Aikido class celebrates five years of martial arts at Rowan Rec Center

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Fighting doesn’t always mean conflict. For five years Rowan Akido’s meetings have saved punches for self-defense, relaxation, and exercise.

Leading the weekly martial arts practice is Sensai Stephen Fleming, a Rowan alumni of the class of 2011, and the current assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

In January 2012, Fleming started Rowan Aikido in collaboration with local aikido dojo, Aikido Agatsu Dojo in Washington Township. At the end of this semester, the class will celebrate its fifth anniversary.

“Aikido’s different from most martial arts styles,” explained junior electrical and computer engineering major David Specht, a first-level orange belt who has been a member of Rowan Aikido for five semesters. “Whereas in most of them you throw blows like kicks, punches, and jumps, aikido is really just for defending.”

“We’re fitting a unique group that might not otherwise come and do stuff at the Rec Center.”

The group has run self-defense workshops at residence halls and performed demonstrations at the spring Asian Cultural Festival for the past three years. Earlier this semester, Agatsu Dojos hosted a free class for Rowan’s Japanese Culture Club.

In January 2012, Fleming started Rowan Aikido in collaboration with local aikido dojo, Aikido Agatsu Dojo in Washington Township. - Staff Photo/Jennifer Crawford
In January 2012, Fleming started Rowan Aikido in collaboration with local aikido dojo, Aikido Agatsu Dojo in Washington Township. – Staff Photo/Jennifer Crawford

“I’ve noticed that this is a niche type of subject; it’s not something that a lot of people know about,” Fleming said.

He explained that, each semester, many of his regular students forego purchasing a group exercise pass in favor of the less expensive aikido-only semester pass.

“That tells me that we’re fitting a unique group that might not otherwise come and do stuff at the Rec Center, which is always good,” Fleming explained. “I know the Rec Center shares the same mission of giving each student some way to be active.”

Abigail Palen, a senior computer science major, joined Rowan Aikido earlier this semester. As a former practitioner of Korean martial art taekwondo, Palen appreciates the defensive emphasis of aikido.

“I feel like aikido might be a better fit for me because it’s all about deflecting attacks rather than brute strength,” she said. “I’m a tiny girl without much muscle strength. This might actually be something I could do in real life.”

Fleming describes Rowan Aikido as a way for students to immerse themselves in a communal aspect of Japanese culture. - Staff photo/Jennifer Crawford
Fleming describes Rowan Aikido as a way for students to immerse themselves in a communal aspect of Japanese culture. – Staff photo/Jennifer Crawford

Beneath Palen’s desire to practice aikido is a general appreciation for Japanese culture. She is currently working toward a Certificate of Undergraduate Study in Japanese with a concentration in Asian Studies.

She and Amanda Stillwell, a freshman art major, each became interested in learning aikido after Fleming visited their Japanese language courses to promote the group.

“I thought the fighting style was pretty cool, plus there’s traditional Japanese fighting,” Stillwell said. “They are very traditional with the way they fight, and there’s certain protocols that teach you how to respect other people when entering.”

“You won’t see trophies. You won’t see competitions among the people in our dojos. It’s very much focused on the betterment of yourself.”

Fleming described Rowan Aikido as a way for students to immerse themselves in a communal aspect of Japanese culture.

“Our dojo, and aikido in general, really prides itself on helping students be victorious over themselves, and not the other person,” he said. “So you won’t see trophies. You won’t see competitions among the people in our dojos. It’s very much focused on the betterment of yourself … If [students] are looking to seriously try a martial art, this is it.”

Students interested in Rowan Aikido can attend Monday meetings from 7 to 8 p.m. by buying either group exercise passes at the Rec Center or the $25 full-semester aikido-only pass. For more information, check out their ProfLink.

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