In the Aikido and Zen Dojo:
Aikido’s Three Pillars

Three Pillars: Balance, Footwork Timing

Most martial arts have ‘pillars’ upon which the art is based. They are fundamentals that, in a sense, actually define the nature of the art. For many kick and punch arts, the pillars might read something like:

  • Strength,
  • Speed
  • Stamina.

But in Aikido, we have a completely different mindset – a completely different set of pillars – three pillars. They are:

  • Footwork
  • Balance
  • Timing.

Footwork is about where to go. Balance is about how to go. Timing is about when to go.

The Illustration of the Pedestrian and Car

This is best illustrated by rethinking self-defense as something closer to an encounter between a pedestrian and a car. For many martial arts, the answer is to somehow turn the pedestrian into another car. That is, to make him/her the biggest, strongest, fastest car around. And that way, no other car will mess with you or, at very least, you will survive a crash with another car..

For us, as Aikidoists, a car is a car and a pedestrian is a pedestrian. There will never be any intent to turn a pedestrian into a car. Every day, millions upon millions of pedestrians do actually have encounters with cars – and the overwhelming majority of them are quite uneventful. In dealing with a car, a pedestrian simply needs to know (you guessed it):

  • where to go (footwork),
  • how to go (balance), and
  • when to go (timing).

That’s it! When crossing a street with a car coming, your footwork must simply take you out of the car’s path. Your balance means that you don’t trip while moving and you don’t fall back into the path of the car after you have finished moving. Your timing means that you don’t move too early – without knowing where the car is ultimately going – and, of course, you don’t move too late.

Back in the Dojo

Likewise in the dojo, footwork, balance and timing will take you out of the path of your partner’s attack to where you can safely execute a finishing move. Standing in place is not an option for a pedestrian and is not an option for an Aikido practitioner. An attacker’s strength and speed are of little value when you are no longer in the same spot as when he started his attack.

And there is a similar Aikido metaphor that you may want to keep in mind – that a bird can fly in a hurricane … just not into it.

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670 Juan Tabo NE, Albuquerque

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