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Aikido Lessons Learned: Power in small hands

“Tap, Daddy.” I hear it every week; I help out in the kids’ class and invariably wind up practicing with my daughter in her diligent practice of Aikido. Inevitably, I find myself in the awkward position of being calmly but firmly pinned to the ground by an 8 year old. I’m used to it now, but it always takes me by surprise.

I struggle to get up off the ground without too much success.

I hear the familiar refrain again, “Tap, Daddy.”

Though any other parent-child battle of wits could continue in this stalemate endlessly, the outcome of the Aikido submission is brief and one-sided. I sigh and submit to her gentle demand. As she releases me from my prone position, I reflect on the subtle power of Aikido, and the relative physical advantage that a girl one-third my size can effortlessly deploy with a careful application of her limited strength, coupled with the patient lessons learned every week on the mat. By avoiding a clearly losing battle of strength with me, and applying herself efficiently, she repeatedly prevails.

While my daughter intuitively understands that she can’t rely on strength to beat me, it’s an important lesson that, as an adult Aikido student, I struggle with. In Aikido, a conflict isn’t ultimately resolved by the stronger but rather the more skilled as one turns the opponent’s own strength against them. “It’s harder to use strength,” she says. Good point. Finesse and timing prevail where direct confrontation fails. It seems that, for the Aikidoka, where strength is concerned, less is more, giving the young learner a distinct advantage. Aikido practice multiplies a child’s limited resources into surprising power.

Once again, I make a mental note to put aside my adult tendency to force my partner into submission using strength, and simply apply the skills learned in class: a strong stance, good balance, and relaxed form. The desired outcome, as my little girl points out, can be reached more easily this way.

The process is repeated throughout the class. She and her fellow students study the mechanics of the moves and demonstrate how to apply them in a relaxed, skilful, powerful manner. “I really like Aikido”, she says, “It’s lots of fun, and the teachers are really good. You don’t need to be big and strong.

“Now grab my wrist again and get ready to fall down.” I sigh and prepare myself for another lesson in the gentle way of Aikido, taught by small, powerful hands.

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