ahemm .... as we were discussing last time .... you don't necessarily have to be in primo shape to begin your Aikido training, nor should you ever expect that Aikido will somehow whip you into top-notch shape. Aikido will however, allow you to start slowly and over time, stretch and re-balance your body equally on both right and left sides and improve your overall tone (body and muscle tone, not your ability to distinguish between A flat and C minor).
So if you've a hankering to become an Aikido animal then run out, drive down and walk into your nearest Aiki-verse HQ and ask for the guy in charge. With some patience and support you too can eventually ukemi with the best of them.
I find people are funny creatures (of course I'm sure a lot of people find me a funny creature too so I guess we're semi-even). They hesitate to begin Aikido training and then once they get into it they work and sweat and train and over time get into what quite possibly is the best shape of their lives. They gain flexibility that they never had, reflexes that appear magical and conditioning that just develops over time and allows them to take ukemi through-out a 2 hour class or an all-day seminar. Suddenly (ha ... suddenly ..... years on the mat later) they are where they thought they'd never be the day they walked into the dojo as a tentative, slovenly, out-of-shape, post high school college person. And best of all; they got there by just doing what I discussed earlier which was to go to class a lot, and at each class just do a little bit this time and a little bit more next time.
Now here comes the rub (that comes with tight clothes that may be a tad small). Once you've reached "Ueshiba-hood" stay in shape and don't become "The Big Sensei". Whoa there good buddy .... is that a pun?
Why yes it is ..... and it is so because after all that beginner's hesitation about not being in good enough shape to start and after quite possibly years of effort to get into shape they become a senior Sempai, a Sensei, a Hanshi, a Shihan, a ... a ... oh you know ......... one of those. One day they wake up, look in the mirror and scream because the only way they can see their privates (their "personal aiki") is in the mirror, since that's how big their belly is now.
WTF! they scream as they run around the bathroom in all their higglely-jigglely nakedness with their hair on fire ........ all their hair .... omg that's a vision that would make you want to gouge out your eyes with a pair of chopsticks .... MY EYES MY EYES.
Yes. I have been told that I tend to have a rather unique view of the universe (I personally I tend to look at it as a unique sense of humor). However, as part of my world-view, and my sense of humor, I have a rather jaundiced view of people who claim to be something unique but fail to live the life that claim would entail.
So .... why is it that so many senior martial artists & players work so hard to get to where they are, spend so much time, expend so much blood, swear and tears (hey ... weren't they a pop music group back in the 70's? .... hidey hi, hidey ho .... spinning wheel ... I diverge .... ) to get into shape to do the work and take the ukemi and strengthen their bodies and then once they get there and have it ... they don't seem able to walk past a free breakfast buffet and walk 5 miles to avoid the salad bar?
Have you ever seen a formerly skinny Aikido player put on so much weight that the front panel of his hakama now looks like a G-string? Have you ever seen a senior player grow a front bumper so large that they have to have the front of their hakama cut off because the slant of their belt was so low under the spare tire that the front hakama drug on the ground?
I tend to make a big deal out of living the picture that you try to present. I also firmly believe that if you are going to be a Sensei then BE a Sensei including staying in the physical training shape & condition you tell your students to get into for their training (and don't live life like you really WANT to be able to fit into that size 12 gi they sent you by accident).
If you tell your students to do a kata 100 times then YOU do that kata a 100 times with them. And most of all ..... if you are teaching actively and esp. for seminars then for gosh sake ... be in good enough condition to actually be able to move when you teach a lesson. Show the lesson. THROW the lesson like a real player once in a while.
I've seen many videos on the internet (and on DVD's I've bought and then either wanted to send back or contribute to a fitness studio as their teaching example) where someone with a good reputation for quality instruction shows a lesson or concept and while they talk about moving your center to affect the uke, they just stand there in all their dun-lop disease glory and don't move at all ... not one step.
In my view, when someone teaches like that it's a clear cut case of saying one thing but doing another. "When you do scoobey waza then you should move and break uke's posture". Yes ... but when you teach that idea shouldn't you set the example instead of just standing there and using only your arm motion to demo it? How is a beginner going to learn by absorbing a bad eidetic picture of a one-eyed fat man (to steal a great line from a famous movie) standing there and using only arm motion like a windmill in a the middle of a wind farm?
Am I making sense here or am I making a big deal (omg .. there's that pun again) of this phenomena; aka "The Incredible Shrinking Gi".
Maybe and maybe not but IMO, if you're going to take money to teach then please be in good enough shape to demo what you got. Yes, yes, yes .... I agree with making an allowance for someone truly old and in truly bad shape because even tho' they aren't doing a lot of ukemi these days they still have knowledge and add value. For all of us there does and will come a day when the calendar catches up, and when it will take us longer to get out of bed, tie our obi and stumble into our hakama than it does for congress to meet and spend a few billion here and there. Until they invent a "forever young" pill that lets us live as long as little green dudes with pointy hairy ears we're all going to age.
But if you're still fairly young and if you're actively teaching and especially if you're traveling and doing seminars for pay then get in shape and stay in shape and more importantly, when you teach do some real work and show the youngsters how it's done. Do "Younger Person Ryu" Aikido and not "Old Decrepid Fat Ryu" Aikido.
As a parting thought on this that I might explore in a part III ..... is one reason as to why I see so much criticism of Aikido's "deterioration" really due to the Western concept of "going soft and getting old" and NOT the concept of "Aikido doesn't really work"?
I see so many films of Shioda and Ueshiba and Kotani and Tomiki and Ohba and their contemporaries in good shape well into old age and throwing the bejebbers out of the young players and moving and rolling and doing it up really well ..... teaching and leading by example.
Is American Aikido going into the tank because so many senior American Sensei (that are looked up to, respected and copied) are quite simply put, FAT, out of shape and unable to move ..... and that the younger players are looking at these obese, slovenly and out of shape Sensei NOT moving well on the mat and then unconsciously emulating that example and thinking that the poor level of body kinesthetics they are observing is how it is supposed to be done?
Interesting question isn't it?
L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan, Houston, TX