Aikido is based on yielding to the power of the attack and flowing with it to control the attack. For this exercise you'll need a partner to supply an attack.
Stand with your right foot forward, and your left foot back and turned out to the left about 60 degrees. Your torso will be angled slightly to the left.
First, as a preparation for the defense, let's start with a movement that is very common in Aikido. Step back with your right foot. Step back about 190 degrees, swinging a little farther than just a straight back step. Do this a few times, until it becomes smooth and easy. It should be a flowing, balanced movement.
Now, for the second part of the exercise, stand in the right foot forward stance. Have your partner stand in front of you with her/his right foot forward. Have him put his right palm on your right shoulder and shove you back. It is important that it be a strong yet gentle and gradual push, with no impact. That way there will be no risk of injury. As your partner pushes, brace yourself and try resisting. That allows all the power of the shove to impact your body, which is just the opposite of Aikido.
Try it again, but this time as your partner shoves, instead of resisting, take a step backward with your right foot, going softly along with the power of the shove. If you yield to the power of the shove it will not affect you. Make sure that your foot, hip, back and shoulder all move together, like a door swinging open. Don't twist your body or lean off the vertical line. Move with an upright balance and flow.
For the last stage of the exercise, stand about three feet from your partner. Stand with your right foot forward, and have your partner stand with her/his left foot forward. Have her step forward with her right foot and try to shove your right shoulder with her right hand. As she steps forward, you step back. This is the same movement you practiced above, but you are yielding to and blending with the shove as it moves toward you and before it actually touches you. This has more flow to it since you and your attacker are both moving.
As you yield to the shove and step back, turn your torso a bit toward the right, and simultaneously reach up with your left hand and gently grasp your partner's attacking arm from underneath, by the elbow. Continue turning your torso a bit more to the right, letting your feet swivel a bit as needed. As you turn to the right, maintain a firm grasp on the attacker's arm and pull it forward a bit, to begin the process of unbalancing the attacker. Be careful. Don't unbalance your partner to the point where she falls. Aikido teaches methods of safe falling, but your partner more than likely does not know them.
Practice slowly so that you can move smoothly and with balance. The defense movement should have an elegant simplicity. It should be as smooth as two gears turning together. As you get comfortable with this movement, you can speed it up. Make sure that you keep breathing calmly and that your muscles stay as soft as silk. Aikido uses flow and inner energy, not effort and muscular hardness. Make sure that you don't feel that you are defending yourself against an attacker. Instead, try feeling a kindness toward and connection with the attacker. That will improve the smooth efficiency and effectiveness of your technique. And more important, it will begin creating the habit of responding to attacks with a sense of love rather than aggression, which is the real goal of Aikido defense practice.
Aikido techniques consist of three elements: entering, blending, and throwing (or locking). Entering means closing the gap between you and the attacker. Blending means yielding to the attack with a circular evasion movement. And throwing means adding power to the attack, in a direction consistent with the attack's movement, so as to offbalance the attacker and throw him (or use a joint lock and pin him).
In the move you have just done, you entered by stepping back. As you did that, you evaded the attacker's thrust with a slight turning action of your torso, and you grasped the attacker's arm in preparation for the throwing movement. There are many, many attack/defense movement combinations in Aikido, and the full defense techniques can be much more intricate than the one you have just practiced, but they all have a smooth gentleness and a supple power.
Paul Linden and Peggy Berger are the two chief instructors, and they both hold rank under the United States Aikido Federation headed by Sensei Yoshimitsu Yamada. Paul began his practice of Aikido in 1969 and started teaching in 1975. Peggy began her practice of Aikido in 1977 and started teaching in 1981. Paul is a sixth degree black belt and Peggy a fifth degree black belt. Paul and Peggy founded Aikido of Columbus in 1982. (For more information about their background in martial arts and movement education, click here.