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Aikido Walking

with George Leonard

George, I feel drawn to the philosophy of Aikido, and have learned a lot from the wisdom in its teachings. But I have issues with injuries, weakness and physical limitations that keep me from joining class in the dojo. How can I embody the principles of Aikido without training in the martial art?

One accessible and effective way to develop many of the basic qualities required in aikido and also gain a number of its benefits is simply through walking.

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Breathe deeply. Let the breath expand your abdomen, not just to the front but also to the back, the sides of the pelvis, the floor of the pelvis. Imagine a beam of ki/energy from the center of the earth moving straight up through your body, out of the top of your head, and upward to the zenith of the heavens. Then imagine that beam coming down from the zenith of the heavens through your body, down to the earth’s center, straightening your posture, connecting you to the earth. Think of the earth as a battery of ki; the more firmly your feet are connected to the earth, the more ki is available to you.

Check to see that your weight is distributed evenly between your feet. Move subtly, distributing your weight equally between your heels and the balls of your feet. Your knees are not locked and not bent, and you are becoming aware of the soles of your feet warming the surface beneath them and the surface beneath them warming your feet.

Before you start walking, slap yourself two or three times just beneath your hip bones. Then reach around behind you and tap the small of your back with the back of your fist.

Put your attention on your center and stride out with high spirits and clear purpose. Breathe naturally and generously. Feel your feet on the surface beneath you, your arms swinging easily, your hands neither clenched nor held open rigidly but relaxed, with fingers slightly and gracefully curved.

Consider your center rather than your chest, shoulders, or head as the focal point of your motion, your power. Widen your attention to include your hips and the small of your back, also important in the creation of seemingly effortless power. Hold this awareness and, at the same time, become exquisitely aware of the soles of your feet and their rounded, sensuous motion from heel to toe on the surface beneath you as they propel you across the earth.

Now, without compromising your upright posture, lower your center ever so slightly. This will bring your body physically closer to the surface on which you’re walking by only a half inch or even less. But psychologically you’ll feel and act as if you are considerably closer to the ground and thus considerably more stable and powerful. In addition, each foot will stay in contact with the ground a little longer than before and thus add a small but not inconsiderable length to your stride. This “getting down,” this increased contact with the surface beneath you, is an essential element for success, not only in aikido, but in all physical activities that involve walking or running.

Now imagine there’s a strong wind of ki blowing down the sidewalk or trail you’re going to be walking on in just the direction you’re going. When you begin walking, imagine that you’re being pushed along by this ki wind. Feel the wind on your back. Lean back very slightly into it. Let it push you. Let it carry you along. Centered, grounded, graceful and confident walking can create a field of energy that might gladden the heart of anyone you encounter.

Excerpted from The Way of Aikido, by George Leonard, © 2000, Penguin Putnam, Inc.

Copyright 2009 Greener Mediations