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Aikido and bodysurfing: thoughts about cross training in sports

I had a martial arts instructor who died on K2 in 1985, shortly after her autobiography, Clouds From Both Sides, was published.  In the book she described how budokan (aikido and karate in a rare combined practice) helped her climbing. Now I’m discovering that aikido prepared me to learn to bodysurf.

Not to bodysurf, but to learn to bodysurf.

Learning means doing, which means trying to catch the right wave at the right moment. This is exceedingly difficult. Most of the time I miss because of poor timing, or the wave catches me (instead of my managing to ride with it). When that happens,  I am pummeled into the sand, and tumbled like a stone or seashell (a non-surfing companion looked up from a book on Monday and saw nothing but my feet sticking out of the water). But I discovered, after a previous weekend when I got my head and shoulder banged up, is that when a wave has me I need to behave exactly as I did in aikido – a sport that is entirely circular and dynamic. In aikido, instead of fighting an attacker, you use their energy to defend yourself and move out of the way.

How wonderful to find that a sport I learned in London in my 20s is helping me learn a completely new sport. And how appropriate to be trying something utterly different. 2010 is going to be a big year for world sports, with a host of major international competitions, and we’re planning a new expanded and enhanced edition of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World Sport.

I was thinking about sports a lot last year, of course, as we read and wrote about the Beijing Olympics and prepared China Gold: China’s Quest for Global Power and Olympic Glory (now available as an e-book at Sports is a signficant part of the Berkshire portfolio and it fits more than a lot of people think. Like our other specialty subjects, sports are about human connections and interaction. In fact, sports are one of the most important ways in which ordinary people connect across borders, and I’m looking forward to tackling the subject anew in 2010, bringing together our expert networks on sports history, physiology, marketing and management, sustainability, and extreme sports and women’s sports – on which we have published separate major encyclopedias.

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