Talking of a human practicing aikido we need to see the two sides of that engagement – physical and emotional. Let us focus on the physical aspects of the basic and most important part of the human body in aikido – hips.
Hips are the very centre of aikido. Almost all the stability of a human body is based upon those joints. The way they are, the way they live and how elastic they are and what range of movement they have are the main factors of fluent and harmonic movement and general fitness.
All aikido techniques are based upon hips (I will use hips or pelvis depending on what is to be said or underlined). At approximately sacral level 2 is your centre of gravity. The ability to use it in a correct way is one of the secrets of aiki. To apply them well, to use them in an ergonomic way – conscious control over the pelvic region is required.
Legs and application of leg movements (sabaki) guarantees correct body movement. The “where and how” you put your feet affects the map of global body movement. And movement is the life of aiki, even minimal but correctly governed movement is the key of defence.
Irimi, tenkan, tai sabaki, tai no henka, suwari techniques and finally koshi nage...
Every technique involves all body parts - that is obvious to all of us - and they mostly require, gentle softness mixed with controlled “rigidity” in pelvic region. Softness does not equal weakness. It is the attribute of lightness, specific grace in movement required for non-restricted activity during the learning process.
The function of hip joints is ruled by the following major factors: shapes of bones, so called joint partners - related to pelvic type (more: pelvic types according to Greenmann) and what matters most –elasticity of muscular and ligamentous surrounding system. Hips are called “muscle joints”. That means their state is determined by muscles mostly. Muscles determine the easiness of using pelvis itself and do not limit the joint with pain or stiffness.
Hips do grow with us since our very early days. They go through different phases that influence their shape, coordination with the rest of the body parts and ability of using them.
There are two major muscle groups governing the pelvis: long muscles that do work on long leverages according to pelvic centre (quadriceps, hamstrings, adductors) and short, extremely strong rotators. The better they coordinate their work the better situation they offer to the joint.
Hip ligaments and capsules tend to react upon muscle state, especially to muscle shortening. Muscle and ligaments treatment usually takes time and energy so it is better to prevent those through simple stretching. There are many concepts of successful stretching approaches. I would suggest the simple and safe rule: go as far as the very first sign of discomfort and stop –wait till it easies – then go slightly further. Your muscles tell you straight faced – don't go too far or you will damage the tissue. They speak up with pain. It may occur to be confusing to tell which sensation stands for what situation. The answer is to do slightly less than one drop too much.
Muscle stretching should be mixed with aerobic exercises that supply oxygen to all tissues and remove constantly produces waste products. When stretching exercises are of a habit – it is reasonable to do the next step – hip stability exercises.
Almost every aikido manual suggests some preferred exercises in that group. The most common group of those are usually: kokyudosa, squats with wide positioned feet (along with moving your trunk in different directions), shikko (very recommended) and often repeated irimi-tenkan. Applying stretching as warm ups and at the end of each session is a part of hip care like brushing teeth is a part of teeth care. It is mostly recommended those days when so many of us spend hours working, driving and these are the activities our hips do really dislike.
Pelvic region and its elasticity is also a major factor for breathing mechanism. You cannot divide breathing into thoracic and diaphragmatic (or abdominal) breathing but you can shorten your breath so much so it makes breathing totally un-effective.
Breath is the third major part of aiki process. Without soft and fluent breathing your body gets gradually rigid and loses its vital energy. Without efficient breathing you remove grace from your movements and limit the precise from techniques. Breathing techniques are recommended in seiza positions and in standing positions as well.
Koshi - hip and pelvic complex look like a basket into which we dump many different states of emotional and physical overloading. We very often hide there the most unspoken mysteries of life, tension related to duties we face every day etc. We may or we may not see that or even realise that but that is how it is in real. And that can be a reason why we cannot use our hips effectively. That may be a cause for lack of life in our hips, lack of energy and lack of feeling aikido to the full.
author: Bartek Gajowiec, Meian Dojo, physiotherapist, MSc
Image from Aikidojournal.com