Martial Arts are very popular with the Pagan Community, both as a form of self defence and a way of interpreting Pagan principles in a practical manner. Because of this most- but not all - Pagans tend towards the so-called ‘soft styles’ of martial art that emphasise balance movement and flow rather than blocking and striking. The most accessible art that uses these principles is the Japanese art of Aikido.
Founded by Morihei Ueshiba in 1925 Aikido has its’ roots in Daito Ryu jujitsu which is one of many combat arts Ueshiba studied as a young man. He also followed a spiritual path that emphasised the connection between working on the land and spirituality. This became a recurring theme throughout his life, particularly as his intuitive senses developed and he began to have profound spiritual experiences. These reached their peak when he was challenged to a duel by a master of Kendo (Sword-way) and was able to defeat him without fighting because he was able to sense the direction of the sword strikes and avoid them.
As he went to wash at a nearby well he felt as though he was in tune with the Cosmos and the principles that would become Aikido. As Jigoro Kano did with the sport of Judo, he removed many of the more dangerous techniques from general teaching and emphasised the positive spiritual aspect. The result was a highly ethical form of martial art that also aimed to improve the practitioners’ integration of mind body and spirit whilst being almost purely defensive in nature.
Aikido can be translated as “The way (Do) of harmonising (Ai) with universal life force (Ki)”. Attacks are neutralized through avoidance and by extending energies in a spiral or circle back to the attacker(s), subduing them with as little harm as possible depending on the circumstances. Striking techniques are used to unbalance and distract rather than permanently injure, although the potential is there to inflict major damage as a last resort.
This comparatively non-violent approach is a major draw for Pagans, particularly those who wish to be able to defend themselves without harming others. That Aikidoists learn how to use internal energy to strengthen parts of the body, and train to become sensitive to the intention of their attackers is particularly attractive. It is also perhaps only mainstream martial art where the defender is regularly faced by multiple opponents as higher grades are attained.
Beginners are first taught to fall in a way that allows them to blend with the energy of a throw/projection, or immobilisation. Unlike Judo falls this energy is dissipated by rolling or ‘going with’ techniques rather than slapping the ground just before impact which can carry the risk of fracturing the elbow if done incorrectly on hard ground.
“We learn to fall like the dishcloth rather than the scrubbing brush” was how it was put to me when I began training in the art.
Aikido has sometimes been called ‘fake’ by people who have seen practitioners apparently ‘taking a dive’ by throwing themselves during training or a demonstration. This harkens back to going with a technique in order to avoid injury. Although the majority of techniques are applied with the natural way a joint or the body bends some are not. Also if a person is completely unbalanced by a subtle technique they can appear to fall over of their own accord.
For Pagans Aikido quickly becomes meditation in motion, particularly if combined with traditional training in energy projection and perception. Neutralizing or throwing someone with a technique based on a circle or spiral gives greater insight into the innate power of these forms which are found in Pagan art and dance.
As with Paganism a practitioner of Aikido uses it as a way of living in harmony with nature, training the mind, and helping find goodness and beauty. Both paths emphasise the use of internal energy to interact with situations and events to lead to results beneficial to all. By training in Aikido you can learn more about how to use magickal energy and sharpen your reflexes and instincts for effective non-aggressive self defence.