On Tuesday night I went to the first session of a six-week, twice-weekly aikido class at a dojo on Smith Street, not far from where I live.

Man, was it fun!

Aikido is all about defense, and in fact has no attacks. The whole idea is that you disable your opponent without injuring him. After the class, I went online and found films of the founder of the discipline, O Sensei, a little bearded Japanese dude in his eighties, getting attacked by whole squads of young guys and dispatching one after another with what looks like little more than flicks of his wrist. The term aikido can be broken down as ai = harmony, ki = energy, do = way, which means it’s the path of harmonizing energies. The basic principle is that you use the energy of your opponent, redirecting it just enough that he throws himself on the floor instead of you.

In our first lesson, we went through a slightly complicated series of steps that you can use if someone grabs your wrist. Step in, pivot, grab the attacker’s wrist, pivot, twist, and there he is on the floor in front of you. Two more steps and another twist, and he’s on his belly, helpless. The whole thing is like square dancing, except someone falls down.

And it really works. As the teacher put it, “In a lot of martial arts, the attacker is left thinking, ‘Wow, that hurt!’ In aikido, he ends up thinking, ‘How did I get here?'” As far as I can tell, what happens is that you take control of the other person’s wrist, twisting it in such a way that his body has no choice but to follow. To alleviate the pressure on the wrist, the person will actually fall down, then roll over, as you go through your moves. And of course, when it was my turn to be the attacker, the whole defense worked just as well on me.

Tonight I go in for the second lesson. Hopefully by the end of tonight I’ll be able to take down anyone who attacks me by grabbing one of my wrists. As long as he does it very, very slowly.