Why Aikido is Great for Women

Christina Kelly is an editor for Aikido Journal and has practiced aikido for about a year, currently holding the rank of fourth kyu. She is a professional writer and editor specializing in video games and esports, and has previously worked in editorial at Blizzard Entertainment and ESPN Esports. Her last editorial on AJ was titled “Why the World Needs Aikido, A Millennial’s Perspective.” This editorial was written for a general audience who may not be familiar with aikido.

I’m a woman who has had a lot of experience in female-dominated activities (certain types of dance), male-dominated activities (video games), and roughly gender-equivalent activities (music) throughout my life. I started learning aikido about a year ago, and was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a substantial number of women practicing at my dojo, even if, overall, men were still the majority. As I dove deeper into aikido’s techniques and practices, I realized that it’s a discipline that offers benefits that are very helpful for women and it’s also an art where women have advantageous traits.

In this article, I’d like to lay out these benefits and advantageous traits as I see them, so that women have a better understanding of the way practicing aikido can help them achieve their goals. Nothing in this article is intended to judge women or men as a group – or their activities of choice – as good or bad, worse or better. The idea is to acknowledge and address the challenges women face, the skills or experiences that women value, and the various characteristics that gender brings to the table. Much of the information in this article could also be useful to men and gender nonbinary or gender nonconforming individuals as well. Now then, let’s get started.

Aikido’s Benefits for Women

There are a number of things that aikido has taught me or provided for me that I enjoy a great deal, and I believe many women would feel similarly if they picked up the practice. Some of the benefits from my perspective include:

  • Greater physical self-confidence and situational awareness
  • A supportive community where I’ve made many friends
  • A philosophy of nonviolence and compassion that resonates with and reinforces my own
  • Better posture and body alignment
  • Fun exercise that increases coordination and core strength while it gets your heart rate up
  • Training in strategic analysis of biomechanics
  • A place I can go where I know I can feel comfortable and respected and I don’t feel self-conscious about my body
  • A progression system that lets me take on challenges and achieve goals at my own pace, independently and cooperatively
  • Lots of opportunities to both learn new things and teach what I know
  • The ability to fall without hurting myself
  • Practical physical self-defense techniques that are engineered to convince the attacker to desist without causing permanent physical harm

However, the greatest benefit has been psychosocial, in that aikido has taught me about healthier ways of showing up in the world around other people.

If you identify as female, have you ever felt like you should “lean in” and/or “take up space”? Have you tried to do so, and then found that your coworkers, family, friends, etc. resisted your attempts at being more assertive and loudly expressing your perspective? Have you felt awkward about going against the grain and/or seeming confrontational while doing so? This might be because it’s hard to emulate effective new behaviors along these lines without clear guidelines and real training. Aikido can provide both of these.

In aikido, you are physically trained to “lean in,” or commit to the point of contact with your partner (say, their hand grabbing your wrist) so that you can manipulate their body structure and / or momentum. You are also trained to literally enter another person’s space decisively to distract them and/or make it easier to take them off balance. If you try to be too polite about it, an instructor or higher ranking practitioner may gently but firmly correct you, because aikido is about defusing threats in the most humane way possible, which means in the most efficient way possible. 

Just as deep breathing exercises and stretching can relax the mind, so practicing the physical act of leaning in and taking up space in a calm, constructive way can guide one’s social behaviors, to great effect.

I learned that being assertive doesn’t have to be about being angry or resistant or selfish. In fact, it is often easier to collaborate with people when they are clear about their ideas and needs. Sharing one’s unique perspective can help show other people, no matter their gender, that it is OK to truly be themselves and they can be respected for being different.

Then, when you switch roles with your partner, you realize how important it is for them to perform the techniques as best as they can so you can learn how to react properly and safely to the force of their actions. You realize that it’s not an unforgivable offense for someone to deliberately get in your face in a structured environment of teaching and learning – in fact, it’s very valuable for you. This concept can help reduce the fear of pressuring or hurting other people when you metaphorically lean in or take up space.

I am personally much less scared of being my enthusiastic, brainy, oddball self around other people now that I have internalized these lessons. And I’ve definitely found that people appreciate it and even like having me around more because they enjoy my energy and my ideas. It’s been quite eye-opening.

