My Journey To Aikido

Black Belt Papers Essays

By Dr. Wes Tomlinson

Aikido is not the most ancient of arts, but certainly has its place of importance in the martial arts world and mine.  I started my martial arts journey in the blended art of Tae Chun Jitsu.  As a kid I was always fascinated by the punching and kicking that was characteristic of the martial arts.  The fact that a seemingly weaker or purely smaller opponent could be victorious against a much larger opponent.  MMA was also starting to get traction during my early years in the martial arts. 

Despite my heavy interest in the martial arts, I did not get started until the end of high school.  Tae Chun Jitsu involved striking, throws, and grappling with submissions.  I loved the completeness of this art.  Being able to stand and fight or throw someone if necessary.  The art also gave me the ability to grapple and submit someone, if it went to the ground, where we ultimately do not want to be.  Especially in the circumstance of multiple attackers. 

College and my career as a Doctor of physical therapy separated me temporarily from the arts physically, but my love was never lost.  I had brief exposures to Tang Soo Do, Brazilian Capoeira, and boxing.  Ultimately, life came back around full circle to the martial arts.  This time Aikido would become a significant part in my life. 

I knew very little about Aikido.  I had been exposed to some guy with a pony tail on television.  Steven was about the only mainstream exposure of aikido to the world not directly involved in the martial arts.  When I started with Aikido, I quickly found that this was the most technical art I had every studied.  Teaching someone how to punch, kick, and even perform a hip throw or sweep such as Osoto gari would be easy in comparison.  I am not at all disrespecting these skills, because today I still value these abilities gained.  However, Aikido is an art of millimeters at times.  Finding balance points to displace/disable your opponent’s stability or properly lock up a wrist or multiple joints, can be very disheartening.  Especially for a kyu-rank in the early years of this art.  I would also venture to say that within each individual art, the strikes and blocks are often quite standardized.  This is not always the case in how many Aikido techniques are performed. 

One advantage of Aikido is that it generally allows a martial artist to practice into the later years of life.  Energy conservation through minimization of movement is emphasized.  A constant stable base of support with both feet in contact with the ground, pretty much at all times, is taught and is more conducive to older students.  Arts that involve dynamic kicking can become problematic as we age.  The elasticity of our muscles degrades over time, making kicks more difficult, and making us more prone to injury.  Kinesthesia, or movement sense, is also impaired over time, therefore negatively affecting our balance and ability to support ourselves on one leg.  Aikido can certainly be utilized as a defense against kicks, but offensively is not a component of the art.  This art also gives us the ability to control our attacker vs damage and decimate.  The opponent can certainly be hurt or even killed if control is not exercised, or level of engagement is taken too far.  However, many arts purely have the ability to hurt the assailant, and no options for lower levels of engagement.  Aikido gives us this option.  I got started with Aikido as a member of our church security team.  This art is perfect to address many of the potential situations we would encounter in this environment.  A frustrated parent in a custody battle with their divorced spouse, trying to see their kid certainly does not need to be struck in the face or kicked in the head.  Many of these situations can be neutralized through de-escalation and aikido techniques. 

One of the negatives to Aikido is often seen in the early attrition of newer students.  I have personally witnessed many trial the art, and fewer stay with it.  The art is very complex, and often feels like it takes a longer timeframe to be effective or functional in the real world with this art.  Someone that possesses any decent physical abilities can often be taught quickly to become a decent striker.  They can then be taught to utilize this in a real-world confrontation more quickly than you often can with aikido techniques.  I personally believe many are also drawn to the striking aspect as I was in my early years.  Striking is a small component to aikido, but kicking is nearly non-existent.  Aikido is an exceptional art for small joint locks/manipulation to produce control through pain/nociception.  The wrist is a typical target, taking ligaments to their end range and sometimes beyond.  This can result in wrist and other joint sprains from taking them to this point repeatedly, even if controlled.  Serving as the Tori, or person performing a technique, is very manageable in our later years.  However, ukeme can be a different story.  The uke is the attacker.  For someone like myself who has cervical spine damage, and therefore suffers from neck pain and cervicogenic headaches, ukeme work can be painful.  Taking falls, even correctly, requires your body/spine to absorb certain amounts of force.  This can become difficult as we develop more orthopedic problems over the years.  Decades of falls can also contribute to earlier orthopedic degradation.  This is not to say that all arts don’t have some potential negative effects on our bodies.  Overall, aikido is an excellent martial art.  Is it complex and require significant time investment to become a decent practitioner?  Absolutely.  However, aikido keeps me both physically and mentally engaged.  It gives me the ability to improve a negative situation without taking it to an unnecessary level on my part.  This meshes well with my daily practice.  As a Doctor of Physical therapy (physical medicine), I have dedicated myself to helping others physically.  Aikido allows me to defend myself, and more importantly my family, while being gracious if necessary, instead of causing unneeded harm. 

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