On the Importance of Breathing

In general, you will find at Griffith Aikido that in class, we perform breathing practices from time to time. It may seem strange to practice your breathing as this is something your body just does. As I’ll explain below and in later posts on the topic, breathing is an important subject to research in your own training and development. I would be even daring enough as to say that breathing plays an integral part to not only martial arts but any movement in general.

So, now to prove the case for my bold assertion. Breathing is a subconscious mechanism. It is rarely given the conscious attention it deserves, as it happens automatically. As anyone would rightfully know, the body depends on oxygen to survive. Your body’s autopilot system cues the body to breathe, as without oxygen, the brain would eventually shut down and you would die. In our classes, we usually perform breathing training at the beginning, during or at the end of a lesson. It is somewhat necessary, in order to gain the mental and/or physical attributes of Aikido.

At the start of class, breathing is performed as a good way to ‘warm-up’ the body physically and mentally. Before placing the body under physical stress, the lungs need to be prepared and even trained to give greater or steady amounts of oxygen when the body physically or mentally demands it. Like finely tuning a car, working on your breathing will assist your performance greatly in any endeavour.

When you start up your car, it is generally good practice to leave it sitting in idle for a little time before driving. Doing so allows the engine to warm up and for fuel and oil to pump through the mechanics. Breathing is somewhat alike in that it allows us to stretch the lung sacks by expanding and deflating the lung tissues as well as pump oxygenated blood through the system.
Breathing also helps with that all important aikido principle of relaxing the body. Breathing additionally works as a form of meditation to sharpen one’s focus and concentration. By consciously focusing on inhaling and exhaling, like practicing a weapon’s kata, it gives our mind a simple set of movements to focus on. By focusing our concentration in such a manner, we can clear away all distractions to focus on the current task at hand. This in turn strengthens our level of concentration and focus before we engage in training that requires mental and physical rigour.

During high speed training, such as in taninzugake (where your partner/s repeatedly attack you in quick succession for a period of time), breathing practice assists in calming the mind during a highly stressful situation. When stressed, the body may not function properly. This is akin to pushing the accelerator pedal down so hard on a car, that the petrol intake chokes the piston and thus, your car does not go any faster or even function better.

In our martial situation, we are dealing with oxygen and adrenaline pumping into the body. The result being that you may breathe so quickly, that you cannot actually take in the oxygen and instead build up carbon dioxide. This is better known as hyperventilation. When under pressure, focusing on pacing the breathing by staying calm keeps the body working while dealing with the oncoming attackers. Moreover, reduced adrenaline allows our vision to not become narrowed and be aware, essentially, avoiding the flight or fight response mode.

Lastly, you may partake in breathing training at the end of the lesson as a way to mentally and physically “cool” the body down. This is achieved by the pace of breathing to slow down the heart rate of blood pumped through the body.

This is still only a very superficial description of breathing in aikido. I will in future discuss the basic body mechanics of breathing as well as the history of breathing through the lens of Japanese influence. Ranging from Japanese mythology and sword schools to the early 1900s craze of breathing practices in Japan, and then its influence in the early 20th century strongmen and weightlifters of today.

The Art of Aikido and What Helped to Shape It

Unlike other martial arts Aikido is not about attack and defense. At it’s core it is about re-directing energy to create harmony instead of harm.

It wasn’t always that way though. I tend to look at the evolution of Aikido as having two distinct eras. The first is pre-world war two and the second is post world war two.

Pre-world war 2 Aikido had a very different flavor to it. Japan itself had a much more martial approach to life so it makes sense that this would have flowed into the early days of training in Aikido.

Aikido at this time was made up from a variety of styles which the founder, O’Sensei studied such as Judo, Jujutsu and many others. The main teachings though arose from his training in Daito-ryu which was a combination of several martial arts including swordsmanship and spearmanship.

A great deal of emphasis was placed on atemi (strikes) during this time which could be delivered by any  part of the body to any part of an opponent’s body.

After the war, things changed. There was less focus on the martial aspects and more emphasis on neutralizing an attack by using the energy of the attackers movement to neutralize them.

Although many of the pre-war techniques were still applied it was the way in which they were used that softened the blow to an opponent. Atemi now became about leading an opponent’s mind rather than attempting to cause physical harm.

When you lead an opponent’s mind you are able to effectively catch them off balance which makes it easier to disarm or pin them so as they do not harm themselves or others.

While there are as many applications of Aikido as there are schools to be found it really comes back to the tradition of the Dojo you are training in and whose methodology they are following.

