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Throwing their weight around

Aikido teaches participants to use the weight of their opponents against them

Aikido teaches participants to use the weight of their opponents against them

April 14, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

There was more than a kernel of truth in the joke aikido instructor Jack Simpson told after leading students through three rounds of push-ups - sets of 50 for those able and willing - and a couple of sets of an ab exercise.

"Class is mainly composed of lying on the mat and breathing heavily," Simpson said, drawing a few laughs from students who rested on their backs before moving to the third set of ab work.

But as the Wednesday night class progressed, it became clear that even after the stretching and warm-ups on the mat, in aikido, you must get used to being on the mat.

You must learn to love the floor.

"It's primarily a throwing art, where we use the energy of the opponent against them to throw them and later pin them," Simpson said.

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Aikido is a Japanese martial art founded in the late 1930s and early 1940s and is based on jujitsu techniques. The martial arts is favored by law enforcement and people who can't fall back on strength or speed. It's more subtle than other martial arts, where the initial response is to kick or punch.

"The problem with that is that, while it's effective, you've always got to be faster or stronger than whoever you're in an encounter with," Simpson said. "With aikido, it doesn't matter if they're stronger, because you're using that strength against them."

Simpson is the chief instructor at the Western Maryland Aikikai, a group that offers aikido classes Mondays through Saturdays in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md.

Students in his Wednesday night class, held at My Pilates Place in Hagerstown, took turns refining their aikido techniques by throwing and pinning down their partners, at times sending their bodies thwacking against the mat.

Which brings us to the other important thing in aikido: learning how to fall properly.

"You have to forget that instinct of freaking out," said Ron Sulchek, who also teaches aikido through the Western Maryland Aikikai.

So, students also learn how to fall.

Simpson says it's similar to how gymnasts learn how to properly tuck and protect their spines. On Wednesday, part of the warm-ups involved a series of falling drills. Students lined up and did repetitions of falls and tumbles across the floor.

Russell Reese of Hagerstown said he's been training under Simpson for seven years.

"After seven years, I'm realizing how much I don't know," Reese said.

Jason Mayo of Frederick, Md., has been taking aikido for two years.

"It's hard to do the techniques without 'muscling' through them," Mayo said. Aikido is not about strength, but focus.

Being too well-muscled was a disadvantage for Darryl Bronson of Frederick, Md., who, before taking up aikido, was into body building. He said he signed up for aikido for the exercise.

"My strength and size is a negative," Bronson said. "It just means they will eat you up."

Western Maryland Aikikai

The Western Maryland Aikikai offers aikido classes in Hagerstown and Frederick, Md. Go to www.wmaiki.org for class schedules.

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