When I practiced Iwama style Aikido years ago, it was very physical and often harsh. I imagine that this somewhat young martial art, having been transplanted to the United States from Japan, was in the middle of an evolution. I was a young woman engaging in what seemed a stressful frenzy at the time. The strictness and discipline was familiar to me. My severe piano lessons and expected academic successes had prepared me well. At that time Aikido was no different. The practice was very martial, (budo) exact and intense. There was little talking.
Men twice my size ignored my tiny wrists and applied nikyo so fast and fully that pain would shoot up to my shoulder. I was slammed straight down into the mat by well-meaning partners, unconsciously using muscle to flatten me. By necessity, I quickly learned the art of good ukemi, which is one thing that helped me survive physically.
At 5 feet and 100 pounds, I had neither the height nor girth to physically match my fellow students, or withstand the constant impact of an incorrect highfall. Additionally, creating movement from a static position, so that a blend was even possible, was extremely difficult and frustrating. Interestingly enough, I heard echoes of the same complaints from other women aikidoists in many a dressing room in those long ago days. The exchanges were always the same. We comforted and supported each other. The discouragement that shapes our technique as well as our character still resounds today.
The intensity of the practice and physical endurance of pain caused me to quit for awhile until I discovered the kind guidance of my Sensei for 20+ years, Hans Goto, 7th Dan, at Bay Marin Aikido in San Rafael, California. His approach had much more physical regard concerning safety, and so I resumed training and became very serious. I did, however, continue to hear the laments from the visibly physically unsubstantial, the weaker, the shorter, the smaller, the frailer, mostly women. For myself, the path was arduous and unyielding but at some point my perception became more scientific, challenging and intriguing. Amazingly, I have prevailed even to this point and beyond (I expect) since I am still learning while teaching. It was in the space of separating from Bay Marin and creating a new place to carry on the Iwama teachings that I suddenly felt the overwhelming feeling of responsibility to carry on the lineage in my own dojo at Cotati Aikido.
It was at this remarkable period a newer aikidoka, Susan Harrow, media consultant, author and all around champion of enthusiasm, approached me about doing a few videos to give advice to “women….and a few men”. I concluded that perhaps she had heard those echoes as I had from shorter and smaller people trying in vain to be a good contender. In truth, I now believe, she had probably heard “other” echoes from other places, but of similar content.
At first, I balked silently because quite honestly, I am no orator. Through Aikido, in fact, I had become a better listener, to my Sensei, ukes, and to those I had interaction with off the mat. Somehow, however, the persistent feeling of responsibility convinced me I could help newer Aikido students or smaller students, or actually any student who was willing to listen! The idea quelled some of those overwhelming feelings of self-consciousness, I took the attitude that instead of it being about me, I was doing a service.
The amazing Harrow engineer was skilled and patient. Like the practice of Aikido, it was an evolution. At first, talking in front of the camera didn’t seem natural. We practiced until the model of what you now see on Facebook: “Aikido Advice for Women and a Few Men” took shape.
Our original intention was to address some of the issues women may face on the mat and at work, and how aikido practice can translate learning in both places. The present FB forum created by Susan hopes to hear others speak of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of Aikido into daily life. It is a place to share the challenges a discipline or practice teaches us given our own perceived limitations and life experiences. It is directed to inspire joy in our practice/life and infuse kindness and compassion and ultimately universal harmony. Quite a goal, despite our human tendencies.
The inspiring/inspiriting discussion with accompanying images that are provocative, beautiful, wild and entertaining keep in step with the showmanship of O’Sensei and Saito Sensei. The idea maintains the mystery and magic and resonance of Aikido not easily explained lest one seriously train the body, mind and spirit. In an attempt to include others not training specifically in Aikido we decided to embrace the entire spectrum of lifework and nature as a whole. As a result, many of the people who visit the Facebook group don’t even practice a martial art. Aikido is the martial art of Peace that speaks to serious aikidoists while still being inclusive to people who do not train in this particular path. In truth, the paths are many, but the discovery of self-potential and imminent growth in wellness is the same.
Our goal is to stay as close to the lineage of teachings of O’Sensei as translated from Saito Sensei to Hans Goto Sensei. The videos are created to give the clear, distinct, exact form that is the Iwama hallmark of precise basic technique. Pure and true form. Application is only rarely emphasized as it may provide too much of a distraction – just as too much atemi was not the intent of the founder. Basic tate waza (ikkyo through yonkyo), swari-waza, weapons suburi, and riai (sword/jo/body relationship) are expressed as well as study in dealing with more than one attacker.
The physics of Aikido is monumental for effortless movement, as is correct distancing, connection, weight distribution and predicting movement in advance. Mindset and Ideas to advance learning while not focusing on results are explored. Consciousness, mindfulness and awareness and other unseen, unmeasured phenonmenon make learning contextually rich.
In essence, our description: The Principles of Aikido, the Way of Harmony, work as a way to polish the spirit, to turn lead into gold. The founder, Morihei Ueshiba said, “True victory is self victory; let that day arrive quickly!”
I invite you to visit our approach and share your insights on our Facebook page, or contact us by email.
by Ginny Breeland
Photos curtesy of Aikido Journal