Psychology of Aikido


1. Aikido: A Martial way

To understand Aikido and its benefits, it must be said that as a traditional Japanese martial art, Aikido is more than simply an efficient method of self-defence. It is a form of Budo a “martial way”. The word ‘do’ in Japanese is the same as the Chinese word ‘Tao’. It denotes a path of understanding, a way of life, and the way of the universe itself. In Japanese history, as in many cultures, the warrior arts were considered uniquely suited not only for practical use during times of war, but for the refinement and development of the human character.

The qualities and principles of the ideal warrior courage, decisiveness, strength, clarity of mind, compassion are also the ideal qualities of the human being. In this way, the Japanese martial tradition, like European chivalry, has always stressed the applicability of martial principles to daily life. This understanding is the meaning of budo. A related word, Bushido (“the way of the warrior”) also expresses this.

A warrior’s way of life is not simply fighting but is the constant striving for self-perfection in all things. The knightly ideal in European cultures was that of a powerful warrior that also possesses sensitivity and mercy. Likewise, the ideal of the samurai, the warrior of Japan was not a simple fighter. It was a balanced human being, a warrior embodying the motto Bun Bu Ryodo: “The martial and the intellectual ways as one.” Balanced in this way, one could truly be useful and of service to others.

These traditions today are carried on in the martial ways of Aikido. Everything in Aikido training is meant to develop not only a strong individual, but one with the wisdom and energy to positively benefit society. A true martial artist views conflict not merely as a contest with others, but as an opportunity to forge oneself and overcome our true enemies, which are within. A life lived fully in this manner naturally becomes shugyo: the deepest possible spiritual training. A favourite saying of Morihei Ueshiba O-sensei, the founder of Aikido, was Masakatsu Agatsu: “True victory is self-victory”. This truly is the spirit of Aikido.

2. Physical Benefits

Of course the philosophy and internal benefits of Aikido are accompanied by concrete physical benefits. Aikido training is an excellent program for all-around physical fitness, flexibility, and relaxation.

The human body in general can exert power in two ways: Contractive and expansive. Many fitness activities, for example weight lifting, emphasise the former, which means that specific muscles or muscle groups are isolated and worked to improve tone, mass and power. The disadvantage of this, however, is that the whole body movement and coordination are rarely stressed.

Thus, while muscle size and power may increase, there is no teaming of the ways in which to use those muscles together most efficiently. Also this sort of training tends to increase tension, decrease flexibility and stress the joints. The result may be aesthetically pleasing, but when done to excess, it is ultimately useless, and actually detrimental to overall health

The second type of power, expansive, is mostly stressed in activities such as dance or gymnastics. In these activities, the body must learn to move in a coordinated manner and with relaxation. Aikido also, mostly stresses this sort of training.

While both types of power are important, it is interesting to note that a person who masters the second type of power can, in a martial context, often overcome a person who is much bigger and stronger. The reason for this is that the contractive power, which most persons know, is only as great as the mass and power of your individual muscles. Expansive power, however, as used in Aikido can be much greater than your size may lead you to believe. This is because you move your whole body.

Rather than stressing and tensing a few muscles, you learn to relax and move from the centre of your body, where you are most powerful. Power is then extended out naturally thought the relaxed limbs, which become almost whip like in their motion.

So Aikido develops the body in a unique manner. Aerobics fitness is obtained through vigorous training. Flexibility of the joints and connective tissues is developed through various stretching exercises and through the techniques themselves. Relaxation is learned automatically, since without it the techniques will not function. And a balanced use of contractive and expansive power is mastered, enabling even a small person to generate enormous energy and self-defence skill.

3. Psychological Benefits

Aikido training does not view the body and mind as separate. The condition of one will affect the other. For this reason, the physical relaxation learned in Aikido naturally becomes mental relaxation. Likewise, the perseverance and confidence that develop mentally are manifested in a body that moves and holds itself confidently.