The Advantageous Traits of Women in the Context of Aikido

It’s true that the population of aikido practitioners tends to be male-dominated. However, this is not because of any inherent physical disadvantage on the part of women as compared to men – it’s more of a historical and cultural artifact of the time aikido and other martial arts were invented and popularized. Female aikidoka and practitioners of related arts have existed since aikido’s early days, as evidenced by photos of Japanese middle school girls practicing aikido budo circa 1940 in a rare technical manual known as the Soden.

Middle school girls practicing Aiki Budo in Osaka (c. 1940)

Today, Tokyo’s Hombu Dojo, which was established by aikido founder Ueshiba Morihei in 1931, hosts regular women’s classes, as illustrated by Catalina von Crayen’s article “The Female Aikidoist’s Guide to Hombu Dojo.” It’s clear that there is a place for women in aikido, but furthermore, there are specific reasons why having physiological traits associated with being female can actually be a significant asset in practicing aikido.

Correct aikido technique does not rely on the upper-body muscle groups that men generally build easily and women generally do not (i.e. biceps, triceps, pectorals). Aikido is about efficiently leveraging movement and momentum to create the most impactful force, and using smaller muscle groups in isolation is inefficient, even if it produces a similar result. While it is easier at lower levels to get away with throwing or pinning someone to the ground by using mainly upper-body strength, by the time you get farther along in your training, you’re expected to use alignment, big muscle groups (hips/back/legs), and core strength to execute moves. Since women do not have the option of using upper-body strength as easily as men do, we have to rely more on technique to get to the point where we’re throwing big dudes around.

In addition, because aikido techniques revolve around drawing on your own stability to break an opponent’s balance, it is an advantage both defensively and offensively to have a lower center of mass because you are more stable than someone with a higher center of mass. The average height of an American male is 5’9.5”, while an average American female’s height is 5’4”. Women also tend to have a lower center of mass than a man of equal height anyway because of secondary sex characteristics. Certain aikido techniques like shihonage are easier and more effective if you are shorter than your opponent, and other aikido techniques can be modified to take advantage of this kind of height differential.

Penultimately, movement precision and joint mobility are more important than overwhelming muscle strength in aikido, which is why I feel like my dance background has helped my practice much more than my time on the punching bag when I trained in kickboxing and taekwondo. I am not well-versed in the science of joint flexibility, but it appears that women tend to have a wider range of motion in the abdominal and hip areas, and also in the shoulders (source). Women are sometimes thought of as more graceful than men, which may indicate better movement precision and fine motor coordination. Certain movement-based activities like yoga which emphasize flexibility, coordination, and core strength are often popular among women, and they also provide an excellent foundation for aikido.

Finally, while aikido is a martial art that trains people in effective and practical combat techniques, it is more collaborative and not as confrontational or competitive as many other martial arts or fighting systems. I know what it’s like to get punched in the face while sparring, and the novelty wore off pretty quickly. In aikido partner practice, which takes up most of group classes, one person in a pair is the attacker (uke) and one is the defender (nage). The uke “attacks” by grabbing the nage’s wrist or uniform lapel or approaching with an open-hand strike (attacks become more varied and realistic at the advanced levels). The nage then executes the technique specified by the instructor in response to the “attack” in a smooth, precise manner, maintaining physical contact with the uke to manipulate their joints, momentum, and balance until they are no longer in a position where they can successfully attack. After a few iterations, the partners switch roles. Since the overall goal is to discourage the opponent from attacking without causing permanent harm, it is relatively easy to practice directly on a human partner without danger.

Since one of the main goals of partner training is to practice the application of techniques on opponents of different body types, the partners work together cooperatively to customize the nage’s approach to the particular uke. There is one branch of aikido that practices the art competitively, but competition is not common or core to the art as a whole. Women are often culturally more encouraged to develop collaborative and empathetic mindsets than men, which is a great asset in becoming a successful aikidoka.

