Skelia Talks With Oksana, Technical Writer

Everyone has heard something about aikido but what do we know about this practice? Aikido is a Japanese martial art and self-defence system that trains people to defend themselves without hurting an opponent. In today’s #Skelia_Talks, we’re sitting with Oksana, Technical Writer at Skelia. Oksana has been practicing aikido for four years and is really enthusiastic about it. We asked her to tell us about what she likes in aikido and how she stays motivated to continue training.

— Hi Oksana! For starters, tell us a bit about yourself.

— I joined Skelia already at the point when everybody worked from home. I’m working on a Norwegian-based project and I love it that both our internal team and our client are great to work and communicate with. I’m responsible for preparing technical documentation and organizing all the information for the project.

— Do you like the new normal of working from home?

— In general, it’s great. Before starting a career in IT, I used to work from the comfort of my home, writing articles as a freelancer. I enjoy the flexibility as I have enough time for work and household errands. It would be great to go to the office for a couple of days, though, to spend some time with colleagues.

— We hope it will be possible soon. Now, tell us about your biggest hobby: what is it and what do you like about it?

— Aikido is a big passion of mine, I’ve been training for over four years now. The interest spurred thanks to my daughter: we were deciding on a sports section for her and thought of aikido as a great combination of training and self-defence. Eventually, her teacher encouraged parents to also start training and some of us agreed to try. You need to have the courage to practice aikido: it starts from the basics, which are relatively easy, but then you realize that it takes a lot of physical effort. 

— Is aikido primarily aimed at self-defence?

— Yes but it’s also about inner balance and understanding yourself.

— Sounds interesting! How often do you practice?

— We have training sessions three times a week, an hour and a half each. The session starts at 8 in the morning and, as you can imagine, it’s a huge challenge to get up and get focused for the training that early. But I like it that way and prefer doing aikido in the morning instead of evenings because it charges my whole day right from the start. The session progresses from basic cardio to aikido-specific techniques. Sometimes, we use equipment like wooden swords or tanto knives. 

— Does it mean you’re simulating a situation if you were attacked with a knife?

— Yes but we only use big wooden swords, not the real ones. We also incorporate Jo staffs for specific exercises. If both opponents keep the balance, these exercises look fascinating. When examining great coordination in aikido, you start understanding how martial art scenes are made in the movies.

— How does an ordinary training session go?

— First, we do the warmup, a pretty intense one. We pay special attention to joints, for example, the wrist joint. Also, we have lots of exercises aimed at muscle relaxation and stretching: many people come to the session a bit tense, which isn’t good for the training. There’s no point in overexerting yourself so the warmup helps us get prepared for safe aikido practice.

— Speaking of safe training, did you ever get any injuries?

— Only once – I landed on my shoulder but got off with a minor joint dislocation. 

Skelia Talks Aikido

— What do you like the most in aikido?

— Before anything else, we have a very friendly environment. When I started, the group consisted of men who already had black belts (it’s the first level called shodan). I thought they wouldn’t be thrilled to have me, a total novice in a sports suit, in the group, but it started on a friendly note and continues this way. We aren’t divided by level and it feels like a family where everybody is ready to support you and explain something you don’t know. For our sensei, it’s sometimes literally a family because he trains his daughters and son-in-law. 

The second thing that comes to mind is the ability to concentrate that aikido has nurtured in me. There were times when I would talk to someone but not really listen to what they were saying, being caught up in my own thoughts. Concentration and attentiveness are crucial in aikido. When you’re working in pairs, you’re not only responsible for yourself but for your opponent as well. 

— You’ve mentioned that you came to the first session in a regular sports suit. Do you use an aikido uniform when training?

— At first, when you’re just trying yourself at aikido, you don’t need a uniform. Practicing aikido involves a lot of movements and rolls which you need to get used to. When you feel it’s the right time to switch to a uniform, you can buy a kimono and pants but they have quite stiff materials and it’s not that easy to work out wearing them. 

Also, you need a white belt that symbolizes the zero level at the beginning of practicing. In kids’ sections, they get more playful with colours and add motivation with more different belts. For example, at each passed exam, a kid gets a new belt: blue, blue with yellow stripe, yellow, and so on. Adults, in their turn, have a unified system: first, you’re wearing a white belt, then a brown one, and so on, according to the official rank system. There are grades called kyu that you get at each exam. Currently, I have the brown belt that goes after the third kyu. I’m preparing myself for the next kyu test and after that, I will need around two years to prepare for the black belt level. 

The black belt means the first level, dan, and there are 10 dans overall. When you’re on top of this system, aikido is not your hobby but a way of living. The brown belt is just a beginning, and with the black one, you enter a “true” aikido practice and understand many things on a way deeper level.

— How do you prepare for these exams?

—  Each level has a number of required exercises. We make a preparation plan together and then work according to it. It takes about half a year to be ready for each next exam. Besides the aikido program, I also include endurance training in exam preparation.

— What has been your biggest aikido challenge so far?

— At the early stage, I would strain myself too much. I see the same problem in people who are only starting to do aikido: they tend to get all tense and put too much effort. But you shouldn’t force yourself, the movements should be natural. I often had muscle soreness after sessions because I was too tense. In aikido, technical skill is more important than mere force: it becomes especially apparent when you’re paired with a person who weighs significantly more than you. 

— Does that technical skill of aikido give you confidence in situations when you’re alone in the street?

— One of my aikido group mates, who is also a mom, often tells me that aikido helps her feel less stressed when walking home in the evening. A bit of fear is indeed gone, especially when you’re progressing in aikido skills.

— What keeps you motivated with aikido?

— Somewhere around two years in aikido practice, I had some second thoughts. At that time, I was the only girl in the group and everyone else was more experienced. But people from the group convinced me to stay, and I’m happy I did. Now, we have more girls but the sessions are great regardless of that fact.

— Great to hear that you’ve overcome your doubts and continue enjoying the practice of aikido. My last question would be, what’s your advice for those who’re considering starting with aikido?

— You don’t need any prior physical training. What matters most is just your desire to start. Don’t build expectations—most probably, your first training sessions won’t look like you imagine them to. There will be lots of physical and emotional work. Also, don’t expect aikido to guarantee you effective self-defence in any situation—there hardly is a martial art suitable for that. But aikido does make you able to defend yourself and minimize conflict. There might be situations when you find out that this type of activity doesn’t suit you. For example, I’ve seen a girl who was afraid of falling—and aikido involves a lot of rolling over. 

I would recommend everyone trying some type of martial arts. Overall, it’s a huge self-cultivation work that helps you deal with your fears. Plus, it’s great team communication. 

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About Skelia

Skelia, a Nortal company, is an international leader in building cross-border IT and engineering organizations and affiliate companies in Eastern-Europe. For over a decade, we have provided staff augmentation services to a diverse range of clients—from start-ups to Fortune 500 companies. We operate in Luxembourg, the UK, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Poland, and the US.