Aikido club returns, teaches peaceful martial art

By Elena Schauwecker, Staff Reporter

 SIU’s aikido club has returned after a year of COVID-19 restrictions. This club, hosted three times per week at the Student Recreation Center, is unique in its non-violent approach to martial arts. 

Aikido originated in Japan as a synthesis of martial art, philosophy and religion. According to Justin Craft, an instructor of the SIU Aikido club, the art was popularized in the US just after WWII, when soldiers who had learned overseas returned to share their new skills. Craft compared Aikido to partnered Tai chi, in that the ultimate goal is for no one to get hurt. 

“It is an unusual response in karate or Taekwondo to be able to stop a conflict without reacting very violently,” Craft said. “In Aikido, what we seek to do is to absorb the attacking energy, redirect the attacking energy and maintain our safety and the safety of the person attacking us, so that basically we dissuade them from continuing their attack.” 

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Another important aspect of Aikido is the ability to fall down without getting hurt. Knowing how to fall safely can significantly increase one’s courage in a dangerous situation.

“I’m not sure everybody realizes the confidence that can be gained from learning how to fall down,” Craft said. “Whenever somebody attacks, somebody gets hit, somebody falls down. Learning how to do that safely does really foster your confidence.”  

There is speculation within the martial arts community as to whether Aikido is a practical method of self-defense. The basis for such criticism is that Aikido is primarily learned in kata, a method of preset attack and response conditions. Celebrity fighters such as Joe Rogan have openly written off Aikido, claiming the objective of protecting an attacker is unrealistic in a street fight where the attacker genuinely wants to hurt someone. 

Craft, however, combats this denouncement by explaining Aikido is about preventing fights in the first place through the use of hyper-awareness and attentiveness to surroundings. While he said he recognizes conflict cannot always be avoided, paying attention to the situation rather than being visibly distracted can discourage attackers.

 “Most of it is about being present and ahead of the danger,” Craft said. “If someone is trying to hit me, my best option is to not be there. Situational awareness and avoidance is a much better self-defense than the philosophy of ‘I’ve learned these special moves, I’m going to try and use them.’”

 Aikido also utilizes three weapons: a ken, a jo and a tanto—respectively, a sword, a staff and a knife. All three weapons are made of wood to do minimal damage to opponents. Over the past year, due to COVID-19, SIU Aikido club has primarily focused on weapons, as they allow students to fight without being in close contact. 

 The Aikido club took a hard blow from COVID limitations. As a close-contact indoor activity, many of the skills the members typically practice became violations of the rules, and there was not enough space for all students to be present and properly distanced.

 Other martial arts clubs also suffered for the same reasons, such as the Japanese swordsmanship (Gekiken) club, which had to stop meeting during COVID but is hoping to restart in the fall. 

“I haven’t given up on the group,” said Peter Dunkel, the creator of the Gekiken club. “But I do intend on rebranding in August, as I’ve learned what things students are interested in and what they are not. I am also going to form a HEMA (historical European martial arts) Italian longsword club.”

 Craft said he is hopeful that martial arts groups will be able to get back off the ground now that COVID restrictions are loosening. While Aikido is not a competitive sport, his team travels to seminars together and tends to form family-like bonds, which they have not been able to do in over a year. 

 As the Aikido club opens back up, Craft said everyone in the Carbondale community is welcome to come and try it out, whether they are beginners or experienced. The club meets on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, as well as Saturday in the early afternoon. 

Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected]

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