The Upsides Vastly Outweigh the Downsides

Given all of this, why is it that aikido is still a male-dominated discipline? Part of it is because aikido is not as well known as other martial arts or exercise frameworks, but part of it is also because there are reasonable concerns that women might have about pursuing this kind of practice. Examples include (not a complete list):

  • Martial arts might seem violent, given icons like Bruce Lee and Jean-Claude Van Damme
  • Grabbing a sweaty person by the wrist might seem unhygienic
  • It might seem too high-impact and destructive for joints and other body parts
  • Causing someone physical discomfort, even by consent, might feel confrontational and unpleasant.
  • Feeling off-balance or being in a physical position of weakness might feel uncomfortable
  • Suggesting that women learn an art associated with physical self-defense might feel like victim-blaming
  • The prospect of making mistakes in front of other people could feel intimidating

These are all legitimate concerns, and if they or others are personally important, then it would be useful to discuss them with an instructor at a good aikido dojo.

I myself find that aikido is full of grace and beauty, that it’s a system which emphasizes safety, that sweat isn’t that gross to deal with, that throwing someone or being thrown is an amazing way to build trust, that having the ability to defend myself is extremely empowering, and that I feel comfortable and supported learning at my own pace.

For other female viewpoints, see the Aikido Journal articles featuring Patricia Hendricks (7th dan black belt), Ginny Breeland (5th dan), Coralie Camilli (shodan), and Ikazuchi Dojo’s Karen (shodan), Sophia (third kyu), and Juliette (second kyu).

From a larger perspective, John Gerzema and Michael D’Antonio’s 2013 book The Athena Doctrine: How Women (and the Men Who Think Like Them) Will Rule the Future used a worldwide, 64,000-person survey to figure out that the modern leadership paradigm is swinging away from the macho past and towards “feminine” virtues like flexibility and collaboration. While many people may aspire to be leaders and change the world, it can be difficult to develop that power to the fullest without a solid belief in one’s own strength and ability to respond to challenging situations. Aikido is an excellent way to develop the confidence and skills to navigate a complex and dynamic world in a grounded, empowered manner.

In closing, O-Sensei (the honorific term for the founder of aikido) was known as a formidable and powerful martial artist, but he did not create a martial art to perpetuate destruction. “[A]ikido cannot be anything but a martial art of love. It cannot be a martial art of violence,” he said in an interview. “The state of mind of the aikidoist must be peaceful and totally non-violent. That is to say, that special state of mind which brings violence into a state of harmony.” While aikido might superficially seem to focus on physical conflict resolution, the combat techniques are really only the tip of the iceberg. The mental, emotional, and physical skills that practitioners learn form a coherent approach to relationships of all kinds that promotes greater peace and understanding. Anyone can benefit from doing aikido, and gender certainly doesn’t have to get in the way.

Christina Kelly


  • Very well put, and it is my experience that women were always technically better than men because they needed to be. However, I now see it from a new perspective as well,one of Yin and Yang. The soft yin fist (feminine) will always defeat the hard yang (masculine) palm. Tough muscles seek to find the opposition and to understand and overcome it. Yin offers no message of understanding and is unopposable. All that remains is for us to learn this … hence a journey of a lifetime I suspect as so much of that is counter intuitive. Thank you for the article.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. One thing I love about aikido is that it accommodates different personality types and styles and provides a framework to better understand styles that are different from one’s own. It’s definitely an art that promotes balance and appreciates that there are many different paths to peace and conflict resolution.

  • Great Job Christina! I loved your insight on Aikido! And I’m very Proud of you! Thank you so much for sharing! Ouss🙏🏻
    Billy V.

