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Controlling aggression without inflicting injury: Aikido’s Art of Peace

Yamazaki-sensei runs Shojo-Dojo since 2001.

The history of Japan is punctuated by original forms of martial arts and combat techniques responding to the need of the era. In the early 20th century, Morihei Ueshiba, also know as Great Teacher O-Sensei, came to realize that the need for a peaceful resolution of conflict was a necessity for his contemporaries. As an intense spiritual person, he created a martial art capable of bringing compassion against aggression. With a concept so paradoxical to my western mind, I was curious to participate in an aikido training with Yamazaki-Sensei, 4th dan aikikai and international jazz musician!

The children are having fun while learning about the principles of aikido.

Located on the Upper East Side, Shoho Dojo, affiliated with Aikido Kobayashi Dojo, is an intimate training facility that welcomes students from all ages and all walks of life. The weekly schedule alternates kid’s classes with “Aikido all Levels” (adults) classes. The kid’s class focuses on training and agility games. Both are subtly mixed to keep the young students interested during the full hour. Adult students participate in the training for various reasons, from self-defense to a healthy work-out, but they all share the philosophy of aikido : “true victory is victory over oneself”. Aikido represents a lifestyle respectful of one’s body and mind. During class, the aikido-ka (people who practice aikido) will not only practice waza (techniques), but also stretching exercises, breathing exercises and zazen (sitting meditation).

Yamazaki-sensei explains that the training must complement individual life. It is through self-control that one can enjoy a harmonious way of life. As O-Sensei himself envisioned the practice: “Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere. When mind and body are jointly relaxed and centered, a superior form of functioning begins to manifest itself.”

The basic waza is for the receiver of the technique uke to initiate an attack
against the person who applies the technique tori.

Each student is extremely cautious of his/her partner: it is never about fighting but about embracing the energy and redirecting it. In aikido, there are only 3 belt-colors for adults, white for students, black for the masters and recently brown (right before black). Entering the dojo and being paired with a partner whose rank is not displayed is a very humbling experience. He holds my safety in his hands, and I hold his. Both should not assume anything about each other, the only goal is to practice with compassion and respond to universal desire of harmony.

I got the honor of practicing with Yamazaki-sensei’s assistant Kim Johnston, black belt and graceful aikido-ka. Each waza is precise, powerful and controlled. Most of the movements are circular, the goal being to distance oneself from the attacker while gently controlling him. The power that a reverse stretch of the wrist or the arm allows is mind-blowing. The size or strength of the attacker does not matter when the opponent’s energy is redirected and the balance is broken. Despite the understated superiority of Jonhston-sensei who majestically pulls me to the floor, face on the tatami and arm bent backward, I cannot help but notice that the harmonious coordination of movements produces enjoyable choreographic effects!

The jo is a wooden stave used in aikido weapons training. It is intended purely for training purposes.

Fully integrating the philosophy of aikido in one’s life requires time and practice. Despite my initial doubts and minimal practice, I experienced this inner peace and devoted care towards my partners. Free of trophies or medals, I know that my deeper reward was to embrace the group’s energy and stay positive in all situations.

—— Reported by Ruth Berdah-Canet

Aikido of New York City Shoho Dojo
350 E. 92nd St., (bet. 1st & 2nd Aves.), New York, NY 10128
TEL: 646-509-9212