There are still some Dojo’s that practice pre-war Aikido as that’s the way they like to train – and for some that will suit them fine. For others though, they are more drawn to the softer side of Aikido which is more about staying calm and relaxed and using little to no force against your opponent.

In fact, the more relaxed you are the simpler it is to apply any Aikido technique with minimal effort yet your opponent will feel like the ground just disappeared from beneath them. The faster and more aggressively someone attacks you while you stay relaxed and alert, the more they will hurt themselves as you simply re-direct their energy back to them.

The key here is to stay soft and relaxed. The moment you tense up then it becomes a battle of who is the strongest and true Aikido is never about a test of strength.

That’s why modern Aikido works well for men, women and children of almost all ages. It is one of the only martial arts I know that you can start when you are a child and continue for as long as you like.

There’s never a right or wrong time to learn Aikido. It really depends on why you want to train and what you are looking to get fr
om it. Keep in mind that the reason you start out training will most likely change over time.

I know that my reasons for training have changed massively since I started. At first, it was about being able to defend myself and those I love in a world that continues to grow more aggressive and violent.

Now, I train because it helps me to learn about myself so that I can become the best version of myself possible. For me, this means knowing how to stay relaxed no matter what’s going on around me or inside my mind or body.

5 Ways Aikido Training Can Help Improve Your Life

Before I started training in Aikido I had spent two decades studying other forms of martial arts. Most of them were very martial which means a lot of physical contact and ultimately I could see that as my body ages I would not be able to keep up this level of intensity.

I was also concerned about the ever increasing amount of injuries that I was getting from training in these other styles. This led me to looking around for a martial art that I’d be able to do for the rest of my life that helped with self-defence and was kinder to my body.

That’s when I stumbled across Aikido. I didn’t really know much about it at the time except for what I had seen Steven Seagal do in the movies. From the very first time I went along to train I fell in love with it. Yes, the training was hard but as I watched the higher grades training together I was mesmerized by how relaxed and graceful they appeared to be when practicing together..

Since then, I have come to understand why it is that I love Aikido and the enormous amount of benefits that I see showing up in my life as a result of training in this particular style of martial art.

Here are the top 5 ways that I see Aikido helping to improve your life:

1. It teaches you to stay centered even when under pressure.

If someone had of said to me prior to training in Aikido that you can stay calm and relaxed while being attacked by 4 or more people and manage to stay in control I would had laughed at them. Now, I’m able to stay relaxed and alert no matter how much force an opponent may use. In fact, the harder someone tries to attack, the easier it is to use their energy against them. If you apply this same principle to your work and home life, especially during those times that you feel under pressure then it’s easier to remain centered amongst the chaos going on around you. The benefit of this is that stress gets easier to manage which is a Godsend because stress is one of the biggest health and productivity killers around.

2. It helps builds confidence.

Confidence is a big topic for many people as it one of those things that you either have or you don’t. Some people are confident in some areas of their life while lacking in other areas. What Aikido does is give you confidence that you are in charge of your mind and body. As we have thousands of thoughts every day it is no surprise that what goes on in your head has a big impact on your quality of life. Through Aikido training, you are able to have a more focused mind that is clearer, calmer, and more self-assured. When you are confident in your mind and body, then it’s easier to be confident in all areas of your life.

3. It is good for your body.

I never would have thought that this would be true of a martial art. Since training in Aikido though my body has never felt so relaxed yet so energized, flexible and strong. It’s not like training in cardio or weights as that’s purely physical. In Aikido, the physical part of the training is for helping to learning techniques and how to be more coordinated in your mind and body. You learn things like rolling and moving out of way from an attack, how to control the space around you so you can’t be harmed, and how to always be moving your body while staying relaxed. While there is a lot of physical activity in Aikido it’s all done with the intention of staying relaxed yet connected to your body.

4. It helps you to be more compassionate.

Aikido really is the art of peace. You train not to learn how to attack or defend you train to learn how to have enough awareness of mind and body to be able to redirect the energy of an opponent so as they don’t hurt you or themselves. When you are able to confidently move out of the way of a verbal, emotional, or physical attack and then calmly redirect that energy back to where it came from then you have mastered the art of true compassion. Compassion is not about being weak and doing nothing, it’s about being aware of how you can best create peace where currently there is none.

