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Conversation with Tacoma Aikikai Community Members Chris, Beth, and Shauna

Mar 1, 2021

What made you interested in Aikido? How long have you been a member at the dojo and how long have you been training in Aikido?

Chris: I was interested in Aikido probably since I first saw a Steven Seagal movie. As it turns out, he was maybe not as good as I thought he was, but he was a different type of martial artist than I had seen in the Kung Fu movies I watched growing up during the late 70s and
80s. He moved differently, and the forms he used were different. So, I was interested in Aikido and martial arts in general growing up, and then we got a flier in the mail from Tacoma Aikikai around April 2019 and realized that the dojo was right in our neighborhood. We were
pretty excited. I had taken Aikido at a different school years ago, back in the early 2000s, and then that Sensei retired, the school closed, and my schedule changed, so it had been some years since I had taken it. My girlfriend, Beth, and I decided to check out the school. We went in for an introductory session, and they were doing a beginner’s class. We were very impressed, and the rest has been history.

Beth: As Chris mentioned, we started in April 2019 when we got the postcard in the mail. I knew it was something Chris was interested in because he had done Aikido in the past. I suggested that we go and check it out. We went to the first class of the beginner’s course, and I was pretty much leaned in the whole time. I was completely engaged. There wasn’t any point at which I thought “this is not something for me.” It was just like, “yes, I would like to get on the mat and start doing those things that those people are doing right now,” which is, surprising because I’m not so much about exercising, just generally. It was great to be able to find something that Chris and I could do together to
be able to keep active and exercise – to do something that I enjoy.

Shauna: I’ve been studying Aikido for a long while now. Like Chris, I was first exposed to martial arts through a movie, The Karate Kid. That got me interested way back when I was in Middle School. But I really started martial arts much later when I was teaching English in Korea. I went to a Hapkido dojo near where I was working for about two years. Then my work schedule changed, so I switched to a dojo that had later classes and that was an Aikido dojo. We had class from 9pm to 10pm several nights a week. When I came back to the States, I trained for a few years in Austin, Texas. Following that, though, I took about ten years off due to work and graduate school. When I moved to Washington
State’s Olympic Peninsula, I started Aikido again. I found Neilu Naini Sensei there. At the age of 40, I took on a totally different style, but it was great, and I really got into Aikido again. I’ve been training there ever since. I met Ea Sensei at this time too, and started training in Tacoma when she first started Tacoma Aikikai and had Saturday Intensives once a month. During the pandemic I’ve been coming to classes regularly. It’s been wonderful to train with Ea Sensei and Eric Sensei more often. When I started Aikido, I was interested in fitness and self-defense. I’ve stayed for fitness, self-defense, the community, and the art. The more you learn, the more there is to learn. It’s just this amazing art form
to me.

How has your training been impacted by the pandemic? What changed for you?

Shauna: Initially during the pandemic, nobody was training much at all, but then it became this opportunity to work a lot more on weapons. I’ve always been so focused on body arts, so it’s been good to just really focus on weapons. It’s been a fantastic outlet during a really stressful time. It’s been something that’s kept me grounded.

Chris: My training is different because I have not been to an indoor class since March 2020. When the rest of the world shut down, the school shut down, but we are fortunate enough that our Senseis realized that we could do classes outdoors. In Tacoma, we are blessed with a selection of quality parks, and there is one close to the dojo. We started doing outdoor classes with a lot of weapons work that we are told
will translate into the body arts. Now that the vaccines have started to become more widely available, I hope we will transition back into indoor classes, but it’s been great to be able to at least keep training outdoors while maintaining distance. Everybody wears masks and all
that, so everybody stays safe, which means that I’m comfortable and still continuing my training. I really enjoy weapons. It’s definitely different. In the dojo, we did a lot more of the body arts, and even though the weapons were offered, it was not a primary focus of my
training. Now it has become pretty much the only focus of my training because we have not been able to do any sort of close contact work at the school until very, very recently. So I’ve been thankful, and I have enjoyed it. There is so much to learn. It’s a whole body- mind experience.

