Thursday, January 24, 2008

Your Experience in Life is What You Bring to It!

A past teacher of mine would frequently say, "Bring it!" What she meant by that was whatever you want to experience, you have to "bring it" to the experience. This can apply to tangible things as well as intangible things. For example, let's say you are going to a party. If you want there to be guacamole at the party then you'd better "bring it." Similarly, if you want to have a fun at the party, then it is your responsibility to "bring it," – the fun, that is – to the party and not expect it to be waiting there for you. It is your responsibility to "bring it." It is not the responsibility of others, the activity or the event.

Aikido training works exactly the same way. Bring a willingness to learn, an attitude of humility and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of humor to Aikido class, and those qualities – and their inherent benefits – are what you will experience at class. I should point out that this attitude isn't unique to the traditional, Japanese martial art of Aikido, but would also apply to other martial arts like karate, taekwondo, judo, and Brazilian Jujitsu or any form of mixed martial arts (MMA fighting or submission fighting. Unfortunately, the "bring it" philosophy works both ways. If you bring anger, frustration and resentment to Aikido class, then that is what you are sure to experience on the mat.

Aikido really is a microcosm of life… your life. If you experience happiness throughout your day, then that is what will come out on the Aikido mat. If you carry your ego around all day, you shouldn't be surprised when you find yourself bumping into egos on the mat – both others and your own!

The value of "bringing it" to the Aikido mat is that it offers us an opportunity to have a physical, non-verbal dialogue with ourselves that can lead to psychological, or for some, even spiritual transcendence. On some level this physical, non-verbal dialogue we have with ourselves on the Aikido mat is more honest than the usual mental dialogue we engage in within our own minds each day. While words can hide truth and significance, physiology cannot. Your body doesn't lie physically. Physical dishonesty will often manifest as an ache or pain or, if held long enough, even a disease. As Aikido students we can learn to "listen" to our physical-selves, our physical movements and make changes in our lives accordingly.

Aikido provides us with a venue of self-exploration and self-transformation. It reveals and unearths things deep within ourselves that we sometimes don't want to explore or don't think we need to work on. Yet, if we don't explore these things students often find themselves frustrated, not progressing in their training or sometimes even quitting. Students are often surprised to discover just how much of their "inner selves" manifest physically, outwardly on the Aikido mat. It is nearly impossible to hide on the Aikido mat what lies inside… especially to an experienced Aikido teacher.

Physical movement (like that experienced in Aikido training) is one of the most primitive and fundamental forms of communication and is, in my opinion, far superior to verbal communication. There is something primordial and deeply honest about physical movement and the powerful messages it contains. Most people have heard the saying that only 20% of communication is verbal. Personally, I think that percentage is way too high. You can tell a lot about a person by their physical movement. Confidence, comfort, ease and happiness have a certain "look" to them on and off the Aikido mat. Self-consciousness, fear, anger and frustration have an equally identifiable "look."

Interestingly, the presence or absence of these physical attributes has nothing to do with how long or how experienced a person is at Aikido. It has to do with what they psychologically "bring" to the Aikido dojo. I have seen first day Aikido students demonstrate tremendous confidence and comfort. Similarly, I have seen experienced Aikido students demonstrate near-paralyzing timidity and unparalleled anger at times. Again, what shows up physically on the Aikido mat is what they "bring" to the mat. Their physical appearance, posture, movement and fluidity are all part of a larger physical language that is Aikido. A student's physical flexibility or inflexibility is often (but not always) congruent with their mental, emotional or psychological flexibility. As such, Aikido instructors will sometimes even challenge their students mentally or emotionally through physical movement on the mat or even verbally off the mat in order to help them progress in their Aikido training. Of course, these efforts are not always welcomed by students, but nonetheless, is still an important aspect of their training.

My instructors would often deliberately provoke a reaction in me in their efforts to teach me something. The Sensei/Student relationship is a sacred one. The Sensei's role is one of technical instructor, confidant, coach, counselor, trainer and most importantly, friend. I take my experiences to heart and attempt to provide students with insight and lessons in not only the physical aspects of Aikido techniques, but more importantly about life. I do this not as a superior in Aikido, but as a peer in life.