  • An interesting read but less successful, in my opinion, than the previous article by the same author. I think Kelly lack of experience was an asset in the previous article and her views important just for that. It is often the case that we even forget our own first impressions of the art we know and love so well. It was great to be reminded of how it can seem when starting out. In this article though, I think Kelly’s lack of experience in aikido leads her to say a couple of things that may not be true. While I agree with Kelly’s view that it is nice to see women training on the mat, and that women, on the whole, do have gender-based strengths (she does have a point or two, for example, about women having a lower center of gravity because of their average height), I am not sure that ‘flexibility’ in itself, or a greater range of motion, is necessary to doing aikido well. Perhaps, an ability to relax, or to consciously release tension around the joints is a better marker. If that is what she means by ‘flexibility,’ then yes, I agree. It is very incorrect, though, to say that aikido gives people a cardio workout. Aikido is primarily a stop-and-start kind of activity, kind of like tennis. It is carried out in short bursts. Like tennis and squash, it mainly recruits the ‘anaerobic- alactic’ (‘without oxygen-without lactic acid’) and anaerobic lactic (‘without oxygen – with lactic acid’) systems of energy production. We do not repeat simple movements for twenty minutes or more, like joggers or cyclists do. Instead, we try a variety of moves, all of which require different degrees of flexibility, stability, etc, and there is usually a break every 15 minutes or so (sometimes sooner) for the instructor to demonstrate new moves; at which point everyone sits down for a few minutes where nothing physical takes place among the students. After years of doing full-time aikido training, and in the peak of my athletic condition, with muscles bristling, I decided to go for a run and found myself very disappointed to find I could only go for 15 minutes comfortably, albeit at a steady and rapid pace. Conclusion? You’d be better off doing cardio elsewhere if you wanted to lose calories… In fact, I know some rather rotund sensei around, who have not changed their shape in decades. It’s also debatable whether ‘core strength’ is a hallmark of good or bad aikido. Some people say the so called “center” of the body in aikido (aka the “seika tanden”) is more of a psychological or energetic center than a purely muscular thing. Other than those points, I would give this article a big thumbs up, if only to laugh with the author at the thought everyone has had at least once on the mat: ‘Grabbing a sweaty person by the wrist might seem unhygienic”..!

    • Hello Kenny,

      As you clearly invested some time and thought into this comment, please permit me to share a response in kind.

      In traditional aikido, we are taught that etiquette is very important. It’s not enough to bow when entering the mat and to O-Sensei and the class sensei, but we also bow to other students when we begin and end practice with them. As I wrote in my previous article, which I appreciate that you enjoyed, this is to recognize the humanity in the other person and show respect for them, regardless of rank or our relationship to them off the mat.

      As someone who has worked in digital community management for a long time, I believe the same principles are beneficial not just for life outside of the dojo, but also online. Even if I disagree with someone’s thoughts, if I am commenting on their post, I acknowledge their humanity by addressing them in the second person and not talking about them in third person, because it’s important to me to establish that I am entering into a conversation with this person and my words have a direct impact on them. It’s sort of like sitting at a dinner table with people and having them talk about you without acknowledging that you are right there sitting next to them – it’s not a great feeling because it feels like you are invisible and your perspective doesn’t matter on the one topic where it should matter most: yourself.

      I understand that the internet is a new space and can feel like it’s separated from the real world, and also that the clues as to who is speaking and whether or not your comments may be visible to them are not as intuitive as the real world. Online interfaces can do a lot to improve in this regard. However, it’s still something that is beneficial to keep in mind and be proactive about.

      Another important note is that this article was several months in the making, with many revisions in response to the feedback of the executive editor of Aikido Journal, Josh Gold (4th dan). He was very kind and constructive in doing a thorough technical review of this article and pointing out the areas where it could use improvement. This was a crucial part of the process in large part because, as you noted, I do not yet have the deep technical understanding of aikido that someone with a fourth-degree black belt does.

      I consulted with Josh Sensei regarding the feedback in your comment, so I will now address your two points.

      First, while lower joint mobility does not in and of itself prevent someone from successfully training in aikido, there are concrete advantages to having greater flexibility. Someone with greater flexibility has, by default, more options when it comes to techniques relative to someone who is physically similar but less flexible, especially in responding to an opponent’s engagement. A related point is that greater flexibility can also be very helpful in preventing injury, especially while taking ukemi. When I’m pinning someone to the mat with a joint lock, and they are already down on the ground, their physical strength cannot necessarily keep them from getting hurt if I happen to use a lock that happens to take them out of their comfortable range of motion. The point about flexibility in the article is, in our opinion, still valid.

      Second, it seems like you are not a fan of using the word “cardio” in conjunction with aikido. The part of the article in question was a very minor point, so I have reworded it to remove the word cardio while still expressing the same idea. It is worth noting that I have personally attended classes where my heart rate was elevated for extended periods of time, whether because of warmups that focused on increasing blood circulation or kyu test prep classes where I was taking ukemi at a very rapid pace. One of aikido’s strengths is that there is not an ironclad formula to running classes, so students can experience a diversity of physical training regimens. However, it is true that elevating heart rate is not a core focus of aikido, which is why I changed the wording.

