Is aikido a fitness regimen?
Obviously, for most of us, it is much more than a simple set of calisthenics. While a good practice will promote many health benefits, aikido study goes far beyond cardiovascular health, muscle tone, proprioception, and coordination. So we might be tempted to say that aikido, at best contains a component of fitness, but is a much wider endeavor.
As long as we're limiting our interpretation to physical fitness, then this makes sense. Yet it risks overlooking an essential understanding, namely that "aiki" is itself an expression of "fitness" in the broadest sense, inasmuch as it means "to fit together."
Fitness, then, can be seen as the fundamental quality of "aiki." Among many other valid interpretations, it can be useful to think of aikido as the way of fitness.
In addition to physical fitness, we also have to consider mental and emotional fitness. Once these qualities are developed to a sufficient degree, it becomes necessary to move beyond the individual to the societal and the environmental. We must learn social fitness, economic fitness, and ecological fitness.
We learn aikido from the standpoint of tactical self defense. In so doing, we learn increasingly appropriate and efficient methods for dealing with stress, managing conflict, and restoring or perpetuating balance. We foster vitality.
When we ask if someone is fit, the question is usually about their level of health or their rightness for a task or relationship. In aikido, we understand this is not a yes/no proposition, but a matter of becoming. We seek to become increasingly fit it all arenas where we should fit.
Are there situations where we should not fit? Of course. We are human beings with human limitations, and despite the wise advice of sages, we cannot truly "be like water" and fit the shape of every container.
Knowing (which is to say, becoming increasingly aware) where we can fit and how we should fit in is crucial. Understanding situations where we do not, can not, should not fit, is also essential to fitness.
Humans are resourceful and adaptable. We've found ways, albeit limited ones, that allow us to fit ourselves underwater, on the highest mountain tops, flying through the air, and on the moon.
The downside to this is that we can also learn to tolerate torture, injustice, and gross inequality. We become tolerant of things that should remain intolerable. Such adaptations, when practiced and habituated, do not promote fitness and cannot be considered aiki. They are, in fact, maladaptive.
Aikido must be practiced with increasingly holistic methods. In the long run t is not enough to gain advantage over our enemies if it perpetuates hostility. We cannot enrich ourselves if it impoverishes others. We cannot nourish ourselves if it depletes the very resources that sustain us.
Fitness is what allows us to perpetuate ourselves, whether in the individual or in the Darwinian sense. As living, sentient beings, this is our birthright. We do right when we seek health and prosperity and longevity.
True fitness allows us to see that these things are best achieved in a world that loves and sustains us, that cares about our own well-being. Where such a world does not exist, we have to grow one.
Part of fitness is learning to see the world as it truly is, and fitting ourselves to that. However, if we make progress in this way alone, the world does not progress.
The other part of fitness is in understanding the world deeply enough that the endless room for improvement becomes apparent, and the way forward opens.
Utopian visions are only misguided when they are -- well, misguided. If you can think of one way in which society can be improved, made more perfect, then that is a utopian vision. If you act on that impulse, and align it with the consent of everyone affected, then you are behaving as a true Utopian should.
Whether or not there ever was a Garden of Eden is irrelevant. If there was, we weren't fit for it. Much more probable, in my view, is that it wasn't fit for us. We need a better Garden. We need a world, we need worlds, where we fit in. We need an environment that is not only not hostile, but actively promotes all aspects of our wellness.
In short, we need to recreate the world and keep recreating it until it fits us. Currently, we ourselves are not fit for the task, and therefore must find ways of improving our own fitness.
This is the inevitable aim of aikido, and the right goal of any human endeavor. The alternatives are our own extinction, or a retrograde slide into primitivism, or a tenuous steady-state struggle where everything keeps getting worse as everything keeps getting better.
Where do you fit in? As individuals and as a species, we have the choice to decline, to stay the same, or to evolve. Each action by each individual aggregates to have an affect which increases the probability of one of these scenarios over the others.
What you do matters. What you do or fail to do affects the lives of thousands of people, whether you like it or not. Your own life, which too easily is dismissed as trivial and insignificant, will have an impact that lasts thousands of years.
What are you up to today? What are you doing right now? If you're not too busy, why not get involved in the evolution of our collective future? Can you think of a better hobby?
Let's go to the gym together. Let's go to the dojo. Let's move toward a future of our own choosing.
Let's get fit.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA