Our wonderful students/members are the reason we maintain our Club. Here are some of the great things they’ve said about the Club.
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Diane Samsel: Earning my black belt
I am now 71 years old. A few months ago, while still 70, I took my black belt test in Aikido. I passed.
The test lasts about 45 minutes and consists of 11 parts. Each part requires around 8 demonstrations of technique. Then there’s the part at the end of the test where I defended myself against 4 attackers.
And it was a real test. Not geared for a granny. It’s the same test a 20 year old would take. And I must say, I aced it!
How did this happen? How does a woman my age get involved in such an endeavor? It all started on my 60th birthday when I accompanied my husband to the first Aikido lesson given in Tryon by Sensei Paul Buchanan. I was there as moral support and I was also curious because my husband had talked about Aikido for years. When Paul and his wife Anne walked onto the mat I couldn’t believe how excited I felt! They looked terrific in their uniforms; a white gi with a black hakama (which is a traditional Japanese costume seen in many old samurai films). When the Senseis began to demonstrate the techniques, I was hooked. And the first time I got to be “Uke” (that’s the person initiating the attack) Sensei, demonstrating a technique to defend from the attack, just seemed to take a little step, flick his arm and next thing I knew I was flying over the mat. And laughing! The power and grace of the movement astounded me.
The core tenant of Aikido is “Avoid the conflict.” The practitioner is required to disarm a threatening situation with as little violence as possible. The goal is to use the opponent’s energy against him or her to disarm a threatening situation. So if you attack me I will do my best to move in a way that you lose control and I can neutralize the situation.
I have been going to class faithfully two or three times a week for ten years now. I have moved steadily up the ranks going from 6th kyu to Black Belt in the process. The ranks were tested frequently up to the 3rd Kyu. After that it takes longer and longer between tests. An average student takes about 5 years to get to black belt. However, the average student begins at 20 or younger!
At 60 I still identified with middle age and didn’t give aging much consideration. At 70 I realize that I’m at the threshold of advanced age and must be respectful of the aging process. Which brings me to the most important gift my Aikido practice has brought me: Agility. Our practice requires a lot of movement and a lot of falling down. While it’s true we fall on mats (not very soft mats at that), the act of falling has given me the confidence in my stability. We also are required to do forward rolls, backward rolls and break falls (I did a break fall last month)! I understand that all of this activity has been good for my bone density as well as flexibility and agility. But I also know that my Aikido practice has probably saved me from getting into serious trouble. A few years ago I was gardening on the small plot in front of our house. We’re on Warrior Mountain and our property was once a part of an old vineyard so we’re terraced. I was down on one of the terraces pulling weeds from my squash plants when I tripped over a hidden vine. The next thing I remember was taking a forward roll down the mountain! I landed feet first on the shared drive below our house. Standing! Unhurt! There have been other falls that could have been disastrous but because I practice falling about 3 hours a week on a regular basis I’ve been able to handle them with a great deal of nonchalance. We have stairs in our home and I find myself unafraid of tripping as I’ve done so with remarkable grace on several occasions. Falling in Aikido is called “Ukemi”. I’ve tripped in the presence of my husband and saved myself and he always congratulates me on my terrific “Ukemi”! It’s comforting to know I don’t have to be afraid of falling.
I believe Aikido is a good elder sport. You don’t have to be Steven Segal to excel at it. The benefits are amazing and great at building confidence. Sure I have aches and pains and I gripe a lot and tests terrify me but I never regret an hour on the mat. I will continue my practice as a long as I am able. I am now working towards my second-degree black belt and enjoy the status of being “Senior Student” in our dojo (classroom).
And my Sensei has a few years on me and you should see him do his thing!
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