Oh no, not martial arts!

Funnily enough, when my wife, Dee, suggested I go to a karate class with her in 1973 at NELP in Stratford E15, that’s exactly what I thought!

By Paul Bonett

I’d seen the Bruce Lee films which were all the rage at that time, but I never thought I’d be one of those folk in ‘white pyjamas’. But the thing about Japanese martial arts, which I discovered the very first time I nervously practiced, is that the training is nothing like sport or exercise as we know it in Western culture; traditional arts have a great deal of finesse and you never think you’ve cracked it; you see the physical, mental and emotional as a challenge. It’s like chipping away at a rough piece of rock and after months and maybe years you suddenly perceive a recognisable shape, then, working in more and more detail, you discover something quite beautiful hidden inside; and in aikido practice you discover it together with a partner. What could be better?

And of course, you don’t discover skill by winning as in most sports; you discover it by regular ‘mundane’ practice (although there is nothing mundane about it). We have competition but are not defined by the trophies we have won.

Training in Shodokan aikido is not esoteric; it is very practical and down-to-earth with no nonsense; just turn up and practice. Even though I am generally teaching in the UK, when I train in Japan, I’m just a number in the dojo, which is great. I just have to turn up and practice, that’s it! That applies to all traditional disciplines which is why they are so hard. You only improve by putting in the effort; there are no shortcuts. But this effort has given me a great life, meeting amazing people and over many years, visiting the most incredible places just to practice.

Why jump from karate to aikido?

Karate and aikido (and other disciplines) have a philosophical subtext. In the late 70s I’d got to know a very interesting psychologist who suggested I should try aikido; he thought it was a more ‘civilised’ martial art. Interestingly, he had come across the principles of harmony in aikido practice from his friend and high ranking judo player, Charles Palmer (one time Chairman of the British Olympic Committee). I practiced karate and aikido side-by-side for 10 years but gradually moved towards aikido and finally put both my feet in the one camp.

Why do I still practice?

I’m sure anyone who practices yoga, tai chi or any one of these personal development body/mind studies, knows the feeling that you’re always on the verge of a discovery – and that is actually true. You make discoveries about yourself and the art all the time, hence the fascination. And, unlike most sports, you actually continue to improve with age; sounds weird but it’s true.

People who start aikido or other traditional arts to learn how to fight rarely stick at it.  To become skilled enough in a martial art to look after yourself is a journey without end; and no matter how ‘tough’ you are, there’s always someone tougher around the corner. So you either take to the study or you walk. In the process of training, you can become very handy, but that is it purely secondary part of training.

Some of you will have heard the word Budo, the way of the warrior. This is not about becoming a tough guy, it’s about the battle with yourself to discover your truth. The regular training, the repetition of single movements over and over, the refinement over months and years of study, make these practices life’s work. As a pensioner, I work and study as hard and frequently as when I was a young man. I get as much or more from the practice now as I did then. In the early days your improvement can be quite dramatic but as you progress, increments are smaller and smaller. I now have friends from all over the world, part of the Aikido family. I have known many of them for 30+ years and we trust each other implicitly as we know the journey we have undertaken together.

Our online lockdown sessions

Since 26th March, we’ve now run over 370 sessions, over one a day non-stop since then! It sounds crazy but true. I have one player, retired too, who lives in Melbourne, and has done over 300 sessions!

As we do more of these twice daily sessions, I’m realising they are going to fundamentally change our skill level in aikido. The taiso and kihon warmups and basic exercises (unsoku dosa, tegatana dosa, etc.), practised twice daily, rather than once or twice a week in a regular setting, will change our body/mind forever.

Of course, we all have other things we have to do which might interfere, but for those mainly at home in lockdown, this is your chance to step outside your comfort zone and see how it goes. What’ the worst that could happen; like me you could still be practicing in 40 years’ time.

We have a Zoom link to our classes: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/5134956013?pwd=UEpLY2g4RklQVmZUQ3lnWDJBL3NVdz09 (Message me for the password).

You can contact me at sussexaikido@gmail.com (and there’s also a Sussex Aikido Facebook page) for more information about joining sessions; they’re free too. The sessions are very good for mental and physical health and resilience (all ages too).

My ‘showroom dummy’ from JujuBrighton

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