Sunday, December 12, 2010

Aikido – the Peaceful Martial Art

In 1971, when I was 17, I came across aikido for the first time. On my request, a friend showed the technique nikyo on me, bringing me down on the floor painfully. I forgot the pain in my amazement and decided that I had to learn that mysterious art. Now, almost 40 years later, I'm still working on it, and I'm still just as amazed.

My friend Christer was a couple of years older. I had known him for quite some time before realizing that he had practiced one of those Japanese martial arts, and I didn't understand why he had not bragged about it. Any teenage boy would. But I had to drag it out of him, and I had to insist on him showing me anything at all.

In those days, little more than the “judo chops” that Austin Powers jokes about, and the karate of Oddjob in the Goldfinger movie were at all known to the general public. Aikido I had not heard about at all. It seemed like magic. Christer just sort of waved his hand around mine, and I was down, in a flash of pain.

I went to the local club, one of the few in all of Sweden at the time, put on a blue training overall, and started to practice. It was an immediate passion. I even dreamed about aikido, and could think of little else – including schoolwork.

By now, it's an integral part of who I am. Its peaceful strategy of avoiding conflict by solving it without confrontation, or simply passing by it, has become a reflex. My breathing, posture, and ways of moving my body, are always the same as when I practice in the dojo. My way of looking at the world is greatly influenced by how to perceive the surroundings at keiko, the training. It's no longer possible to extract aikido from the rest of me.

I think that everyone who has done aikido for any significant period of time has the same experience. One could call it a way of life, but I prefer to regard aikido as an ingredient in it. Aikido is not a way of living, but one of the tools by which to refine the vehicle of one's path through life.

The Koan Art
It's an odd martial art. Aikido contains no attack techniques, only defense. Therefore, competition is impossible, as well as excluded out of principle. There should be no loser. It's complicated enough to take a lifetime to learn, and during that time the difficulties seem to increase rather than to diminish – as one becomes aware of how much more there is to perfect.

It's a martial art that is nothing less than a koan, the riddle used in Zen. The answer to a question is mostly another question, and learning is done best by not trying to know. You practice, although your mind understands neither how nor why, and gradually your body's experience will enlighten the mind, with a language not consisting of words.

Eastern philosophy has one distinct difference from that of the West. The latter is theoretical, made up by sentences, whereas the former is nothing, if not expressed in the body and in actions. Thinking must turn into doing. In aikido, it starts by doing, which leads to thinking, but it's still all about the doing.

The peacefulness of the aikido solutions is expressed by how softly and gently the body performs the techniques, and how pleasant the experience is to the attacker. That increases by time and persistent practice only. No shortcuts, no end result around the corner.

Books and Stuff
Since I'm a writer by profession, I just had to make a book about aikido. But it took almost 20 years. When I finally got around to writing it, I was surprised to discover how much of its content I had received already in my very first years of practicing aikido, and listening to my first Japanese teacher Toshikazu Ichimura, who was the head instructor in Sweden in those days.

He was a complicated man, which is not rare in this strange art, but he was also very generous with trying hard to emit all that he was able, and all that he knew. He followed faithfully the principle of trying to make his students surpass him. I hope I do the same.

My first aikido book was initially called Aikido – the Peaceful Martial Art, but the new edition is renamed Aikido Principles, to clarify that it's a book about aikido theory, not a manual on how to do the techniques. There's little point in trying to learn aikido from a book, so why pretend it's possible by writing one that way? But there's a lot to talk about, when not engaged in training.
So my book talks about all those things one might think about when keiko is over.

Here's more about the book: Aikido Principles. You find it on most Internet bookstores, for example at Amazon. If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

I have also written a book about the attack techniques. True, there is no attack in aikido, but we need to be attacked in order to practice it. The attack technique training is often neglected in aikido dojos, so I got the idea to write a book about how to develop one's skills at this, and what to consider about the attacks, for the aikido practice to improve. Actually, to advance properly in your aikido, you need to work with increasingly advanced attacks.

The book is straightforwardly called Attacks in Aikido. Here it is on Amazon. If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

I've so far written two more books relating to the aikido theme (and more books might come in the future). Aikibatto is about sword and staff training, which are part of the aikido curriculum. The Japanese sword is well known for its sharpness and the myths about it. The staff is less famed, but also practiced extensively in most aikido dojos. Here is the book on Amazon). If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

Ki is the life force principle of Eastern tradition. It is also spelled chi or qi. It's essential in aikido as well, so much that it's part of the name of this art. Aikido means approximately “the way of joining the life forces” (those of the defender and the attacker). Most people are quite bewildered about it, so I wrote a book presenting ki and how to exercise it: Qi – Increase Your Life Energy. Here it is on Amazon. If you're Swedish, it's quicker and cheaper to order the book from AdLibris.

But there's a limit as to what can be learned about aikido from reading, so I also made a bunch of videos, where I try to show it. Here is my YouTube account, where I put these videos: Aikidostenudd. There are also lots of texts, images, and videos about aikido on my website:

Mainly, though, it's a thing to practice together with others in a dojo. Enough said.


  1. I feel exactly what you felt when you started with aikido,it's lovely

  2. hi stefan!
    I realy liked your post ,great videos you have here. I trained martial arts all my life but never tried aikido,reading your post made me think that maybe i should.

    Martial Art Training

  3. Yakbi11, many thanks for your kind words. I hope that you find the opportunity to practice some aikido, and that you enjoy it as much as I do.

  4. I to practice Martial Art but belive in karate as the first and most useful of them all.

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