Those who make Aikido a life-long pursuit often do so not for the martial art and/or self-defense applications, per se, but for the self-transcending benefits of Aikido. Aikido truly is a physical path to self-mastery. Ultimately, Aikido is meant to be experienced firsthand, not just read about. Aikido is always challenging to describe purely in writing because the experience of Aikido transcends the written word. The practice of Aikido really represents an opportunity for transcendence on every level of existence. So let’s get rolling… and bring it!

Come discover how Aikido can serve as a catalyst for tremendous growth and expansion in your life. We invite you to come try a free class at our Aikido school in Castle Rock, Colorado. Call us today at 720-221-3665 or visit us at: for a limited time special offer. Experience a power you never knew you had. Experience Aikido!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Power vs Force in Aikido: How to amass great power in your life.

Many people seek out martial arts as a means to creating more power in their lives. Power, of course, can be defined in many ways. Some people are seeking self-empowerment in the form of self-improvement, self-discipline, or self-esteem, while others may be seeking power or control over others. Martial arts can be a very a good place to discover power. However, more often than not what people end up learning is not true power, but force. Many martial arts teachers do not really understand the difference between power and force, or worse, think they are the same things. As such, the student ends up creating more resistance in their life, instead of more power and he or she never learns to truly generate power.

In Aikido, your objective should be on generating power. Most people tend to think that the fastest way to power is through force. Not true. Short-term power can be generated through force. However, that power is one-dimensional and usually doesn't last. It could be argued that the Japanese discipline of Aikido is, in fact, the endless endeavor of physically harnessing maximum power with the least amount of physical exertion. Overwhelmingly, the power people learn to generate in Aikido is a form of personal power within themselves as opposed to a power over others. Power over others is almost always a product of people exerting force, not harnessing power. Indeed, people's misconception of what power is often leads to the very opposite outcome of what people seek.

In physics, Power and Force are often (but not always) used interchangeably. However, in Aikido force and power are too very different things. In the Aikido dojo power is a product of intent and position.

Power = Intent x Position

Intent is what directs your position. Intent means beginning with the end in mind. Those who practice Aikido with intent, that is, with a visceral, internal understanding of the objective of each technique and a pliant, empty mind are far more powerful than those who may be physically stronger and may be applying more force to a technique. Intent multiples one's power and furthermore, intent guides position.

The other half of the power equation in Aikido is position. George W. Bush, Ben Bernake and Bill Gates all have power because of their executive positions in various organizations. These men make things happen (good or bad) because of their intent and subsequent positions they take. Mahatma Ghandi was powerful because of the mental and social positions he assumed as a consequence of his intent. Fictional character, Howard Roark, from Ayn Rand’s famous 1943 novel, The Fountainhead, exhibited tremendous power by the philosophical positions he assumed. None of these men exert personal, physical force. Yet, they are all powerful.
Force is merely the product of mass or, in physics, mass times acceleration. When novice martial arts students seek to add power to their techniques, they are often inclined to add more force. That is they exert more muscle mass into the equation. Power should create more ease. Force tends to only create more sweat. Think about it. The people I know who have the most power tend to exhibit the most ease in their life by utilizing leverage. Leverage, of course, is merely a matter of positioning. These powerful individuals also tend to be wealthier and healthier. In contrast, those who exhibit the most force in their lives also tend to be the hardest working, the least leveraged and subsequently produce the least amount of outcome. Not coincidentally, they also seem to be the poorest of people and often the sickest. Truly, what we want to learn on the Aikido mat is how to generate in our lives is not more force, but more power.

A properly executed Aikido technique should require very little force (if any) but should simultaneously possess a tremendous amount of power. Because of our default, physics-oriented perspectives of power and force, this can seem rather paradoxical. A great way to gauge to your Aikido technique is simply to ask oneself, "Am I exerting force?" If so, you need to re-evaluate your physical position and your mental intent in order to generate more power. In Aikido, there is rarely any situation in which a martial arts technique cannot be increased in power by improving one’s position rather than increasing their amount of force. Often a two inch move to the left or right or maybe a 10 or 15 degree change in angle will mean the difference between an ineffective technique and an immensely effective technique. Therefore, there is an inverse relationship, in Aikido, of force to power. That is, the more force you exert in Aikido, the less power you actually possess.