      I would also like to note here that there are many reasons why someone might participate in a cardio-focused workout and women do not necessarily do this in order to change their body shape. It’s been scientifically proven that exercising your heart with cardio exercise is salutary regardless of whether it results in a particular externally visible configuration of biomass, because exercising muscles is good for the muscles and the heart is a muscle. I would be careful about assuming that anyone is participating in a particular kind of exercise for weight loss reasons, particularly women, because it is well attested that women have historically been more closely scrutinized for their body shape than men.

      Finally, while I have found that aikido sees the center of the body in energetic terms and not purely physical, in my experience physical core strength is a critical part of becoming an aikidoka with strong fundamentals. Our dojo cho, Haruo Matsuoka Sensei, stresses that aikido techniques must always be performed in a way that keeps your limbs within the area of your center. This is not just psychological or energetic – it is because engaging the core muscles is easier when you are performing a technique based on keeping it in your center, and that lends greater power and control to the technique. I am not aware of sources that assert that core strength is not important to aikido, and you are welcome to cite some if you have them on hand.

      Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you found the article interesting.


      • Hi Kelly, thanks for your extensive response. I am a little confused though by your reference to speech in the third person. (I thought the Aikido Journal (AJ) was a semi-academic journal, and not a twitter feed..!) If I’m not mistaken, AJ is a non-partisan, unbiased, semi-scientific journal, concerned with the historical and scientific facts as well as with the informed opinion of experts in the aikido field. I merely pointed out how uninformed a couple of your beliefs were. I am not sure I can even get into a debate if facts are not worth considering. My understanding is that science works by trying to ‘actively disprove’ our pet theories. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings..!

        Regarding your understanding of the ‘bow.’ I welcome the idea that it’s an expression of our ‘common humanity.’ (Wouldn’t we all like to be considered ‘human’ and treated as such in aikido…! 🙂 When I read O-Sensei’s words as an expression of the perennial philosophy, and in the light of our Western humanistic tradition, I’ve also thought so. However, research into the art, for my book, has made me less sure. As you may know, bowing is something very common in Japan and is a mark of respect within a hierarchical Confucian culture. If it’s about “respecting humanity,” it’s a ‘humanity’ filtered through Confucius… Confucianism, as far as I know, does not presuppose equality, so it is not ‘common’ in the sense I presume you mean the phrase ‘our common humanity.’ Of course, that doesn’t take away from the fact that many of us have interpreted it that way for so long that it has taken a distinctly Western character. (Confucius is now American, don’t you know..!!) I don’t want to say too much about that because the cultural (re)appropriation of foreign customs sometimes leads to good outcomes: say, Gauguin and Van Gogh’s love of Japanese wrapping paper (woodblock prints) leading to new forms of art. On the down side, Umberto Eco uses the term ‘aberrant decoding’ to refer to the way in which cultural signs and symbols are actively misunderstood and misappropriated by immigrants, leading to misunderstandings of the culture they are trying to assimilate into. I suppose he’s talking about the Bin Ladens of the world who appear to believe ‘Western civilization is doomed’ because ‘the women are slutty,’ for example, when both views are questionable, starting with the latter. But you can see how rapidly a mistaken assumption can lead logically to a host of other unwarranted views.

        Anyways, let’s move on to your other two points. Flexibility. I am still not totally in favor of your idea. Flexibility is great in principle. Yoga feels good. It feels good to stretch and there are many advantages in terms of range of motion. And I love the fact that women are more flexible than me in general. Yes, yes, I get that but let’s be specific and as scientific as we can get. If you consult the literature on stretching, there was a time when passive stretching was considered the bees knees. Those Grid Iron players, you will find, who were taught to passively stretch to gain greater flexibility (thinking automatically that a greater range of motion would be better for performance) ended up tearing their muscles. They lost big time! I don’t have the space here to go into this, but there are actually many methods of attaining flexibility today and competing theories of what’s best. There is a kind of mainstream consensus that there are “sport-specific ranges of motion” and that exercises that take us out of the needed range for our particular sport can be detrimental to performance. This is not me saying it. This is what the literature says. If aikidoka have special powers unknown to other human beings and are even more athletic than our best sports players, then I’d like to see the science on that. It would at least make our art much more interesting to the general public. That kind of research, research into the scientific (biomechanical) basis of aikido is something that has been impeded to date, in my view, because of the non-scientific opinions we all like to hold on to because they feel good to hold them. I too loved the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” but that does not mean I can fly or will even attempt to.

