This is a summary of the Q&A Blog Series with some high ranking Aikido friends in the USAF & in Europe.
My guests include: Andy Demko, 7th Dan, Shihan, USAF Technical Committee; Steve Pimsler, 7th Dan, Shihan, USAF Technical Committee; George Kennedy, 6th Dan, Shihan, Joe Nemeth, 6th Dan, Shihan, Penny Bernath, 6th Dan, Shihan, Dennis Main, 6th Dan, Shidoin and Michelle Feilen, 6th Dan.
Dojo Cho: “Why did you start training in Aikido?”
Demko Sensei: “I was always interested in martial arts from my early youth and have practiced and self-taught many methods. When I first saw an Aikido demonstration on television, I was enamored with the techniques and philosophy and I knew that the was the art for me.”
Pimsler Sensei: “I thought it might help me be less of a klutz. Then I watched a class at the New York Aikikai; the energy was electric and everyone looked they were having a blast. I wanted to have fun, too.”
Kennedy Sensei: “I was committed to non-violence but did not want to be a victim. I needed a path that required self-discipline and engaged my mind and body as well as my spirit. I knew I would be practicing Aikido for the rest of my life the first time I saw it!”
Nemeth Sensei: “When I first saw Aikido, I was impressed with the fluidity and grace of the practitioners. The concept of soft power was appealing to me. I had practiced Judo for many years, and I felt that a change to Aikido could take me down a path that I could pursue for life.”
Penny Bernath Sensei: “I started Aikido to learn a self defense.”
Main Sensei: “I was a jeweler in Grove City, PA, a small college town. The chief of police informed my partner and I of some known dangerous burglars in the area. We were encouraged to carry a concealed weapon. I decided that I should study self-defense. I found Aikido to be a perfect fit for me from the philosophical to the physical point of view.”Feilen Sensei: “I started practicing Judo when I was 10 and stopped at the age of 18. At that time my mother was practicing bokken and her teacher was also an Aikido teacher. On Saturday afternoons she used to practice Aikido with a group of friends and she asked me for months to come and join the class. Finally, just to make her happy, I joined them…. and thought “well this is fun!”
Dojo Cho: “Why do you continue to train in Aikido?”
Demko Sensei: “I can honestly say that going on 50 years of continual practice that I am as excited now as I was when I first began. Aikido is an art that you should never become bored with or complacent. Based on the founder’s teachings, he explained this concept as takemusi; meaning ever effusing, ever evolving. I have many advanced students who are high ranking in other martial arts and ultimately came to Aikido. I believe it was because of this concept.”
Pimsler Sensei: “In the hopes that someday I may get it.”
Kennedy Sensei: “It has become a way of life for me. The longer I continue on this path, the more meaningful it becomes.”
Nemeth Sensei: “I continue to train and study so that my own Aikido will improve and develop. Aikido, in my opinion, should not be a static art; it should constantly evolve. I owe it to my students to pass on the best Aikido I can and only constant training on my part will ensure this.”
Penny Bernath Sensei: “I continue aikido for everything except to learn a self defense. I enjoy the atmosphere of support, the Japanese formalities, the presence of honest respect, mutual loyalty, community, love. But mostly I feel like I am learning an ‘art’ and that ‘art’ is always organic and evolving. I like the freedom and joy of expressing myself in the framework of formal Aikido training.”
Main Sensei: “I consider myself a beginner. I continue to want to learn new techniques, insight from other instructors and especially from my sempai.”
Feilen Sensei: “I’m just passionate for the study of Aikido. Aikido is an art and like all arts, there is always more to learn. You can always do it better, you can always improve, you can always find something new or different, and you can always experiment or feel something new. Every time you practice, like life, the moment is unique and “irrepeatible”.
I enjoy discovering and sharing with my students or the people who are interested. After 25 years, Aikido is part of my life, it’s a way of life. I want to think that it makes me be a better person.”
Dojo Cho: “What is a (non-physical) Aikido concept lesson you teach?”
Demko Sensei: “As I see, it the physical and non-physical are one in the same. I see Aikido as a full integration of mind, body and spirit. The training becomes the essence of everything that we do: physical, non-physical; verbal, non-verbal; attack or defense.”
Pimsler Sensei: “I don’t really do that. That’s for each of us to either discover or not.”
