Learning a martial art is a wonderful experience. And, like in any new thing we would like to try, deciding to take the first step (and not just thinking about doing it) is the hardest. In martial arts, especially; I have found that many people like a certain art, but instead of actually learning it, they are content just watching and reading about it. Why is this so? I believe it is such a wasted opportunity if a person finds something he really is interested in, and then chooses to just be contented with watching and appreciating instead of actually trying it out for himself. I will list down some very common misconceptions of martial arts. But due to my lack of experience with other arts, I will only focus on Aikido. Still, I think the concerns I will present here are applicable to other arts as well. It is with great hope that dispelling these myths will help you not only choose to consider joining a martial art but also encourage you to actually step on the mats and try it out yourselves:
- “Aikido requires me to be in perfect shape before starting.” You don’t have to be an athlete to start training in a martial art. It is the job of the sensei or instructor to factor in your physical condition and fitness level in teaching you. A competent instructor customizes his approach to each of his students, thereby optimizing learning in his dojo. A word of caution: People with medical conditions such as with the cardiovascular (history of hypertension, heart attack, myocardial ischemia, congestive heart failure, congenital heart defects, aneurysms, etc.), neurologic (history of stroke, TIA, seizure disorder, spinal injuries, etc) ,or other body systems should consult with their doctor first before joining. Prudence is always a good practice.
- “Training in Aikido will help me lose weight.” Losing weight is the responsibility of the individual and not the art! In whatever martial art, even if you train for the entire day, this won’t matter at all when you don’t control your diet. Always remember that weight management is a balance of calorie input vs calorie output. Like other martial arts, Aikido is a way to exercise (calorie output); but it won’t really help a lot unless you learn to control what you eat (calorie input).
- “It will take many, many years before I can defend myself.” This is difficult to estimate. First let us describe what self-defense is. The capacity to defend oneself is not synonymous with martial proficiency. This is because “self”-defense is to defend oneself from harm: Remember, it is not defending your wallet, or your laptop, or your bag. It is defending yourself. If you are mugged, give them what they want so you can keep yourself from harm. This is an intelligent approach. In the case of martial proficiency however, the length of time to achieve this varies from student-to-student. There is a process in the road to mastery. There are no shortcuts in getting good at anything. You really have to dedicate time and effort, and most especially, to persevere and never give up.
- “I’ll have to break boards and bricks.” No. the only things we “break” in Aikido are balance and aggressive intent.
- “I will have to bow to everybody.” Yes. We bow to the shomen (front of the dojo) at the beginning and end of each session. We also bow at the Sensei after he presents a technique for us to practice. We also bow to each other at the beginning and at the end of partnered training. Bowing is a sign of respect, not worship. Bowing to each other symbolizes goodwill, gratitude and humility. In Aikido, we value our training partners, they are essential in learning the art. And bowing is our way of showing how much they mean to us.
- “I am too old (or too young!) to start doing Aikido.” Most competent instructors individualize the training regimen of their students. We are reminded to “train at our own pace”. In Aikido, one should find their own way to achieve their goals. For as long as you can follow instructions, I see no reason why you cannot enjoy experiencing this wonderful art.
- “Aikido will make my children violent.” There are many contemporary studies that question this very stereotype. Just type benefits of martial arts training on Google! For the most part, martial arts actually teach self-respect and respect for others. In Aikido, cooperation and the study of harmony are regarded as the most basic learning tools of the art. (see Masakatsu Agatsu).
- “Aikido is not for women and girls.” Aikido is not about brute strength. You will be surprised that Aikido is actually enjoyed by more women than you think! There are also quite a number of excellent Aikido teachers who are women. This is one of the good qualities of Aikido; by not relying on strength, but rather on the technique and the physical applications of Aikido principles, anyone can learn it regardless of gender, built, or age.
- “There is a relatively high risk of injury.” Injuring each other is the last thing we would want in our dojo. Before even letting you join, a dojo usually asks you to first observe a class to see for yourself what you are getting yourself into. The basics of safety (see ukemi) are generally the first thing being taught to beginners in order to prevent injury. Again, the intention of Aikido is not to harm each other but to live in harmony with each other. This sentiment also applies to how we train in the dojo.
- “Receiving my black belt means I am an expert.” Being a black belt is only the beginning in your martial arts journey. It signifies that you have a good grasp of the basics. Think of it as an intermediate level. In Aikido, I think we generally do not think of ourselves as an expert (see shoshin). We are all beginners in martial arts. Even the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba O’Sensei said at the age of 84 (after almost 70 years of martial arts training):
“I have only taken the first step… I am still a baby in the martial arts.”
It is my hope that people start to actively seek their interests and goals. If you find that trying out Aikido is something you are interested in, I suggest that instead of just thinking about doing Aikido (or any martial art), why not go to a dojo near you, ask, observe, and try it out for yourself! To live a life without regrets, we must not give up before we have even started.
(To learn more, also see:”Aikido: The Essentials of Etiquette (Rei)“)