Aikido as a Way to a Healthy Lifestyle

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Professor Ron Sims, Logan, UT

Ron Sims is dojo-cho and chief instructor for the Jyushinkan Aikido dojo (Aikido of Northern Utah) at the Whittier Community Center in Logan, Utah. Dr. Sims is Professor of Biological Engineering at Utah State University, where he also teaches aikido through the Department of Kinesiology and Health Science. Sims Sensei is a ranked as a sixth degree black belt (rokudan) by the Aikido Association of America and the Aikido Association International.  You can reach Sims Sensei at

In Japanese, the expression “numon” means to enter through a gate.  As you read this article, you are entering through a gate of the Aiki Way, which means that you are learning about Aikido and how its practice can enhance your living each day and your life.  Aiki is translated as ‘harmony with energy,’ and Aikido can be translated as a way to harmonize with energy, which includes harmonizing with another person’s energy as well as with your own energy.

Mind and body health go “hand-in-hand.”  Have you heard this saying before? Based on traditional Japanese martial arts, Aikido is a relatively new martial art that provides a healthy and safe way for adults and youth to build life-skills to improve flexibility, concentration, relaxation, and stress management. Through my experience as a martial arts teacher and as a university professor, I have observed how the practice of Aikido can improve the health, confidence, attitude, and discipline of people at all ages. Aikido provides a way for adults to stay fit, remain flexible, handle stress, and express a positive attitude toward living and interacting with others.

“To injure an opponent is to injure yourself. To control aggression without inflicting injury is the Art of Peace.”   —Morihei Ueshiba

A little history on Aikido.

The martial art was founded by the Japanese teacher Morihei Ueshiba early in the twentieth century, and is rooted in the traditions of Japanese budo, “warrior ways.”  Ueshiba is referred to as O-Sensei or “venerable teacher.”  O-Sensei conceived of Aikido as not only a means of self defense, but

as a means of promoting the positive character of the ideal warrior and ultimately of transcending dualistic conflict.  For O-Sensei, Aikido was a path of self-development.  He believed that it could be a means for anyone, or any nation, to follow.  Aikido is shugyo, physical and spiritual training to perfect human character and develop true wisdom.  Today millions of people practice Aikido world-wide.

So what is Aikido?

Aikido developed as a defensive martial art against grabs, holds, charging attacks, punches, kicks, and weapons. As such, Aikido offers a system of movement that includes throwing, joint-locking, and pinning techniques executed in standing and sitting positions, coupled with training in traditional Japanese weapons including the sword, staff, and knife.

Aikido is practiced not only for its defensive skills and fitness benefits, but also as a “Way” of internal training for stress management and development, stressing peaceful resolution of conflict whenever possible and avoidance of inflicting injury to others and yourself.

Aikido offers physical and internal training benefits to everyone, and may be practiced by anyone of just about any age.

Aikido view of the world: “There are alternatives to fighting.”

Aikido involves studying and practicing methods to receive energy, often appearing as an attack, and to respond to an attack in ways that minimize damage to those involved (attacker and defender) and provides physical conflict resolution.  There is no negative emotion or intent to inflict revenge. In a physical attack there is only energy that is out of control, and our practice is to control the energy of the attacker and defender in such a way as to avoid injury and to offer opportunities for healing and personal growth through the sincere practice of budo (warrior way).

So what do we do when we practice Aikido?

These four principles are developed in everything we do inside and outside the training studio, or dojo: intense energyrelaxationmental focus, and calm. We practice the four principles through the following activities:

  1. posture and stance
  2. movement
  3. stretching
  4. breathing and meditation
  5. waza, or formal Aikido techniques of self-defense
  6. buki-waza, or weapons techniques
  7. ki, or energy development activities.

The first four of these activities form the basis of internal training; they also prepare students for practice in the latter three.

1) Posture and stance include alignment of the spine, head, and legs, and the signature triangular “defensive-and-ready” stance.