As Force ↑, Power↓

Think about it. When you "force" some one to do something, don't you simultaneously expose yourself and limit your power? For example, think about having to exert force to hold someone down. While you’re holding them down through force, your arms and legs are probably occupied with the task and you are now more susceptible to an attack by another assailant. Your power – your power to respond – has diminished. You are, in fact, less powerful by having to hold some one down. You may have them held down, you may be in control, but ironically you have simultaneously imprisoned yourself to some extent. Your control of the situation has come at the expense of a portion of your own freedom. When you force others to do something, you are, in fact, forcing yourself and relinquishing your resources (your power) to them in a way.

You may notice that when the teachers demonstrate techniques in class, they almost always have their hands open. Rarely do they close their hands as a fist or in a grasp like so many other martial arts. This is meant to illustrate that the power of each technique is not found in the hands and arms but elsewhere. So many new students think that the power originates in the hands – in the place of "control." We are used to controlling things like our computers and our cars with our hands, so it is natural to assume that this, too, is where Aikido's power originates. However, Aikido's power comes from the intent and positioning of the practitioner and it manifests physically and projects from the "hara" or physical center of the body. That center is about two inches below the navel and about two inches "deep" from the navel.

Harris Sensei is an excellent example of some one who understands power. He knows that he is unlikely to "out muscle" or "out force" someone. He knows that his power is a function of his intent and his positioning. Practice on the Aikido mat with her and you will quickly recognize that power is not exclusively dependent upon mass or muscle strength. Anyone who works out with Harris Sensei knows that his touch is extremely gentle, and at times almost imperceptible, yet he maintains complete control of the technique and only applies the absolute minimum amount of force – the most efficient exertion of energy. Try to redirect the technique on Harris Sensei and you will very quickly be reminded that he is, in fact, powerful and quite in control of the technique being executed.

If you'll notice, Harris Sensei matches the energy of his Aikido partners. Come at him with a committed attack and her response will be proportionally powerful (but not forceful and not necessarily equal). On the other hand, come at him with a weak, uncommitted attack and his response will, again, be proportionally powerful. Why? It is because a less than committed attack requires a less than committed defense. Harris Sensei never wastes energy, never wastes power.

Force truly has nothing to do with power. Tremendous force can exist without any power being present. Conversely, power can even mean zero force! If some one attacks you with a fully committed attack and you simply step out of the way allowing them to fall on their face, how much force have you exerted? Zero. Yet you have demonstrated power where they have not.
Most people are taught in life (and in most other martial arts) to meet force with force – to fight fire with fire. It is very similar to the often misunderstood Hammurabi's code of "an eye for an eye." However, isn't it more intelligent to fight fire with water, not with fire? When was the last time a fireman showed up at a burning home with a truck full of fire?

One of my instructors taught me much about the difference between power and force, and its application in the practice of "musubi" – or connection with others. When someone attacks you with all the force of their being – say a ten on a ten point scale – then, contrary to what you might think, you probably would not want to add more energy to the system and reciprocate with all your might at a ten. That would be exerting force, not power. When you perceive and attack of that much force it would be most effective to respond with little or no force (maybe a zero or a one out of ten). Conversely, if someone comes at you with little or no energy, it would be most effective to add energy to the system to maintain the integrity of the relationship, the connection.

So exhibiting an appropriate amount of power relative to the attack or the encounter is crucial. Provide too much energy to the system and you unbalance or stagnate the connection. Provide too little and there may be no connection at all. Then, if you have the right intent, respond with the correct angles and with the right "kuzushi," or off-balancing techniques (again, forms of positioning), and it may seem to the attacker that you are using 100 times as much force or strength (a product of leverage or exponential power) when, in reality, you are expending a minimal amount of energy. This is true power.

