Monday, December 12, 2011

Women Aikidoka: Karen de Paola

- by Karen de Paola

I started aikido in 1977 when I was 19 years old because at that time my then boyfriend's brother-in-law, Rick Stickles, started classes in his wife's ballet studio where I was taking dance classes.  I had no idea what aikido was or looked like.  Back then there weren't even any video cameras, never mind "youtube".  It was the blind leading the blind as a bunch of dancers tried to imagine what it was we were suppose to do together.  Due to our proximity to NYC and Rick being Yamada Sensei's student, we were permitted to take classes at NY Aikikai.  When I saw women testing at NY Aikikai, I knew I wanted to do aikido whole-heartedly.  I loved the flowing movement.  I began daily training both at the ballet studio and NY Aikikai and structured my college classes so I could do so.  Back then things were a lot less expensive and people had a lot more time on their hands.  The late 70s into the 80s were an interesting time period for people to explore numerous esoteric exploits.

I include as my main early teachers Y. Yamada, R. Stickles and Bruce Bookman.  There were also numerous teachers teaching at NY Aikikai and I attended seminars and summer camps that included teachers such as Kanai Sensei from New England Aikikai, Chiba Sensei (even prior to him coming to the U.S. to teach on a permanent basis), Saito Sensei and many more.  Compared to today, there were less people training so many of the teachers were brought together more easily than it would be today.  Looking back I realize it was a magical time and how lucky I was to have the experience.  

Over the years I would call different dojos home but always consider NY Aikikai my home base.  For 13 years I trained and taught classes at Aikido Centers of New Jersey under Greg O'Connor.  Greg and I had trained with R. Stickles and stayed friends when eventually he established his own schools.  He always encouraged me to teach and would refer students wanting private lessons to me.  Eventually, in November of 2006 (5 years ago) one of these students, Tom Carlucci, brought me into his company where I taught the owners and some of the employees aikido.  I consider Tom and his partner, Dave De Ring, my benefactors in making it possible for my husband, Alex Vieira, and me to open up our own school.  It was not my intent to have our own school but the opportunity presented itself and it has taken my aikido in a direction that makes complete sense to me now.  It is time for me to use my best efforts in passing aikido along to anyone who wants to train at our school.  

I must tell you it was not all smooth going over the decades and based on some of the things that happened over the years, it was not always easy to keep my training going.  In fact there was a period of time when I thought I was finished with aikido.  Relationships with people in aikido changed (as they do with anything) and life and career took me elsewhere.  At 30 I went to law school so the study and practice of law took a great deal of my time.  I did go back to dance for a period of time and then back to aikido.  Now at age 53, I have the dojo with my husband and my 11 year old daughter Isabella trains in aikido.  I teach adults and children and have a few private students.  From time-to-time, I am asked to do a seminar at another school.

I have been lucky to have aikido be my "work" and major part of my family life.  (I met my husband while training at Aikido Centers of NJ.)  My daughter has been to numerous dojos and summer camps (which she looks forward to every year).  Periodically she will ask me when we are going to go on a vacation that does not include aikido. :-)

On the top I have put together a playlist of videos with Karen Sensei. I hope you found this biography useful and inspiring. It is an introduction to the interview with her that I will soon be publishing  on this blog. Stay tuned for it!

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The Voice of Aikido


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