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AthleteI am a 70-year-old aikido teacher, practicing since 1979. AMA!

Oct 7th 2017 by JimEllison • 13 Questions • 7068 Points

My short bio: I began practicing aikido in 1979, at the age of 33, and have been teaching it since the mid-1980s. Our dojo teaches a Tomiki style of aikido and is part of the Kaze Uta Budo Kai organization. I recently turned 70, and continue to teach classes a few times a week. Aikido is still a central aspect of my life.

In addition to practicing and teaching aikido, I also write a blog called Spiritual Gravity. In addition to aikido, I've been interested in spiritual things most of my life, and this blog combines my two interests. There are plenty of aikido drills and advice on techniques, etc. There are also some articles on spirituality as it relates to aikido and life.

I'm here to answer any questions you may have about aikido, teaching, spirituality, or life in general. Ask me anything!

My Proof:

Picture: https://i1.wp.com/spiritualgravity.files.wordpress.com/2017/10/unnamed.jpg

Spiritual Gravity Blog: http://spiritualgravity.wordpress.com

Edit: Signing off now. Thank you all so much for all the great questions. I will answer a few more later as time permits.

Q:

Do you have any students who started in their 60's? Seems like it would hard to learn Aikido now, because of the strain on aching joints from all the holds.

A:

We've had some. In the class I teach, we had several that started in their 50's and are now in their 60s. In fact, the majority of my students are 50 and older. We've had one lady make sandan (3rd degree black belt) in her mid-70s and another guy who made nidan (2nd degree) in his mid-80s.

In our style, we don't use a lot of force on each other in the learning process. For example, when doing a technique, we might take an opponent to the point of being off-balance, but they don't actually take the fall all of the time. When applying joint locks, we try to to it gently. I don't need to yank on your arm or put a lot of force on your joints for you to know my technique was effective. We also emphasize going very slowly, in order to develop control. In our dojo, we believe in working around peoples' various limitations - some skill is better than no skill. We try to have fun and let everyone learn according to his/her own capabilities.


Q:

How do you feel about Stephen Seagal and his claims?

A:

Don't know much about Stephen Segal's claims. But I've enjoyed most of his movies.


Q:

How many people that start practicing keep going? Is there a difference depending on age?

A:

Yes, there does seem to be a difference depending on age. I don't know exact percentages, but some of students who start don't make it further than our green belt level (it's the first promotion rank, called yonkyu). We also have some students who just stay long enough to get a black belt. However, the older students who start as beginners seem to stick with aikido much more often than the younger ones.


Q:

Can you explain some about the skirt pants? I was a HapKiDo guy for a while and I always wanted to try the big pants an Aikidoist gets at black belt. I remember reading your have to learn to move all over again. Thanks.

A:

In our dojo, we don't wear hakama ("skirt pants"), regardless of rank. I know a lot of other dojos do, though.

I wore them twice, a long time ago. I don't remember how easy they were to move in, but at least I didn't fall down! (One of my classmates tripped on the hem and fell on his face on the mat the first time he stepped onto the mat in hakama)


Q:

Hi! What have you learned from Aikido that has helped you in other aspects of your life?

A:

I was hoping someone would ask me this!

Aikido has helped me learn to avoid conflicts - and I don't mean just physical ones. It has helped me examine verbal and emotional conflicts, and practice a form of "mental aikido" where I can resolve these conflicts in the way that causes the least amount of harm to everyone involved.

In aikido, we learn how to fall safely. This has helped me and several others in my dojo. I fell off a stepladder a few years back and managed to land safely without injury. As I get older, I suspect that being able to fall safely will help me if something like that arises again.

In aikido, I try to put the least amount of energy possible into performing techniques. Over the years, I've realized that there are situations in life where I have been putting in way too much energy. For example, I used to have road rage - I put so much of my energy into what the other drivers were doing that I ended up making myself miserable. The only one who was affected by all my energy was me. It's a lot like aikido - we have a saying in our dojo: "He who generates the energy eats it". It kind of made me think about the concept of karma - the energy you give out comes back to you - I realized that I didn't want to generate all this negative energy. I started trying to minimize the amount of energy I spent worrying and getting angry about things, especially those I couldn't control.


Q:

I understand aikido is used as defence. Are there any offensive moves? Like if someone was pointing a gun or weapon at you.

