Aikido club focuses on technique before coming to blows

Three days a week, sansei Jun Zhao teaches Aikido, a Japanese martial art. Though many students join the club with the expectation of immediately learning combat, Zhao focuses on technique and safety first. Photo By: Angelo Roman
Three days a week, sansei Jun Zhao teaches Aikido, a Japanese martial art. Though many students join the club with the expectation of immediately learning combat, Zhao focuses on technique and safety first. Photo By: Angelo Roman
Three days a week, sansei Jun Zhao teaches Aikido, a Japanese martial art. Though many students join
the club with the expectation of immediately learning combat, Zhao focuses on technique and safety first. Photo By: Angelo Roman

A mix of philosophy, exercise and martial art, Aikido instructs students self-defense without excessive retaliatory violence.

Min Chen ‘16 is part of the Vassar’s Aikido club. Taught by their sensei, Jun Zhao, the student organization meets three times a week in the Athletic Fitness Center.

Peter Dau ’14 is in his second year as Aikido Club vice president, and has been a part of the club since freshman year.

As he wrote in an emailed statement, “Aikido is a Japanese martial art that is purely self-defensive. Aikido means literally ‘way of blending energy’ in Japanese.”

Rather than throwing all of your energy into returning an attack on your assailant, the objective of Aikido is to redirect the energy your attacker uses in order to conserve your own.

Dau said, “there are no punches or kicks, and although that might sound boring, it is actually incredible to see in action, and is considered one of the most effective martial arts for self-defense.”

Aikido club meets every week on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. in the AFC Fitness MPR and is commitment free.

The martial art of Aikido is all about technique. Chen told how a typical practice will begin by taking as many safety precautions as necessary, including laying down mats and warming up.

“And then after doing that, we’ll do basic drills such as footwork and falls because you need to be able to know basics,” Chen said. “I mean, when it comes down to it, there’s really these basic things and how you apply these basic moves.”

Because practices are open to all, Zhao tries to cater to whomever shows up.

Chen said, “So if we have a lot of beginners, we’ll tailor towards that. If we have people who have been there, and know the basics, he’ll show new technique[s] that we haven’t seen before.”

Aikido is not just a way to learn how to defend yourself, it also is a useful way to stay in shape. Kaitryn  Doyle ’17 said that when she found the crew team to be too stressful but still wanted to do something athletic during the year, she turned to Aikido.

“I decided to join when I saw the information about it from the In-The-Pink newsletter and saw that it was free and fit my schedule,” Doyle wrote in an emailed statement.

She continued, adding, “For the most part, as a novice, I knew that I wouldn’t learn how to completely learn how to defend myself in one semester, but I was hoping that I would be able to exercise a little and learn the basics.”

Chen also learned about Aikido through the In-The-Pink emails. She said, “I always wanted to do some sort of martial art, but there was never really time.”

Chen went on to add, “I mean, by the time there was time I was like, fifteen, and it just seemed weird to go to those classes where everyone’s like, 8, 9, at the oldest. So that never happened.”

Dau, like Chen, also found the chance to try something he’d always wanted to try during Freshman Orientation week.

“I chose Aikido for my Vassar Activity for New Students (V.A.N.S.) activity and was hooked immediately. I went around afterwards asking people to choke me so I could throw them,” wrote Dau.

The Aikido Club also likes to take their skills out of the AFC Fitness MPR and into the real world. “Each year, we host a large, regional festival in the fall, and we had a great turnout this year. It’s a great way to teach and learn from the Tomiki Aikido community,” Dau wrote.

He continued, adding, “We also like to bring in experts from other styles, this semester we hosted a Krav Maga seminar that was really popular.”

Chen said, “…this Saturday actually we’re going up to Saratoga Springs. We’re driving up to Saratoga for the Saratoga mixed martial arts festival. So its like a one-day event and you see all these different styles of martial arts: Filipino martial arts, Krav Maga, pressure points.”

She added, “Well, you’re not seeing it. You’re participating in it.”

While many people enjoy what the club has to offer, the core Aikido club’s core membership is actually quite small.

Chen said, “Some people come, and a lot of people get frustrated in the beginning because there are certain things that we need to teach in the beginning, such as footwork and falling. Because if you don’t fall properly you can hurt yourself.”

“And a lot of them come and they show up thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to learn how to—if someone chokes me I’ll throw them down to the ground.’ They come in with this mindset, and that prevents them being as open to taking the martial art as it is.”

Dau described how, as much as he loves the club now, it took a while to grow on him.

He wrote: “As for expectations, I really didn’t know anything about Aikido or Vassar’s Aikido club before I joined, and I was initially kind of disappointed that there weren’t any strikes or kicks, but have come to learn that a purely self-defensive martial art can be extremely effective, and [I] love practicing Aikido.”

Doyle shared how she also has come to appreciate Aikido though she only began doing it this semester.

She said, “I personally really enjoy the Aikido classes. They are really laid-back but also go over very practical situations, and the people in it are really nice.”

“So if you’re interested in a fun, safe way to learn to defend yourself, make new friends, learn a new skill and become more confident, come by a practice anytime!” Dau wrote.

He enjoyed the club so much he said, “I hope to continue doing Aikido after I graduate, but since our style is kind of unconventional, I’m afraid it might be hard to find another dojo.”

He added, “Sometimes I’m not in the mood to go to practice, or have a lot of work, but I’ve never come away from an Aikido practice wishing I hadn’t gone. I attribute this to Aikido being a great stress reliever—let me tell you, there’s nothing like throwing someone to the ground to get yourself to relax!”

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