        To be fair, I think you were saying something about genetics. Female ones in particular. Women are more flexible than men, in general, so they have an advantage when learning aikido. You contrast, I think naively, strength vs flexibility, where strength supposedly relates to men. OK. Then you gave the example of someone who’s range of motion in their arm is compromised, i.e someone who is stiff in the shoulders and where their arm is taken to its extreme range of motion. Stiffness, however, does not necessarily equate with strength. A strong person, say someone strong in their core, could easily do a forward roll out of, say, a nikkyo pin and thereby escape the pin. But, I don’t really want to argue the formula flexibility vs strength because real flexibility, IMHO, actually comes from strength (just look at the muscular development of gymnasts!). And, if I may extend this even further, mental flexibility, IMHO, is by far the greater skill to have. Measures of physical strength and physical flexibility are mere traits and nothing compared to the flexibility mind under pressure to do its best (Has anyone ever read Takuan?). If it weren’t for that, there would be no art to aikido either. If we were only as good as we were genetically and couldn’t move out of our conditioned body: males who were stiff and strong and females who were flexible but weak would probably stay that way and there’d be no progress. We’d be doomed to acting our genetically scripted gender roles. I think aikido isn’t about that but about transcending our narrow sense of self, including our genetic or gendered heritage. It’ about exercising our empathy to that degree and who knows maybe to as far as we can take it… who says empathy is finite?

        Is flexibility an advantage in aikido vs strength? I am not sure, you see. You say it is good to be flexible when taking ukemi. Well yes and no. You need strength as well. I know of waaay too may people who have broken their collar bone in those (IMHO stupid) super-man leaps over several crouching people… Okay, it happened to the strongest black-belt in class. He was told to leap over five people and took up the challenge. He later confided to me that he tucked his arm in at the last second because otherwise he knew he was going to crush the poor girl at the end of the line. In other words, he sacrificed himself instead of injuring her. Although I disagree with this particular ukemi exercise (and it is practiced in many Western aikido dojos…I have never seen it in Japan), here too we see will-power and the flexibility of mind taking precedence over mere flexibility or strength. You might say empathy or injury prevention, in which case, we are on the same page. Did people who were flexible attempt the leap? Nope, not a chance. Would I like to see a more flexible female leap over five people (or was it six) and survive to tell the tale of an intact collar-bone? If you sincerely wish to prove flexibility trumps strength, please be my guest. Just don’t say I recommended it.

        I do stand corrected about one thing I said re: cardio to lose weight. Sorry, that is the image that came to mind because a lot of people are into cardio for that reason and, as you say, for body image reconstruction. But, I also meant to say for VO2 Max. reasons as well. The point I really wanted to get across was that there really is no cardio benefit at all in aikido, unless you want to say that after ten years of training, it is possible to run for 15 minutes before getting puffed. That doesn’t even qualify as aerobic fitness though, 20 minutes being the minimum, to gauge ‘aerobic’ fitness. It’s probably a misconception which became a myth, someone someone said to sound up to date, way back when, which spread and eventually came to seem true.

        Getting your heart rate up before a test isn’t uncommon either. Anxiety would do that to you. Oh, by the way, increased heart-rate is not an indicator of aerobic training either. If anything, as you get more aerobically fit, your heart-rate should drop, given your body adjusts to demands. If your heart’s still racing after years of aikido, then that too is an indication of no aerobic benefit.