Power is about generating energy from one’s "hara" – one’s physical center – and building on the commitment to a relationship that one's attacker initiates. Maintain the connection, adapt and flow with their movement. Learn to differentiate between power and force and that is where your power will be found.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Avoid the Winter Blues with a Unique Japanese Exercise

It's winter again and as the daylight hours shorten many people become afflicted with what has become known as seasonal affect disorder (or, aptly named, SAD). Most people are affected to one degree or another by SAD or SAD-like symptoms. It is a perfectly normal change in the brain that occurs each year as it gets darker earlier and is thought to be the result of altered brain chemistry caused by fewer hours of exposure to sunshine. The condition can become so significant that some people may require professional intervention. Normally, the brain creates a chemical called serotonin in response to exposure to sunshine. This chemical is largely responsible for producing a happy, healthy mood in a person. Because days are shorter in the fall and winter our brains make less of this chemical and this can lead to SAD. Having bright lights on in the fall and winter afternoon is one way to keep your serotonin levels up, but another healthier way is through exercise.

Now, most Americans don't exercise enough, especially in the winter. There is a very good reason for this. For the most part, exercise is boring! Especially most indoor exercises! Here's a reality of life when it comes to exercise; "If it’s boring, you won't do it. Period!" As a result, most people know they should exercise more, but most people simply don't. This not necessarily because they don't want to be in better shape and be in a good mood, but because so many popular kinds of exercise and fitness routines are utterly boring! If you're bored of endlessly walking on treadmills or elliptical trainers at the gym while watching depressing cable news channels or bad infomercials; or if you've tried yoga and Pilates but find them painfully slow, then I have a suggestion for you. Come try Aikido! Aikido, pronounced "eye"-"key"-'doh', is a unique Japanese exercise that engages your entire body in a fun, entertaining and exhilarating way. Aikido is a martial art, but can be practiced at any level of intensity according to the needs or physical capabilities of the student. In Aikido, there are no punches or kicks, unlike most other martial arts, so injury is extremely rare. A student learns to move their body effectively and efficiently by employing almost dance-like moves that evade and off balance your partner (who is pretending to be an attacker) without injuring him or her.

People of all ages practice Aikido, but it is particularly beneficial for adults. In fact, you're never too old to start practicing Aikido. Several of our instructors' teachers in Japan continue to train into their 70s and 80s! Many past martial artists once again take up Aikido as they enter their 40s and 50s because Aikido is much easier on your body than other more well-known martial arts like Karate and Taekwondo. Most of all, Aikido is fun! Every class is different, so you don't get bored. Every technique requires your complete and undivided attention, so you can't "zone out." One of the most common things we hear at Castle Rock AIKIDO is, "Wow! The time just flew by. I can’t believe it is over so quickly!" Also, Aikido is a great workout for the body… but there is a good chance that you won’t even notice that until you are done with class! Instead of feeling exhausted after a class, most people feel exhilarated.

Many people have more energy, not less, after Aikido class. The reason why is because when you practice more boring forms of exercise, that don't simultaneously engage your brain, time seems to move much… much… slower. However, Aikido requires you to focus constantly on what you are doing so much that time flies by! Aikido is so engaging to your body and to your mind, that there is a synergistic energy created between the two that absolutely reinvigorates you. Simultaneously, you are left in a happy, relaxed, tranquil state when you’re done. "After every class, I leave in a better mood than when I came in," says Aikido student Cari, a Castle Rock resident.

Classes are held weekday evenings in Castle Rock to accommodate working adults. Working out in the evening in the fall and winter is a great way of boosting your serotonin levels to keep you mood up. If you don't live in Castle Rock, hey, no problem! About half of our students come from outside Castle Rock to practice Aikido. Some students drive from as far north as Westminster and as far south as Colorado Springs to come train with us. Our instructors and programs are so good that people are willing to travel significant distances, if necessary, to practice with us.

Come discover how Aikido can serve as a catalyst for helping you keep your mood up during the winter and help avoid the "winter blues."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Add more power, value and meaning to your life with Aikido!

By Sean Hannon

I have practiced the Japanese martial art of Aikido, in one form or another, for over 10 years. At first glance I always thought that I practiced Aikido for self-defense or just because it was fun. However, I was recently listening to a recording by peak performance coach Anthony Robbins. Tony was discussing what he calls "The Six Human Needs." In this recording he articulates how all humans have six basic needs that must be met on some level. Some of these needs appear to be in conflict with one another, but, in fact, are not. I suddenly realized how, for me, Aikido meets all of these six human needs!

