onfhoAikido might be one of the lesser known martial arts, but you wouldn’t get that impression at Vassar. The Fall Aikido Festival, held by the Vassar Aikido Club in Walker Fieldhouse on Nov. 4 and 5, would make any student feel like aikido is breathing new life into campus.
The Vassar Aikido Club has had a difficult history, with a low number and irregular set of members. In recent years, however, the club has been seeing new growth within its membership. New members, mostly first- and second-years, have joined and have been attending consistently, and this allowed the club to coordinate to throw an aikido festival after a few years of struggle.
In Walker Fieldhouse, mats covered the floor. Many students attended wearing aikido uniforms, but some came in dressed in just T-shirts and shorts. Multiple sensei from around the country came to teach at and support this event, students found themselves learning new moves from new teachers, which was a highlight of this festival. The different sensei took turns teaching different moves and techniques and often helped to demonstrate moves. It was a very casual setting where students of all levels gathered and practiced at their own pace and learned new moves at their own pace as well. The phrase “work hard play hard” clearly Applied here, with students getting rest time and a lunch break to relax and chat with others. Aikido, as a defense martial art, often requires pairs to perform and practice the moves, which only makes the sport more enjoyable.
Jun Zhao, the club’s sensei, is thrilled to see this new growth and hopes to attract new members in the future: “We’ve had some ups and downs and it doing great and for a few years we didn’t have a lot of members and didn’t have a lot of stable members […] and I’m so glad that this year we have some really good students.” The growth is also clear outside of Vassar, as sensei from places as far as Ohio and Phoenix, AZ, came to teach for the festival as well.
Aikido, as Zhao explained, might be the perfect form of martial arts for many people who are otherwise wary of them. As he explained, ”Aikido is pure self-defense, meaning that all of the technique and actions would not work to attack in aikido. It’s also good for people who are not very strong […] because you actually use your opponent’s energy against them.”
Michelle Kang ’21, a first-year who joined aikido, confirmed this and said that she’s happy that she joined the aikido club. “I had done taekwando, which is a different kind of martial arts and I stopped doing it in high school, so coming into college I wanted to do a martial art. I met everyone for the first time when I showed up […] It’s been really fun and it’s been even better because the people are so nice and friendly and I’ve really grown closer to them, so it’s fun to go for the aikido, but it’s also fun to go just to see their faces and have a fun time with people I like.”
Not only does the club enjoy new consistent members with a growing enthusiasm for aikido, but the club’s vice president, Caroline Beech ’20 hopes to see more new members come consistently, even if it’s for a few times just to try the sport and see if they like it. “If it’s something that interests you, come try it out,” she stated. As for what makes aikido special for her, she added, “It’s definitely a good way to stay active […] but it can also teach you some really good self-defense techniques since aikido is an entirely a defensive martial art.”
The sport’s simplicity is one of its many assets. Caring about energy and balance and shifting weight are essential as well, and after those, everything else will fall into place. “The moves don’t look as fancy as other martial arts, but they’re still effective.”
Simply yet effectively seems to be the motto that aikido subscribes to, and this is what makes it great for students, especially those who might not initially get involved with martial arts. Kang has especially felt this, saying it’s a way she can feel powerful, knowing she is able to defend herself when she needs to. It’s the combination of aikido’s design and the relaxedness and casualness of the club that has drawn her to stay, and she, and many other of the club’s members, hope that that sense will draw others to try the sport.
Coming from a club that has managed to maintain a consistent flow of first years, there’s definitely something that the club is already doing to draw people, and so hopes for future years and future progress have been increasing as demonstrated in this past weekend’s festival.