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Traditional Japanese Martial Arts for Adults
Aikido Philosophy Corner
Expansion vs. Contraction: Part 1
Aikido & Self-Defense


“A good stance and posture reflect a proper state of mind.” 
– Morihei Ueshiba

When most people think of “martial arts” one of the first things that to come to mind is the idea of “self-defense.”  When I think of someone defending themselves I tend to think of some one contracting, closing up, or hunkering down into a defensive stance.  I also think the word defense represents a reaction to fear.  Fear is always a function of contraction and is often met with defensive-oriented actions such as scratching, clawing, punching and kicking.  Of course, there isn’t anything wrong with these actions.  There may be times in life when these become necessary.  At other times, like in social environments, this lashing out may not necessarily take the form of physical strikes but, instead, may manifest as unnecessary, insensitive or sometimes even rude verbal attacks, glares or gestures.

The art of Japanese Aikido is a martial art like many others.  However, the organizing principle of Aikido is radically different from most.  While the majority of martial arts are based on the principle of contraction, Aikido is rooted in the principle of expansion.  Expansion, not contraction, is the source of Aikido’s power.  As a general rule, Aikido tends to be very much the opposite of what most people imagine when they think of martial arts.  For example, if you think martial arts is about self-defense, then you should know that Aikido is more about self-development.  If you think martial arts is about protecting, then you should know that Aikido is more about growing.  If you think martial arts is about learning how to hurt people, then you should know that Aikido is more about learning how not to hurt people.  If you think martial arts are about fighting, then you should know that Aikido is more about not fighting.    

In Aikido, when faced with a challenge or an attack we expand, not contract.  Our posture, our stance and overall physical response gets bigger, not smaller.  In Aikido, we address problems, challenges and attacks not by covering our heads with our arms and curling up into a ball, but by drowning the attack with giant, expansive waves of Aikido that engulf aggressors, much like a tsunami.  

The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, was a man of small stature – not more than five foot three.  However, he did not defend himself by dropping to the ground, covering his head and kicking fiercely.  Instead, Osensei (or “great teacher” as we refer to him) conquered each attacker he faced by expanding his stature, energy and power; by opening up instead of closing down.  

In my experience, contracting into a defensive, protective posture rarely can solve problems of any kind.  That’s one of many reasons why I most prefer Aikido to the many other martial arts I have trained in the past.  In Aikido we learn to grow in the face of a threat, instead of crouch; to dwarf our problems and challenges by becoming more than we were before, not less.  That is how we train to address challenges; by growing so much so that we actually “push out” adversity through an abundance of movement or action.

Come discover how Aikido can serve as a catalyst for tremendous growth and expansion in your life.  We invite you to come try a class at our Aikido school in Castle Rock, Colorado for free.

by Sean Hannon