1. You encountered aikido at the age of 27. In what way is it different from starting it as a kid. Does one still have the chance to do performance at aikido even if he/she starts it in his/her 20 or 30?
When I was 27 I found aikido and aikido found me. I believe that everything happens for a reason. At 27 I was ready, very ready, to bring aikido into my life. If I had started sooner it would have been very different.
I believe starting as a child has its benefits depending on the child. But unless you have the hunger and commitment it really doesn't matter when you bring aikido into your life.
2. What does it take to become a good aikidoist?
It takes finding your teacher, commitment and the desire to change. You have to allow yourself to see inside whether you like what you see or not. You also have to open your heart, to give of yourself and train, train, and train some more.
4. Tell us about the instructors under whom you studied, and how they gave you inspiration.
I have been very lucky to have such wonderful teachers and to have found them at a time when they were in their prime and willing to give to their students. My 1st teacher was Yamada sensei at New York Aikikai. He was able to give all his students the joy of aikido. His teaching was clear precise and always caring for the safety of students. After leaving New York I began studying with Chiba sensei. At this time I realized I wanted to become a teacher of aikido. In 1989 I moved to San Diego with my family to begin the kenshusei program with Chiba sensei. This program lasted for 4 years, training every day. There were weapons classes, meditation, sword classes, body arts as well as nutrition classes.
There have been many aikido Masters that have inspired me throughout my career. Yet, my 2 teachers, Yamada sensei and Chiba sensei have been the people that helped me follow the path, and find my path with aikido.
5. You are the third aikidoka I am interviewing who practiced dancing before aikido (the other two are AnneMarie Crisanto Ruschel and Karen de Paola). What is it that attracts dancers to starting aikido? Do you see any analogy?
I began dancing at the age of 8, and professionally at the age of 14. I started with ballet, and then went to modern dance. Dancing took me to many different countries, meeting many different people. Yet somehow performing to an audience began to feel superficial.
I'm not sure whether dancers are drawn to doing aikido in particular. Dancers are drawn to movement, to creativity and are very curious creatures. For me, I am drawn to movement, to creativity and am very curious in my aikido as well. I am now more curious about my students, how their learning and what is important to them.
6. I was much more up in the stratosphere than down on the earth.— is a quote from an interview with you where you say you were eager to take any kind of ukemi. Is this a prerogative to doing good ukemi? How hard is to go beyond the well-established reflexes and just let yourself be thrown?
When I began aikido I was a professional dancer. So for me falling, and rolling and following seemed natural. I was much more willing to fly through the air than being grounded. This was a hard lesson for me to understand. But with much practice and understanding partners we can all experience the beautiful connectedness with another human being. Ukemi has many forms, and being open and sensitive is what is most important. Not how high you can roll, how many break falls you take, but how you experience the connection.
7. Have you ever visited the Hombu dojo in Japan? Do you think it is a necessary step in the development of an aikidoka to practice in Japan or have Japanese instructors?
Yes I have been to Hombu dojo a few times. The 1st time was in 1982 when Yamada sensei took some students to Japan. The 2nd time was in 2006 with Chiba sensei, when he took his newly promoted shihan to receive their certificates from the Doshu. Both trips were amazing! Training with other Japanese masters, teachers and students could not have been better. As serious aikido students finding teachers that have studied with O’Sensei I believe to be very important. There are not many of these people still around. Yet many of their students here in this country, have transmitted the teachings of their teachers.
8. I shared on tumblr. the following quote by you: It’s a human connection, a dialogue, the voice of which is movement. Aikido practice and teaching stimulates my curiosity about myself, others and life. Do you feel you were able to create deeper human connections and get to know yourself better with the help of aikido?
With any in-depth study, you become to know yourself better. If you are open and willing to put in the time there will be benefits along the way. This has been true for me with aikido, Feldenkrais work and dance. Learning to trust yourself, your teacher and your partners all contribute to a deep self-knowledge and growth. Aikido has a way of allowing you to look deep inside, to expose yourself. It is a very intimate martial art, peeling away layer by layer and finding your true self.
9. Do you think it is important in the development of an aikidoka to study the spiritual side of aikido also?
I believe it is important to study the spiritual side of aikido. During my time in San Diego with Chiba sensei Zazen was very important. We would do 3-day meditation retreats a few times a year. I have continued to keep meditation as part of my life. It is a very personal decision whether to study aikido with or without meditation practice. For me it has added a deeper dimension to who I am.
10. O'Sensei's teachings tell us about the fire and water, male and female balance . How do you see this applied to gender in aikido?
Whether we are creating a balance of fire and water, hard and soft, male and female what is important is the ability to be flexible. Not only having a flexible body, but a flexible mind as well: being available to change, to learn and to connect to ourselves, to others and to the world.