The first two human needs appear to be in conflict with each other, but are actually complementary. The first is the need for certainty. That is, people require some degree of predictability in their lives on a daily or almost daily basis in order to function. One form of certainty could be physical security or safety. Being a defensive martial art, Aikido would certainly meet this first need.

The second human need is that of uncertainty. People require a certain amount of variety or unpredictable events in their lives, too, in order to prevent boredom and depression. Aikido meets this need, as well. Every Aikido class is different and you never know what new, fun or challenging exercises or techniques the instructor is going to have you do. There are an unlimited number of techniques in Aikido and practicing the same techniques with people of different sizes and strengths adds even more unpredictability and variety to each and every class. So Aikido meets this second human need.

The third and fourth human needs also appear in conflict with each other, but actually are not.

The third human need is the need for significance. Significance may also be described as uniqueness or individuality. That is, people must possess their own sense of identity and individuality otherwise they feel lost or unimportant. By practicing Aikido, I have always felt unique. It has been estimated that only about ten percent of the United States population practices martial arts. Of that 10% the overwhelming majority practice more well-known martial arts like, Judo, Karate or Tae Kwon Do. Today, everybody seems to be obsessed with mixed martial arts (MMA) or Brazilian Jujitsu. However, those who practice Aikido probably represent less than one percent of those who practice martial arts. This makes me even more unique – even more of an individual. I have always enjoyed being different, being unique, and Aikido allows me to continue to express that need.

The fourth human need seems paradoxical to the third. It is the basic human need for a sense of community or connection with others. While Aikido may only represent less than one percent of those who practice martial arts, that one percent still equates to a community of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. When you practice at an Aikido dojo (or an Aikido school) you aren’t just exchanging money for martial arts instruction. You are joining a tightly knit community. I love hanging out with people from my Aikido dojo – Castle Rock AIKIDO – because Aikido has a tendency to attract the nicest, friendliest, most genuine people I know. The sense of community is immediate and powerful. When I practice Aikido I get the benefit of feeling like a unique individual and part of a great community at the same time.

The fifth basic human need, according to Tony Robbins, is that of growth. People must feel as though they are growing in order to be completely fulfilled. In Aikido, I always feel as though I am growing. I, of course, grow physically in my martial arts skills but I also grow psychologically and even spiritually. Aikido teaches me mental and emotional skills like patience and humility. It shows me through a physical dialogue how I tend to interact and communicate with the world in my daily life and Aikido provides for me a method, a vehicle for improving that interaction. Aikido teaches me how confidently enter life, how to blend with life and, ultimately, how to redirect life into a direction of my choosing and my control. Spiritually, Aikido teaches me and constantly reminds me just how connected we are to each other and how the relationship we have with ourselves and with others can continue to grow and to improve when we learn to effectively communicate not just verbally, but physically, as well. By physical I mean the way I carry myself – my posture, my facial expressions and other body language. Aikido helps me to see how much my whole physiology – my whole being – engages and interacts with others and the cumulative impact it has on the world and, therefore, my reality. As a whole, Aikido is a massive path for growth for me that teaches me how to consciously create my life to my choosing on a daily basis. I know that I am not alone in this understanding as many other students at Castle Rock AIKIDO feel similarly.

The sixth and final basic human need is that of contribution. Humans must have a sense that they are contributing to something greater than themselves in order to feel fulfilled. Of course, Aikido satisfies this human need, too. As an Aikido student, you are both a student and a teacher. All students of Aikido at some point end up working with newer students and they look to you as a model. This gives you an opportunity to contribute to the progress of others, to share your experiences and the benefits you receive in Aikido with new students. There is a tremendous personal, emotional reward to Aikido students when they know they have contributed to another student’s growth in the art. So contribution is an easy need to meet when practicing Aikido.

Ultimately, Aikido is meant to be experienced firsthand, not read about. Aikido is always challenging to describe purely in writing because the experience of Aikido transcends the written word. The practice of Aikido really represents an opportunity for transcendence on every level of existence. Come discover how Aikido can serve as a catalyst for tremendous growth and expansion in your life. We invite you to come try a class at our Aikido school in Castle Rock, Colorado for free. Call us today at 720-221-3665 or visit us at: for a limited time special offer. Experience a power you never knew you had. Experience Aikido!