Aikido in Cary, North Carolina

Promotions: Ariela Marcus-Sells

Photo courtesy of Lori Hargis-Johnson

In May of 2017, Ariela Marcus-Sells successfully passed her Shodan test at the Aikido World Alliance Spring Camp in Atlanta, Georgia. Ariela is one of the founding members of Hemlock Bluffs Aikido, and trained formerly with Josh Paul Sensei of Aikido of South Brooklyn. She moved to North Carolina in 2015 to take a position in the Religious Studies Department at Elon University, where she teaches classes in Islamic Studies. Below is an excerpt from her Shodan exam essay, in which she reflects on aikido teaching and learning.

On my first day of training, when I stepped onto the mat and spun my way through a first round of aiki-taiso exercises, I had the sense that I was at the very beginning of something vast and complicated. I had forgotten (if I had ever really known), just how disorienting that sensation can be.

As I advanced and saw new members join my dojo, I saw how varied students were at the very beginning of their training. Some could execute beautiful forward rolls on their first day, and others had trouble pivoting without falling over. But at no stage did any of my teachers or sempai lament that a new student wasn’t “where they should be;” that a fifth kyu lacked the skills of a nidan; or that someone was not advancing as quickly as they “should.” Each of us occupied a unique position determined by time, ability, and determination and moving a student forward required understanding exactly where she stood at any given moment.

So even as I extended myself forward – often in confusion – I saw my teachers reach out to meet me, to establish the connection that made movement possible. And I learned that this pedagogy was an extension of the same process involved in moving a person physically, which required determining an uke’s position, movement, and energy and then connecting to them in that place, at that moment.

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