Aikido black belt: solo preparation for Shodan
This is my first blog written in English. Please ignore grammar mistakes: enjoy the reading!
In 2019 I passed my 1st Kyu test, my next grading is Shodan – earning a 1st-degree black belt in Aikikai Aikido. I never thought that I would be tested for a black belt in a martial art one day… but the day is getting closer. I’m excited! I already started to prepare for Shodan along with my preparations for 1st Kyu. Such as body posture, relaxation, self-confidence, and getting a better understanding of principles. I attend 4-5 classes a week regularly and I often schedule extra training with my Senpai. (Update: the Shodan-test is postponed and will not be held in 2020, but at a later date in 2021).
Besides training at the dojo, I also do some exercises at home like Yoga, Qigong and I study Aikido books/video/podcasts. While reading this you may think that I’m pretty hooked on Aikido and yes, you’re right! I chose to walk this path and devoted myself to Aikido training. The following phrase in Linda Holiday’s book, ‘Journey to the Heart of Aikido’, kinda explains how my journey in Aikido began:
“You think of yourself as a candle. Your body is the wax and your heart is the wick. When your wick is lit with the fire of Aikido, you begin to shine. As your light increases, the people around you are brightened as well. And because your light has been lit by Aikido, you devote yourself to your practice. “
Oh no… Coronavirus outbreak
In December 2019 an unknown, new virus was causing pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan, in China. Now known as COVID-19, coronavirus. It was rapidly spreading through and outside of Wuhan into the world. The coronavirus pandemic was confirmed to have spread to my country (The Netherlands) as well on 27 February 2020.
Sport centers and dojos had to close all their facilities on March 17th, which means: no more physically Aikido training in the dojo! Aikidokas are homebound, not only in the Netherlands but worldwide dojos are closing due to the coronavirus. Since the first outbreak, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of ‘Aikido at home’ content popping up on social media. I’m loving it. The Aikido community is reinventing Aikido and making sure that no one stops learning the art. I’ve collected global content here, you can check it out later. First, read on…
Although I feel sad that I can’t continue my training and prepping for Shodan in the dojo, I feel somehow more connected to the art. Aikido is love, harmony, and developing a strong mind and body.
Solo preparation for Shodan
Now that I’m stuck at home I have to solo prepare for my Shodan grading. It’s no option for me to pause my training for an unknown period of time. Why should I, Aikido is daily training. Besides training techniques, footwork, body positioning, and movements in the dojo, you also train principles of Aikido like relaxation, body awareness, centering, and grounding. You can continue this practice at home. With no training partner, it’s more challenging to test my loyalty and devotion to Aikido. But I’ll give it a go. Below you can read how I prepare for Shodan and continue my Aikido training at home:
During the coronavirus lockdown, some people (like me) still have to travel to work. You can integrate your physical Aikido practice into your daily life. For example, I started ‘fast walking’ between home and work 2 days a week. While fast walking I focus on my center. I make contact with the earth (earthing), keeping the weight low: don’t let the hips bounce too much, and I try to relax in my lower back and shoulders. This helps to become more mindful of your body and you can even develop a lower posture for Aikido practice. I also concentrate on my breathing and of course – train my awareness (Oh, hello bird;)).
Body/ mind principles
In a time of crisis, like the corona pandemic, you are dealing with a conflict situation off the mat. I train myself to remain calm, focused, and being centered. I do a variety of exercises and pick out a different one each day, like an Aikido solo exercise, a short meditation, Kenko Taiso, Yoga, Qi-gong, some Tai Chi – and I try to be body conscious and aware during the day.
In the video, you see a variation of Kenko Taiso. Kenko Taiso is an active, short, and simple body warm-up that you can do at home. It’s a set of harmonious movements that exercise the whole body which is beneficial for your health. Pay attention to your breathing and where you feel the tension in your body. Bend your knees slightly during the exercise.
Visualizing techniques: shadow movements
Ok. When you feel lazy, you can lay in bed and repeat techniques over and over in your head or watch YouTube videos, but this is more fun and challenging! Shadow practice is a good method for basic movements and techniques you’ve learned in Aikido. Focus on the fundamental movements as Tori and then switch to the role of Uke. You can do it anywhere in and around your house. It’s a really good practice. Oh, you can deepen the practice and polish the mirror (Kagami Migaki). Watch yourself and see what you think of it. Always growing and seeing new things. Layer on layer.
Now that I can’t practice techniques with a partner I focus on weapon training. I’m learning the 7, 13, 31 Jo kata, solo Jo/ Ken suburi’s, and katas. I solo practice “Ken awase”, “Tachi Dori” and “Jo Dori” in the role of Tori (shadow movements). A few exercises are also on the list for my Shodan grading. Weapon training helps me to improve my body posture, balance, centering, and learn about ‘extension in Aikido’ as well.
Yoga & Ukemi solo drills
I practice (yin) Yoga at home to develop and improve my flexibility, core strength/ muscles, balance, coordination, etc. I’ve been practicing yoga for over a year now and it really helps to develop a stronger body. The quality of my Ukemi movement is much better these days. I normally train Ukemi in the dojo, but now I solo drill Ukemi in my home dojo.
Solo drills for Ukemi:
- hand stretch forward roll, forward/backward (facing forward) rolls, circle rolls, etc..
- soft high fall
- push-ups (useful for techniques like Ikkyo)
- squats (opt. with Bokken/ Jo) for strong legs
- 10-minute full-body work-out (routine with 12 high-intensity exercises)
- yoga & stretching
Home Dojo: Aikido-training at home
My Sensei is lending out mats to his students for home practice and now some of us have a home dojo! I can fully practice Ukemi-drills, Jo Kata, Suburi, and Taisabaki (footwork). Although it’s pretty cold outside at this time of year and the neighbors can spy on me, I’m so happy with my home dojo. If you don’t have space in your garden, maybe you can find a good spot in your home? A yoga mat for stretches and slow-motion Ukemi back and forward rolls also does the trick.
I truly believe that Aikido-training at home is beneficial to prepare for Shodan or any grading that’s coming up or simply to stay fit and connected to Aikido. Especially in the times of the Coronavirus pandemic: don’t let anything stop you from martial arts training! I hope this blog may be of interest to you. If you like to share ideas, thoughts about Shodan preparations, or anything else – please feel free to contact me.
Update Dec 2020 – Covid’s still here and stopping us from Aikido. May 2021 bring health, friendship, harmony, and finally loads of Aikido-training! Until then, stay calm & solo practice Aikido.