Aikido, a Holistic Approach?

Many groups are advertising Aikido as a holistic training method. A way of Life. There is a danger of putting the mental and technical side to the foreground and the physical aspect is sometimes almost forgotten. The “Ki” or life force is only needed to perform. Nothing is less true.

Aikido and holistic training

Holistic: relating to or concerned with wholes or with complete systems rather than with the analysis and dissection into parts

Age-appropriate facets of physical training, understanding of technical, tactical, physical and mental factors are needed to develop efficient training methods. These factors are deeply interdependent.

Some tactical information is needed to perform with excellence during fighting and competing, and is according the ethical rule we like to integrate in our methods.

A mental factor in training has to be integrated by using some forms of meditation or other program to boost mental activity during training.

Physical Training

As most of us will notice, a heap of the older practitioners, instructors included are overweight. The cause of this unhealthy situation is a lack of efficient physical training and unhealthy food. We will focus on conditioning the body (and mind).

First, we wish to bring forward some “knowledge” from Wikipedia, Heart Org and Afterward, we will discuss this in the context of our Aikido training.

Intensity Levels

The metabolic equivalent of task (MET) is the objective measure of the ratio of the rate at which a person expends energy, relative to the mass of that person, while performing some specific physical activity compared to a reference, set by convention at 3.5 mL of oxygen per kilogram per minute, which is roughly equivalent to the energy expended when sitting quietly.

Only… This is quite complicated, but if we use a formula, it becomes more clear.

The formula using MET: (MET x bodyweight x 3,5) x 200 = Kcal/min

The problem arises with the value of MET. Which one we have to use? A source of information can be found at “Compendium of physical activities”.

Using Heart Rate

Another method to measure the efficiency of the training is by using the heart rate. This is typically used as a measure of exercise intensity by using a device around the wrist or with a chest band. It is an indicator of the challenge to the cardiovascular system that the exercise represents.

The target zone?

When you work out, are you doing too much or not enough? There’s a simple way to know: Your target heart rate helps you to get max benefit from every movement you make. Knowing your heart rate (or pulse) can help you track your physical level.

First Things First: Resting Heart Rate

Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re at rest. 

For most of us, between 50 and 90 beats per minute (bpm) is normal.

Maximum and Target Heart Rate

This table shows target heart rate zones for different ages. Your maximum heart rate is about 220 minus your age. This is just a rule of thumb and is not very useful when you enter the level of professional top sport.

Target Heart Rate Zone is divided into 4 to 6 zones depending on the purpose of the training and the goal to reach.

The Heart Rate Zones

By using 4 heart rate zones:

Rest ↘︎40% of heartbeat reserve+ heart resting beat
Fat burning40%-59% of heartbeat reserve + heart resting beat
Cardio60%-84% of heartbeat reserve + heart resting beat
Peak↗︎85% of heartbeat reserve + heart resting beat

Heartbeat reserve is your max heartbeat minus the heart resting beat.

Example : age 30 yrs and resting heartbeat of 60 / max BPM 220-30=190 / Heartbeat reserve= 190-60=130 / 40% of 130=52 / 52+60=112 BPM starting fat burning

How to conform our Aikido techniques and/or movements is a crucial question for our training method. Many fitness and power training exercises have a great value for our health. But are those exercises functional for our martial art?

4 training goals for Aikido

Heart Rate Zones give an indication how intense we can practice the different functional components of the Aikido syllabus without losing the technical correctness of the techniques. Fundamentally, we can distinguish 4 different goals in our training.

  1. Mental and physical preparation, creating a martial body
  2. Healthy movement adapted to develop efficient techniques and/or movements
  3. Developing cardiovascular system to develop physical stamina to endure efficient training performances
  4. Peak performances needed for combat and/or competition

These training zones don’t need to be executed in this order.

Aikido exercises and/or techniques can be used for any of the 4 mentioned training Aikido goals and can conform to the directives of the Heart Rate training zones. Depending on the choice made by a practitioner, training has to be guided by the goal of the practitioner. This is a real challenge for the instructor. Creativity is one of the basic requirements of a good instructor.

Mental and physical preparation, creating a martial body

A martial body can be seen as “a holistic” concept how the body is functioning during training and daily life. Synchronising all the parts of the body is the main purpose of this training method. Posture training and moving posture are the main components together with martial art techniques.

Healthy movement adapted to develop efficient techniques and/or movements

If the movements are executed in a wrong manner, it becomes unhealthy, and can create serious physical problems when we get older. Using the body with a holistic concept can avoid physical problems in the future. On the other hand, the martial aspect cannot be forgotten and must be included in the training method.

