Our bodies need movement and effort. To keep it in good shape we need to use it constantly. However, our current lifestyle increasingly deprives us from physical and outdoor activities. We have come to the point of having to pay for exercising and sweating. Sometimes I try to imagine the reaction of one of our ancestors from a few generations ago taking a short time trip to visit us. They would probably laugh at us about it and quickly show us how easy it is to spend a few calories without leaving home and producing something useful.
O-Sensei was a wise man and understood that. For this reason, he considered that manual labor was closely linked to the practice of Aikido. This insight is not so obvious to some people raised in an urban context and/or disconnected from the natural environment.
In this sense, Aikido is a powerful tool for re-educating the mind through the body. In the excerpt below, Sakanashi Sensei clearly and simply illustrates one of these principles:
In Aikido we continually practice one form of ukemi (fall) very similar to the somersault, rolling forward with the head pointed at the navel.
One looks at one’s own body center as a way to protect oneself, to care for the neck. It turns out that, at first, you fall very awkwardly when you are not used to it. The fall takes a square shape and the right angle marks the tension and hardness of the blow; but then the movement becomes hexagonal with practice until it becomes octagonal and at the end of about five months of repetition the ukemi, the fall, rounds, like a circle that rotates in the ground. When you get to that point, the body protects itself and is elastic enough not to hurt itself. With prolonged practice one can make the fall, ukemi, from any technique without hurting oneself.
Many anecdotes from practitioners tell us how the practice of falling helped them in a dangerous situation. But without that, the physiological benefits of ukemi are based on stretching the muscles and ligaments and their toning effect. As a result, muscles become younger and movement is more agile while changes in mental attitude come about: all relaxation and body elasticity inevitably express themselves in mental habits. When you are accustomed to an upright position and spend most of your time sitting with little exercise because of sedentary work, the rolling posture can remove your thinking. Body exercise refreshes us, makes us lighter.
Masafumi Sakanashi Sensei
The Conflict Challenge