Suenaka-Ha Aikido Training Methods
There are many aspects of training in Aikido; the mental, physical and spiritual. The following is a breif summary of each of our training aspects. As a new student, trying to learn, absorb and execute all of the elements which encompass an Aikido technique can be challenging. No one expects a beginner to be able to take a perfect fall. Be patient with yourself; know that even if you walk out of the dojo at the end of class only having learned one new thing, you've made another step toward growing as an aikidoka.
We start our journey of Aikido with different ages and backgrounds. There is no judgment of a person's physical abilities on the mat. Some people come to the mat with years of martial experience and physical fitness. Others may come from a more sedentary lifestyle; older folks may come in with less flexibility stretching or less endurance than other aikidoka. It doesn't matter! Sensei only wants to see a sincere attitude, and the desire to learn and grow.
The following is a brief introduction to our training methods. For more complete explanations please check out 'Complete Aikido' by Roy Suenaka Sensei.
Stretching and Flexibility
Stretching is very important when engaging in any physical activity. It's the first activity in Aikido class. The stretching exercises we perform are designed to loosen up kinks, and generally improve flexibility. Most senior aikidoka are quite flexible, and can do some amazing stretches; do not attempt to do this at first, unless you are sure you can! A pulled muscle from stretching beyond your body's limit can keep you out of class for weeks.
Flexibility comes along with stretching and taiso, which are basic building blocks for all Aikido techniques. These exercises will help develop flexibility in your wrists and in your body, as you learn to move correctly through each exercise.
Ukemi Undo [falling techniques]
Learning how to fall properly is essential for personal self-defense. One of our students always says 'you are more likely to be hit by a planet than a person!' Falling is also required to properly receive an Aikido technique. You may think it seems silly to say "learn how to fall", doesn't it? Have you ever slipped on ice, and threw out your arm or hand to break your fall, only to seriously injure your wrist? In Aikido, we learn how to fall properly, so that whether it be on a mat or in the street, we can take a fall safely.
You will learn how to properly fall from a seated, kneeling, and standing position both forward and backwards. You will also learn how to perform sutemi or 'sacrifice falls' to throw your own body in order to maintain more control of your fall. Sensei says it takes time to 'round off' our 'square edges'. It will come to you with diligent study and perseverance.
Taiso [body exersices]
The taiso exercises are performed at the beginning of each class. They are the basic building blocks of our Aikido techniques. They are designed to coordinate our minds and bodies into efficient and powerful movements. The basic taiso are performed from a standing position, like basic Aikido techniques. However, Aikido can be performed at any level and thus we will perform modified taiso from a seated position to learn how to move our bodies from a seated to standing position. No matter your level of experience, the taiso should always be performed with an engaged mind and body. As Sensei says "Practice makes permanent; perfect practice makes perfect."
Waza [martial techniques]
During the waza portion of class class you will learn how to perform Aikido techniques. Aikido techniques use an attacker's momentum against them and end in a throw or joint lock. You will learn about the four basic principles and how to apply them to each technique. Employing these principles enable one to manipulate an attacker's body, lead them off-balance, and execute a compelling join lock or body throw. You will utilize your entire body and drive power from the hips to overcome age, size, or strength disadvantages.
The instructor will demonstrate a technique, using the Japanese terminology, and then members will pair off to do the technique. Try to get with a partner who is more experienced than you are to work with, as there are so many elements of a technique it can get confusing. When you are watching the instructor demonstrate a technique, just try to get an overall sense of what is happening; it can be overwhelming at first, to try and remember what the attack is, how to turn your body, and which technique to apply. Again, just take it one little bit at a time, and do not be discouraged if you can not make your body do what your mind is thinking!
How is Aikido Spiritual?
What is Ki? It is defined as "vital life energy; the energy of Creation; the vital life force of the Universe; spirit; energy." Rather esoteric? Perhaps, but think of the story of a mother who virtually lifts a car which rolled over her child; think of the times someone has walked int a room and your eyes are just drawn to the charisma of that person; or maybe a time when you pushed yourself beyond your physical or mental limits to attain a goal. All of these are examples of ki; that 'spirit' within us, that gives us life.
Suenaka Sensei makes a specific distinction between ki in the broader sense of Universal love, and ki as it pertains to the practical execution of proper Aikido technique:
Ki in terms of Aikido means the latent energy within a person. For instance, if someone is excited, or if someone is afraid of something, his body automatically produces adrenaline to make him stronger, to make him faster. That is what kis is all about in Aikido - the ability to call upon this energy, to utilize it and control it without having to be excited or scared and, in so doing, to perform a technique with the proper amount of strength necessary for that technique to work against a certain size person or in a certain situation. Of course, at the same time you have to utilize proper technique, to use the attacer's force also. I do not mean to say that ki is adrenaline, but it is like adrenaline. For Aikido purposes, you can define ki as spiritual adrenaline. It is a very real energy, energy of purpose and of intent, of focus, of uniting body and mind and spirit together in one moment, to allow ki to flow through you and through your technique.
As you grow as an aikidoka and a person, you may find a spiritual aspect of Aikido beyond ki. We believe this is best self-discovered. Many students report a growth in awareness and purpose from training in Aikido. Everyone has their own background and their own appreciation for the art.