Beth: I’ve been grateful to have Aikido during the pandemic. 2020 was a big year for me, personally and Aikido offered some new challenges as well as a haven of sorts. In spring, everything shut down because of the pandemic and things changed, but everyone is making do and
making changes, and trying different things. Instead of meeting at the dojo, we started meeting in the park and focusing on weapons work. Weapons was one aspect of Aikido that I had been interested in prior to the pandemic and wanted to try, but it was hard to fit into my schedule. I found it to be a nice opportunity to experience other things that Aikido offers beyond just the body work, and once we’re back in the dojo, I’d like to continue the weapons practice. In summer, my mother’s health started to decline, and, due to the restrictions, we weren’t allowed to see her regularly. But by the end of summer her health declined to the point where she ended up being hospitalized, and I was spending a several days a week with her. I would continue to come to Aikido in the park as a break from that, to have some little block of “normal.” When you’re doing Aikido, you get that focus where everything else falls away, and you’re just working a single technique. It was a place to be able to come and have everything else fall away and just focus on this physical thing. It was a solace in a difficult time. In the fall, my mother passed away, and I injured my shoulder. I stepped away from Aikido for the winter. Now it’s spring again, and I am back. During this whole year, with my mom and my shoulder, everyone at the dojo has been super supportive. Even when I wasn’t coming to practice, Chris would mention that people were asking how I was doing, not just once to be polite but on a regular basis, keeping up with my progress,
offering support, and sending care packages. Our dojo – it’s a nice group of people who care about each other, that’s not something you generally find at a Pilates class. I mean, maybe some people do, but that hasn’t been my experience. To be back in that community, to be back doing the techniques, the exercising, doing Aikido, has been really nice.

Shauna: I didn’t even think about this until you were talking about how Aikido gave you a place to go when you were dealing with your Mother’s illness. I had a similar experience when I had a cancer diagnosis five years ago where everywhere else I was a cancer patient, but I could just let all of that go while training. Beth: One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that it created a lot of opportunity for ingenuity. Would we really be doing Aikido in the park if it wasn’t a pandemic? Probably not, we would all be in the dojo sweating to death in the summer, but now I think this is a viable option for doing Aikido in the summer, not a five hundred degree dojo. (Laughter) I hope that we continue to think out-of-the-box, where we look for opportunities and where we can try different things that allow us to still practice Aikido, but in a slightly different situation. I like to be outside. I like that we did the intensive outside in the park. I thought that was awesome. I’ve been glad to have Aikido during the pandemic. It’s a little pocket of normalcy. Even though it hasn’t been “normal,” it’s been one of those things that grounds you. It’s one of those things that reminds you that it’s not always going to be like this. We’re going to get past this. It’s going to be better. We’re going to get back to where we were.

Chris: I also appreciated the ingenuity of Eric and Ea and their willingness and ability to continue classes. When all we had were the virtual options, they filmed themselves so they could at least provide something for people who are at home. We don’t have room in our house, unfortunately, to practice; we just don’t physically have the space, but just to be able to watch and still kind of participate that way was helpful. I know that other schools weren’t able to do that. Not all of them stayed open. So, it feels like we’ve continued to benefit from Ea’s and Eric’s ingenuity. They figured out different ways to provide their knowledge even when we’re not able to practice in person.

Beth: There were times in the beginning of the pandemic when I was working sixteen hour days, I would turn on the virtual practice with Ea Sensei and just listen to her while I was working, to hear her talking and just to have that in my head. Listening would bring to mind how I feel when I go to Aikido, reminding me to breathe and of the flow of the practice. It would release some of the stress of the day.

If you had to describe your experience of Aikido in three words, what would they be?

