Kokikai Aikido Club Connects Body, Mind With Self-Defense

This is the first in a series of Reporter’s Notebooks about MIT club and intramural sports. The Tech will send writers to various activities to provide readers with firsthand accounts of MIT athletics.

Looking back on my brief stint at the Kokikai Aikido Club, I’ve learned two things. First, playing with pretend knives and flipping people over can be a lot of fun. Second, there’s a reason why people say, “Don’t try this at home.”

I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the MIT Kokikai Aikido Club this past Wednesday. Kokikai Aikido is a modern Japanese martial art that teaches coordination of mind and body using self-defense techniques to develop one’s internal energy or Ki, according to the club’s Web site.

As I headed to the second floor of DuPont, I discovered that quite a few martial arts clubs meet around the same time. Since the Web site didn’t teach me how to pronounce the club’s name properly, I had a slightly difficult time finding the right room. How did I ever find my way? Well, I popped my head into several rooms and asked, “What club is this?” until I heard the answer I was looking for. As I walked in, I saw five guys on the mats doing warm-ups being led by black belt counting off in what I assumed was another language.

(It wasn’t until we were leaving that I found out she was counting in English but leaving out the consonants to shout more effectively.)

As I took off my shoes and signed a waiver stating that any grievous bodily harm would be my own fault, I noticed a sign at the front of the room with the four basic principles of Kokikai Aikido: Keep One Point to Develop Calmness, Relax Progressively, Correct Posture in Everything, and Develop Your Positive Mind. Since my journey to find the club took longer than expected, I joined in on the warm-ups a bit late while everyone was stretching and doing some tumbling.

In the middle of my pathetic attempts at rolling and tumbling, two new black belts caught my attention when one of them ran and did an impressive move, jumping high in the air and falling to the ground with a perfect tumble. Once we finished the warm-ups, the real fun started when the high-flying tumbler, who turned out to be the Sensei, moved to the front of the room.

Next came the part of the class in which I feared I would get my ass kicked: the fighting. As Kokikai Aikido is a martial art that employs self-defense techniques, we started with two techniques used in response to a punching opponent. The simpler one involved evading the punch, while simultaneously grabbing your opponent and bringing him down. It took me a little while to master, but my partner was considerate of my slow learning curve. She even helped me with my technique so that I could knock her down more easily.

The other two defenses we learned against punching, one of which I tried to reproduce back at Next House to disappointing results, were a little more complex. The first one consisted of pushing the attacker’s hand back, grabbing his leg, and pushing him off balance, while the second required the defender to twist the attacker’s arms and knock him to the ground. While I could decently perform the moves myself, it was another story when my partner was attacking me. This is because falling properly is very important in Kokikai Aikido. My version consisted of the following: instead of trying to sit as I fell, I’d always attempt to catch myself with my right arm. Therefore, the pain in my right arm as I type this signifies an important lesson in Kokikai Aikido that I won’t soon forget.

During the last part of class, we played with knives! Actually, they were just sticks of wood, but we practiced moves to defend ourselves against knife attacks. My favorite part was pretending to rob someone by grabbing him and sticking a “knife” to his chest. (Fellow students, don’t be alarmed — the only time I actually use a knife is when I’m cutting my food.) When the “knife” was to my chest, I had to grab the attacker’s wrist and hold it close to my chest. My initial thought was that it was stupid to bring the knife closer to me, but it actually gave me control of the knife and made it easy for me to turn around, crouch down, and knock my attacker down.

The first couple of times, I wasn’t so good at controlling the “knife” and would’ve stabbed myself in a real-life situation. But just as I was getting the hang of the move, the Sensei yelled out something, signifying the end of practice. We bowed to our partners and to the principles hanging at the front of class before walking out of DuPont.

All in all, my experience with the MIT Kokikai Aikido Club was a positive one. I learned how to say the club’s name properly, and I learned some cool moves. One of the best parts of the club is how open it is to beginners; the three black belts in the club were happy to help out the less experienced members. The martial arts moves we learned were actually practical and relatively easy-to-learn defensive maneuvers that would be useful to anyone. And, of course, I liked the fact that I didn’t get my ass kicked nearly as badly as I thought I would.

I’d recommend this club to anyone looking to master some self-defense techniques or take up an unpronounceable hobby. With only 15 members, it’s small enough that you’ll meet everyone and feel comfortable asking for help with challenging techniques. For those who do go, just remember to not be stupid like me and hurt your arm. The MIT Kokikai Aikido Club meets every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 7:15–9 p.m.