U Aikido Club marks 30th anniversary with seminar

by Ben Goessling

Most people would do a double take at the sight of a teen-age boy, sword fighting with a middle-age woman.

But that’s exactly what happened at St. Paul’s Battle Creek Middle School last week.

The pairing, while peculiar anywhere else, was commonplace at the Twin Cities Aikido Center’s summer seminar, which Minnesota’s aikido club co-hosted as part of its 30th anniversary celebration.

Created just 77 years ago, aikido is based on a number of traditional martial arts but takes a radically different twist on self-defense than most styles of combat.

Since aikido aims to avoid injury to an attacker in self-defense, it relies less on speed and strength than other forms of martial arts.

Which is why people of all ages are able to practice it.

“In aikido, techniques are performed for correctness of motion, and strength isn’t a prerequisite,” said Patrick Riley, the Minnesota aikido club’s chief instructor. “You’re not trying to overpower your attacker with any sort of strength.”

Most aikido methods involve pinning or throwing attackers to keep them off balance, and aikido’s primary goal is to immobilize attackers, not injure them.

“The techniques are meant to change the attacker’s mind with a little bit of pain, but the goal is to pin the attacker so they are dissuaded from any further attack,” Riley said.

And while experts acknowledge aikido is not a premiere form of self-defense, many find it to be an excellent form of exercise.

“I started doing this to stay in shape, and I’ve been practicing for 30 years,” said Darrell Tangman, a former instructor with the Minnesota and Twin Cities aikido clubs who now teaches at the Atlanta Aikido Center. “It’s easier for those of us who can’t move quite as fast anymore.”

Tangman was one of Minnesota’s first instructors and said he initially taught from 10 to 12 students.

But because of aikido’s wide-reaching appeal, the student membership in the University’s club soon found itself in the minority.

“We grew for several years, but we grew in part due to retaining people after they graduated,” Tangman said. “The University eventually got unhappy with us for having more non-students than students, which is why we formed the Twin Cities Aikido Center.”

Tangman said the Twin Cities Aikido Center now has between 85 and 90 adults and around 50 children taking classes.

The Twin Cities Aikido Center works closely with the University’s club, which includes about 10 or 12 students.

Tangman said aikido is still one of the nation’s less popular martial arts, partially because “the younger guys like the competition,” which aikido does not offer.

The lack of competition, however, gives aikido a unique angle in the American sports scene.

“We get a lot of people who say, ‘I can practice this and I don’t have to try and win a trophy,'” Tangman said. “Those are the people who stay with us.”

Lynn Litterer is one of those people. After participating in the University club for several years as an undergraduate, the graduate student is now the club’s secretary.

Aikido teaches a philosophy of poise in the face of conflict, and self-improvement – a philosophy Litterer said helps her succeed in all areas of her life.

“If I can get through a practice where two 6-foot men try to attack me with swords, I can get through standing up and talking to my classmates for an hour,” she said.