Women’s Camp Addresses Important Topic

By Sarah Cuevas, Grass Valley Aikikai

In September I was fortunate to have the experience of attending the Women’s Aikido Camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The travel to the event was a story all on its own. Missed flights, multiple rerouted gates, and lengthy wait times (an extra 8 hours), were just some of the events that made the travel to Camp a hilarious story. However, my experience of Camp outweighed the travel to and fro. As I usually do when attending an event, I made an agreement with myself to let go of expectations. Life is too unpredictable to come loaded with desire. I had never been to an all women’s anything before (with the exception of a few girls’ nights here and there, but nothing of this magnitude). So I arrived with an open heart and mind and an intention to train hard and do my best.

Our rerouted travel kept us from attending the first evening class. We arrived by shuttle in the dark, to the retreat center where Camp was held. Showed to our room by Varjan Sensei herself, we were delighted to discover comfy beds and cozy furnishings. A good night’s sleep was definitely in store for myself and my dojo mate, Marci Martinez. The next morning we awoke to a perfect view of the high desert, and then were even more astounded by the breakfast buffet. After homemade granola, fresh greek yogurt, organic fruits and juice options, good coffee, scrambled eggs with meat or vegetarian options, we practically rolled ourselves back up to our rooms to dress and go to the dojo.

The dojo was a simple yet quality setup in the gym of the retreat center, with long, tall windows at the top for great natural light, and doors at either end to keep the air flowing. I walked in noticing the calm air. Not the calm-before-the-storm kind of calm, more like the quiet peace you find after the space of meditation. There was an inherent unhurried-ness coupled with the power of being a martial arena. Being one of the first to arrive on the mat, I noticed the energy shift as more women arrived. Having no expectations, I observed, interested to see how this was going to play out. Turns out, it began seemingly no different than a seminar where our brothers were in attendance. We lined, up, we bowed, we entered training with a confirmed sense of martial awareness. With skilled teaching, precision ukemi, and a relatively crowded mat, we trained hard. Technique followed technique, one after another, sweat abounding and egos aside, we trained in body arts and weapons.

Stretching my back to warm up before the morning class.

Stretching my back to warm up during the morning class. Nage: Sherri Waldman, Rhode Island Aikikai

It wasn’t until someone triggered a recognition in my head by saying, “So this is what it feels like when there is no testosterone on the mat” that I even noticed a difference in the energy of the room. There was a difference: a subtle, yet powerful, transcendence of this hormonal variation. It is challenging for me to describe, because it didn’t feel like anything was lacking, and it didn’t feel like an abundance of estrogen either. It just felt, well, softer. When I say softer, I don’t mean less martial, or easier training. I refer to a feminine energy, the type of energy you feel when you know you are being cared for and supported, yet held to a high standard, like that of a grandmother with her grandchild. Yet there certainly remained a requirement for all present to challenge themselves in their training, an element inherent to progression, regardless of gender, or of the gender of training partners.

Throughout the remainder of Camp, we went in this fashion: delectable meals, phenomenal teaching, sweaty gi, heavy sleep. We had some nights with evening discussion. It seemed a communal agreement that group meetings were something we could take with us back to our home dojos, and to our greater Aikido community.

Many topics were discussed, but there seemed to be much discussion around misogyny. I should comment that after hearing some of the stories that my fellow women Aikidoka have experienced, I feel grateful to not have had the circumstance of discrimination alive in my dojo or at any seminar I have attended. However, it was an obvious issue for other women, leaving me surprised at the reality of it. Male students and teachers have always been fair-minded towards me, however it seems not the same way for all women. Please don’t misunderstand and come to the conclusion that this was a man-hating event. There were many topics discussed, but because of the alarming nature of this topic, I choose to write about it. Due to my own ignorance, naivety, or both, I had never thought that women were managing discrimination in this way. Out of respect for the women attendees, I won’t go into details, but there were a range of patterns and actions brought up. I think it is enough to just mention it in this platform, to bring awareness to the topic. It seems likely to me, that after merely reading that misogyny is an issue for some of your fellow Aikidoka, that the reader will bring this awareness to the mat with a heightened sensitivity for fair minded-ness. That is all I am asking here, for the blessing of bringing awareness to training. Training is already challenging, let us keep it as simple as it can be without adding any friction to it. O’ Sensei instructs, “Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.” With this in mind, it may be easy to maintain his request, because with any type of discrimination comes the difficulty of managing the response. Let us be easy on ourselves and each other, free from bias and judgments, allowing each person their right to train in a safe and joyous environment.

