Hello, I’m Sofia. My own journey with aikido didn’t start till my early 40’s. Martial arts had been a fantasy that I never imagined would become real for me. I was both afraid of hurting someone and of being hurt. I remember doing one class of Wing Chung at University but that was as far as my martial arts experience went. Years later, I heard about aikido as a form of embodied leadership that was popular amongst change makers, systems thinkers and leadership consultants. My deep vocation in life is to create healthy vibrant communities of empowered individuals so it caught my interest but I didn’t know where to begin so it lived on as just a dream.
As luck would have it, I stumbled on Isshinkai. From the first class, I noticed that the teacher’s words matched his actions, to an unusual degree. I didn’t feel intimidated as a white belt and as a woman new to martial arts; this meant a lot to me as i was aware of how powerful aikido could be and from my own work I was aware of how easy it is for groups to harbour unhealthy power dynamics. I noticed that I felt better after every single class and that this was a path of peace that was practical and real. I soon realised I had found my teacher: Denis Burke Sensei, 7th Dan, who is the founder of Isshinkai (meaning one-heart society). I never looked back.
I have also attended the classes of Emile Swain Sensei, 2nd Dan since 2013, where I have learnt a lot about feeling, and more recently Adam Cooper Sensei, 1st Dan, both of whom I continue to learn so much from. I am now also assisting with teaching children in Andover at our headquarters Dojo.
One of the things that I value most in Isshinkai, is that as well as individual empowerment, there is a concept for how groups and societies can work together. It is unifying and grounding, especially because it is based on each of us participating as a whole person in order to be able to inter-relate in a healthy way. The practice itself guides us to this.
To say it is a path of learning is an understatement. Aikido became a metaphor for living my life, for improving relationships, for facing every day challenges, for finding my centre, for being able to stay calm under pressure, for being able to walk the streets with less fear and for standing taller and bringing out my spirit and joy of life. I began to know that if I really want to achieve something and I put my mind to it, I can do it.
It is a world away from the theories and concepts that are espoused so much in change work. I think that that is because the achievements in aikido cannot be faked. It is a partnered practice and a true whole-systems practice as it includes the body. You can test for yourself which of your assumptions are true for you. As we work things out off the mat, we can use our experience on the mat to keep things real. In this sense, it was the missing link in my life - something that keeps me on the critical path of most aliveness. Achieving my 1st Dan 7 years after that first class, was one of the most empowering moments I have ever experienced. In my coaching and facilitation work people have gone out of their way to tell me how embodied I am. Those close to me have mentioned a radiance and confidence in me that has grown over time. The fact that I get to practice each week with others who share this joy is an unbelievable gift that I am so grateful for and for which I still have to pinch myself.