CofC Aikido Club: Learn self-defense from a Sensei

Watch out, College of Charleston, the Aikido Club has some wicked self-defense skills and you don’t want to mess with them! Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, these martial art gurus meet in the Johnson Physical Education Center to learn and practice the “way of harmony,” which is the English translation of the rather-difficult-to-pronounce Japanese word “Aikido.”

Freshman Breanna Porter kneeling in front of Morihei Ueshiba's picture (photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

Freshman Breanna Porter kneeling in front of Morihei Ueshiba’s picture (Photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

Founded in the 1930s by Morihei Ueshiba, this martial art focuses on strength, balance and flexibility. At one of the club’s practices last week, Sensei Bill Epperson placed a photo of “O’Sensei” (Morihei Ueshiba’s title, meaning “Great Teacher”) at the front of the room. Each student bowed to the photo and spoke words of respect to it. When asked what the photo meant, Sensei Epperson said, “Marital heritage is important to us and we want to respect that Aikido is his art.” Respect and appreciation were given to both Sensei Epperson and to the presence of “O’Sensei.”

As the class started, it was like any normal exercise class as the students stretched and did normal push-ups and sit-ups. However, out of no where, Sensei Epperson began shouting commands which I could not understand. I was later told that these words were “Ich, Ni, San, Shi, Go,” which are the numbers one through five in Japanese. Epperson was counting out the steps for each Aikido move, as his students simultaneously moved their hands, feet and bodies in various ways that were harmonious and almost lyrical. The students followed each direction and knew exactly what to do and how to move. It was reminiscent of a dance class and each move flowed fluidly into the next, creating a balanced and united sequence.

Sensei Epperson demonstrating a defense move (Photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

Sensei Epperson demonstrating a defense move (Photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

The next part of the class was the most interesting, when the group split into partners and worked on actual defense techniques. Bodies were spinning in circles and being pulled and pushed in all directions as the students learned how to protect themselves in a fight. I was often compelled to laugh in amazement as the Sensei demonstrated the approaches on students. At one point, Sensei Epperson spun one student around so fast I could barely follow along, and then somehow had him in a choke position, unable to move and probably unable to breathe. All of the students seemed to be able to do the defense tactics with little effort and ease and they made the structured, specific moves look simple. Whenever they were having trouble, Sensei Epperson was always willing to teach and demonstrate the proper steps.

Aikido’s main purpose is defending, rather than evoking a fight. With this in mind, Sensei Epperson focused on the defensive side of fighting and never encouraged the students to engage in violence. After watching the students, I sure would be afraid to start a fight with them and know that they could flip an attacker over and have them on the ground in a chokehold in seconds.

Students practicing defense techniques (photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

Students practicing defense techniques (photo by Jessica Wilkinson)

Though the technique practiced in the Aikido Club must have taken a long time to learn and memorize, freshman member Breanna Porter believes that it is worth it. She said when she first started coming to Aikido she looked like “a dying fish flopping around the room,” but overtime she learned how to do everything and fell in love with the art. Joining the Aikido Club is a great way to learn structure and balance and to develop strength and health. It is also a great way to meet new friends and get involved on campus. Interested students are encouraged to attend a practice on Monday, Wednesday or Friday in Johnson Center room J201 at 6:30 p.m.. If you do join, be sure to let all your friends know so that they won’t hurt themselves if they try to tussle with you.

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Jessica Wilkinson is a feature writer at CisternYard News. She is a sophomore majoring in Secondary Education and History with a minor in Political Science. In her free time, she can be found binge-watching Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars on Netflix, doing Muay Thai Kickboxing and spending as much time as possible on Pinterest. She aspires to be the best history teacher your kids will ever have while spending her summers writing and traveling the world.

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