CATHY DARNELL 4th Dan grade in Aikido
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.”