OAKLAND -- East Bay Aikido is celebrating its 25th anniversary with yearlong "New Moon" celebrations at the dojo (training place) in the Oakmore neighborhood.
"The new moon reminds us that each moment, each day, each month is new," said sensei (teacher) Tom Gambell, who held the first class at the dojo on Nov. 1, 1988. "While the full moon is brilliant and bright, the new moon is a metaphor for the darkness where we look for light."
New Moon events will include classes and special trainings, as well as meditation.
"At least one of the events will be the 108 Aikido Meditation Practice that I created and is practiced in other dojos around the country," Gambell said.
Aikido differs from other forms of martial arts in that it combines self-defense with compassion for the aggressor. Gambell said the goal is not to defeat your enemy, but rather to be in harmony with him, spiritually and physically.
"The only reason one human being attacks another is because they're suffering in some way," said Gambell, who lives in the Oakmore district with wife Linda Andersen, who also teaches at the dojo. "Who needs our compassion more than someone who is suffering? Bringing love and compassion into the situation creates a deeper level of love and understanding."
Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), the founder of Aikido, studied not only martial arts, but also religion. Through Aikido, he merged these two seemingly opposing worlds by using love and compassion to overcome aggression.
"Aikido is not for correcting others. It is for correcting the discord and disharmony within oneself," he wrote.
"Ai ii do" are three words in Japanese, which translate to "the way to be in harmony with the energy of the universe." The emphasis is on flexibility and balance, and the fluid movements allow a defender to control a much larger aggressor. The aim is to defend oneself without harming the attacker. There are also no competitions in aikido.
"Competition creates losers," Gambell said. "Our aim is to restore balance and harmony."
Gambell, a sixth-degree black belt who has been teaching Aikido for 40 years, said he discovered the practice as a "boomer" in the 1960s, a time when many were looking for a path to peace and an end to war.
"I was enthralled by the idea of turning conflict into friendship," said Gambell, who served in Thailand during the Vietnam War. "The day I found Aikido, my whole life changed. It was a third alternative to the 'kill or be killed' mentality."
Kurt Lavenson has been a student at the dojo for seven years.
"I lived in the neighborhood for six years before I decided to come through the door, and how right that decision was for me," Lavenson said. "Aikido teaches you how to keep your heart open in times of life-threatening danger."
He said since he started Aikido, he's been able to heal the relationship with his stepbrother, a military man who "was always scary to me."
"I was able to able to approach the tiger and see what was going on," Lavenson said. "Aikido has allowed me to open up new pathways and decrust some old ones."
Andersen, a third-degree black belt who's been practicing aikido for 19 years, said you're never too old to start the practice, which can help prevent broken bones from falls. Sometimes, it's not a human aggressor who supplies the danger.
"I was gardening when some 300-pound pylons fell over and came crashing toward me," said Andersen, who was able to apply her aikido skills to roll out of the way. "The bottom line is that you're defending by blending with harm."
Gambell said practicing Aikido has been shown to increase bone density.
"So it helps keep older people healthy and out of the hospital," he said.
Lavenson attributes the longevity of East Bay Aikido directly to his sensei.
"I lucked out that I came here first," Lavenson said. "I've been to other dojos that are stuck in physical technique. Tom is different. He takes it to a deeper level. His special energy brings joy and laughter to this dojo."