Movements like tandoku undo unsoku & tegatana dosa are used as an exercise to develop a link between the 3 body parts. During posture training we become aware of these 3 parts

Developing cardiovascular system to develop physical stamina to endure efficient training performances

By controlling the speed of the exercise, we have an impact on the heart beat. Monitoring the heartbeat with a device (Apple watch, Fitbit, Polar, Garmin,…..) is very helpful. During partner training a watch is lesser convenient, but there are different methods to avoid the problems

Peak performances needed for combat and/or competition

Peak performances cannot be forgotten for those practitioners involving into randori or shiai. Without a firm stamina, people cannot enjoy peak moments in dojo or other places. This has nothing to do with winning or losing, it is about enjoying the art of the moving body and mind.

Personal training scheme example

This scheme is based upon a person – 72yrs/87kg/180cm/resting heart rate 58/heart rate zones – fat burning 93-109 – cardio 110-131 – peak 132+

Training goal (solo training during Corona pandemic)

Keeping body and mind synchronised and in a good shape. Martial art aspect is integrated by using functional exercises.

  • Warming-up: ballistic exercise, kiko (qigong) hachidanken (baduanjin)
  • Posture training: shizentai (central line), gedan (moving koshi-pelvis), chudan (kyokotsu open/close), unstable standing (image=wooden platform in water)
  • Moving posture training: unsoku – tsuri ashi (gedan posture) – ayumi ashi (jodan posture)
  • Tandoku undo – tegatana dosa (static) 1-3
  • Tandoku undo – tegatana dosa (dynamic) 1-7
  • Tandoku undo – flowing – ki no nagare
  • Cooling down – closing the energy posture

Find here 2 examples of heart rate evolution during a 1hr session. It gives an indication of the heart rate zones. By doing “tandoku undo” with a higher speed, the effect is visible. Example 1 is rather slow (bpm 115) and example 2 is more cardio oriented thanks to the speed increase of the tandoku undo (bpm 130). The overal bpm is around 100-110bpm.

Heart rate example 1
Heart rate example 2

An example of heart rate zones

The peak moment in the beginning is an exercise called “pendulum” and is a preparation to take up with Kiko-hachidanken, breathing exercises synchronized with the movements. By doing the pendulum at the beginning, the intake of oxygen during Kiko is more effective.

Meditative Movements: Fusion between Mind & Body

We learn not to move, but to be moved
Sometimes people ask me about my passion for martial arts. The answer is straightforward: to become better than yesterday.
Of course ageing is a factor to take into account and which is “a game breaker”. What you can do when you are 20 will be not the same when you are 50.
The search for a method to become better than yesterday is a path full of obstacles and the end is for everybody the same.
Becoming better than yesterday?
Maybe the answer is at the end of this blog post…….Maybe other questions will be asked…….Who cares…..

I “feel better” than yesterday.

Eddy Wolput

Meditative Martial* movements and Mushin Mugamae
When we speak about Meditative Martial Movements, we are talking about body and mind movements. In general the body is for movement and the mind is for thinking. But what about a “thinking body” or a “non-thinking mind”?
Our Aikido as a kind of meditative movement is a method where mind and body make a fusion. Both becomes one unit and both are equal with a different function.
We have to look at the body and mind in a different way.
The body operates according natural laws, the mind guides according natural laws. There is no interference from the ego.
This is called “Mushin mugamae”: No mind, no posture.
Which means, the body is not rigid, the mind is not fixed.

The mind as an observer
Commonly spoken, body movements are mostly based upon using power generated by muscles. But as said previously, ageing is a game breaker.
The answer to this problem is the use of natural forces of our environment.
Mostly our movements are inspired by reflexes or inborn actions and also by learned movement patterns stored in the brain.
To learn a new pattern or overwrite a wrong pattern, we have to practise the “new” pattern according natural laws. To become succesful we cannot allow the conscious brain and ego to interfere. Mind in this context means “awareness”. The mind is neither engaged in conceptual activity nor focused on a future goal, but instead is focused on bodily experience.

“Don’t think, listen to the body”

Akira Hino – Budo Researcher

Relaxing & acceptance, a skill called zanshin
Zanshin is in general defined as a state of alertness or awareness. When you are alert, it means you can start a movement immediately. This only can happen when you are in a state of relaxation.
To define relaxation in the context of our training in Western language is very difficult. Some therapeutic systems use the word “eutony” to define this state of being.

The term eutony comes from Greek Eu: good, – and of Latin Tonus: tension, the grade of tension or elasticity of muscle fibers. It was coined to express the idea of a harmoniously balanced “tonicity in constant adaptation to the state or activity of the moment”. 

Essentially, accepting “the truth” causes less suffering than struggling vainly against it. In many cases, we have a choice. We can either accept or reject, and much of the time rejecting doesn’t change our reality, it just causes mental pain.

Acceptance is an active process. It must be practiced.
It can require effort most of the time, at least initially. It can be frustrating at times. By acceptance you create and strengthen the neural pathways in your brain, facilitating ease in the future. It is no defeat, it is a gate to victory. Because there is no frustation, no pain, you can use your energy to keep your awareness and start an action without delay.
Relaxing and acceptance go hand in hand and cannot be separated. Excessive tension physically and mentally is a barrier between your body and mind.

