Women of Aikido: on love, harmony and empowerment
by Ayn Veronica L. de Jesus
(Note: This article originally appeared in the print edition of the Manila Times on February 13, 2005.)
She has ivory skin, dresses in the latest fashion, loves two-hour sessions at the parlor, and looks better than most women of 50 years.
She is also her husband's bodyguard.
Chie Dumilon, a first dan black belt, has been studying the Japanese martial art called aikido for nine years at the Makati Aikido Club at the YMCA. Originally enrolling her teen-age daughter, she was persuaded by the sensei (teacher) to try a session. Her daughter quit after a few years. Chie stayed, and is all the better for it.
The ai in aikido
Did you know that the ai is the Japanese and Chinese world for "love"? Hence, we say aishtemasu in Japanese and gua ai di in Chinese. Ai can also mean harmony, union, oneness, compassion, and other synonyms under that. Roughly translated, the Japanese martial art aikido then means "the way to harmonize energies."
As students of the martial are taught that aikido seeks to harmonize opposing forces. This is done by leveraging on the opponent's strength and transforming it into your own power.
Chie says the martial art has given her confidence and taught her perseverance. Having achieved her black belt when she was 49 years old was no easy feat, something her husband is proud of.
"He loves it that I am healthy, alert and more fit than most women my age."
When they go to Divisoria and similar places, it is she who observes other people, she who watches out for pickpockets, she who acts at the first sign of aggression.
At home, things take a turn for the normal. Chie still does laundry, cooks, cleans, keeps house and takes care of her family's needs. She defers to a very kind husband who showers her with affection.
Power without physical strength
Chie may be the few women who have achieved some success in the martial arts. But let's face it. Martial arts remains a predominantly man's world. Lilet Llaguno, a six-year aikido practitioner who recently tested for first dan black belt promotion, agrees. Even with that, "It's something I can totally call my own."
Trying to outgrow the shadow of four doting-often annoying-older brothers wasn't easy. Lilet had to be tough to survive the teasing, heckling, roughing up in the family. "With aikido, I feel can hold my own."
That's not to say a woman has to be rippling with muscles to pack a punch or to kick butt. Ella Allado, who weighs about 95 pounds, is a very attractive doctor with a very slight frame. She is also very married to senior aikido brown belter. It was he who persuaded Ella to try aikido nearly a year ago.
Having first learned a more aggressive Korean martial art she describes as "brutal and confrontational," she admits that "I was not the athletic type, and was always afraid of going into that class. Afraid of being hurt by the kicking, punching, the shouting."
But when she started aikido, "I learned that you don't need physical strength to get something done. There are other ways to solve a problem."
The common interest with her husband has strengthened the bond. Perhaps with Ella and her husband, the spirit of aikido is recognized for what it truly is. You now the harmony of energies?
"The greatest lesson I learned from aikido is humility"-humility to admit that she will never know everything, and must always open your mind to learn new things.
"There is never an end to the learning in aikido. So much, so much to discover of yourself in aikido," says Martha del Rosario, a full-time radio disk jockey who also recently tested for black belt promotion.
In aikido, there is no place for arrogance. You see, in each practice, a student learns a different lesson. One day you discover proper footwork, next day it is posture, or connectedness, centering, awareness, wrist rotation or one of the many aspects of the martial art. It is endless fine-tuning, an infinite attempt to perfect the craft.
Jing Abellera, a senior blue belt who has practiced the martial art for two years, says she is thankful for the balance that aikido gives, apart from family and work. Single-blessedness and the frenzied pace in an advertising agency have submerged many of her colleagues in a life of work, work, work. Recently, setbacks within the company forced her team to shelve some plans.
"But I just realized that I wasn't totally affected by it. I was thankful that I had aikido. Because of that, I'm able to help my work colleagues and close friends who were greatly affected by the setback at work." Jing believes it is important to have other things going in a person's life-physical, social, intellectual, etc-to keep a healthy balance.
Martha has likewise experimented with other arts that she believes complement aikido--tai-chi, arnis, running, meditation and yoga.
For her part, Lilet says "I've become more sensitive to other's moods and needs.
"I used to be selfish. Everything was about me. But since aikido, I've become more tolerant."
To avoid animosity, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, eliminated the competitions. A student sets her own standards at her own pace. Such practice continues to be in place today. When the sensei sees she is ready, he recommends that she take the promotion exam.
Even before the exam starts, the student has already triumphed-over years of punishing training, physical injuries and otherwise, moral battles, and sleepless nights.
More than that, "I developed a higher regard for women when I met the senior women aikidoka," Jing says. "They are hardworking, determined. They do not try to be man's equal. But they can hold their own."
"We were not given special privileges just because we were women," Lilet seconds. And when given such privileges, they demand equal treatment.
Outside of work, aikido "has given me a challenge and sense of accomplishment," Jing says.
"It empowers people who are not athletic," Ella says. "In aikido, I realized that." a pause, "I have strength."
Rei to that.