For some years now I've had a back injury which has persistently annoyed me and even occasionally reduced me to bed- (or floor-) ridden immobility. I started looking for a form of exercise which would complement the injury-specific exercises which I do to alleviate the problem. After some time and research, I found Aikido, which is a modern Japanese martial art.
The fact that it is a martial art will automatically put some people off, but it suits my outlook, as I've always been interested in these kinds of things. Aikido contains deeply spiritual roots, and at its heart is a respect for the universe and all things in it. This may seem over-grandiose to jaded Western cynics (like myself) but I found that the attitude that follows from those roots appeals to me in ways that other martial arts don't. Initially I hesitated to contact a club for a number of reasons - basic shyness being top of the list. I didn't have anyone else who would be interested in joining, so I'd be on my own in a new (and potentially dangerous) environment, and that's enough to make anyone think twice about doing something!
Suffice to say that when I finally plucked up the courage to make the phone call, all my apprehensions evaporated (as they always do - when will I ever learn...?) and I found myself watching a session with the Bury club which is part of the Lancashire Aikikai.
Everybody there has made me feel welcome as I take my first few steps in this art, and so far my back has felt better than it has in years. Aikido uses exercises and paired practice of techniques to promote strength, joint flexibility, balance, control and posture. The techniques are based in the traditional roots of Japanese martial arts, particularly in sword arts (kenjutsu) and short staff (jojutsu). Daito ryu aiki-jujustsu is also a parent art. The founder of Aikido, Ueshiba Morihei (1883 - 1969), was a renowned practitioner of these arts, and Aikido is his masterpiece, appearing to be a distillation of the core techniques allied with a spiritual attitude of harmony and reconciliation. This is of course a gross over-simplification on my part, and I confidently estimate that it will take me the rest of my life to begin to understand this art.
That said, it is exactly what I was looking for in terms of the exercises involved. The techniques and methods of learning and the environment in which I learn all serve to make this something which is for the long term. It's all too easy to say "I'll do more exercise" or "I'll join a gym, " and then 6 months later you no longer go. This at least holds my attention, and my desire to go only increases.