On Saturday, Nov. 1 and Sunday, Nov. 2, the Aikido Club hosted the annual Vassar College Fall Aikido Festival in the Bays of the Walker Field House. Visitors to the Festival came from all over the country to attend the event. The Aikido Club has been hosting this event for the last eight years and the Vassar Fall Festival is one of the biggest Tomiki Aikido gatherings of its kind in the U.S.
Aikido is a Japanese martial art developed by Morihei Ueshiba as a combination of martial studies, philosophy and religious beliefs. Aikido literally means “way of blending energy” in Japanese. The point of Aikido is that practitioners can use the art to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury. This is done by redirecting the force of the attack rather than opposing it head-on. There are no punches or kicks involved and Aikido fosters controlled relaxation, flexibility and endurance; it is a practice that is less focused on strength.
The Aikido Club practices a style of Aikido called Tomiki Aikido that differs from the main branch because it incorporates live-action sparring. Tomiki Aikido was developed by Kenji Tomiki and is often referred to as “Sport Aikido” because of their regular competitions between practitioners. In 1967, Tomiki built a dojo in Osaka, Japan to train practitioners for competition. During a competition, a pair of fighters are judged on how well they execute their kata, or choreographed movements. Depending on the competition, the practitioners either fight bare-handed or with a training rubber sword. Although there are generally no competitions in other styles of Aikido, practitioners of Tomiki Aikido feel it is necessary to develop their techniques in a physical way, which ultimately trains their mind as well.
Vassar Aikido Club is lead by Min Chen ’16 who commented on the event this weekend. Speaking to her impressions of the festival, Chen said, “Our Aikido Fall Festival is one of the biggest Tomiki style Aikido conferences in the nation. We asked instructors from around the country to come and give a seminar of what new and exciting techniques they have been working on. From different dojos, we have not only senseis but also their students.”
She continued, expressing optimism. “I am very happy with how the festival went. We had an even better turnout than last year. Every sensei was on the same page with each other, and every seminar above par,” she said.
Aikido ‘s main purpose is to enhance your lifestyle and open your mind to different perspectives of protection. Chen wrote in an emailed statement, “One of the greatest and most amazing experiences I’ve had with Aikido is meeting the various people in the field. I’ve met World Champions (current and past) and even had the privilege to practice with a master from Japan and his students (at an event called Mansfield Mayhem in March, students were from Japan’s Waseda University).
She continued, “I often come away from Aikido with a sense of awe, because we focus more on redirection of energy rather than brute strength, it is amazing what can be done with so little effort. Of course, learning and remembering how is the slightly harder part.”
According to one member of the Aikido club, Ben Hoffman ’16, the club typically begins each week by warming up, he says “This is crucial because we each experience throws and holds from both sides—having a wrist lock done on you without proper stretching can be both painful and damaging. During warm-up, we tend to have informal discussions about any club events coming up. After this, we begin real practice—footwork, avoiding attacks, unbalancing the opponent and so on.”
Hoffman continued, expressing his happiness with joining the club. He said, “As freshmen year went on, I was feeling more and more out of shape. This year, I wanted to turn that around and get involved in some sort of sport or exercise. Having a small amount of experience in karate, I also enjoy exploring the different emphasis and techniques of Aikido.”
Vice President of the Aikido Club, Peter Dau ‘14, spoke of his love for Aikido as well. He explained, “I love Aikido for a lot of reasons. One is that it makes you feel great. Although one might not think it, Aikido is very relaxing, for the body as well as the mind. It is hard to practice effective martial arts when your mind is elsewhere, so there is an element of a kind of kinesthetic meditation and being present in the moment.
He continued, “There are times when I’m stressed about my workload and don’t think I have time to go to practice, but I go anyway, and I always end up feeling so refreshed and ready to go back to my homework when I leave. I also like that Aikido builds confidence in one’s ability to defend themselves, and I like knowing that if I need to protect myself, I can.”
The weekend consisted of six sessions, each of which was taught by a different master practitioner. According to Dau, “The Aikido Club thinks that it is important to hold events like the Fall festival to bring the Aikido community closer together. We hope to continue with this tradition in the coming years. If people are interested in a fun, safe way to learn to defend themselves, make new friends, learn a new school and become more confident, they should come by practice. They are commitment free: Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday 8-10 in the Fitness MPR.”