by Marielee Macapagel
*Reprinted with kind permission of the author and the editors of Helios, newsletter of Chicago Aikikai. Photos provided by A Sporting Chance Foundation.
Although the dojo [Chicago Aikikai] has seen its fair share of unusual people come through its door, never before has it played host to a crew of kittens, aliens, dolphins, smiling faces, frogs and ladybugs all in one Saturday morning.
On Jan. 13, 2001, nearly 80 girls from A Sporting Chance Foundation bounced into the dojo for an hour-and-a-half long session of basic Aikido training. Divided into teams, the girls wore stickers of kittens, aliens, dolphins, smiley faces, frogs and ladybugs to identify their group. "I had no idea what to expect, this being my first youth program," Gary Marks said. "But I was happily surprised with the energetic kids that wanted to learn."
The morning class was the culmination of the two month long partnership with A Sporting Chance Foundation, an organization that provides girls throughout Chicagoland a structured after school athletic program that builds self-esteem and promotes a healthy lifestyle. Prior to the Saturday event, Aikikai students: Glenn Harrison, Ben Hunt, Bob Kamka, Jean-Marie Koon, Elizabeth Lee, Marielee Macapagal, Sheska Quiros, Kraig Rice, Jordan Sanders, Marsha Turner and Karen Yamasaki, spent several afternoons at three different public schools teaching basic Aikido to the Sporting Chance participants. Girls from all the schools gathered at the dojo for the Saturday class. The morning was divided into two sessions, with three Sporting Chance schools attending each class.
This event serves as a landmark in Chicago Aikikai history, which never participated in an outreach program targeted primarily for girls. Much planning took place to ensure that the girls learned all they could about aikido. "I think everything went well," Quiros said. "Especially when I saw the girls become interested and excited about learning basic Aikido."
Each team learned a different aspect of Aikido as they moved throughout the five stations taught by Aikikai students: Paula Gray, Glenn Harrison, Kelvin Kakazu, Bob Kamka, Elizabeth Lee, Marielee Macapagal, Gary Marks, Sheska Quiros, Amanda Raymond, Kraig Rice, Jordan Sanders, Peter Steinberg, Marsha Turner and Tracy Alpert, a visiting student from Boulder Aikikai. The girls learned about falling, punching, the four directions, shikko and the unbendable arm. "I didn't expect to get hit several times in the stomach," Marks said, who taught basic punching. "But this was an accuracy training exercise, so that was all good."
The young women also had the opportunity to throw their team leaders after learning the "dead bunny" technique, a.k.a. ushiro ryotedori kokyunage. By the end of the second class, the dojo roared with cheers and laughter when the teams divided up one last time for a shiko relay race. Both the girls and their Aikikai team leaders zoomed across the mat. Incidentally, Kakazu, who taught the knee walking technique that morning, brought his team, the Aliens, to a first place finish.
The success of the Chicago Aikikai and A Sporting Chance partnership has motivated members to participate in more community outreach programs. "Reaching out to the community is a major role of a dojo," Marks said. "It's not just a place to train and exercise, but rather it is an extension and active role in the community in which it exists." The greatest accomplishment to emerge from this event was the effort brought forth by the members who participated."
Our partnership with Sporting Chance was really successful," Kamka said. "I think much of that success comes from the fact that our students came together to make this day happen."
Special thanks to Anita Ortiz from A Sporting Chance Foundation for giving us the opportunity to teach the girls Aikido. The success of this partnership was made possible by the efforts put forth by Ortiz and her fellow coaches and volunteers.
Thanks also to Chicago Aikikai's Kraig Rice for establishing and coordinating our partnership with the girls' program and to Marsha Turner for leading the Saturday class.
Please visit the websites of Chicago Aikikai and A Sporting Chance for more information about this and other programs offered by these two organizations.