Growing Up in the Dojo

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Bennett Bandiero (left) with Kalynn Van Voorhies (right). Bennett successfully graded shodan at the US Nationals.

My experience in Aikido began when I was twelve years old in my own basement…due to my dojo being located there! It was a small dojo of seven students, ran by my Sensei, Justin Chang. I was the dojo “baby”, based on my age as well as my belt status. With this title I had much to learn as a person as well as an aikidoka. The three main achievements that I’ve attained through Aikido are patience, persistence, and confidence. 

The first quality I learned through Aikido was patience. Because I began training as a child, this was a virtue not yet acquired. However, through constant repetition and refinement of the unsoku dosa, tegatana dosa and junanahon regimens, I slowly progressed in skill and belt level. A particular challenge is that my practice involved physically differing ukes. In some classes, I worked with a peer around the same height as myself, the looming height  of 5’3″, whereas other classes involved me throwing a man well over six feet. Having to learn not only the basic movements and techniques but also how to apply these to varying body sizes required me to also learn patience. 

The second quality I earned through Aikido was persistence. For my entire time in martial arts, my predominant struggle has been to keep pace. Whenever I am not confident in what I am doing, I tend to rush the technique I am attempting and end up using muscle. This, in turn, has caused my randori matches to become sloppy with an extreme overuse of muscle (that I don’t possess). So for the past few months, with instruction from my patient Sensei and my dedicated Senpai, Bill Irwin, I have trained in timing my techniques by correcting my footwork as well as slowing down tori by using kuzushi. By persistently working on these two elements, my randori has become far less muscle-oriented and more consistent with the Aikido structure. 

The most important skill I developed through Aikido is confidence. As a stout, twelve year old girl with two left feet, I was severely lacking in confidence. In the beginning of my Aikido career I struggled to even complete a basic somersault, nevertheless as an (fingers crossed) upcoming black belt, I am able to take a flying break fall at will. This transformation in ability and confidence is all thanks to my entire dojo. 

In fact I owe all of my success in Aikido to my dojo. My Sensei taught me tough love and that the best compliments are ones that are hard to come by. My fellow students in the dojo taught me that repetition is the key to success. All this allowed me to grow up inside, and outside, the dojo by becoming a more patient, persistent, and confident person and aikidoka.