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After much thought and a week of primary research, I’ve decided to start practising martial arts again, this time with the intention of cross-training between Aikido and a variant of Shotokan Karate (Ao Denkou Jitsu/ADK) if those classes are still running, and if I can get a routine ironed out over the next several weeks. I practised the latter for a couple of years, attaining the grade of 7th Kyu (10th being the lowest), and was quite heavy into the MA scene at the time, getting the books, journals, accessories, etc. etc. But that was like a decade ago.

So What is It?
On the surface Aikido seems the antithesis of the more pragmatic arts like Shotokan, Jujitsu and Ninjitsu, which focus on brutal and quickly-learned techniques. Aikido is more graceful art that enables the practitioner to manipulate the power of the opponent, hopefully in real situations. It’s also about manipulation of the ‘Chi’, (itself a Chinese term I think) which is commonly believed to be some ‘life force’ type thing, but which actually appears synonymous with a person’s centre of gravity. Because attacks are being redirected, very little physical strength is required to defend against them. At least this is the basic principle.

The History
History and cultural knowledge are very important when discussing the merits of one martial art or another, as it tells us the context in which its techniques were originally used. For example, a kata developed for an 18th century battle with obscure Chinese farming implements is probably not ideal in a street fight. Further study is needed to understand how something was originally practiced and why, and when that’s understood everything makes sense. Techniques become easier to learn.

According to Wikipedia, Aikido was established by a certain Morihei Ueshiba, after he took some principles from various other arts and combined them with his personal philosophical and spiritual beliefs.
Being formed in the 1930s and formally named around ten years later, Aikido is a relatively young art, and hasn’t really been developed, tried and tested in real battle as Shotokan or Ninjitsu were. Of course, it’s quite likely the training would still provide at least some advantage over an untrained attacker. It’s also good because most proper fights end up on the ground, at which point they start to look a bit gay and we want to avoid that (at least I certainly do) by launching the attacker if possible.

A Tale of Two Dojo
Aikido appears to be among the most popular martial arts in Wales, if not the most popular, with at least half a dozen clubs teaching it around the Cardiff area alone, plus a couple more in Newport and a few up in the valleys. Why this is, I don’t know. Maybe it’s more accessible to those with an aversion to full contact sparring. A couple of highly experienced ADK practitioners I trained with also tried it for several years to ‘broaden their experience’, and ADK might have therefore adopted whatever techniques they found most effective.

I visited two clubs over the week. The first was very informal, and not too bothered with the usual dojo etiquette. As this dojo appears to follow the Iwama school of Aikido, much of the training here is weapons-based, which makes it demanding physically and mentally (I was pretty sore over the next couple of days), there’s less confusion over which kata were originally empty-handed, although that could be learned with a bit of historical study, and the techniques should reveal the origins of what Ueshiba and his followers were practising.

The other club, being run by the Welsh Aikido Society, was more formal but still easygoing. Where other Aikido schools teach a comprehensive number of techniques, this one is about drilling the basics to perfection – something like nine forms of attack and nine different locks. Last night the instructor demonstrated the ‘life force’/Chi thing at work, the effects of it were very real, whatever the mechanics of it are.

So I’ll post more on this, at risk of turning this into a martial arts blog, depending on how things go.

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