Roseville’s Aikido school strives for martial arts path less traveled
Bodies sailing through the air, senseless rage conquered by calm defense, destructive momentum turned into graceful re-direction — Aikido is a martial art that was born from both progressive thinking and ancient fighting traditions, and it now has local students clamoring to learn its secrets.
For the instructors at Aikido and Healing Center of Roseville, the message of their art comes down to positive attitude and empathetic energy in the face of confrontation.
Aikido was formed during a tectonic movement within Japanese culture. The roots of its style and techniques were first spread from the Takeda Samurai Clan to select members of public by Takeda Sokaku, whose father, Sokichi, was from one of the last true lines of samurai fading at the turn of the 19th century. Though some martial arts historians have classified Takeda Sokaku as a violent dualist who never truly gave up the lethality of his Samurai skills, what is undisputed is that one of his greatest students, Morihei Ueshiba, eventually departed on a very different spiritual path. Around 1937, Ueshiba began to transform the Takeda Clan’s fighting methods into Aikido, a new martial art that stresses flowing, circular movements balanced by a peaceful and even state of mind.
Aikido has since transcended from the confines of a martial art into the realm of thinking and ways of living.
Kevin Kemper, head instructor at Aikido and Healing Center of Roseville, has been studying Aikido since 1987. His first teacher was the late Tri Thong Dang, who founded the Budo Educational Center in Sacramento. Master Tri, as he was known, had been a direct student of Morihei Ueshiba in Japan.
“When you study with someone who knew (Ueshiba), it just feels like there is something transmitted from his spirit,” Kemper said. “We try to honor what he admonished his students to do, which is to blend with energy.”
Aikido’s approach to “blending” with an aggressor’s momentum comes directly from open-handed samurai swords techniques. On a cool Monday evening in June, AHCR’s assistant instructor Gordon Binz — who’s studied with a number of noted Aikido masters in California — guided one of his students through the intricacies of katana sword cuts.
“On the battlefield, there is constant motion,” Binz told the student, alluding to the wars of feudal Japan. “That’s the feeling you have to develop: It is constant motion and movement, and you have to keep it on.”
By studying the seamless crescent maneuvers of Japanese sword work, Aikido artists learn to re-direct an attacker’s force, often protecting both themselves and the would-be opponent by virtue of control-holds. Though some Aikido practioners can spin an attacker’s charge into potentially devastating air-born body throws, the traditional goal of Aikido is entirely defensive — with the hopes of not hurting the aggressor.
This core component of the art first drew Kemper to it, and it continues to captivate him.
“The metaphor of having someone’s strike coming at you, and blending with it instead of clashing against it, was a real epiphany to me,” Kemper said. “That’s what I’ve been seeking from that point on. I agree with what a famous sensei said about it, ‘It’s medicine for a sick world.’”
An arborist by trade, Kemper has extended another facet of Aikido’s view into the very structure of his dojo: The entire building, by Kemper’s design, uses state-of-the-art green-building techniques. Despite taking eight years to get the city of Roseville to approve the project, Kemper believes the massive reductions of energy his school and the surrounding businesses within it enjoy makes the final goal satisfying.
“The tree business fosters an affinity to using the world’s resources in a careful way,” he said. “To be able to build something that uses very little energy is a way of honoring nature.”
Being the only Aikido school between Fair Oaks and Nevada City, Kemper, Binz and others artists at AHCR are reaching out to invite more people in to the dojo doors to see if Aikido is a good fit for their lives.
“It’s not so much about us wanting to teach as it is about building a community of like-minded individuals,” Kemper explained. “And we can explore the Aiki path together.”