5. It’s all about self-development.

There’s a saying that if you are not growing then you are decaying. What this means is that if you don’t make the time to work on bettering yourself then nothing much will ever change in your life. Aikido is a lifelong program in self-improvement. It teaches you that true power comes from softness and that no matter how good you might think you are at anything if you stay humble and keep beginner’s mind then you’ll always be opening to learning. You learn so much about your mind and body when training which is invaluable because it helps you to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

While Aikido might not be everyone’s cup of tea I’m certain that it is for everyone. Whether you are 5 years old or 80 years old Aikido has something to offer for your mind, body and spirit. It is an art form that is really about living more fully and freely in your body. It also teaches you the skill to work with or get out of the way of negative energy so that you don’t get so easily dragged into it and be a victim of circumstance.

If you haven’t tried an Aikido class yet then perhaps it’s time to look into it for yourself and see if it’s something that will benefit you and where you’re headed in life. Aikido is also great for kids as it helps boost their self-esteem and teaches them so simple skills to help with bullying of any kind. In most clubs the first lesson is almost always free which makes it easy to check it out. I look forward to possibly training with you on the mat some day.

Koichi Tohei Sensei – Ki Aikido 1/5 Fundamental Concept Principle

Now this looks familiar…

The True Value of Aikido Etiquette

ki-connection-300x199As training gets under way for another year, it is a timely reminder that the reason we train is to develop ourselves so we can better meet the challenges of life outside the dojo.

Although learning technique is fundamental and a lot of fun, one very important aspect of Aikido training can often be overshadowed.

That is, the art of etiquette.

It is easy to minimise the value of etiquette to a series of bows in and out of the dojo; on and off the mat; before and after practice. However, the positive impact of etiquette can reach much further into our lives and relationships outside the dojo than technique alone.

Look around and you will see that the really good practitioners in Aikido, as in every other walk of life, are defined by their etiquette. That is, in the way they conduct themselves.

Those that are respected are not full of self-importance. They are humble and kind. They respect beginners and seniors equally. Quietly confident in their own abilities, they focus on others rather than themselves. They gain respect because they give respect.

Aikido etiquette is also respect for our dojo just as we would respect our home. It is respect for our instructors and fellow students just as we would respect our family.

Our home dojo deserves the same loyalty and protection that we give to our homes and families. In the words of Maruyama Sensei, “A dojo is not a gym and Aikido is not a sport.”

A dojo is a very special place and should never be treated as a convenience store or part of a cross-training menu. Training and grading under the guidance of Sensei who teach by choice is a privilege. Selfless dedication to home dojo in the Samurai tradition, is still one of the values that underpins Aikido’s connected journey.

Enjoy your training

Gary

Happy New Year! … from Griffith Aikido in Brisbane

gary-e1356227078850-150x150Welcome to Griffith Aikido in Brisbane 2014!

As all of our super keen members know, training has already started. I hear the aiki-addicts had their noses pressed to the glass doors waiting for both dojos to open last week. Another year of aikido training means another year of fun and another year of learning how to apply these wonderful principles to your daily life outside the dojo. Besides welcoming back our returning members, we are looking to meeting new members as we implement a promotional program that will run all year.

What’s new this year!

1. With independence in what we teach, our most senior Aikidoka are getting their heads together to review our syllabus. If I know our old-school Sensei, we will see an emphasis on practical and effective technique; a reinforcement of the art’s history & etiquette and importantly, a renewed focus on the Ki in Ai-Ki-Do. For those new to the art, it’s about developing your own strong and purposeful spirit while staying relaxed under movement and pressure. You won’t learn it from a book. The only way is to practice it for yourself.

2. On the first Thursday of each month at Nathan dojo only, we will be exploring ways to use aikido for self-protection and to cope with some of the everyday challenges that life throws at us.

See you on the mat,

– Gary

Griffith Aikido Brisbane

Start your Aikido journey today. Enrol now at Griffith Aikido Brisbane.
Call Narelle (Nathan dojo) on 0474 218 203 or Michelle (Everton Hills) on 0448 644 436

Brisbane Aikido – The Art of Peace

“The key to good technique is to keep your hands, feet and hips straight and centered. If you are centered, you can move freely. The physical center is your belly; if your mind is set there as well, you are assured of victory in any endeavour.” Morihei Ueshibapete-276x300-150x150

Had a tough day at work?

Got too much on your mind?

Feeling kind of down?

Too tired?

Too many things to do?

These are all good reasons to take a class today.

As soon as you decide to do that, your day will change. Maybe just a little bit, maybe a lot. By the time you have packed your gi and are on your way to the dojo, your own personal ritual for transformation has begun.

Michael Williams “Aikido Yuishinkai Student Handbook”

Looking for Brisbane Aikido? Start learning aikido this week at Griffith Aikido Brisbane

Class times at Nathan and Everton Hills

Griffith Aikido Brisbane – Dojo Closures This Week

Everton Hills dojo

Monday 12th August – no adult or kids class because PCYC is closed

Saturday 17th August – no adult or kids classes because instructors will be attending the Will Reed seminar.

