As an aikido practitioner and teacher for almost 4 decades, I occasionally get asked what advice I would give to someone who is just starting out in aikido.
Probably the hardest thing to get used to as a new aikido student is learning how to move differently than how you are used to. In my dojo – which teaches a Tomiki style of aikido – we emphasize the following concepts, particularly for beginners:
The most successful fight is the one that doesn’t happen. One of the first things we teach our beginner students is how to get off the line of attack using various evasion steps. If your opponent has committed to attacking you, but all of a sudden you’re no longer there, he has already committed his/her energy. This leaves the attacker confused and off-balance, and you have the advantage.
Hand in Your Center
We try to get our new students used to working with their hands/arms in the center of their body. This allows you to use the forward momentum of your body (your “center of mass”) to assist you, so you don’t have to rely on arm strength.
Same Hand, Same Foot
We encourage our students to move “same hand, same foot”. What this means is that as you perform most techniques, the hand and foot you are using should be on the same side of your body. For example, if you step forward with an arm outstretched to break your attacker’s balance, the arm you use should be on the same side as the foot you are stepping with. This creates the maximum stability. To try it for yourself, walk towards a heavy glass door and try to push it open using “same-hand, same foot”. Now try it with the opposite foot. Which seems more stable?
This is one of the most difficult concepts for our new students to learn, but one of the most crucial. Having “unbendable arm” creates a stable structure, but also allows the flexibility to adapt to whatever your attacker does. To accomplish this, put your arm out in front of you. Relax the muscles in your arm, and keep a slight bend in the elbow. One of my students – who also takes tai chi – visualizes a stream of energy running through the arm.
All of these concepts are incorporated into a kata that we call “The Walk”. It’s the most important thing we do in our dojo, and the Walk is a crucial part of every class. The best part about the Walk is that it can be done on your own as well. Most of the movements that make up the building blocks of all our aikido techniques can be found here. Practicing the Walk over and over again allows you to (1) learn the correct way of moving and (2) develop muscle memory that makes learning more advanced skills much easier later on.
YouTube video of our dojo’s version of the Walk.
The World is Your Dojo
Another thing I like to encourage beginners to do is to find ways in your everyday life to practice. Need to open a heavy door? Try to keep your hand in your center, use unbendable arm, and open it using same-hand, same-foot. Do you need to walk through a crowded area? That’s a great way to work on your evasion steps. Are you walking down the hall and realize you forgot something? When you turn around to get it, try to keep your posture as straight as possible and move with your center.
In future posts, we will be revisiting some of these concepts in greater detail. In the meantime, here are some good resources you can look at:
Additional Resources for Beginners (particularly the Tomiki Style)
Dublin Tomiki Aikido