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Aikido life of a woman ~my speech in IAF GENDER FORUM 2016~

1. Why/ How I started Aikido
 I started aikido when I was 13, at Kamakura. My aim was to train my mind and body, and at the same time, learn from the Japanese culture. I visited Judo, Karate and Kendo dojo’s, one of which was Aikido. I thought the movement was beautiful. When I started, there were no children’s class, and there were two other girls that joined the dojo the same time as me. In those days, the sensei’s probably thought that girls will quit quickly, and they threw us just the same as others. The result, is, me.The three girls, after 30 years, are still practicing Aikido today.

2. Why I continued Aikido
 The reason I was able to continue practicing Aikido is because of my sempai and people at the dojo. My sensei and all my sempai loved to practice.
They practiced nearly every day, and talked very passionately about Aikido all the time. Maybe its that environment that made me like Aikido as well.When I was young, my dream was to become a scientist, and also to take uke for Kisshomaru Doshu.

 I practice Aikido because I think I am still unskilled. When I go to overseas seminars, I find it hard to get people to practice with me. Nobody knows me, and they probably only see a small, thin Japanese girl. When I get the chance, it is up to me, to prove myself as a good partner, so that they will practice with me again.In that sense, Aikido gives me the opportunity to be challenged, and I think it is important to be able to reflect on yourself so that you can improve through your Aikido journey.

3. Female Practitioners
 I have many female sempai that I looked up to. When I first started Aikido as a child, I always felt a strength different that to the body, or just physical strength in my female role-models.
In hombu dojo, there was Madam Tamura. When Madam Tamura was practicing at hombu dojo, it was at a time when practice was very rough, and there were not that many women around. I think “Yamato Nadeshiko” describes Madam Tamura perfectly. Yamato Nadeshiko is a name of flower, pink, is a graceful and delicate flower, but it has a strong stem, and it signifies a type of “perfect” women in Japan – soft and beautiful, but with a strong core. There is also a great sempai in Kyushu, practicing under Suganuma-sensei as well. They are elegant and has the kind of beauty that builds over time.

 Because Aikido is not competitive, it may be hard to gauge one’s strength if there is no win or lose. But this is the most important aspect of Aikido. You do not have to be obsessed in winning, and because there is no losing, there is no end.It’s a long journey, however you are free to travel at your own pace.

 In Aikido there are no differences in technique between men and women, so both men and women can practice together.Age does not matter too. The difference is only what kind of Aikido you want to do.

 Younger Japanese people may not understand the image of Yamato Nadeshiko anymore. But I think there are similar role-models in each culture or gender. And through practice, we all try to reach our own role-models – that is the “do” or the journey, and I think that is Aikido. If the instructor clearly guides you through this journey, then it does not matter if this person is male or female.

4. As a female instructor
 Being a practitioner, and an instructor is different. Having a dojo means not only do you have to continue to advance in your own journey, but you must also guide your students through this path. And this instructor must also be the role-model for the students.

 I first started to instruct Aikido at an all boys high-school 16 years ago.There was a group of boys practicing wrestling, and was curious to learn about Aikido and asked me to teach them. I explained that Aikido is not a combat sport, but they wanted to learn a martial art. It was hard to teach Aikido to a group who practiced wrestling, but it was a very good experience for me.

 Around the same time, I visited the US in search for my role-model as a female instructor. …. and I have to say, ….the female instructors I met were both physically and mentally, “women of steel”! I had my doubts of whether I can build such physique. But that is when I came to know about Okamoto-sensei. I was reading a French magazine when I was in Switzerland. And there was Okamoto-sensei’s photo, published largely in the magazine, where she was throwing someone in Iriminage. The moment in the photo, her posture left a huge impact in me, and lead me to want to know more about her. It gave me hope that even a Japanese female instructor can make such a mark. It was many years later that I finally met Okamoto-sensei, and I have had the opportunity to get very close every-since.

I think there are still less female instructors than men. But unlike before, men recognize the presence and the skills of women.At the IAF seminar this year, there are three female instructors. I think this shows that women are finally being recognized. But that is why I think we must practice diligently to advance our skills. We do not have to rush, but we have to become someone that is sought for. An instructor that is sought for not just because of gender, but for her skills.

5. As an Instructor
I have participated in many seminars around the world, however I feel a similar atmosphere to that of Japan in dojo’s where Japanese instructors have historically taught. It’s not the physical appearance of the dojo, but the etiquette of the students, and the way that they practice or their mind-set towards Aikido.
Unfortunately, this atmosphere is disappearing even in Japan. These things are not just about techniques, and cannot be learnt through books and videos. I think what I felt in those dojos were the result of the students learning through spending a long time with the Japanese instructor from the olden days. The mindset towards practicing, the etiquette, the philosophy are all part of the Japanese culture. All this is incorporated into Aikido. So the more we want to understand Aikido, we must understand the Japanese culture.

I have been fortunate to hold some seminars over the past few years, and I think the reason is because I am a women. But for myself, I would like to teach not only because I am a female instructor, but because I am Japanese.This is the same as school education. In Japan, there has been much westernization, and we are losing the “strength” that we had in the olden days. That is why I hope that Japanese students can learn the Japanese culture through budo education.
For example, in the olden days we say “ Hara wo Sueru.” – it is very difficult to translate
to English, but “it is not about the physical stomach or body-part, but it signifies our spirit and a strong mind-set – a strong center or core.It is this kind of mind-set that I would like to pass onto my students so that they are able to build their own foundation, so that they can succeed in life and in a global setting.

Within my students, I instruct both male and female students, but I interact differently according to the individual rather than their gender. Students are all different, not just in their physical strength, but according to age, their sports history, the setting– whether it is a club within a school, a university, or an outside dojo, the age-mix of the dojo, the history of the dojo– all these aspects determine the type of students that may come, and the type of keiko that can be taught. And as an instructor, we must understand this distinction and select the best way to instruct.

I mentioned before that an instructor must guide their students through the journey. For myself, I was guided through my journey through interactions and communication with my sensei and my sempais. With interaction and communication, I mean not just through words and meeting people. Unlike judo or kendo, we grab our partners physically through our “kata”.This is the wonderful aspect of Aikido. The human touch, the feeling allows us to interact greatly beyond words. It allows us understand our partners more deeply, to sense their thoughts and character. This allows us to understand each other better, and this can build trust beyond words, culture or gender.

The Aikido journey is a long one. And I think I am only half-way after 30 years. I am a student at the same time that I am an instructor. I may not be the graceful “Yamato Nadeshiko”, but I will continue to practice through my own path, to my own goals. Like any journey, it will not be just joy, but there will be challenges. Your ideas and philosophy may change over time. And in keiko, we may not be able to move like we did when we were young, but we adapt, we change, we have a different aspiration and goals as time goes by. And Aikido allows us to do this, to travel through these changes. But we must not stop our stride, but to continue to walk and change through our journey. That is why we must keep practicing to continue with our journey.

Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to Doshu, Dojo-cho, my sensei’s, Okamoto- sensei who have guided me through the years, my friend who gave me the opportunity to teach overseas, and my students who have inspired my teaching spirit over the years. Thank you for your attention.

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