Professor Nathan Innocente has accrued many accomplishments during his time in academia, including the recent completion of his Ph.D. in sociology. However, few are aware that, beyond the walls of UTM, his students call him Sensei.

For 20 years now, Innocente has been dedicated to the martial art of Aikido, a traditional Japanese form of self-defence where opponent aggression is controlled and redirected without inflicting serious injury.

I recently spoke with Innocente, who is the guest speaker for the annual MoveU Motivator event on January 20, to discuss his experiences with maintaining physical fitness and mental wellbeing during undergraduate studies and the advice he has to offer students.

Innocente recalls how his interest in Aikido began at the age of 14 as the result of his disinterest in team sports, a preference he blames on his introverted disposition. He was drawn to the traditional Yoshinkan style of Aikido in particular, because of its emphasis on throwing, locking, restraining, and the strong foundations and techniques it fostered. Later in life, he found that his commitment to the sport also helped him develop the degree of physical fitness required during his time in the military and as a bouncer throughout his undergraduate studies.

“I think that dedication to master a particular physical activity, it doesn’t really matter which one it is, leads to many physical rewards,” Innocente says. For him, time on the mat not only served as an object of focus for physical growth and technical mastery, but also provided much needed stress relief when faced with the responsibilities of school, work, and balancing a social life.

Throughout his undergraduate career, Innocente made time to go to the gym five days a week, while also training at the dojo seven to eight times a week in two different locations. It was this hard work that forced him to develop time management skills. However, his passion for the sport meant that countless hours spent training didn’t feel like a sacrifice of his time. In fact, he recalls how Aikido acted as his “anchor” during these stressful periods in his life.

The advice he gives to students balancing school, a social life, health, and other commitments is to find an activity that they truly enjoy doing and just commit to it.

“Being interested in the activity is an excellent motivator in addition to keeping and maintaining long term health goals,” he says. Moreover, Innocente adds that making the time to balance priorities and health comes down to effective time management and having the discipline to follow through.

At the upcoming MoveU Motivator event, he wants students to think about developing better time management strategies and discipline for the new year. In the face of midterms and final assignments, when students often make sacrifices with their time, physical fitness commitments shouldn’t be placed on the back burner.

“I hope students find ways to maintain discipline and motivation, because at the end of the day, the pay-off for physical and mental wellbeing is so much greater than deciding you have to cut it in favor of something else,” he says.

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