        I am not sure if historically women’s bodies were more closely scrutinized than men’s. That sounds like a matter of opinion too. Men have always been preoccupied with how strong they are. Just look at those who stare at their muscles in the mirror..! What is the recent MMA craze if it isn’t self-infatuation with mutual-muscle-gazing and strong and dumb man vs skilled and skinny man comparison / competition..? Men seem much more interested in such sports because they care about how they rank in the macho pecking order. I seem to be going slightly off topic but I think women should perhaps scrutinize themselves more. Why not find out how to help women get rid of period pain, for example..? It seems to make some women go totally bonkers and everyone within a 20 mile radius knows it… When 10% of women allegedly suffer from such distortions in their personality that they themselves recognize because of the pain, you wonder whatever happened to female solidarity. (Maybe women should seek parity with their own kind first before seeking equality with men.)

        To go back to cardio for a second though. There’s been a misinterpretation of cardio among a lot of gyms: new research has been bastardized. 3 minute circuits on the stationary bicycle for instance, rest a few minutes and do the same thing for a few rounds. That is not what the research said. Sorry. I get upset by these misreadings of science. OK, I’m human…(Aberrant decoding? Scientific culture vs popular gym culture?) Yes, they are minor points misunderstood but they distort reality. People think they are getting fit when they are not? They rave about their workouts that are nothing of the kind? Aren’t such distortions the same as lying? And why accept lies when we are supposedly truth-seekers in aikido..? Especially at Aikido Journal, no? At least, I thought that’s what Ueshiba was into…the truth, I mean.

        And, on your final point, re: core strength. Your dojo-cho is not wrong but he is not as specific as he needs to be. Keeping your limbs close to your center does not overtly refer to the center or what it should or should not be doing. It’s basic physics anyway. Everyone knows that keeping your limbs close to you allows you to use better leverage. Just hold a bag of heavy groceries out at arm’s length and see how long you can hold it for before your arm gives out. Hold the bag this time at the crook of your elbow, how long do you think you can hold it now…?

        Does having a strong core help you hold the bag out at any range? Perhaps. But it’s almost irrelevant. Turns out, “having a strong core” is also a myth perpetrated by the gyms and it was a misunderstanding carried over from the mistaken science around back pain. The old model of the body as a set of building blocks (bones, spinal column, etc) balanced delicately on top of each other, with muscles front and back holding them in their place. Hence the idea: if the back goes out, then there must be something wrong with the muscles on the front (the stomach, for example). And all of a sudden everyone was doing crunches.

        Well, that theory has been disproven. There is no correlation between flaccid stomach muscles and back pain. By the same token, strengthening your core has no benefit in back pain patients. Thus, the extension that there is some benefit to gym bunnies who work on their core is false. There is, however, a correlation between the posture of asthmatics and their breath capacity. I don’t know any reference in the aikido literature that talks about core strength as a benefit. I would be most happy and very grateful if you could send me references.

        As for citations on core strength being no good for aikido, my book, as far as I know, will be the first to talk about this (to be published hopefully this year). Alongside core-strength, I also destroy a few other choice myths.

        Why am I writing all this…? Why am I passionate about this?

        Because I don’t want anyone else suffering the injuries I and many other professionals have suffered through training according to the methods taught to us by our masters’ half-baked truths and lies and because an old man once wrote ‘train with joy.’ Ueshiba should have also said ‘…without injuring one another.’ But, of course, he did…

        • K. this is a few months old now, but I can’t resist.
          Wow. That’s quite an investment of time to dispute the thoughts of someone new to the art. Ms. Kelly has been quite polite in dealing with that response and I must compliment her on that. There also seems to be some underlying motivation there, but I’ll ignore that. 🙂

          Ms. Kelly has some very insightful thoughts here from a beginner in Aikidio and I applaud her efforts to put them into words.

          Allow me to address a few points:
          -Cardio -> I’m not sure how *your* sandan exam went but I was certainly glad I had trained cardio. Does every class heap on cardio training? No because we don’t have that kind of structure. Cardio is *your* problem, but you better have it when you need it: and you’re expected to. Our classes show you when you don’t. Do yours?

          O’sensei didn’t train people in basics, like fitness. People who came to his dojo were already experts in various martial arts. That legacy has been handed down like it or not.

          -core strength is not important? For Aikido? Dude. Your book will be wrong. I’ve trained with Saotome/Duran/Gleason/Yamada…etc. Ms. Kelly is laboring under the necessity to be polite here. I’m not. If you have no core you have no center.

