Is Aikido a Good Workout? The Truth Behind The Art
Aikido is a Japanese martial art and self-defense practice that teaches you to subdue your opponents, in addition to the arts of mindfulness, courtesy, and respect. The skills for Aikido surfaced sometime in the 14th century, but martial arts was not systemized into a contained skillset until the 20th century. Since its inception, it's been a popular way for martial arts enthusiasts and self-defense artists to hone their bodies and minds. But is Aikido a good workout – or is it just relegated to practicing in a dojo? 1
What is Aikido?
The skills that would become Aikido originated in the 14th century or mid to late 1300s. It wasn't until the 20th century that Japanese martial arts expert Ueshiba Morihei would develop a loosely practiced set of skills into a refined and respected martial art. However, the original iteration was so based on the defense that developing a hand-to-hand contest was impossible. One of Morihei's students, Tomiki Kenji, would later form a competition style, Tomiki Aikido, that pitted practitioners against each other using a rubber or wooden knife. 1
Aikido, or the "way of harmonizing energy," resembles the fighting methods of jujitsu and judo to a point. Moreover, they share an underpinning philosophy. That is that the goal is to twist and turn an attacker's strength and momentum against themselves. Aikido also incorporates the use of pressure on vital nerve centers. 1
Aikido practitioners, or Aikidoka, are trained to subdue their attackers rather than attack to maim or kill. That said, the right movements can prove lethal. As such, true practitioners emphasize the importance of learning mental calmness and control over their bodies. Furthermore, developing courtesy and respect – crucial components of Japanese culture – is integral to the art. However, this doesn't quite address our question: is Aikido a good workout? 1
Health Benefits of Aikido
As with many other traditional martial arts, Aikido has a fair number of benefits on the body and the mind. Aikido, in particular, is noted to increase oxytocin – the "happy hormone" – production in the brain, leading to improved mood and feelings of peace. 2
Additionally, studies have found that skilled Aikidoka have increased variability in intrapersonal dynamics while meeting interpersonal demands. Or, in layman's English, a skilled Aikido practitioner can adapt and develop skills even amid competitive social motor activities. 3
And 12-week study in overweight and obese premenopausal women found that attending a 60-minute Aikido session three times per week lead to decreased fat mass – though it did not result in weight loss. This suggests that martial arts broadly, and Aikido, in particular, can modify body composition to decrease fat while increasing muscle mass. The same study noted that Aikido improved participants' quality of life, vitality, and emotional and mental health. 4
A secondary study conducted in Hungary also noted that the physical training and movements associated with Aikido as a recreational activity promoted multiple significant "health-protective" effects, such as 5
- A boosted cardiovascular system
- Increased muscle strength
- Decreased body mass
- Increased oxygen uptake
- Improved flexibility
This combination – compositional body changes, decreased body fat, increased muscle strength, and improved cardiovascular systems – suggest that Aikido is a good workout.
Psychological Benefits of Aikido
In addition to Aikido being a good workout for your body, martial art shows considerable benefits for your mind, as well.
The art itself is all about your interactions with the world and, in particular, another body – about manipulating the way someone else moves in relation to your own body. Moreover, Aikido incorporates several practices of mindfulness, centering, and how to interact with others. Studying and practicing these skills in a rigid environment has been found to promote mental health benefits.
For instance, multiple studies have found that Aikido promotes a psychophysiological state called "centering" that shares important attributes with a "trance" state. Some studies have even suggested that combining the underpinning principles of Aikido with traditional therapy might lead to improved outcomes. 5 6
Additionally, two separate studies involving 180 participants found that Aikido leads to "statistically significant" increases in mindfulness scores. Overall, the longer that an Aikidoka practices their craft, the greater these scores increase. 5 7 8
Furthermore, Aikido practitioners have also been more task-oriented than those practicing other martial arts such as judo and Thai kickboxing. And, unlike Tae Kwon Do and Karate, a successful Aikidoka does not require the use of anger to psych up for practice or competition. 5
Aikido as Self-Defense
There are two types of martial arts: hard martial arts and soft martial arts.
As Karate and Tae Kwon Do, hard martial arts involve meeting a force with an opposing force. They rely on physical power to block incoming attacks and retaliate in kind, and as such, overcome an incoming force by neutralizing an attack with angle, timing, and distance. (In other words, hard martial arts are where you learn to punch, kick, and block – and are most applicable to self-defense situations.) 9
On the other hand, soft martial arts involve yielding to an opponent's actions – and then using their force against them. Rather than blocking a punch and letting loose one of your own, you move with your opponent's punch. The goal is to extend the attacker beyond their balance point to throw them off balance. The power of soft martial arts – such as Aikido – comes from proper physical positioning and timing. 9
Aikido is less about self-defense in terms of fighting and more about subduing an attacker to neutralize a situation. In fact, Aikido can be described as a holistic approach to understanding your body concerning another, a way of improving your defenses, and even a method to understanding your high school physics class. And while long-term Aikidoka can readily utilize the art for self-defense, it's a poor strategy for offensive positions. 10
Is Aikido a Good Workout?
In short: yes, Aikido is a good workout. It can help you lose body fat, increase your muscle strength, and improve your cardiovascular system. And while it's not the most intensive workout out there, Aikido also comes with many mental health benefits.
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