2) Movement activities include practicing awareness and concentration while in motion and under attack, mind-body coordination exercises, and effective posture in motion.  We have two basic movements in Aikido that include irimi (entering) to get off the line of power or attack, and tenkan (turning) to blend with an incoming attack. Both movements serve to re-direct the incoming energy so as to off-balance an attacker and to be able to control the balance and energy of an attacker.  Irimi and tenkan are two fundamental movements in Aikido that help to connect internal training to application of self-defense techniques.

3) Stretching includes warm-ups, rolling and tumbling exercises for handling energy in a fall or throw, and wrist-stretching exercises that are also used in defensive action using pinning techniques.

4) Breathing exercises (kokyu-ho) involve taking air in through the nose and out through the mouth to promote concentration and relaxation, while meditation (meiso-ho) involves counting of breaths and emphasizes wakeful awareness of oneself and one’s surroundings. Three breathing practices used in Aikido include these:

  • Okinaga is breathing practice which involves deep, prolonged exhalations from the abdomen (hara) through the mouth, and controlled inhalation through the nose.
  • Kiai is the practice producing an explosive exhalation from the hara with vocalization, usually using the syllables “Ei!” and “Toh!.”
  • Ibuki delivers an explosive exhalation from the hara without vocalization.

Development in the next two skills depends upon the proper and consistent practice of the first four activities described above.

5) Waza techniques that emphasize pinning, throwing, joint locking, and redirecting methods that can be used to minimize the damage to both attacker and defender in a physical conflict.  The waza are practiced from both standing and sitting positions. Specific waza may include kihon-waza or basic techniques using wrist pins, oyo-waza or advanced techniques, ushiro-waza or defense against attacks from the rear, and henka-waza or methods of switching from one self-defense technique to another.

6) Buki-waza involves three traditional weapons: (1) jo, or 4-foot staff, (2) ken, or sword, and (3) tanto, or knife. Buki-waza emphasizes skills of timing, distance, dynamic movement, focus, and energy extension. Buki waza include tachi or standing, suwari or seated and hanmi-hantachi or seated defender against a standing attacker. Weapons practice also includes kata or prearranged forms, and kata executed in paired forms with sword against sword and jo against jo.  Unarmed defenses against weapons are also included in Buki-waza.

Finally, 7) Ki exercises are methods to develop postural and mental stability, degree of tension and relaxation, and understanding of Aikido technical principles. Ki exercises develop the strength of an individual to receive energy in a positive manner, move under control and balance, even when under attack, and extend one’s energy in a physical way that facilitates movement with “grace under pressure.”

Defense against multiple individuals at once is called randori. Such a situation can be effectively handled by applying waza and ki development at the same time. Therefore, waza and ki development build upon the principles of posture, movement, and breathing to give a dynamic and powerful ability to control an attack, disarm attackers, and provide balance to the defender.

The seven activities above, when practiced on a mental and spiritual level, are involved in receiving, handling, and redirecting energy that is not directly physical (as in a punching, kicking, or grabbing attack) but is more non-physical, as in stresses that are mental and emotional in nature.  Thus, Aikido practice uses physical attacks as a training ground and even a metaphor for other forms of stress that come at us every day from many different directions.  All of our relationships with others provide sources of stress, both positive and negative. Learning how to receive and handle these stresses is part of one’s Aikido training.

So, as you have entered through the gate (numon) with this article describing Aikido, I invite you to become more deeply involved in our training program as a way to a healthy and energetic life-style.  If you have a sincere desire and commitment to develop yourself and other people through learning physical conflict resolution skills, techniques, and methods, based on a philosophy of non-contention and peace, then you have potential to develop into a strong practitioner of Aikido (an Aikidoka).  You will grow and your training partners will grow to be more positive and affirmative.

Some details on Aikido of Northern Utah

The Jyushinkan Dojo (Aikido of Northern Utah) is located in the Whittier Community Center in Logan, Utah. We are affiliated with and certified by the Aikido Association of America, with headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, and by the Aikido International Federation in Tokyo, Japan. We have black belt instructors that teach the classes offered each week, and Professor Sims also teaches Aikido every semester as a physical education class at Utah State University. Each year, we also invite national and international instructors to Logan to provide training in two- or three-day intensive seminars involving 9 to 12 hours of training per seminar.

You can find more information on other pages on this website.