          -flexibility is not important? Is that what you’re saying there? LOL. Well I come from a karate background before 20 years in Aikido. I can’t get my head around that at all. Turning around our centers, employing fascia connectivity to improve connection and power, understanding our flexibility as applied against our structure. Yeah.

  • Ms.Kelly, I truly enjoyed reading your perspective in this article. My favorite part of yours is, “Just as deep breathing exercises and stretching can relax the mind, so practicing the physical act of leaning in and taking up space in a calm, constructive way can guide one’s social behaviors, to great effect.”
    Having trained for quite some time now, I can say you are spot on–aikido training provides the confidence to take up space with our own, natural self. The experience is quite liberating!
    Thank you.

    • Thank you very much for your comment! I’m very glad that the article resonates with your experiences and has helped you in the same way it’s helped me.

  • Really great and informative article. Thank you so much for the clear succinct and insightful view of Aikido. My particular dojo is a key Aikido dojo on Maui, the first dojo outside of Japan that was formed in 1953. I am blessed with extraordinary black belts most of which are female to take this discipline to heart. My daughter is 11 years old and two years ago I brought her into the dojo due to boundary challenges where she was being harassed. That is no longer the case, and after two years I decided it was time for me to step up to the plate. I started Aikido two months ago and now I try to be in the dojo 4 to 6 hours a week. I love the discipline and everything that you’ve outlined above. Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and opening the process two people who may be interested. Please keep writing you’re doing a great job 0

  • This is very informative! It must be said that as a traditional Japanese martial art, Aikido is more than simply an efficient method of self-defense. Everything in Aikido training is meant to develop not only a strong individual but one with the wisdom and energy to positively benefit society.

  • Thank you for the article which provides great insight for us men, and I’m sure also for women contemplating aikido as a practice.

    While many words have been spent here debating flexibility, range of motion, CV fitness, core strength, i.e. the bio-mechanical aspects of aikido practice, there are also aspects that do not yet lend themselves to these explanations. This is what teachers like Koichi Tohei, and my teacher Ken Williams, referred to as “mind-body coordination,” i.e. when the mind is used in certain ways in conjunction with body posture and movement, the resultant emergent coordination, flow and power is seemingly more than the sum of the parts. This results in people with sub-average core strength, fitness and flexibility being able to perform powerful aikido. Examples I have had experience with include elderly (70+) and physically-disabled people.

    This is why I believe we need to keep our minds open to the concept of ki and mind-body coordination (shin shin toitsu) and its application in the aikido context. While many practitioners deny it as a valid pedagogical tool, preferring positivist mechanical explanations, it seems to me that they may be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

    I think there will come a time when ki will be explained using bio-mechanical models. There currently is research, in Korea, I believe, on physical correlates of Qi in therapeutic contexts. Someone here has touched on the significance of fascia and connective tissue, and in another context, a researcher noted that the fascia, a highly crystalline structure (crystals: read communication) which connects the whole body, could be the medium for our body’s reactions that are far more rapid than the speed of the nervous system. This, when scientifically understood, could have significant implications for self-defence and other life-preserving reactions.

    What I am saying is that, there may come a time when physical strength no longer has to be an indicator or limiter of power to perform work. Then, gender will no longer be seen to favour or limit effectiveness in aikido, nor will age. I point you to videos of O Sensei in his 80s to support my claim.

    I love it when women, youngsters and the elderly can practice in what people wrongly feel to be the men’s martial domain. That is the beauty and the gift of aikido.

  • Dear Ms. Kelly,
    I’m an afab (assigned female at birth) person who has been practicing aikido for twelve years. I absolutely adore your article, thank you so much for writing it! I found this when I was looking up how to explain aikido fully but concisely in my college application. I know this is not what the article was meant for, and I know you have no obligation to respond to my questions (I think I’m not supposed to ask for this but I’m young and a bit desperate), but I was wondering if you could give me some tips for writing my essay? The way you write about Aikido, even though you are relatively new to it, is just so meaningful and through. I’m having a hard time capturing everything in just 650 words and I want to show just how much this art means to me.