in leading each session. I now understand how valuable this is in creating consistency in the teaching, practice and protocol. It also creates an atmosphere that is not only challenging but trusting and safe not only for me but also the partner(s) I am practicing with.

Not knowing martial arts, I was often concentrating on executing the move with speed and strength, and oblivious to everything else. Then I would hear Sensei say to me "Relax. Be more aware of your partner. Protect your partner. Breath. Take your time. Smooth it out."

Because Sensei leads every practice, he knows what level of knowledge I have and what I am capable of. When I work with a senior belt and am struggling, Sensei will interject and say to the senior belt "He is not ready for this yet"or "only practice this with the first hand grab and only grab his right hand". When he feels I should know a specific move he will give hints that assist me in working through it. I am accepted for who I am, mentally, physically and technically.

As my experience increases, practices become more challenging both physically and mentally. For beginners there is significant teaching on form, patience and safety. Every movement builds onto the next. Therefore it is critical that I execute each movement properly.

Once Sensei determines you are ready, the speed of practices increases, as well the expectancy of readiness at all times. My practices became more challenging to the extent that I found myself out of breath at times. However with pre-practice workout, stretching and exercise, my body improves and I enjoy the challenge. "Martial arts for seniors"? Far from it! I modify this to martial arts for everyone.

My confidence has increased as I can defend myself a little better if needed. I have learned a lot and I state "a little better" as this is my first belt promotion and I can see that there is so much more to learn.

I have been surprised at how much I am enjoying it. The practice seems to fly by and I am often surprised when Sensei indicates that it is time to "bow out."

Other surprises:

  • Being able to get up off a mat without using my hands quickly and with little effort.
  • My increased confidence when walking on ice or uneven surfaces as I know how to fall/roll both backwards and forwards.
  • Better balance using proper foot and body positions
  • Mentally, the process continues to challenge me with motor memory and learning new words and moves.
  • Increased awareness, settling the mind, calmness and breathing while under stress
  • Increased flexibility which has increased my power from the greater range of motion

One of the biggest surprises is the atmosphere of the dojo itself. Prior to starting I had an image of martial arts as being somewhat confrontational and competitive. One student trying to win over another student. Here the objective is to help each other learn a technique and succeed. A team effort.

Lastly and this doesn't apply to everyone but a great benefit to me is working out with my wife.