Much has been posted over the years on training and the inevitable injuries that follow. Aikido has its roots in brutal martial arts designed to kill and maim, tested and refined under combat over centuries. Despite Aikido’s goal of harmony and non-injury, it remains a very powerful martial art that can cause serious injury in short order.
I’ve seen a lot of different injuries on the mat over my 15 years of training, from stubbed toes to broken bones. Fortunately, even the worst of these injuries were manageable and not permanent. But they all require attention and cause for concern. Any injury represents a setback from training, which for Aikidoka is The Way, our path to enlightenment and our contribution to restoring harmony in the world.
I was the cause of a recent injury that took my uke off the mat holding his shoulder. It looked bad at the time, like something that would keep him off the mat for a few weeks at least, probably more. I’ve heard since that the injury wasn’t so bad, but I still haven’t seen him back on the mat. I feel responsible and I should, because I am. Despite uke’s insistence that they took bad ukemi, I want to make the point strongly that it is up to nage to take care of uke—always and without exception.
I think this is the first time it has happened on my watch. I didn’t realize when it happened; it was jiu waza and we were training fast. But I clearly lost my focus and a bad injury resulted. My apology cannot make up for uke’s lost time on the mat or their discouragement.
I would offer a few suggestions to help avoid injury:
- Take care of your uke, especially if you are the senior student. Take control of the attack and maintain control throughout the technique.
- Know your limits. It is important to understand where your limit is and know how to push to the limit and pull back from it depending on the circumstances.
- Remember that the intensity of uke’s attack determines the intensity of nage’s response. Don’t attack with more intensity than your ukemi can take. Beginners who don’t know should attack slowly as this signals to nage to respond slowly.
- Never stop working on your own ukemi. It can always be better and the better it is, the better insulated you are from injury, the better you can train, and the more you help nage.
- Don’t forget to breathe. Breathing helps you relax and not hold tension. It also keeps oxygen in your blood, brain, and muscles so you can train longer without getting tired. Tired and lazy ukes are more likely to get injured.
- Eat well. Having energy for an hour or two on the mat demands a diet not made up of simple sugars and fats. Again, pooping out makes one prone to injury.
- Get in shape and stay in shape. Regular training is the best way to build a body that can respond to Aikido techniques, but supplemental training off the mat to improve strength, flexibility, and stamina may be needed, especially if you can’t make it to the dojo enough. Carrying extra pound also adds stress to your bones and joints and puts an additional load on your vascular system.
- Pay attention! Never lose focus.
- Have fun! Look at the picture of O’ Sensei on our Kamiza while you train—he’s smiling. Happy Aikidoka train with confidence and compassion.
Editor’s note: As well as teaching at the dojo, Buck is the President of Pittman Landscape Architecture, a Jacksonville based land planning firm.