Focused and poised, the warriors bow to their opponents before engaging in a series of attacks. Dressed in white, robe-like gi and black-and-blue pleated belts called hakamas — traditional Japanese fighting garments — they practice aikido, a martial art that combines intense physical conditioning with the philosophy of showing compassion towards those intending harm. Though they are fighting one another, the object of the conflict is to provoke the other person to retaliate in ways that are not destructive.
Founded in the late 1940s by Morihei Ueshiba, aikido is derived from the ancient samurai arts but aims at more peaceful confrontation.
“The original samurai arts, [like] Aiki-jujutsu, which is what aikido directly evolved from, all finished every technique with a killing blow. Having gone through World War II, fought in Manchuria and been imprisoned in Manchuria, Morihei Ueshiba thought it was better to not necessarily kill people — maybe that wasn’t the best option ­— and so he created aikido,” Lance Strahl (MSB ’13) said.
Strahl, who has trained in aikido since his freshman year of college, is a member of Georgetown University Aikikai, a small, eight-person group that meets three times a week in Riverside Lounge to learn this martial art. The organization, created by head instructor Nick Kiritz from the Aikido Shobukan Dojo in Tacoma Park, Md., has existed for over 20 years and still maintains a close network of current Georgetown students and alums.
“Originally, you weren’t allowed to have student groups that did any sort of activity like physical training that weren’t sports, so basically, [Kiritz] had to find a way to get it by as a nonphysical activity because it wasn’t a sport, either — it’s not like judo where there’s competition and things like that,” Strahl said.
After two years of practicing privately with a group of students, however, Kiritz was able to work with the Student Activities Commission and change the system to permit campus groups like GU Aikido that engaged in physical activities that were not sports to be officially sanctioned oganizations.
Though recruiting new members has been an issue in the past, club members feel that their relatively new location in Riverside has led to increased and more skilled participation.
Drew Reissaus (COL ’06), who still practices with GU Aikikai, explained that when he had joined the club as a freshman in 2003 it was difficult to find a space on campus that was well suited for training in aikido and fostering a committed membership.
“We trained in a couple of different places. We would get room reservations sometimes over in the Leavey Center or in classrooms in the ICC,” Reissaus said. “And as I made it into my later years here, this space opened up here in Riverside, and it gave us the chance to have a dedicated spot where we could keep mats, which really advanced the ability of the club to train. And we were able to recruit a lot of people and grow the club as a result of that.”
While GU Aikikai welcomes new members — no previous martial arts experience is necessary — the small size of the organization has allowed for more individual improvement.
 “It’s more directed,” Strahl said. “We can work at a pace that fits everybody, and you can learn at your own speed. It’s not a giant class of 40 people where everyone is flailing about and no one knows what they’re doing and there’s one instructor trying to explain everything.”
At the beginning of their practices, the group stretches and rolls together. Then, the members work on enhancing more specific skills in smaller groups, like controls through wristlocks.
“Our training is based on the instructor showing a technique, and then, you’ll pair up with someone and work with them on that, and you’ll switch back and forth on the different roles: one person attacking and the other person doing whatever the technique you’re working on, … whether it’s a throw or something else,” Reissaus said.
Kiritz added meditation to his trainings in order to balance the intense exercise of aikido with what Strahl called a “destressing component.”
Kiritz has also found other instructors for GU Aikikai from his network of more experienced students and from the Aikido Shobukan Dojo in Takoma Park, Md., where he serves as a member of the board of directors. GU Aikikai visits that Dojo a few times each year to practice and takes part in Test Day, an event in which students perform various techniques before judges who determine if they can move to a higher level of training.
As assistant instructor for the club, Reissaus also teaches classes when Kiritz is not available for practices. In this role, he realizes that one can acquire a more comprehensive knowledge of aikido by practicing with people from various levels of experience.
“You’re seeing people [who] are at the point where you were a while back, not necessarily that long [ago]. But I mean, you’re still showing up, you’re training, you’re learning. … We learn from new people all the time,and [work] with new people [who] deal with things differently, so the way you react to somebody who’s been training for years is different [from how you deal with] somebody who just comes in off the street,” Reissaus said.
Strahl, who did tae kwon do before coming to Georgetown, felt welcomed by GU Aikikai and the chance to  further his training in martial arts.
“We’re not a closed group. … [Aikido is] not all about fighting, it’s a lot about community and health and just generally being active,” Strahl said.

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