DAVID JOHNSON SENSEI
Yondan (5th degree black belt)
I started training aikido in 1980 in Hawaii under Sadao Yoshioka Shihan and Ralph Glanstein Sensei. I feel very blessed to have had these two great but very different Sensei to learn from. I believe the meshing of their two styles was a wonderful balance for my own development.
In 1988 I was promoted to the rank of Shodan (1st degree black belt) and visited Japan for the first time with Yoshioka Sensei and 10 other aikidoists from Hawaii to attend the International Aikido Congress and the unveiling of the statue of O-Sensei, aikido’s founder, in his hometown of Tanabe. This experience was a catalyst for many more visits to Japan and training at the Hombu Dojo in Tokyo. I was fortunate to train there with Doshu and most of the Hombu Shihan and also to develop many wonderful relationships that have continued over the years when visiting Japan and also when Sensei from Japan visited us in Hawaii.
In 2002, I moved back to my home state of Indiana and found a wonderful group of people to train with at the Indianapolis Aikikai.
To me, and I know the same is true for many people, aikido is more than just a martial art. It is a part of my personal philosophy of life and as such something I try to practice in my daily. However, we should not forget aikido is also an effective and even deadly martial art. It should be practiced very seriously, carefully, and thoughtfully. At the same time training should be enjoyable and fun. If practiced with the correct balance of seriousness, safety, and fun, we can enjoy aikido training for a lifetime and at almost any age.
JOE LAVELLE SENSEI
Yondan (4th degree black belt)
I began my study of aikido in 1989 at Indiana University. After graduating from the university, I moved to Washington, D.C. where I continued my training at the Aikido Shobukan Dojo. I had the privilege to learn from a great many wonderful teachers there – these were the people I’d seen in books and videos. It was an exciting time for me – aikido was extremely popular due to the films of Steven Seagal – and I devoted a good deal of time to my training.
Later, I returned to the Midwest, continued training, and started teaching. It has been my good fortune to have studied with some excellent teachers…and good people. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to two people in particular: “Hank” Higashida Sensei and the late Kevin Choate Sensei. Both have left an indelible mark on my attitude toward training and my understanding of aikido.
Specifically, I am speaking about learning aikido “techniques” versus aikido. While there are martial techniques that are generally considered “aikido,” I think the most important part of aikido training lies in paying attention to balance, breathing, and relaxationwhile someone is trying to hit you or grab you. Aikido is not about how I demonstrate a technique, or how someone else demonstrates a technique. Rather, it is about learning how move your body to impact the movement of someone else whether that someone else is your training partner or someone intent on doing you harm. In either case, it is important to understand yourself and how you move. This is the most important lesson that I’ve learned from my teachers and hope to pass along to students at the dojo.
Sandan (3rd degree black belt)
My aikido training began in 1987 in Kagoshima, Japan. There, I studied with several senior students of Sunadomari Sensei, the founder of Manseikan Aikido. Though I started training only a few months before departing Japan, the very warm and welcoming experience I had with my teachers, including Sunadomari Sensei, inspired me to make aikido a part of my life.
After returning to the U.S., I continued training at the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba-affiliated dojo at Indiana University. In 1992, I moved to Washington, DC and trained at the A.S.U. headquarters, Aikido Shobukan Dojo. I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to train for many years with Saotome Sensei and his senior students, many of them highly influential teachers in their own right. In 2007, I returned to Indiana and began training and teaching at the Indianapolis Aikikai.
I’m grateful to everyone I have trained with over the years: not just the teachers, but literally everyone I’ve trained with. Each person provides a unique experience from which to learn. Although aikido has a structural foundation of martial techniques adapted from the ancient battlefield for self-defense, the true meaning of the techniques unfolds as the individual develops understanding and intuition regarding the integration of mind, body, time, space, and energy. Aikido provides the opportunity for fundamental change. As a cooperative, community-based endeavor, aikido is a kind of human interaction laboratory. Through interacting with and participating in the growth of others, the individual evolves.
ERIC WESLEY SENSEI
Nidan (3rd degree black belt)
I began my Aikido practice in 1997 when I was living in Kumamoto, Japan as a high school exchange student. At the time I was training in Iwama-ryu Aikido under a senior student of the late Saito-sensei. Iwama-ru provides a firm grounding in Aikido kihon, and a main focus of the school is the relationship between Aikido technique and the movements of the bokken and jo. I have many fond memories of practicing jo kata after class with my senpai in the dojo courtyard.
After returning home I entered Indiana University, studying Japanese and religion. I began training in the Aikido Schools of Ueshiba, training principally under George Bevins and attending seminars frequently with Saotome-sensei, Ikeda-sensei, Kevin Choate and William Gleason. The extraordinary depth and vision of the instructors I met opened up new and unexpected areas of inquiry into the art. Those years were a very rich time of my life. My training and my academic studies complimented each other well, and, travelling for training, I met a diverse array of people. I remember many nights just sitting and talking with my fellow aikidoka.
I continue to train today under Ikeda-sensei and Tres Hofmeister. Through them, the focus of my practice has shifted towards the internal aspects of Aikido, based on balance and physical organization. The Indianapolis Aikikai is a wonderful place to investigate and deepen one’s Aikido. We have a spirit in the dojo of exploration, based on humility and mutual respect. The people here bring with them a broad range of experience, both in aikido and in life. It’s a wonderful place to develop buyu, friendships based on martial training.
CHRIS KUPIAINEN SENSEI
Nidan (3rd degree black belt)
QUINN OSBURN SENSEI
Nidan (3rd degree black belt)
KAREN VALENCIC SENSEI
Nidan (2nd degree black belt)
I was fascinated by aikido long before it was available locally; initially by Terry Dobson’s story “A kind word turneth away wrath,” a fascinating story about applying aikido to everyday life. Then years later, aikido popped up again in 1990 when I saw Tom Crum demonstrate The Magic of Conflict with aikido. I felt so moved by the work, I made a pretty radical change in careers to do leadership and team development with content grounded in aikido principles. I’ve penned a book, Spiral Impact: The Power to Get It Done with Grace, which applies aikido principles to conflict resolution.
Now almost 30 years later aikido remains an important part of my life. I am one of the early members of the Indianapolis Aikikai founded by Sensei George Bevins around 1991. I’ve attended numerous seminars and camps by Shihan, most frequently with Saotome Sensei and Ikeda Sensei. Twenty years into my practice, the late Kevin Choate Sensei had a very profound impact on my practice. He opened a deeper door to the subtleties of blending that is foundational yet often elusive in aikido.
But my aikido grows mostly through showing up to practice 3X a week with our amazing group of aikidoka. All bring their own aikido gifts and generously share. It’s wonderful to practice where everyone is interested in helping each other grow.
Shodan (1st degree black belt)