UNH's Aikido Club promotes self-improvement and defensive strategies through martial arts

By Tenzin Yeshi
On November 20, 2012

Sporting a hakama, the traditional black belt skirt, Bruce Larson watches his students start their nightly practice. Larson is a third-degree black belt whose practice of Aikido dates back 18 years. Both Larson and his wife, Kathy Bird, are coaches of the Aikido Club at UNH. Although they both have full-time jobs - Larson is a middle school teacher and Bird is a school nurse - they manage to volunteer their nights to teach members of Aikido as much as they have learned from their own teachers. 

Aikido, a rather new form of martial arts compared to forms such as taekwondo and judo, has been practiced by people of all ages. The versatility and practicality of this form of martial arts is believed to be the primary reason for its popularity.

After World War II, Aikido was one of the only forms of martial arts that spread into the United States from Japan. Due to its nonviolent and peaceful nature, Aikido was approved by the United States for the continuation of its practice in Japan after the war. Aikido is primarily different from other martial arts forms because it is defensive rather than offensive, and shifts the focus to oneself. 

Larson and Bird previously lived in Washington D.C., where they witnessed a few robberies and a stabbing, which encouraged them to pick up Aikido as a form of defense. They then moved to New Hampshire, where they joined previous Aikido teachers at UNH and soon after became the new coaches of Aikido at UNH.

The Aikido Club was started at UNH in 1994 and has always remained a small but supportive group of martial art appreciators

From its start in the early 1900s, the teachings have been passed down to students like Maruyama, who now advises UNH's Aikido coaches. According to Larson, Maruyama is now 75 years old and still advises UNH's and other schools' Aikido coaches. 

Kirill Melnichak is a junior political science major who recently joined the Aikido club this September. He said practicing Aikido has helped him release stress and gain confidence, as he considers it a physical and mental activity. Melnichak said that Aikido is very easy to get into and members don't need to be physically active to join, which explains why Aikido can be practiced by virtually anyone.

More importantly, Aikido incorporates many defensive strategies including "wrist grabs" and using the opponent's energy to deflect their attacks in an effort to make it practical to learn. Larson also said that Aikido is applicable to college students physically and mentally, as it encourages focus on meditative breathing and "positive thinking"-all key to a student's success in everyday life. 

Campus Recreation has somewhat limiting guidelines for club sports in UNH. The Aikido Club is one of the few club sports that are facing discontinuation due to a low membership. Members and coaches of Aikido said they would like to urge students to discover the many applications of Aikido. 

Aikido Club meets in Studio 2 in the Whittemore Center on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

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