However, one of the oldest martial arts dojos in the entire U.S. has not only been housed within Atlanta, but has used the principles of aikido to provide residents with a center to connect with each other and the community.
The Aikido Center of Atlanta (ACA) was founded in 1967 by Rodney Grantham Sensei and is a charter member of the U.S. Aikido Federation. The dojo, which started in various warehouses and basements throughout Atlanta, has been located within Avondale Estates since 2000 in a building that is on the National Registrar of Historic Places.
The lineage of the ACA may date back to the founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, referred to by practitioners as O Sensei, and Y. Yamata Sensei who helped introduce the sport to the U.S. in the 1950s and 1960s.
“We’re proud that our teachings are a direct transmission from O Sensei to his senior live-in students to us,” said George Kennedy Shihan, who first joined the ACA in 1972 and currently serves as the Chief Instructor and Dojo-cho.
The definition of aikido has numerous meanings when translated from Japanese to English. An acceptable understanding of the concept relates to the path of blending continuous energy.
“Instead of competition and striking each other, we learn to add our power to the strength of the attack and use the aggressor’s own power against him,” said Kennedy Shihan, who emphasizes that the purely defensive art of aikido differs from its martial arts counterparts.
Each practice consists of each artist taking on the role of attacker and working with his or her partner in an organized and safe way despite the usage of throws to the ground and wooden weapons such as a short staff, sword or knife. Another noticeable difference within the ACA dojo and aikido in general from other marital arts is the lack of distinction between students.
The practitioners only wear white or black belts to distinguish the kayo or grade. The lead instructors and higher experienced artists will wear a hakama, a wide-pleated black or indigo trouser worn over the standard gi.
The demographics of the class are wide ranging.
“Most of our students are adults from teenagers to senior citizens,” stated Kennedy Shihan while greeting men and women of all ages into his dojo before an early afternoon practice. “Everyone trains together and we have a strong female population because aikido doesn’t rely on physical strength alone. Women are just as good or sometimes better than the men because the art is based on movement and energy.”
The enrollment of the ACA fluctuates because no contract system exists between the students and the instructors. Currently, there are an estimated 70 practitioners in the ACA.
Interested participants are encouraged to visit the center webpage at www.aikidoatlanta.com, and observe a class while speaking with the instructors before participating in the first practice for free at a later date.
As the practice progresses, there are minimal moments of loud expression by anybody in the dojo and the difference between a winner and loser in a sequence is difficult to distinguish.
“Most of the modern day martial arts like Judo became sports, based on a model of western culture with points, colored belts and trophies,” said Kennedy Shihan. “O Sensei was a very spiritual man and felt that there needed to be a higher purpose for what we do than win a contest. Aikido was never modified to fit into the model of sports, its more of a way of life.”