Warrior mode

Warrior mode

After four days of amazing training, Marci and I headed back to the airport. Thinking we would arrive with no problems, our shuttle ran out of gas on the highway. Ironically, our rescue shuttle, once we were all loaded up, would not start. We joked about how our travel was cursed this trip, when all of a sudden, after half an hour of waiting on the rescue shuttle, and half an hour of sitting idle with the clock ticking to get to our flight on time, the shuttle van miraculously started. We arrived with literally five minutes to spare, made our flight, and nestled into the plane hilariously awaiting another debacle. But the trip home was fine with no other events. With a head full of new techniques, new friendships and life lessons, I returned home a happy Aikidoka.

Women’s Aikido Camp: “An Experience of Intensity, Joy, and Sisterhood”

By Rosa Mitchell, North County Aikikai

Why did I go to Women’s Aikido Camp? To be honest, I went mostly for the location. I looked at the pictures of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center, and thought a few days in Santa Fe, New Mexico would be a well-deserved “escapadita” (little escape), as we say in my family. Also, as a newbie, the idea of going to Summer Camp had just been too intimidating and I thought that Women’s Camp, with its smaller size, could serve as an introduction of sorts: a way to jump in, but maybe not too deeply.

We arrived at the retreat center with only a few minutes to spare before the first class. I scrambled to get my gi on and rushed back to the gym. As all the women began to line up, we were instructed by Varjan Sensei to do so in order of rank. This required us to talk to one another to find our place. There was no need for this shy girl to talk to anyone. As a 5th kyu, I just needed to go to the back at the end of the line, easy! When we all settled down, I looked down the rows at all the women in hakama, and the enormity of the situation settled on me and brought me to tears. The sound of all the female voices as we said our onegai shimasu in unison filled the gym and filled me with an unexpected joy.


photo by Karen Hamilton

In trying to describe why it was so different to train with only women, it is easy to jump to stereotypes, all of which are completely inadequate to describe what I saw and experienced. All these weeks later and I still haven’t been able to put my finger on what the difference was exactly, but I can say that I loved every minute. I can tell you that the encounters on the mat were intense and sincere, but also filled with love and so much joy.

Yes, the classes were amazing, but I haven’t been to a seminar yet where that wasn’t true. So, what was different? Maybe it was just the opportunity to see what I can become. It may have been just being in a room full of bad ass women and feeling that if I work hard, I can be like them. Maybe it was being told by a very open and powerful woman, that this little shy girl can become open and powerful. It probably had something to do with Graham Sensei telling the kyu ranks that it was time to inhabit the front row and know that we deserve to be there. It may also have been that while a mat full of men can sometimes feel intimidating, a mat full of women felt welcoming and empowering. I’m still not sure what it was exactly, but for me it was magical. I can tell you I found something in my Aikido practice that I didn’t know was missing, and I can tell you that I will be at the next Women’s Aikido Camp.

In the world of surfing, we seem to get a particular joy out of telling people that they missed it. We don’t share our secret spots lest they get too crowded. But this I will shout from the rooftops. Ladies, if you missed it, or if you hesitated for any reason; the next one is not to be missed! Go for the location, go for the local spas, go to get away for a few days, whatever your reason is, just go!

To my male training partners, I can’t say I missed you, but I will say that I thought of you often. I kept thinking that I would like you to experience this too. I know what you are thinking: “Summer Camp… not Women’s Camp.” But what I wish is that you could experience “Women’s Aikido Camp” so you could experience the intensity, the joy, and the sisterhood with me. Guys, while I can’t arrange an invitation for you, I can promise you that I will do my best to train with the intensity and the loving spirit that I felt in Santa Fe.


Acupuncture, Actually: A Practical Look at Qi and ‘Energy’

By Grace Rollins, Bucks County Aikido

Paolo Propato and Grace Rollins, licensed acupuncturists at Bridge Acupuncture, discuss the energetics of acupuncture and what it’s like to work and train in their field of Chinese medicine.



Paolo: What is qi?
Grace: Many people think of qi as “energy”, but I think that’s too materialistic of a translation. Qi is basically a very useful term that sums up complex processes that together create recognizable phenomena in the body. If you try to think of qi as some kind of literal substance or force you’re just going to frustrate people interested in scientific backing; you won’t find a measurable “energy” that corresponds to what people who practice Asian medicine are talking about.

“Qi” for acupuncturists is “weather” as it relates to the body. Weather is electromagnetic and gravitational relationships between elements and molecules; it’s pressure dynamics,
thermodynamics, radiation; it’s many processes, all overlapping and influencing each other. We can study it, characterize it and make predictions about it. The same way that we recognize many patterns in weather, we learn how to recognize patterns in qi, so we can influence bodily functions and promote health.

P: What do acupuncture methods actually do?
G: The traditional answer is that they stimulate special points that harmonize qi in the body, thereby promoting proper function and health. Scientifically, stimulating acupuncture points with needles and moxa has been shown to generate complex responses.