Relaxing is no collapse

a balance between tension & un-tension

Acceptance is no defeat

finding a way out of the impasse of losing

How to practice relaxing and acceptance?

Using natural laws is a principle wellknown in internal martial arts and can be very practical explained.
Take for example gravity. On Earth, gravity gives weight to physical objects, and everybody is influenced by the forces of gravity. Old bodies undergo the same influences as young bodies. Of course, strong muscle can give you some advantage as more body weight.
The point here is, gravity is not influenced by age. By using gravity as a source of power, even old bodies can put forward a powerful presentation.
Relax your body, especially your shoulders is a common problem. We know the expression: drop your shoulders. In fact you have to accept gravity on your body. Shoulders go down as the rest of the body, but you are not collapsing. The fear of collapsing doesn’t exist, it is a delusion. But your mind need acceptance.

Musoku no hô*** , a principle packed in a practical example.
Musoku no hô,a method or principle in which one does not use the force of the feet, aiming to make fast and powerful movements, without being predictable.
To demonstrate this principle we will look into 2 ways of moving around.

Displacement by propulsion
The first is the principle of displacement by propulsion we use spontaneously in all kinds of sports activities. With each stride, a sprinter gives a powerful blow to the ground to obtain a force of propulsion. With differences in degree of performance and intensity, this type of displacement is present in all sports activities. The characteristic is that you exert a force that goes against that of gravitation to produce a movement.
Don’t confuse this with the rebound of power during accepting an attack from opponent.

Displacement by immersion**
One of the keys to understanding longevity in budo is what called the immersion principle.
Although little known, this principle is in Japan transmitted in some kenjutsu and jûjutsu schools as a secret teaching. It makes it possible to increase the speed of displacements and the strength of the technical execution. The perception of this principle is masked by speed, and the difference is difficult to perceive. To move, instead of giving an impulse against the ground, you “remove” the force of the legs to let act the gravity of which you will transform the force in a horizontal movement by a control of the center of gravity. You have the impression of immersing yourself in gravity, which is about “displacement by immersion” as opposed to “displacement by propulsion”. It is in fact to find the sensation of gravitation as an existing force that can be used and no longer, as usual, as a force against which we must fight.

With the principle of displacement by immersion, you can engage the total weight of the body in the technical execution, which considerably increases the efficiency. Because you can use the energy of the descent of the body due to gravitation. This descent movement is absorbed by the flexible muscular contraction of the legs. This process is the opposite of the ordinary movement where you first propel yourself by muscle contraction and then absorb the fall.

How to do?
The first step in teaching is to properly place your weight in the lower body and use the force of the fall in a shift. In the second step, you learn to transfer this fall force to your hand, your fist, or your sword.

In kenjutsu this is associated with a rotation around the central axis of the body. Monjuro Morita described this action in one of his books:
To hit properly from the tanden and koshi, we must use a perfect structured body and a perfect handling of the sword. This is a gesture that is produced in accordance with the two forces that go diagonally right leg left arm, left leg and right arm.
The perfect handling of the sword is produced by the integration of three elements: the rotation of koshi, diagonal tension produced by this rotation and displacement of the body.

Only displacement?
In martial arts methods, the application of the immersion principle is not limited to displacement but can be extended to other physical movements.
The realization of the principle of immersion first requires a physical relaxation.
To apply the principle of immersion in the hand movements, it is essential to locate the center of gravity, which brings out the sensation of the center of the body, in other words “hara” and “tanden” and also the central line (seichusen) of the body.

Non-predictable start
The merit of this type of displacement consists firstly not to express the start of the gesture, which is essential in combat technique. Even if you can move with a great speed, if you express beforehand a start-up gesture, so small, your movement loses its technical efficiency. On the other hand, even if your movement is not very fast in appearance, if there is no prior expression of the start, it can be fast from a moving point of view. To act after making a setup for a technique, is missing the chance to become successful. This is why in all schools of Japanese sword, one seeks the “strike of non-thought”. This is the goal of the musoku technique.

Speed and gravity
An important aspect of the immersion principle is the ability to maintain the speed in the movement as you get older. Since the principle is not to use the force of the legs to propel the body, this type of movement keeps the speed of technical execution and serves as a basis for the practice of a long-term martial art.
Speed ​​is maintained by immersion in gravity and respiration. In the martial arts, this aspect is related to the channeling of the physical force, since it is to use the gravitation to move and to execute a technique. By using the weight of your body in the most rational way to be effective, it is concentrated in every attacking movement.

*Meditative movement: is a “Western” term used in medical articles about qi-gong and other Eastern Movement methods.

**Displacement by immersion: is a term used by Kenji Tokitsu. He published many sociological articles on Eastern Martial Arts.

***Gravity and displacement: Akira Hino, a Budo researcher, quoted the term Musoku no hô in his writings and seminars to explain the concepts of Taiju no dendo and taiju no ido.