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Mind & Body in Harmony

Joe De Capua

A Zen student asks, "Master, what is Zen?" The master replies, "Don't think so much."

Short, simple, and yet profound. Don't think so much. It is useful in everyday life as well as in martial arts.

Much has been said in recent years about living in the now - the present moment. That's exactly where you live when performing an Aikido throw or art. The past is gone. The future doesn't exist. There is only the moment of the art. You are that moment. It's a moment all students strive for through an ongoing journey of dedication, humility, open-mindedness, and joy.

Many martial arts initially were developed as a means of self-defense. For example, monks were not allowed to carry weapons, so they developed defensive moves to protect themselves while traveling. A simple walking stick, for example, looks harmless, but it can be a powerful weapon.

Aikido was introduced to the United States 60 years ago, after having evolved in Japan in the 1920s and '30s. It was founded by Morihei Ueshiba, commonly called O-Sensei (great teacher), who drew from his many years of experience in martial arts. After his death in 1969, different styles of aikido eventually emerged for various reasons.

Unlike some other martial arts, aikido does not emphasize strikes or kicks. Instead, it attempts to redirect the energy of an attack and turn it into a defensive move. To join with the attacker, become one with them and the universe. The goal is to do so in a relaxed, calm manner, which actually contributes to speed, timing, and fluidity. It is used only as a last resort in confrontations. However, one of the major ideals in aikido is to avoid confrontations in the first place. Many forms of aikido also include meditation and breathing techniques similar to the ancient practice of QiGong, which practitioners believe nurtures the life force of Qi (also known as Ki or Chi).

As in other martial arts, it is important to practice techniques regularly. This allows the brain to make new connections, so movements become easier. They are stored in the subconscious. Eventually aikido techniques can be performed without consciously thinking, "My foot goes here and my hand goes there." Technique is part of the foundation of aikido, along with mind and spirit.

However, don't be discouraged if you're not the most coordinated person around. Being athletic is not required to learn aikido. In the beginning, the athletic person may advance quickly by becoming adept at the basic movements. But those who concentrate only on the physical may have problems later when it comes time to explore the mind's connection to aikido. It's not always easy, but it is worthwhile. Without that connection, the quality of aikido can become stagnant. There's an old saying, "You can have 20 years' experience or one year's experience 20 times." It's often the persistent student who excels - the one who is willing to make mistakes and learn from them.

Among those who led the way in bringing aikido to the United States was Koichi Tohei Sensei. He later developed Shin Shin Toitsu Aikido or Ki-Aikido. This style focuses on the mind's relationship to the body and the development of Ki. While some describe Ki as energy; others call it a life force. For our purposes, let's think of it as something that literally connects...

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