When people think of martial arts, they tend to think of high kicks and backflips. They think of acrobatic movements and techniques that seem to defy gravity. They forget about the science involved and the spiritual connection to one’s body. Aikido has multiple founding principles from different martial arts and philosophies. Yet a most important fact about Aikido is that its common translation means the way of harmonizing one’s energy with another’s. This is the core of Aikido movements and techniques.
Aikido allows you to use your opponent’s momentum and weight to your advantage—while also manipulating your opponent’s movement via nerves and pressure. Yet the main focus of Aikido is ukemi, blending with an applied technique to protect your body while still receiving the technique’s force. But to harmonize your energy with the flow of a technique is difficult and requires understanding a certain freedom of movement found through acceptance. In practice, the nage (the one performing the technique) leverages their partner’s momentum in order to apply a technique. As uke (the one receiving it), protecting your body is to accept the technique and follow the path of energy that is being created. This should allow you to roll off the energy being sent through you.
Yet abstract principles are one thing, actually training is another. Upon learning these core principles of Aikido, I realized energetic harmony was an important element that was missing in my life. My body’s movement had become frozen and lacked intention, and my social anxiety had slowly crept back in after being holed up at home working remotely for two years. While I believe working from home is one of the most liberating ways to work, I found myself more challenged than ever to move with intention in social settings. Between this realization and a recommendation from a friend, I ventured into Lemon Hill Aikido for the first time not knowing what to expect.
My first month at Lemon Hill was challenging in the best ways. I immediately became aware of how little stamina I had and how a remote lifestyle had made my joints rigid. I noticed that most of my strength had disappeared and that my breathing had regressed back to my early teen years when I was plagued by asthma. Realizing all of this, I struggled to push myself mentally and physically: it felt hopeless. At the dojo, I struggled to keep pace in warm-up sessions as I watched others soar past me with little effort. In my despair, my senseis reminded me that I would become accustomed to the techniques after practicing them 10,000 times. This reminded me that I had plenty of time to learn and that learning takes time, discipline, and repetition.
However, in my pessimistic reality, watching and repeating a technique sounds simple until you realize that your body may try to do the opposite of what you intend. If I am supposed to roll off from my opponent's thrust, I must remind my body that it is not the time to brace but to instead flow. This (flowing) became—and still is—one of my biggest challenges when practicing. When attacked, my body seizes up in defense, essentially panicking. I learned that I have to restructure my body’s intent in relation to defense and preservation—a virtue I could apply to most aspects of life.
Five months in I felt myself catching up to everyone else in class, both physically and mentally. Outside of the dojo, my body reminded me to maintain my health with stretching, yoga, cardio exercises, a better diet, and most importantly meditation. Yet before I could truly allow my body to understand how to move with intent, I had to learn to trust myself and others around me. I had to learn how to become a part of a community rather than just a spectator. My sense of trust and security came slowly but surely as I started to attend more classes and events hosted by the dojo.
For me, the most memorable event was a test in which students were tested on their endurance, form, and technique. During this event, we were able to meet and host our senseis’ sensei, the man they each trained under for over a decade. I was able to meet and experience people of different backgrounds coming together for the one common goal of maintaining an Aikido community. Meeting different students allowed me to understand that everyone has a different timeline for their progress. Also, witnessing the test was truly humbling and helped me understand the wide spectrum of people making an effort to become something bigger than themselves.
I am beyond grateful for my continued experience at Lemon Hill Aikido. I hope to help build and expand this community by inviting others who want to become a part of something larger.
My name is Ernst Jasmin. I am a proud Philly native and Haitian-American student of Lemon Hill Aikido. I love being a part of cross-functional teams that allow me to utilize and improve technology of any kind. In my free time, I play Xbox, practice yoga, and spend time with my loved ones.