In 1997 Robert Twigger, a self-confessed ‘scrawny Oxford poet,’ took an intensive 11-month course alongside the Tokyo Riot Police, and he wrote about his experiences in a book titled ‘Angry White Pajamas.’ The martial art he trained in is known as Aikido, and it’s a 100-year-old part of Japanese history, culture and fitness. Stick with us and we’ll talk about the origin of the art, it’s practice today, and how you too can take part in one of Japan’s most exciting activities.
What is Aikido?
Aikido (Japanese: 合気道) was developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a way to combine martial arts, philosophy and religious beliefs. It can be translated into English as “the way of unifying (with) life energy” or more elegantly as “the way of harmonious spirit”.
Interestingly Ueshiba’s aim was to create a style that practitioners could use to defend themselves whilst also protecting their attacker from injury at the same time. It is for this reason that the art heavily relies on using an attacker’s momentum against them and focuses on throws and grappling rather than on striking based movements.
Aikido for Health, Wellbeing and Fitness
From a fitness perspective, the art develops balance, coordination and body awareness more than any other attributes. By practising throws you will learn where your own balance is in relation to your ‘attacker’, and through the process of ‘ukemi,’ or breakfalls, you will learn to fall (or be thrown) softly, minimising the impact and allowing for hours of practice. However, don’t let Aikido’s flowing movements fool you into thinking it’s an easy art to practice. Training sessions can be long, involving hundreds of throws, and whether you’re doing the throwing or you’re the one being thrown, expect your body to notice! Don’t be surprised if you end up getting a challenging cardio workout, even if you are a real fitness freak.
As you might imagine, though, Aikido’s benefits are more than simply providing a good workout. In fact, much of its popularity comes from the huge range of benefits it brings alongside physical fitness. Participants are encouraged to pursue self-mastery, self-discipline and self-control, helping them to lead fuller and more confident lives. The idea of trying to meet your attacker’s force and re-direct it goes hand in hand with the study of non-violence and peaceful living. At the same time, the bravery required to perform such a movement helps to strengthen wills and build character.
How You Can Take Part
If this unique combination of fitness and personal development has peaked your interest, then you’ll be glad to know that you too can take part in aikido in Tokyo. It can be a great experience that will beat watching the sumo tournament live, for sure! As we mentioned right at the start, Robert Twigger took part in an intensive 11-month course, and he did this at the Yoshinkan Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. The course involves four hours of training per day, five days per week, with additional cleaning duties, weekend demonstrations and other responsibilities. At the end of the course not only will you have an immense understanding of the art, but you’ll be a qualified instructor.
Luckily, the dojo has realised that an 11-month intensive course isn’t quite right for everyone, so if you were looking to give it a go you won’t have to jump in at the deep end! Instead, the dojo offers a wide range of courses, classes and tuition to suit all ability levels and all levels of commitment. On their website, you’ll find beginners’ courses, slow courses, day classes and much more.
Where is the Dojo & What Else is in the Area?
The Dojo is located in the Shinjuku ward, one of the 23 wards within Tokyo, and home to the Tokyo metropolitan government building as well as the world’s busiest railway station (so getting there should be pretty easy, if somewhat chaotic).
Plus whilst you’re in the area there’s the Golden Gai, a trendy area full of shanty-style clubs and bars largely covered in film posters. The area is popular with musicians, artists, directors and actors. There’s also the Shinjuku gyoen, a 58-hectare park that combines Japanese, French and English style formal gardens. You can also learn more about the area by visiting the Shinkuku Historical Museum.
Want Even More Martial fitness fun?
If you can’t quite get enough of martial arts based fitness in Tokyo, then you can also take a trip to the ward of Bunkyo, where you’ll find the sport of Judo’s headquarters, the Kodakan. Just like the Yoshinkan Hombu Dojo, the Kodakan offers a wide variety of Judo courses and classes for all levels of ability. Unlike Aikido, however, there is also a big emphasis on judo as a competitive sport. Plus whilst you’re in the area, which is renowned for its political and educational nature, why not take a trip to see the University of Tokyo.
Tokyo, although a modernised and bustling metropolis, has a unique and rich history. As a fit traveller, martial arts like Aikido (or Judo) offer you a way to take part in that history and learn an exciting new skill. Even more interestingly, you won’t just be getting a great workout, you’ll also be developing yourself in a variety of ways.
We hope that if you ever do visit Tokyo, you’ll consider taking part in Aikido. And if you do, definitely let us know in the comments section below!