Nathan dojo

Thursday 15th August – no adult classes because instructors will be attending the Will Reed seminar.

Saturday 17th August – no adult or kids classes because instructors will be attending the Will Reed seminar.

Next week it is business as usual

Aspects of Irimi

cherry-blossom-300x200Here are a few interesting excerpts in relation to ‘irimi’ by Wendy Palmer in her book “The Intuitive Body: Aikido as a Clairsentient Practice”. It includes a telling quote from the late Terry Dobson.

Strength has more to do with intention than with the size of your biceps. It has more to do with your Spirit and your energy flow than the number of push-ups you can do.”

– Terry Dobson

“The concept of irimi is translated as “entering”. Irimi is an embracing of life, a fundamental urge of our being.”

“In Aikido, irimi is the act of entering directly into an attack.”

“Irimi is the act of entering into life – not trying to avoid it. Irimi is a way of consciously exploring our fear that provides an opportunity to understand what holds us back and prevents us from living fully. What are some of the elements that help us to face our fear, to open our hearts, and move forward into life?

It seems to me that the two most important elements for facing our fear are ground and interest. We begin with groundedness because it provides a place from which we can then become interested. When there is a sense of embodied stability, it allows a settling down that provides some space in our being. Within that space interest and inquiry can arise. The inquiry is irimi. I often say, “If you are afraid of something, become interested in it.” By entering into a situation, we may begin to change our experience of it. Fear often begins to dissipate at this point. There is an element of generosity here as well – we give ourselves to the moment, no holding back, no watching or observing from the outside. We make a complete surrender into the moment.”

Wendy Palmer

Griffith Aikido Brisbane – Nathan class times and Everton Hills class times

Learn Aikido – Why Etiquette is Important

brisbane-aikido-shodan-200x300When you learn Aikido, you realise that like most other traditional martial arts, practice begins and ends with courtesy.

Etiquette is a standardised set of behaviours that ensures that everyone acts in a uniform and predictable manner whilst in the dojo. So why is it necessary?

Firstly, it is the way that an otherwise diverse group of active individuals can remain safe during practice. Secondly, it teaches us to pay care, attention and respect to our training partners which, during the course of a class, includes all other students in the dojo.

Aikido is potentially a dangerous activity and requires great concentration. If there is no code of standardised behaviour, how else can 15 -20 people on a mat practice under movement at close quarters without accident or injury?

Bowing a Bokken or Jo onto the mat serves to makes us very aware that we have a dangerous weapon in our hands. Even an accidental bump with a wooden weapon can cause painful injury. A tap on the head can cause damage.

When we bow onto the mat, we are paying respect to Kamiza. This is the place of honour at the front of the mat which symbolises the presence of the founder and the heritage of the art. Bowing on to the mat also serves as an individual reminder to focus on what we are about to do and to do it with a calm, clear mind and no distraction.

When we step onto the mat to practice, we are entering a potentially dangerous place where a high level of concentration and awareness must be maintained. It pays to be respectful when you are about to practice an art that is not a sport; and, in that context, has no rules and no competitions.

We also bow to our training partner not only as a matter of courtesy, but also to signify that we are both ready in mind and body to commence practice. Safe practice and the best opportunity to learn occur when both partners are aware and present in the moment. An attack and response with one partner distracted is an accident waiting to happen.

In terms of respect, bowing means that we are acknowledging our training partner with courtesy, and paying close attention to their needs. It is important to be sensitive to the needs of our training partners because two people are rarely at the same level of ability at the same time, in all aspects of the art.

The need to be sensitive to our training partners is extended further because it has been long established that the most effective way to learn Aikido is through ‘cooperative’ practice. It is an opportunity for two people tuned in to each other (harmonising energy) to learn by applying and receiving techniques in turn. One leads, the other follows; both learn.

It is a waste of that learning opportunity to introduce unwanted resistance. To deliberately impede cooperative practice by repeatedly blocking or offering resistance is nothing more than ego at work, not to mention … very disrespectful to a partner who is kind enough to contribute their mind and body to the other’s learning.

Etiquette is very important when you learn Aikido. Bowing is the outward form of respect; and over time, it is hoped that the inner form follows to the point where genuine care and respect for other people becomes second nature. The more we discover genuine care and respect for others, both in word and deed, the safer we will all be – in or out of the dojo.

Learn Aikido at Griffith Aikido. Start this week!