Aikido Brings Harmony to Life

Practice this nonviolent martial art at Capitol Hill Aikikai

Mike Martin Sensei handles an attack by student Amelia Feliciano while in the background James Nachbaur dispatches Michael Hancock.

Given that the non-competitive, self-defense oriented Japanese martial art aikido is most frequently translated as “the way of harmony,” it’s fitting that the only aikido dojo on the Hill is in completely harmony with its surroundings, to the point of being entirely hidden from view.

Nestled inside the Parish of St. Monica and St. James at 222 8th Street NE, Capitol Hill Aikikai is enjoying its sixth year as a non-profit, community-oriented dojo where students can practice this elegant martial art on Monday, Thursday, and alternate Wednesday nights. Founded by fifth-degree black belt Michael Martin and his wife, fourth-degree black belt Meipo Martin, the distinctly non-commercial dojo feels like one of those places that can only be found by those who’ve been there before.

The unostentatious nature of the practice space adds to the welcoming feeling you experience when you join this home-grown aikido community. Individuals young and old, novice and expert, are free to enjoy the mental relaxation that comes with exercise and the deep satisfaction that comes with growing a community.

“To us, a healthy dojo is like a healthy family,” Michael Martin explains. “Our students really enjoy practicing aikido and enjoy spending time with each other. They also help each other out when necessary."

Although Michael and Meipo Martin, who met in Hong Kong and who have been practicing aikido for 28 and 23 years respectively, have trained with the best aikido instructors in the world, they are quick to point out that aikido doesn’t require special skills. 

“You don’t have to be big, you don’t have to be strong, you don’t have to be fast,” assured Meipo Martin.

The self-defense benefits of aikido are evident as soon as the short, slight Martin throws an attacker to the floor. “People are always shocked that aikido works. It looks so pretty, they think it must be fake,” she laughed.

However, part of the beauty of aikido is that its benefits extend beyond the parish walls of the dojo. Amelia Feliciano summarized what her time with Capitol Hill Aikikai has done for her.

“I can translate aikido to my everyday life. It helps with everything from when you get road rage – or there’s a crazy guy yelling at you on the metro – to a meeting at work. It helps me deal with aggression and not have it escalate.”

While any city-dweller can grasp the utility of such added awareness, aikido may actually be the perfect activity for Capitol Hill residents, specifically.

“In every single dojo that I have practiced in or visited, you tend to have a lot of people who are very educated, with graduate degrees or more; a lot of PhDs,” surmised Meipo Martin. “People who are overeducated and like to think too much, they tend to be attracted to aikido!”

This may be why Martin spends so much time encouraging students to let go of their thoughts and rely on how aikido feels. “Please, have fun! Move, move! Don’t think too much,” she reminds them.

At Capitol Hill Aikikai, aikido feels fun. Martin’s instruction is sprinkled with disarming humor.

“I didn’t come up with it, so don’t ask me what it means,” she offers in explanation of a bit of Japanese aikido jargon. “We have a fancy name for everything. Don’t worry about fancy names.”

A speaker of five languages, Martin also relies on a dizzying array of metaphors to make her point. In a one-hour class, she may refer to “willow-like strength” to explain the gentle firmness that aikido requires, “the universe and a booger” to describe the relationship between an individual and an attacker, and “a cheap action figure whose arms and legs only move up and down” to emphasize the simplicity of aikido movements.

Beyond how fun classes can be at Capitol Hill Aikikai in particular, aikido in general appeals to individuals who are intrigued by martial arts but don’t like violence, for it seeks a win-win solution in which one doesn’t strive to destroy an attacker but doesn’t want to get hurt, either.

Such will be the message in a special upcoming self-defense class for women that Martin will offer April 9 and 16 at 7pm.

"Aikido teaches you how to remain calm when threatened, and how to avoid being hurt when attacked," Meipo explained. "I hope this class will show women that they can take more control over their lives.”

After all, it was a similar desire for control that led Michael Martin to aikido in the first place.

"I was working in a wine and beer store and looking for something to help me regain some confidence and balance in my life," he recalled. "I never imagined I would end up being a fifth-degree black belt and the chief instructor of a dojo."

For more information, call Capitol Hill Aikikai at 202-509-1632 or visit www.capitolhillaikikai.org.

Capitol Hill Aikikai student Amelia Feliciano practices a move on fellow student James Nachbaur.

Self-Defense Class for Women

April 9 and 16, 7 p.m.
Learn how to remain calm when threatened, and how to avoid being hurt when attacked.
Register at www.capitolhillaikikai.org or call 202-509-1632

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