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By ANNA LAMY | Hernando Today

Published: May 19, 2011

If working out at the gym is not your thing, martial arts can be an engaging alternative to bring more physical activity into your life.

According to a recent article published in the JAMA & Archives of Internal Medicine, Tai Chi showed a greater improvement in quality of life for heart failure patients involved in the study.

Tai chi is a technique using movements and positions, systematically. Tai chi is believed to have been developed in 12th Century China.

The study was conducted on 100 individuals who fit the profile as an outpatient with systolic heart failure with the average age of 67, to engage in a 12-week Tai Chi exercise program.

Additional improvements were seen in self-efficacy and in mood, according to the study.

According to the CDC, martial arts can be considered a moderate to vigorous intensity exercise. This depends on the type of activity engaged in.

For older adults who have trouble sleeping doing martial arts may offer an alternative to sleeping medication according to research supported by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) with the National Institutes of Health Journal of Sleep.

A study found that for older adults engaging in Tai Chi Chih (a westernized version of Tai Chi) slept better. Tai chi chih has the added advantage of being a physical activity many older adults can participate in.

Martial arts can also be an alternative to traditional exercise to help lose weight.

According to reports, obesity has more than doubled in the Unites States since the 1970s. There is a need for children and adults become more active to balance their caloric intake.

According to the report for 2010 on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture 150 minutes of moderate-intensity, physical activity need to be engaged in each week for substantial health benefits.

Other benefits from martial arts activities include gaining more confidence and focus in learning your body’s limitations and how to control oneself.

Locally, two men have started a Hagakure Aikibudo dojo in Spring Hill, specializing in Aikido.

Joe Lotrecchiano and Kurt McCathron, both black belt instructors, are offering free courses for individuals age 18 an up.

Aikido is a technique that is aimed at teaching self-defense.

This martial art style of blending and moving with the attacks was developed by Morihei Ueshiba who began his study around the 1920s. His goal was to develop techniques to express his personal philosophy of universal peace and reconciliation.

He derived his technique from the martial art style of Jujutsu.

Instructor Joseph Lotrecchiano advised that the word Aikido is often translated to mean ‘a way of harmony.’

In Aikido the attacker’s force is used to defend the attack. “Very little physical strength is needed as the attacker’s momentum is redirected, rather than addressing it head-on,” Lotrecchiano said.

When engaging in these techniques, the person is getting a workout through aerobic activity, all while learning self defense, Lotrecchiano added.

There are many mental as well as physical attitudes developed from the techniques of Aikido. Those who learn and train in these techniques are taught to keep in mind the well-being of the attacker, an attitude which was important to the technique’s founder.

“In martial arts, there is mental and physical training involved,” said Lotrecchiano. “The movements involve controlled relaxation, flexibility and endurance, with very little emphasis using physical strength.”

Aikido incorporates coordinated movements with the whole body which is similar to yoga and Pilates, Lotrecchiano added.

Doug Monda, 55, is a student of Joe and Kurt had a variety of reasons for starting Aikido training in his 40s.

Among the Spring Hill resident’s goals were managing anger issues and achieving weight loss. He also wanted to lead by example with his daughters by having them come to learn self-defense.

“I had issues with alcohol and have been known to be short tempered,” Monda said. “I have been sober for two years and I have lost over 50 pounds in the last couple of years.”

Any commitment to be healthy requires dedication, Monda added, who goes to classes three nights a week.

The practice and training of Aikido is based on two partners, terms used are uke , as the attacker and nage , as the receiver. These two halves of the uke and nage are essential to Aikido. Uke is training to be calm and flexible. Nage is training to be blend and control the attack and its energy. Both try to gain the advantage over the other, whether to throw one off balance, which can involve a pin or throw move.

“I get a good workout, my heart rate gets up there and in the summer my keikogi feels like it weighs 10-12 pounds afterwards,” Monda said.

A keikogi is the uniform that is worn.

“I have modified my diet too, as I limit my intake of potatoes and red meat, and I do not consume sodas, mostly water,” Monda added.

“I can’t do the gym thing,” Monda said, “it is not something I liked doing, martial arts is what works for me.”

Instructor Kurt McCathron explains Aikido is good at helping others learn how to defend themselves because the moves are geared toward reactive motions to blend with the attacks.

“Striking attacks are learned, but these moves are not the focus comparing to other strike-based martial arts techniques,” said McCathron.

The term ‘honest’ strikes are taught to study how effective the Aikido techniques are applied, McCathron added.

There are punches, thrusts (knife or sword), and kicks, these techniques are said to derive for defense against armed combat. Training staffs, wooden swords and knives are used in techniques on how to disarm the attacker in versions of taking or weapon retention.

Some techniques can involve multiple attackers, in which a person can learn how to defend oneself with one aggressor while positioning to approach the other(s) from behind.

“Our goal is to expand this into the community and educate others, striving for an ambitious group of individuals to learn to defend themselves, build self-confidence and be healthy in a martial way,” Lotrecchiano added.

Hagakure Aikibudo dojo is open for adults (18 and up) on 7 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 11 a.m. on Saturdays. They can be reached via email at: [email protected]