Chris: Strenuous, fulfilling. We only get three words? (Laughter) Involving, strenuous, fulfilling. Yeah, involving, like when Beth was just talking about that you have to be absolutely focused. That is the truth for me. It takes so much for me. I am fully committed physically and mentally
in every class. That’s what I mean when I say involving.

Beth: Community and engaging. I use my brain a lot for it being an exercise kind of thing.

Shauna: I’m going to quote Chiba Sensei and give you five words, his five pillars of Aikido. Openness, centeredness, connectedness, liveliness, and wholeness.

Beth: Oh, those are good. I like lively.

“When I started Aikido, I was interested in fitness and self-defense. I’ve stayed for fitness, self-defense, the community, and the art. The more you learn, the more there is to learn. It’s just this amazing art form to me.” ~ Shauna

What advice would you give a new Aikido student?

Shauna: Just come and try it. There’s this concept of Shoshin, beginner’s mind. It’s being open. So, come and be open to learning and trying. Don’t be intimidated by others you see in the dojo because maybe some of those people have been training for 20 years. Just come and practice. Put yourself out there and do it. Beginner’s mind is an advantage, to come in without all those preexisting concepts or ideas and thoughts that sometimes hinder us.

Beth: You’re not going to get it on the first try; it’s going to be bad at first. It’s okay. You watch Eric and Ea Senseis and they are so fluid, and you think compared to these people I have no coordination, but Ea has been doing this for like twenty-five years, even longer. This is what she does. She breathes Aikido. So, you have to temper your expectations that you’re going to get there overnight. It’s definitely a ten thousand hours kind of thing, but it’s possible to get there, which I think is cool.

Chris: Yeah. It takes a lot of practice. Put in the work, because it is work – for me anyway. It’s enjoyable, but, make no mistake, it’s not like a pastime where you can just show up and commit half of yourself and get a lot out of it. I mean, it takes a lot. The interesting thing about Aikido for me is that it takes having a partner almost to really understand it. It’s not like other martial arts where you’re going to throw a punch or a kick, and the other person is there to defend against it. This is a blending exercise, so no matter whether you’re the attacker or the defender, both of you play an important part in the success of the art. To my knowledge, I don’t think that there’s any other martial arts like that.

Beth: It’s a relationship.

Chris: It’s about harmonizing and blending. You are using your opponent’s force against them, yes, but it’s a lot more subtle. Both of you benefit from the exercise while you’re doing the exercise. It doesn’t matter who is the “attacker” or the “defender,” you both have a part to
play and both of those parts are integral and important.

Beth: Different partners, different experience.

Chris: It helps deepen your understanding of why the movement works, why the techniques work, and by changing the partner, it forces you to grow. You don’t have the same kind of relationship with each person. We mix it up. So you grow with the technique as you change partners and play each role, and that’s true from black belt level, a very advanced partner, and all the way to a beginner. There’s always more to learn. A partner with more skill or more knowledge can teach you. If you’re working with someone who has less knowledge, you help them learn. By teaching them, you also solidify and fortify your own learning.

Beth: Yes, teaching always makes it better. It’s different, you know, even within the same skill level grouping. There’s always a difference with every person, even physically. Working with different body types brings into focus more the mechanics of how the techniques work. I get very analytical about it, and a lot of times, that’s how I end up learning the techniques. I like to have that variety to kind of try things and see how they work.

Chris: I’m really thankful that we have this community here. I mean, Shauna travels two hours to be a part of this. I try not to take it for granted because it just happens to be our local school and yet it feels like it’s become more than that. Even while we’re not able to train
in the way that we want to train, like Beth and I haven’t been in the dojo for a year, it hasn’t felt like we’ve lost anything. We’re missing contact, but we’re able to see people here at the park. We’re able to at least go to a weapons intensive and experience really hard core
physical training. I’m glad that we’ve had this opportunity to meet a bunch of people and to work on our own self betterment.

“When you’re doing Aikido, you get that focus where everything else falls away, and you’re just working a single technique.” ~ Beth

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