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5 lessons about life and Martial Arts from a year of Aikido.

It’s not one of the coolest martial arts, it’s not an art that makes you look tough, nor is it a sport that will make you win every street fight. Aikido is one of the more mellow martial arts, and was specifically designed not to hurt your opponent, only using effective techniques to get your opponent down without too much hassle. It was based on the Samurai period and is an art that was meant to be used when a Samurai fighter lost his sword. Using certain Aikido moves you could still have a chance of winning despite losing your weapon.

Despite Aikido not being the most effective Martial art for self-defense, I have learned a lot about fighting and life in general from this great art. There are basic principles that are heavily emphasized in Aikido that sometimes get neglected in other martial arts, even though they are fundamental and critical principles. The importance of balance, keeping every move in line with your center, using your whole body. They all occur in every single martial art, but none hammer these basics so hard as Aikido. Practicing Aikido for a year has built me a solid foundation for any future martial arts I’m going to do, and I believe they have even given me a slight advantage over everyone else. In this blog I’m going to talk about five things I’ve learned from Aikido, why they are so important, and how they can be used in other martial arts, or in life in general.

Balance is crucial.

The aspect that gets the most attention in Aikido, and rightfully so, is balance. The balance of yourself, and the balance of your opponent. The goal is to get your opponent just enough off balance that he can't respond to what you do, but that he doesn't fall over. Once your opponent is out of balance you can perform your techniques and the opponent has no other choice but to go along. When your opponent remains in balance, then he can easily counter anything you do and it won't work.

Almost more important is your own balance, you have to remain balanced the whole time. When you are out of balance it will be impossible to use the techniques on your opponent. When you’re off balance, and your opponent gives some resistance, you'll fall over like a domino. You want your opponent to be off balance, but you have to remain balanced at all times.

You keep your balance by paying attention to a couple of things. Firstly, your body should remain straight, once you bend over even just a little bit you are in a weak position and can easily be pulled out of balance, once that happens you're gone. Secondly, the most rigid and strong structure is a triangle, so your stance should be similar to that of a triangle, putting one foot forward and one backward, not having your feet exactly next to each other. This is the strongest and most stable position you can be in.

The last is one of the most important things you have to do in Aikido, but also in every other martial art, or fighting sport you're going to do. That is keeping everything in your center and getting everything out of the center of your opponent.

Every movement has to come out of your center.

In Aikido, the most important aspect is that everything has to come out of your center. Everything must happen right in the center of your body. This means that when your arms are to your side for example and out of your center, attempting any technique will be hopeless.

Your center is the most powerful place everything can be, once you hold everything there, you can simply move your body and your hips, and everything will follow. This is because you can now hold your arms isometrically, but all the power comes out of your lower body and the turning of your hips. This will drag your opponent with you much better than pulling with your arms out of your center ever would. When it comes to martial arts, the strength is always in moving your entire body. The whole is much stronger than the part.

The strength and balance are in your center, make sure you keep everything there, and that you make your moves from there. If you do this, your arms, or no matter which part of your body you're using, will simply follow your body, now the movement doesn't even take strength anymore and you can simply relax.

Doing everything from your center allows you to relax your entire body, just moving the hip and the legs, letting the rest of the body follow their movement. Once you've got this fundamental principle under control, everything you do after it becomes much easier.

Work against the movement of joints.

Joints are designed to move in a certain direction. Your arm can move up and down until it's horizontal, it can't go any further or it will break. Your knee is capable of going up and down in a straight direction, but it cannot twist. The joints simply cannot perform certain movements, and in Aikido, as in many other martial arts, you're going to take full advantage of this phenomenon. We have moves such as locking up the elbow, straightening it out and then pushing up, making the only option for your opponent to stand on his toes, otherwise, he loses his elbow. Same with certain wrist locks, locking the wrist up and pushing until the wrist joint can't go any further, then your opponent has to give in and move.

The beautiful thing about your body is that you'll always instinctively protect your joints when they are in a precarious position. When your elbow is in a locked state, instead of you pointlessly trying to resist the movement with your elbow and letting it break, you'll simply move your entire body to a position where you're better able to handle the movement.

This means that when you put someone's joint in a precarious position, they will immediately move their body in a way that relieves the tension, which is exactly what you want. Now that your opponent moves his body after your joint lock, you can continue with your technique. The purpose of most joint locks is that the body will move to relieve the tension, most of the time this will be a move that provides your opponent with less balance. This means that you can start performing your technique, and that your opponent has no chance to resist because he's off balance, and you of course are solidly balanced. Now he has no chance.

Once you use strength, you'll get resistance.

Once your opponent feels any strength being used by you, he will instinctively push back. This happens automatically and will happen with every opponent you face, whether they are a complete beginner, or absolute professional. Like Newton's 3rd law, there is always an equal and opposite force. Their response to your use of strength will always be resistance by using strength as well, and this will make it impossible for you to make any relaxed technique. In Aikido, you want to perform the techniques in a relaxed manner, and this can only be done when your opponent doesn’t resist. This is only possible when you don’t use any strength. Ideally, you want your opponent to feel absolutely nothing, just having to go with the technique, only noticing what has happened afterward. This is not easy, because you are always inclined to use strength when fighting someone. In Aikido you have to fight this urge, and simply perform your techniques in the most relaxed way possible, not giving your opponent a chance to resist.

The 4 stages of competence.

This is nothing specific to Aikido but simply something I've picked up from it. This concept goes for every martial art and even every skill you're ever going to develop in life. You're always going to follow these four stages of competence during the development of every new skill. You’ll go from complete ignorance in a skill, not knowing what you're doing and sucking at it, to mastering it and becoming unconsciously competent at it. Let's look at the four stages here:

1 Unconscious incompetence

You have no clue about what the skill is, you don't know how it works, and you are not even aware of what you don't know. You are also very incompetent in performing the skill and don't know how to do any of the actions required.

2 Conscious incompetence

Pretty soon you'll end up in the next stage: conscious incompetence. It basically means you still suck at the skill but now you actually know. You know what the techniques contain and are aware of what is happening, you simply can't perform anything successfully yourself yet. This comes in the next stage.

3 Conscious competence

Once you're aware of how the techniques are done and how it all works, you can practice with them. After a long enough time practicing you will actually become competent at performing the techniques. Now you know how the techniques are performed and you can perform some of them yourself. But you still have to think a lot about what you are doing, this means there is still a lot of effort involved when performing the techniques. This will disappear once you enter the next stage.

4 Unconscious competence

Also called mastery, this last stage is the one where you're going to perform the techniques without really thinking about them. They are so ingrained in your system that you will perform them automatically, and with no effort. This also means that you can perform the techniques better, and you mostly have all of the basics under control. Now you can even experiment with your techniques, letting you be creative, seeing what really works for you, and if there are certain adjustments you can make to how you perform techniques based on your own body.

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