CATHY DAR­NELL 4th Dan grade in Aikido

WKND - - Safety First -

Cathy Dar­nell, who has been prac­tis­ing aikido f or 16 years now, wants to make a clar­i­fi­ca­tion about the mar­tial art. She is tired, she says, of peo­ple as­sum­ing that just be­cause one knows one form of mar­tial art, they are al­ways look­ing for a fight. “It up­sets me when peo­ple tell me they are ‘ wor­ried’ to be around me be­cause I know aikido. You should ac­tu­ally feel safer around me,” she ex­plains.

She’s right. Of all the mar­tial arts, few are as fo­cused on self- de­fence as aikido. Even the name of the Ja­panese mar­tial art roughly trans­lates to ‘ the way of har­mo­nious spirit’, some­thing Cathy em­pha­sises.

“Aikido teaches you to con­nect to your mind, body and spirit. It is a mar­tial art that be­lieves the big­gest vic­tory you could ever have is one over your­self. That is, it helps you clear your mind, calm your body and con­trol your anger. It is not about dom­i­na­tion or com­pe­ti­tion — it is about con­trol­ling your re­ac­tion and im­prov­ing your aware­ness. To me, it is the art of peace.”

So where does the self- de­fence as­pect come in? Well, those who train in aikido usu­ally work with part­ners, and their main goal is to re­di­rect the mo­men­tum of the op­po­nents’ at­tack and ma­nip­u­late their joints — with­out hurt­ing their op­po­nent too much ei­ther. Aikido em­pha­sises that its stu­dents should never put them­selves in dan­ger — they must al­ways be aware of their back­ground and keep calm. But if any­thing were to hap­pen, they should know how to han­dle the sit­u­a­tion.

“Aikido is re­ally fan­tas­tic for women,” adds Cathy. “I used to go to the gym, but now this is all I do be­cause it makes you stretch ev­ery mus­cle in your body. There was this one time I slipped and fell, but be­cause of my aikido train­ing, I landed on the side in­stead of hit­ting my head. It teaches you how to fall like a feather, and be­cause of mus­cle mem­ory, your nat­u­ral re­flexes are bet­ter.”

“It is ac­tu­ally help­ful for women be­cause it teaches them how to han­dle their own power. Women al­ready have grace, strength and intuition, and aikido helps you fo­cus it. In fact, not hav­ing big mus­cles can be a pos­i­tive thing be­cause in­stead of us­ing sheer force, you have to use your align­ment to push a per­son off their cen­tre and break their bal­ance.”

How­ever, Cathy does clar­ify that Aikido is an art form that takes years to mas­ter. “If you are look­ing for only self- de­fence tech­niques, there are quick tac­ti­cal moves you can learn in­stead.”

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