Needling causes distortions in chains of connective tissue throughout the body, which linkdifferent muscle groups, joints and organs. It also fires nerve endings that light up vastly
different areas of the brain and spinal cord. Acupuncture causes an electrical distortion in the body’s electromagnetic field—you’re putting a metal needle into an ionic solution (the body) which immediately creates an electrical polarity. The micro-injury caused by needling and moxa heat is also a very powerful method of stimulating the immune system and cytokines (chemical messengers). Plus, with acupuncture needles you can physically loosen tight muscle and connective tissue to release restrictions and improve blood flow.

I think one of the challenges in studying acupuncture scientifically is that its methods do so
much, all at once. One exact mechanism eludes us. That’s why, even though I have a very
scientifically oriented mind, I still prefer the traditional Chinese and Japanese pre-scientific
theoretical concepts. We still haven’t discovered a better way to describe the complex
processes happening here.

P: What makes acupuncture unique compared to other modalities that work with the subtle energy of the body?
G: Acupuncture is old, people! Over 2,500 years old! Moxibustion, the practice of heating
acupoints with the ember of dried mugwort, is even older. So even though acupuncture is
dealing with complexities that resist the scientific method, it has withstood a very important test with its continued use over such a long period of time.
A good scientist remains open-minded to the things that science doesn’t yet have the tools to measure and explain. That applies to a lot of what happens in healing. But that doesn’t mean you have to be open-minded to everything. Innovation is good. It helps our medicine get better and better, but with a methodology that is mainly observational, you have to be careful not to be led astray.

For this reason, I approach change cautiously, and I gravitate toward Japanese acupuncture, which monitors feedback during the session. We’re always checking diagnostic qualities in the pulse, the abdomen or a symptomatic area for signs that our treatments are having the desired effect. Vetting my methods this way gives me confidence.

P: What are you feeling for before, during and after needling?
G: Patients like to ask me if I can “feel the energy,” and if you think of it like qi, the summation of complex processes, then the answer is absolutely yes. We rely on touch, smell, sight and sound to collect information about the patient—especially touch in Japanese acupuncture. If I have to wear a Band-Aid on just one finger, I feel like I have a hand tied behind my back—it affects what I can feel.

Before needling, I’m feeling diagnostically for areas of restriction, imbalance and dysfunction in the patient. This might be structural, as in certain muscle groups or vertebral bodies that are too tight, twisted or compressed. Often internal imbalances will also be represented by certain qualities in the pulse, on the tongue or in reflective zones of the abdomen and back. For example, cardiac problems often show up with specific tender points on the upper torso and back.

Next I’m feeling for an appropriate point location; there are traditional anatomical locations as well as certain qualities that identify a “live” point. Depending on the point, it might be a
recessed area, a tight spot, a tender spot, thicker skin or connective tissue—qualities that
indicate a more effective point. When I insert the needle, there is a feeling I seek that
acupuncturists call the “arrival of qi”. To me it’s like a density on the end of the needle, like it’s connected well. Learning to recognize it is part of our craft.

After needling I will re-check the diagnostic signs to see if the acupuncture was successful at balancing the qi. If I did a good job there should be signs of improvement; if not, I might need another point, or a different one, or to add moxa, for example.

I’m also feeling the qi of the person as a whole. This is the intuitive part, synthesizing the input from all of my senses.

P: How do you cultivate the necessary skills?
G: I started studying acupuncture at the same time I started studying Aikido and Zen meditation.  Like acupuncture, Aikido trains the various senses of the body to harmonize with another person’s qi. These practices help me to be more centered and attuned to my patients, and to myself.



An invaluable part of my training is a regular apprenticeship with the acupuncture master Kiiko Matsumoto. I spend at least two or three weeks a year shadowing her here and in Japan, taking in practical knowledge as well as the qi of her practice—the complex combination of qualities that allow her to be a dynamic, effective practitioner.

Taking my own health seriously is also a critical way that I stay attuned to the balance of qi in others. I believe in it, I live it! I work on my posture throughout the day and study how to move in a way that’s healthy and efficient. I try to eat in a way that’s balanced ecologically, that doesn’t do me harm and that fills me with vitality. I get outdoors and experience the natural world to help keep those areas of my consciousness and humanity alive. I meditate, do yoga and exercise a lot, and I try to play and have fun. Last but not least, I get regular acupuncture!

Bridge Acupuncture, located at 30 Garden Alley, in Doylestown, is a Legacy Advertising partner of Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

To schedule an appointment with Paolo Propato or Grace Rollins, call 215-348-8058 or visit BridgeAcupuncture.com.