Embodied Learning With and From Aikido: A Mixed-Methods Investigation into Teaching Intercultural Communication Skills for the Workplace

Belichaamd leren met en van aikido: een kwalitatief en kwantitatief onderzoek naar het aanleren van interculturele communicatievaardigheden voor de werkplek
Start - End 
2019 - 2024 (ongoing)
Department of Translation, Interpreting and Communication
Research Period 
Research Language 
Additional tags 
Embodied pedagogy
Intercultural training
Intercultural business communication
Qualitative research
Experiential learning




There has long been a need for experience-based culture-general approaches in intercultural business communication courses. Scholars have described the potential of the Japanese martial art of aikido, which offers a framework for understanding arguments as harmonization rather than confrontation. However, there is a lack of research on using martial arts like aikido as a metaphorical simulation of real-world activities in the corporate or organizational classroom. This doctoral research project investigated the principles of aikido interaction, compared them with intercultural interaction, designed an aikido-based intercultural communication training day for business and organizational participants, and analysed its impact and pedagogical processes. It was based on four studies that relied mainly on qualitative methods, with the exception of the fourth study, which was a training experiment.

The first study tackled the first step into finding what aikido interaction and intercultural interaction have in common by assembling, analysing, interpreting, ordering, and selecting the core principles of aikido to determine the similarities in the meanings of aikido according to aikido experts interviewed worldwide in 2020. Firstly, the core principles of aikido showed a shared significance of focused interaction between aikido and intercultural interactions by consciously seeking harmony and co-creating common ground. Secondly, aikido teaches the principles of harmony and common ground through multisensory learning practice (involving the senses) and somatic training (body-awareness).

The second study went deeper into the core principles of aikido according to the aikido experts interviewed worldwide in 2020. A total of eleven core principles arose from the interview data that can be clustered into three groups: tranquillity (i), connection (ii), and ecology (iii). They form the basis for an aikido interaction model with transferable skills. To determine to what extent the principles of aikido serve intercultural communication training, I triangulated the interview data with novel biobehavioural research findings. Aikido seems to have self-regulating and co-regulating properties that can bring about physical, physiological, and mental changes that inhibit defensive reactions and influence behaviour positively. In sum, the interactional, transferable, and regulatory properties of aikido offer the possibility of using aikido as an embodied pedagogy in intercultural communication training.

The third study took a different perspective. While the previous studies looked into the commonalities in the interview data, this study presented a structured overview of the differences in the interview data. Five spectrums emerged that denote variations rather than differences: aikido practice, aikido motivation, aikido in society, tangible values, and intangible values. The five spectrums of variations illustrate the diverse contemporary context of aikido and other martial arts in the world. Regardless of the specific aikido variation, the aikido interaction model remains anchored in its core principles and serves as a common denominator for every aikidoist who wants to apply it.

The fourth study investigated the impact of aikido-based intercultural communication training on business and organisational participants and the pedagogical processes that characterized the training experience. This study built on the findings of the previous studies and concluded that learning intercultural interaction skills with aikido serves the training process and learning outcomes. In particular, the aikido interaction model (learning from aikido) and the embodied learning experience (learning with aikido) supported participant satisfaction, memory performance, and intercultural competence. This quantitative empirical study evaluated a one-day training programme introducing an aikido interaction model to employees, employers, and entrepreneurs (n = 73). Participants were divided into embodied groups, engaging in aikido exercises, and comparison groups, receiving theoretical explanations only. Pre- and post-tests utilizing the Multicultural Personality Questionnaire (MPQ-SF40) gauged the development of interaction skills, while fingertip skin temperature readings monitored tranquillity effects, and memory performance was evaluated. Qualitative analyses supplemented the quantitative data. The findings revealed that participants in the embodied groups exhibited lower flexibility in multicultural personality scores, which was a positive finding aligning with finding support in the aikido interaction model. However, fingertip skin temperature measurements yielded inconclusive results due to ambient temperature fluctuations resulting from the 2020-2021 energy crisis. Moreover, participants in the embodied groups demonstrated better retention of take-home messages compared to the comparison groups. In summary, adopting an aikido interaction model through embodied techniques positively influenced intercultural communication support and memory performance, advocating for the integration of embodiment practices, such as aikido exercises, in communication training for enhanced efficacy.

This doctoral research project enriches interdisciplinary discourse, particularly in advancing the fields of embodied pedagogy and intercultural competence. Although the samples in this research project were diverse, the results describe the experiences of the participants in this particular research context. Some generalizations may be made to other participants in an embodied communication course based on aikido or another martial art. Future research could provide further insights.

Research Questions

To determine to what extent and how the principles and practices of aikido, used as a somatic metaphor in intercultural business communication training, enhance intercultural competence, this research journey revolved around seven research questions:

RQ1. What are the core principles of aikido according to aikido experts interviewed worldwide in 2020?

RQ2. What are the similarities in the meanings of aikido as portrayed by aikido experts interviewed worldwide in 2020?

RQ3. What are the differences in the meanings of aikido as portrayed by aikido experts interviewed worldwide in 2020?

RQ4. What do aikido interaction and intercultural interaction have in common?

RQ5. To what extent can the principles of aikido serve intercultural communication training?

RQ6. What is the impact of aikido-based intercultural communication training on business and organizational participants?

RQ7. What pedagogical processes characterize aikido-based intercultural communication training for business and organizational participants?

Research Design and Methodology

To address the seven research questions, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 20 aikido experts from all over the world in 2020 and a training experiment involving 74 employees, employers, and entrepreneurs from various professional backgrounds in Belgium and the Netherlands. The expert interviews followed a qualitative approach embedded in the ethnographic tradition. The training experiment used a combination of quantitative techniques and qualitative analysis. While the research encompassed diverse study samples, it was not designed towards generating population-representative facts. Nonetheless, this research provides valuable insights into the fields of martial arts, intercultural communication, business training, embodiment, and experiential learning.




Phd Student(s)


Steven Trenson

Waseda University (Tokyo)