The art of Aikido

Photo taken by me during a 2nd kyu exam at Ahualli dojo, Tucuman, Argentina. Sensei Esteban Hamada supervises the techniques being performed by fellow practitioner Gustavo Otey.

Today I want to tell you a little bit about a magnificent martial art I happened to stumble upon a couple of years ago. Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba in the late 1920s. Popularized by action star Steven Seagal during the 80s, it gradually became better known in the western world and took a place of its own among other Japanese martial disciplines like Judo or Karate.

Even though nowadays there are several different styles and schools of Aikido, all of them share the same basic principles and techniques taught by Ōsensei, Morihei Ueshiba. Most Aikido techniques consist of movements that redirect the momentum of an attacker finishing with either a throw or a joint lock. It should also be noted that most schools of Aikido share a concern for the well being of the attacker. The main focus of this art is to neutralize aggressiveness either psychologically or physically and to achieve a state of harmony.

At two different stages, I became involved with two very different styles of Aikido. First came Aikikai, which is the most widespread and popular one. Aikikai practitioners focus more on the spiritual and philosophical teachings of Morihei Ueshiba during the dawn of his career. Because of this, they seek quietness of the mind above all and focus on a continuous flow of movement during practice. This translates into smoother and more elegant movements that connect seamlessly with one another. Flow, they believe, helps the practitioner become one with the movement and, with time and practice, allows to exert control over the situation.

Here you can see Sensei Fabian Argañaraz (Aikikai) during his 2nd dan exam.

The second style I came to know was Iwama-ryū Aikido. This is the roughest, more physical counterpart to Aikikai. Iwama style practitioners tend to focus on the teachings of Ōsensei during his early years of practice, when the physical aspect was key. Later passed on by Morihiro Saito, one of Morihei’s most prominent students, this style is distinguishable for its harsher and more aggressive nature. Iwama-ryū dissects techniques and focuses on each small part in an attempt to reach perfection. It also emphasizes the practice of aiki-jō (practice with the jō, or wooden staff) and aiki-ken (practice with the bokken, or wooden sword), and considers them to be equally as important as taijutsu (empty-hand techniques). One thing to be noted is that Iwama style can be easily told apart by its use of the kiai, a yell or shout uttered when performing an attack or technique.

Here you can see Sensei Esteban Hamada (4th dan, Iwama Shin-Shin Aiki Shuren-kai) first supervising his students and then demonstrating proper technique.

Even though they differ in their approach, both schools share some basic rules and principles. Most learning comes through observance. Etiquette, code of behavior, and uttermost respect for your partners and teachers are continually stressed. And a high sense of camaraderie and companionship is noticeable among practitioners.

Aikido showed me that we are stronger than we might think. It taught me the importance of quietness of mind, awareness of the situation, and control of mind over body. It showed me that discipline and hard work pays off. And last but not least, it showed me how martial arts can form and develop your character.

If you’ve never tried out any martial arts, I would highly recommend you start with this one. I invite you all to give it a try!

Hope you enjoyed reading this. Until next time!


Sensei Fabian Argañaraz (2nd Dan Aikikai instructor) and I, circa 2011

Originally published on Tumblr

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