Kennedy Sensei: “I went back to graduate school when I was fifty years old and received a Masters Degree in conflict resolution which I then taught at the university level. I have also taught conflict management to Law Enforcement officers.These activities are a direct result of my desire to take Aikido “off the mat”.”
Nemeth Sensei: “The concept of connecting with a partner, both physically and mentally is essential on the mat. This connection can relate to all aspects of life. An attack begins in the mind of the opponent. Aikido helps us to see and feel this energy and allows us to respond in a non-violent way.”
Penny Bernath Sensei: In real life Aikido is at it’s best. Timing, deflection and movement. There is a book called the Randori Principles: The path of effortless leadership by David Baum and Jim Hassinger. The authors are both aikido black belts and business consultants. They talk about how to handle uncomfortable situations by thinking and acting – irimi, tenkan, or get off the mat. I used to think about that, but now I think I do it automatically.”
Main Sensei: “In order to defend yourself it is important to understand your attacker. Assess the situation, pay attention to what is being conveyed verbally, what is their body language telling you. Try to defuse the situation so you don’t have to get physical. If that is not possible, draw in the response you want.”
Feilen Sensei: “I don’t like to teach anything other than the techniques or what is going on inside the techniques.
I think every person has to find what they are looking for. Some people come because they like Martial Arts, others to sweat, because they like the spirituality, to disconnect from their daily life, to make friends……any reason is valid. I’m trying to be a good example on and off the mat…..Everyone has the freedom to choose what is best for them.”
Dojo Cho: “What is one final goal you have in Aikido?”
Demko Sensei: “I have now entered a wonderful phase of my life whereby I am retired after 45 years in the financial arena. I am better able to fulfill my duties as a dojo cho, technical committee member, growing my dojo, and teaching seminars on a national and international basis.”
Pimsler Sensei: “To keep my mouth shut and train every morning as if it’s my last class.”
Kennedy Sensei: “Final goal? That sounds so…..final! To be physically able to continue my practice for the rest of my life!”
Nemeth Sensei: “I hope to be practicing and improving as long as I am above ground”
Penny Bernath Sensei: “I don’t have a final goal. I feel responsible to pass on what I have learned. Pass on the joyfulness and the completeness that Aikido can offer.
There is no big secret. It is about mat time. Practice, practice, practice and practice with intent 10 million times. Then you might get it :)”
Main Sensei: “My final goal is my continual goal. Keep exploring and growing in Aikido. Train as many of my students to reach their Aikido goals.”
Feilen Sensei: “I don’t have a specific goal…just to enjoy…….I like to teach people and to learn from them. I try to improve myself every day on and off the mat.
Also I try to have balance in my life because I think that too much of anything is not good for anybody. In general I think the answer is to be a better person, day by day, with myself and with others.”
Dojo Cho: “How would you describe the atmosphere at our dojo for someone that’s never experienced it?”
Demko Sensei: “I would describe the atmosphere at our dojo to one who has never encountered Aikido as a place where one can get excellent instruction, workout safely and have a positive experience concerning progress with all aspects of Aikido, physical fitness, and also experience a warm welcome and feel comfortable joining our Aikido Family.”
Pimsler Sensei: “Exhilarating, intense and a quintessentially New York City experience.”
Kennedy Sensei: “We pride ourselves on our hospitality. Everyone is welcome at the Aikido Center of Atlanta and many people have commented on the peaceful and serene atmosphere of our Dojo.”
Nemeth Sensei: “In my dojo, we train hard, but in a joyful and jubilant manner as recommended by O’Sensei. Visitors and beginners always tell me how welcoming, helpful and friendly my students are. This compliment gives great satisfaction to me and to my students.”
Penny Bernath Sensei: “Florida Aikikai is always warm and welcoming :)”
Main Sensei: “Everyone is there to help each other improve. We work out hard with maximum safety in mind. We are not a bunch of individuals training on the mat. We are a family.”
Feilen Sensei: “A place to come to practice Aikido, to give your best (strive), to sweat, to meet people, to share…My motto is: “you must leave the Dojo better than when you entered” How this is achieved differs for every person…it can be because you learned a new technique, because you had a good practice, because you felt something, you saw a nice flower…haha!! Whatever makes you happy is what is important.”