The future of Aikido, a Japanese martial art centered around self-defense, is in the west, according to longtime practitioner Nicholas Johnson.
“If you’re in America and you’re able to go to a dojo, it’s a really prime time to take advantage of that,” said Johnson, who is the president of Aikido at the University of New Mexico, a student organization focused on the art.
One way anyone in Albuquerque can start training in Aikido is by joining his club.
“It’s not exactly like a rigorous training program, so if you’re looking to get ripped in 60 days, it’s not going to do that for you — but it is physical,” Johnson said. “Even if you’re scared of any physical thing, or if you’ve never done any martial arts before, it’s no problem. It’s really great for getting in touch with your body.”
Johnson said that all of the techniques they practice in Aikido are in response to attacks, as Aikido is a purely defense-based fighting style — they do not practice attacking.
“The basis of Aikido is to not hurt yourself and not hurt your opponent,” Johnson said. “(Aikido) is called a lot of things: it’s called the art of peace, the art of love, the art of nothing. It really centers around being able to defend yourself in a way that doesn’t hurt your attacker either.”
Johnson stressed that Aikido is really based on love. Practitioners embrace their attackers and blend with them.
“When you do a technique, you want to harmonize with your opponent; you want to love your opponent, you want to accept your opponent, and in that way, they don’t become your opponent anymore. They become your friend, your compadre,” Johnson said.
This mindset is apparent in their club classes, which are taught by Johnson and the faculty advisor, Paul Barrett.
“In class, we really emphasize being nice to your training partners, because if you hurt them, then you don’t have training partners anymore,” Johnson said. “We emphasize no competition — there’s no ‘let’s see who can do blah blah blah first.’”
Although the club does not participate in much competition, they do perform demos, occasionally go to Aikido seminars around the country and go to the dojo in Santa Fe where Johnson first started training 10 years ago.
Johnson and Barrett were the founders of the club at UNM. There are Aikido classes that UNM offers, but Johnson and Barrett wanted to bring the practice to everyone and not have it grade-based, and so the club was born.
“I came to (Aikido) looking for a safe way to defend myself and it has done that. It’s saved me a couple of times,” Johnson said. “It can teach you how to move without hurting yourself, and in that sort of sense, it can give you a mindset that really helps you in life.”
The classes that the club offers involve going through the basic techniques and theories of Aikido and teaching how to defend oneself, roll and take throws, he said.
“Even if you’re a dancer, even if you’re someone who’s really athletic, it can still offer a lot to you,” Johnson said. “You may find similarities between the way we move in Aikido and other things.”
They offer a weapons class, too, though Johnson said learning weapons is less practical than learning hand-to-hand techniques.
Johnson said that after training for years, the practice can have profound effects on the way you handle everyday situations.
“It really makes you aware of your surroundings,” he said. “I noticed that after a long while of taking Aikido I would kind of just avoid conflicts, like if it looked like someone was going to mug me on the street, all I had to do was take a different route and the problem was solved.”
Johnson added that it has helped him find his inner body.
“If someone is dealing with loss, if someone is dealing with injury, if someone is dealing with some sort of pain, whatever it is, we encourage them to come into the dojo and train,” he said. “Because it’s true that training and discipline can give you clarity of mind.”
The club classes are on Mondays and Wednesdays from 5 to 6:30 p m. The first few weeks are free, but memberships for the whole semester are about $20. Everyone is welcome.
Ariel Lutnesky is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ariellutnesky.