My interviewee walked towards me and I was instantly captivated by her air of confidence and strength. I was sure her almost palpable aura was a result of the topic we were here to discuss, and now I was excited to dive in … Melinda is a long-time student of the Japanese martial art, Aikido.
Aikido is one of seven of Japan’s martial arts but there is something truly unique about Aikido, compared to other Eastern defence practices. It is non-aggressive and non-competitive. It is one of the more spiritual martial arts and has been referred to as ‘moving Zen’.
The practice was founded in the early twentieth century by Morihei Ueshiba. It was considered quite esoteric, with principles based on self-improvement through mastery of the mind and body, instead of combat training. The absence of winning or losing allows the participants to focus solely and mutually on their journeys. As such, the practice is actually a path to spiritual growth.
In Aikido, there is no ‘Way’ except the path of confronting ‘the enemy that lies within oneself’. Aikido is a path of dogged perseverance and dedication to improving both spirit and body. The recognition and acceptance of this aspect of training is the surest means to steady progress and personal progression. – National Aikido Association of Australia
The kanji character ‘Ai’ means ‘to meet’ but ‘love’ is its truer translation, and how Ueshiba used it. ‘Ki’ means the spirit, mind or soul, but also means ‘spirit of the Universe’, and ’Do’ means ‘the way’. Therefore, “…in a physical training sense Aikido means ‘the Way of Harmonising the Body and Universal Spirit’ but in a deeper sense it also means loving the world and all who live in it.” (National Aikido Association of Australia.)
Through regular practise, an Aikidoist learns to operate from embodiment and control. They repeat circular, flowing movements and techniques, learning to respond to aggression without causing injury, until these movements and state of being become inherent. So when someone is attacking them, they harness the energy coming towards them, join them in the same direction, and disarm them with a number of holds and locks. When this centred, calm mind is the trainee’s natural state, they become well equipped to meet any ‘opponents’ they face.
Aikido in Everyday Life
As Melinda pointed out, this becomes a beautiful metaphor for life, since we are all faced with a variety of challenges in our daily lives. With Aikido training, one learns how to naturally embody one’s own power, uniting with the opposing force and guiding it to a place of resolution. From that place, one can unite with these energies/forces/challenges and adapt, rather than clash with them. This can be applied to mental and emotional challenges as well, making it a truly empowering and holistic tool for anyone and everyone.
It is often described as a way of cultivating a human being, and in the Founder’s own words, “For building a Heaven on Earth.” – Aikido Western Australia
Over the years, several branches of Aikido have evolved. The one Melinda practises is Shinshin Toitsu Aikido which means ‘uniting the head with the heart with the one point or Tandien (located just below the navel.)’ She explained this is the seat of power in the body and awareness of this leads to a stable mind. When we coordinate mind and body, we have natural stability and can move with grace, agility and coordination, creating strength through union.
Melinda pointed out that with such a huge amount of the focus on forging a connection with subtle energies, our own and those around us, a deepening of one’s intuition naturally occurs. Another invaluable tool to walk through life with. We live in an energetic world and to be so highly attuned to energy allows us to move through life like water, gracefully and harmoniously flowing and forging a path in the direction of least resistance. Perhaps the greatest form of connection there is.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Melinda asked me to stand up to show me an exercise, so I could feel the power of Aikido for myself.
She asked me to bring my awareness to my Tandien (just below my navel), noticing how I felt in my being (body awareness) when I did. I felt strong and unmovable. Then she asked me to bring my awareness to my head and above. Suddenly I felt airy and light and she showed me how, in this state, she could lift me quite easily. This is a woman who – whilst she certainly doesn’t look it – is in her mid-sixties! She tried to lift me when my focus was on my centre but to my surprise, I felt solid as a rock. Totally unmovable.
Next we tried the unbendable arm. She asked me again to connect with my Tandien. Then she had me bring one arm straight out in front of me, to a ninety-degree angle. She told me to focus my attention beyond my arm, to imagine my energy was drawing from that well of unlimited ‘ki’ deep within my centre and was shooting directly out of my fingertips, beyond what I could see in front of me, way out into the distance. An infinite pillar of solid energy through mere conviction of intention. This is called ‘extending ki.’
She stood beside this arm and, with one hand on top of my upper arm and the other under my forearm, her body shook as she used all her might to try to bend it … without success.
To prove her point, she asked me then to forget my centre and to focus on using my physical strength to stop her from bending it. My fist clenched and my muscles contracted in preparation, and because I am stronger than most assume, I suspected that she would have her work cut out for her. I was so wrong. This time, my arm shook as I tried my darndest to hold it straight. I lasted less than ten seconds. I was baffled.
I am a big believer in the power of our minds and intentions and have been working with energetics (in a healing capacity) for some time, but to actually feel such a contrast in my inner and physical strength in just a few simple minutes, with no training and minimal instruction, was truly eye-opening. It also shows that someone doesn’t need to be exceptionally physically strong to be efficient and powerful. In fact, the practice is more about the state of one’s mind and the strength of one’s intention. I wanted to explore this humble, yet invaluable art!
The Potential of Self-Mastery
Before retiring, Melinda had been a Japanese teacher at a local high school. On occasion, she had taught some basic Aikido practices to her students, knowing that these powerful principles could help in all aspects of their life. Upon announcing her retirement, one of her previous students, who was by then a senior, had expressed the impression Melinda’s brief introduction to Aikido had given her. “You can’t retire!” She had exclaimed, “You taught me the greatest thing I ever learnt at school.” How to harness her own energy.
As our interview came to an end, Melinda shared with me a meditation that she frequently practiced through Aikido, and one that in only a few days of practicing is deepening my connection with all that is. She referred to it as the ‘cosmic breath’. It is as simple as sitting in a comfortable position, spine erect, either cross-legged or on a chair with feet flat on the floor. Then, as you inhale, you imagine breathing the whole universe into your Tandien and as you exhale, you breathe light and love back into the universe.
I began to imagine the possibilities, the potential, I could discover through practising and mastering my mind and my life-force. What an amazing vehicle for self-discovery and development! Imagine if it was in every school curriculum! How much more confident, secure, caring and adaptable our youth would be. Imagine a society built on these principles, this way of being, moulding ourselves with the challenges that meet us along the way. United in cause and supportive of each individual’s path. Knowing and trusting our inner strength and intuition. I for one am excited to embark on this journey into myself and spirit, with Aikido as my vehicle, ready to explore my love for this world and all who are in it.
Have you ever tried Aikido? If not, and if you feel to try even the simple techniques outlined in this article, we would love to hear about your experience in the comments below. What were your insights? How has it impacted you?
With much love to you and the universal energy that resides within you,
Briony and Team UPLIFT