A:

Are there any offensive moves? In our practice, we don't teach any offensive moves specifically. However, since our practice requires that we work in pairs, someone has to be the attacker. We do teach basic principles - keeping good structure and moving with one's center - that can translate to attacking. However, our primary focus is on defending.

We do have some defensive techniques that can be used for disarming someone with a gun or knife. However, a real-life situation involving a weapon is much different than practice in a dojo.

Unless you are absolutely certain you are about to die, I wouldn't recommend martial arts against a gun (and probably not even a knife).


Q:

What exactly is aikido?

A:

Aikido is a Japanese defensive martial art. What sets aikido apart from other martial arts is that it is taught as a defensive style. We don't focus on punches and kicks. Our focus is on evasion (the best fight is one that doesn't happen), putting the opponent off-balance, and using the attacker's own force against them. Timing and balance are more important to us than strength and force.

Because we use the attacker's own force, it is not necessary to have much physical strength to practice aikido. That's why it's a great martial art for anyone - especially women, smaller people, and older people.


Q:

Since there's a lot of misinformation about this art on the internet, could you please make a comparison between Aikido and other major martial arts, their effectiveness outside of the dojo (both ethically and phisically) and what Aikido does well that other arts don't?

Thanks for the AMA :)

A:

In our aikido style, we don't have competition. We think of ourselves and our training partner as two parts to a learning machine. We are trying to learn both parts. We move slowly so you can think during the learning process. You learn to see and feel when you aren't flowing with the other person - in some ways, our training resembles a dance.

Aikido also focuses on using the attacker's force and energy to your advantage. Because of this, it's not necessary to be big or strong, since you're not the one supplying the energy. That's why it's ideal for older and/or smaller individuals.

I think if you have been studying any martial art for a long time, you don't go around looking for a confrontation. Aikido (and others, like tai chi) are better than most at preventing students from developing a "competition mindset", since we emphasize cooperation.


Q:

Have you seen an increase in students/people that want to learn after walking dead brought it up 2 years ago? That is how I learned about it for example.

A:

Actually, I didn't see noticeably more students after the Walking Dead. I kind of expected to, though. I think the show did a great job of making people more aware of aikido.


Q:

Have you done any other martial arts that you like? I did a few when I was more into it and I felt it made me better at the others.

A:

I did judo for a year and a half, many years ago. I enjoyed it, but work got in the way, and I only had time for one martial art. I chose aikido because I'd already put a lot more time and effort into it.


Q:

Perfect! I've always wanted to try a martial art and have started looking into Aikido and Tai Chi. The idea of a meditative or even spiritual practice appeals to me. I also really like the idea of a more defensive style based on using your opponents movements against them.

What is your advice for someone like me? Is there a lot of variation in what different dojos teach? Anything you wish you knew sooner?

A:

I would say that, yes, there is a lot of variation in aikido dojos - even those that practice the same style of aikido.

Aikido is as spiritual as you want to make it. Several of my students just come to class to get a workout, learn some new things, and have fun. Others (like me) find enjoyment in a spiritual and physical practice. I think aikido lends itself to spirituality a bit more than some other martial arts due to it's emphasis on defense.

My advice? Try a few different dojos - most of them will let you take a class for free. Observe the instructor and students. Does the class style fit your personality? How does it make you feel?

The one thing I wish I had known sooner is that in aikido I flow with the other persons energy and is not a competition. In my younger days, I wanted to "do" something to my training partner, and wanted to prove my skills. Now I try to keep my energy and ego in check.


Q:

Have you ever used aikido to defend yourself or others? We're you able to actually apply a joint lock or did you just flail around and hit the guy?

A:

Probably not in the way you are thinking. However, on vacation once, we were exiting a shop and a drunk guy tried to hit on my wife. I was about 2-3 steps behind her with a bag in one arm, and I stuck a finger in his face, waving it back and forth and said "No, no, no, no". For a second, he looked like he wanted to fight, but then backed down immediately at the crazy old guy waving a finger in his face. He muttered something about "Guess you saw her first" and stumbled off. Since re-direction is part of our aikido practice, and his attention was re-directed, I'm going to say I used aikido to diffuse a situation.


Q:

Are there any special breathing technics?

How are they working?

A:

There are, but it depends on where you are in your training. Every time you breathe in or out, you move and that movement can be taken advantage of. It takes a lot of work to get to that level. You learn most of your techniques long before you understand the timing of it.