The Martial Art of Politics--Aikido, Gandhi, and King Winter 2019

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“The techniques of Aikido are intended as tools for us to use in examining the nature of power, to engage in uncompromising self-scrutiny, and to realize our potential as powerful, compassionate, creative, self-aware human beings.”–Mary Heiny Sensei Aikido is a Japanese martial tradition that combines the samurai arts of swordwork and grappling with the philosophical desire to forge a path of harmony in the face of determined opposition. As such, it addresses situations of conflict that manifest themselves physically, but also offers insight into how to redirect the energies–social, psychological, or political–that might otherwise become conflict in one or another aspect of our lives. As a martial art, Aikido teaches us more than simply how to survive; it also teaches us how to physically express our noblest intentions in movements that protect not only ourselves but the attacker as well. Martin Luther King famously observed that “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.” Aikido, a physical expression of nonviolence, is the alternative approach made manifest–the light that can drive out darkness and the love that can drive out hate. The physical training (10 am-noon each weekday morning in Currier Ballroom) will improve each student’s strength, balance, posture, and flexibility. Everyone will also learn how to throw friends twice their size across the room. About 25% of training time will be devoted to sword, staff, and dagger techniques. The academic component of the course will engage with how the physical training resonates with selected writings on nonviolence (Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and theoretician Gene Sharp) and the tactical practices of successful nonviolent protest campaigns. Each student will research and profile a successful nonviolent campaign, explain why it worked, explain what was “aikido” about it, and in small groups will pick a target and draft a plan for a contemporary protest campaign on a topic of their choosing. Each group will be responsible for crafting speech text, a tactical analysis of their proposed campaign, and a social media plan. Actually implementing the campaign is not a part of the course. By integrating physical and intellectual components, the course seeks to forge in each student a stronger and more coherent perspective on how the pursuit and embodiment of harmony can resolve the conflicts that we so often encounter. Joining us for several sessions will be local scholar Stewart Burns, author of the award-winning MLK biography To the Mountaintop. Additional relevant experiences, such as meditation practice, outdoor misogi, and feature films (Gandhi, Selma, etc.) will be woven into the course as schedules permit. Students do not have to be especially athletic, and in Aikido women train as equals with men. Students are encouraged to correspond with the instructor ( before registration begins if they have questions. Adjunct Instructor Bio: Robert Kent ’84 spent 3 years in Kyoto, Japan earning his Sho Dan (first degree black belt), directly after majoring in both Philosophy and Religion at Williams. He currently holds a Yon Dan rank (Fourth degree black belt), having studied for 21 years at Aikido West in Redwood City under Frank Doran Shihan, where he helped run the youth program for 18 years. He is currently President of Aiki Extensions, Inc, a nonprofit that supports programs that bring the strategic insights and practical wisdom of Aikido into non-traditional settings. He earned a Masters degree in Philosophy at Claremont Graduate School in 1993, writing his thesis on the Ethics of Authenticity. This will be the twelfth year he’s offered a Winter Study class.
The Class: Format: daily, 10 am-noon for aikido training, + 2 times a week for academic discussions, typically over lunch
Limit: 20
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: quality of participation in both physical and intellectual course components (historical analysis, class discussions, final project)
Prerequisites: same physician's approval on file as the school requires to participate on sports teams
Enrollment Preferences: if overenrolled, selection will be based on a questionnaire
Materials/Lab Fee: $175
Attributes: EXPE Experiential Education Courses

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