I’ve just started reading Women in Aikido, by Andrea Siegel, a book with several interviews of women with black belts in Aikido. The book was published in 1993, so it’s a little bit dated, but so far I like it for not being a complete sales pitch for Aikido, and because the women talk about the challenges and the “dark side” of Aikido as well as sharing their passion for the art.
Can Aikido Women Defend Themselves?
In chapter two I’ve found the first story I’ve ever heard about a women actually defending herself with Aikido. Thankfully I’ve never been in a situation where my “skills” have been put to the test, but I’ve often thought about how much of what I’ve learned would be useful. The stories I’ve heard from others who have actually used their Aikido skills usually involves kids (or motercyclists) falling off their bike and doing a forward roll, protecting themselves from injury. Mostly I practice Aikido because I find it fun and interesting. The recent #metoo wave makes me think that more women should be practicing martial arts of some kind, and about whether Aikido is practical enough to be useful in real-life situations.
The story is in the chapter about Lorraine DiAnne, a student of Chiba Sensei.
“A few months ago, a drunk ex-friend of mine broke into my house, and tried to physically assault me. He wasn’t able to at all. I was quite able to take care of myself.”
She called the police, who told her that it would be 20-30 minutes before they could send a police car. She replied, “If you’re going to take that long, send an ambulance because he’ll need it.”
Video: Lorraine DiAnne Sensei teaching ai hanmi irimi nage
Sexism in Aikido: Overshadowed
Lorraine also talks about being overshadowed by her ex-husband:
“He and I were the same rank. He was very threatened by my abilities, which I never understood… When people would ask me who was better, I would say he was. If people asked him, he would say he was.
“In the dojo, he took all the positions of responsibility and power. If we ran a test, he was the one who called out the names of the techniques that people had to do. When decisions were being made, he was the one who stated what the decision was. We would talk about it, but I was kept in the background.”
On Being “Sensei”
She later left her husband and started her own dojo. I really appreciate her honesty when she talks about trying to find a balance between “Lorraine” and being “Sensei”:
“I say to my students, ‘When we’re within the four walls, I’m Sensei. But outside of the four walls, I’m Lorraine. It’s really important that you know that, and are able to tell the difference. Don’t try to make me into Sensei when I’m not supposed to be. And don’t make Sensei into Lorraine when she’s not supposed to be.’
“That helps. They can see that I’m trying to balance the power. I could be Sensei all the time. I did that for a while. I didn’t know I was doing it until people who didn’t know anything about the martial arts started telling me, ‘God, you act like we all owe you something. Like we all have to do the effort to talk to you because you don’t go looking to talk to us.’ “
I’ve noticed that some teachers have this struggle in setting personal boundaries with their students. There are teachers who are so aloof that it’s difficult to have a real conversation with them, and others who perhaps overextend themselves in trying to be friendly, and then find they need to pull back in. As much as I respect the skill and experience of all these teachers, I’ve always leaned towards Sensei who still know how to be just people as well, and are confident interacting with people in a natural way.
Why do Women Practice Aikido?
What first inspired me about Aikido was a quote by O’ Sensei, “When an opponent comes forward, move in and greet him; if he wants to pull back, send him on his way.” At the time I had just experienced a major disappointment in my life, being turned down for something that I had been striving towards for several years. I was looking for a way to keep fighting in a way that wasn’t confrontational.
In the introduction to Women in Aikido, Siegel tells this short story:
“While talking with a car salesman, I mentioned this book. He said, ‘They’re probably all really angry at men and do martial arts to get revenge, huh?’ I said, ‘No. Consistently they tell me that their practice is a search for peace within themselves, and a way to deal with the world that has dignity.’ He paused a moment and said, ‘Oh, it’s a spiritual practice.’ (I didn’t buy the car.)”
Here are some more videos of Lorraine DiAnne Sensei:
- “Lorraine DiAnne.” Women in Aikido, by Andrea Siegel, North Atlantic Books, 1993, pp. 20–41.
- Ueshiba, Morihei, and John Stevens. The Art of Peace. Shambhala, 2018.