Aikido black belt: solo preparation for Shodan
This is my first blog written in English. Please ignore grammar mistakes: enjoy the reading!
In November 2019 I passed for my 1st Kyu test, my next grading is Shodan – earning a 1st-degree black belt in Aikido. I never thought that I would be tested for a black belt in a martial art one day… but the day is coming. I’m excited! I already started to prepare for Shodan along with my preparations for 1st Kyu. Such as body posture, extension, relaxation, and self-confidence. I attend 4-5 classes a week regularly and I often schedule extra training with my Senpai.
At home I practice the basic aikido exercises: stretching, breathing, sitting, visualizing techniques and I study books/video’s/podcasts. While reading this you may think that I’m pretty hooked on Aikido and yes, you’re right! I devoted myself to Aikido training, mentally and physically. The following phrase in Linda Holiday’s book, ‘Journey to the Heart of Aikido’, kinda explains my devotion to Aikido:
“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. “
In December 2019 an unknown, new virus was causing pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan, in China. Now known as coronavirus (COVID-19). 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) 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 then, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of ‘Aikido at home’ free 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 (scroll down the blog).
Although I feel sad that I can’t continue my training in the dojo, I feel more connected to the art. This is Aikido: love, harmony & (developing) a strong mind and body.
Solo preparation for Shodan
Now that I’m homebound I have to solo prepare for Shodan. It’s no option for me to pause my training for about 3 months. Why should I, Aikido is daily training. Besides training your footwork, body positioning and movements in the dojo, you also train principles of Aikido like relaxation, body awareness, centering and grounding. With no training partner, it’s more challenging to test my loyalty and devotion to Aikido. Well, I give it a go. This is how I continue my Aikido training/ preparation for Shodan at home:
During the coronavirus lockdown, some people still have to go to work. You can integrate your physical Aikido practice into your daily life. For example, I started ‘fast walking’ between home and work (12 km). While walking I focus on my center, make contact with the earth (earthing), keeping the weight low (don’t let the hips bounce too much) and try to relax in my lower back and shoulders. I also concentrate on my breathing and of course – train my awareness (Oh, hello bird;)).
Body/ mind principles
In a time of crisis (coronavirus), you are dealing with a conflict situation off the mat. I train myself to remain calm, focused and centered. I do daily 10-minute meditation, breathing exercises (kenko taiso, qi-gong, tai chi) and I try to stay mindful during the day.
Kenko Taiso is an active 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.
Visualizing techniques: shadow movements
Ok. When you feel lazy, you can lay in bed and repeat techniques over and over in your head, but this is more fun and challenging too! 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.
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 e.tc..
- soft high fall
- push-ups (useful for techniques like Ikkyo)
- squats (with boken) for strong legs
- exercises for a proper posture (with Jo), which is upright body alignment
- yoga & stretching
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 daily practice Jo Kata, Suburi and Taisabaki (footwork). Although it’s pretty cold outside and the neighbors can spy on me, I’m so happy with my home dojo.
I truly believe that Aikido training at home is beneficial to prepare for Shodan/ your next grading or simply to stay fit and connected to Aikido. Especially in the time 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.
Take care. Stay fit & healthy!