Aikido, the "Peaceful Martial Art," Comes to Euclid

Confidence springs from a center of calm

You wonder if you heard Betsy O’Donnell right. Or whether she is pulling your leg (maybe to knock you off balance, as any martial artist might want to do). But no, she’s serious.

         “The secret to Aikido,” she says, “is non-resistance. That doesn’t mean letting somebody hurt you. The mistake many people make is thinking of non-resistance as something passive. In Aikido it’s about refusing to be a victim. Confidently. Because you’re so balanced and centered you know you can defuse the violence of an attack.”

         One of the first things you learn in Aikido, says O’Donnell, is that a person who is violent is out of balance. By practicing Aikido, you create a strong sense of balance in yourself, so you can defuse a potentially violent situation by bringing balance back to it.

“Fighting will never get you what you really want, which is to be safe and respected,” says O’Donnell, who has a 4th degree black belt and 25 years of experience in Aikido, and has also studied Seido karate. She believes Aikido offers a better way.

Watching the students enrolled in her newly opened Lake Shore Aikido dojo at Euclid’s Shore Cultural Centre, you begin to see how it works. The strikes and kicks associated with other martial arts have no place here. O’Donnell’s students meet their “attackers” instead with circular, flowing movements that come from a center of unearthly calm.

 “Instead of trying to break your attacker’s arm,” explains Euclid resident Kirste Carlson, a regular at the new dojo, “you learn to move in harmony with them, using the force of their attack to redirect them to the ground, where they’re pinned and immobilized.”

O’Donnell demonstrates with a husky male student. One minute he is moving belligerently toward her; a split second later she’s behind him, using his own forward momentum (and twisted arm) to guide him safely to the ground. “Attacking Betsy Sensei is like attacking air,” says Cedric Melton, who has been doing Aikido for 8 years (Sensei means teacher). “There’s nothing to hit. Suddenly you’re on your back.”

Learning how to fall in a gentle roll without injuring yourself, he notes, is a side benefit of Aikido.

O’Donnell next proceeds to fend off multiple attackers in a dazzling display of calm self assurance and seemingly effortless moves. “Aikido techniques don’t depend on physical strength,” she says, “but on relaxation and serenity of mind.”

          Practice is usually done in pairs, so students get instant feedback on their progress. “But you also know it in your gut,” says Carlson, an advanced practice psychiatric nurse at the Cleveland Clinic who’s been doing Aikido for 13 years. “You can’t fake balance or a sense of harmony.

 “We take turns being the aggressor,” she explains, “not to learn how to hurt people, but so we can help one another practice being peaceful in stressful situations. And once you’ve learned how to do that,” she says, “you find yourself applying it to other situations in your daily life. By creating a strong sense of balance and harmony in yourself, you can influence a potentially violent situation by bringing balance back into it.”

Betsy O’Donnell puts it this way. “It’s easy to talk about peace and harmony when you’re sitting with friends in a comfortable setting sharing good food and conversation; it’s a much bigger challenge to create a peaceful situation when somebody wants to hurt you, either verbally or physically. I think you can see where Aikido has implications for daily life. I’ve had many students tell me they find themselves acting more positively, and confidently, in business and school situations.

“Aikido is also a great physical workout, of course, that keeps you fit. And a way to build some discipline into your life.”

Classes meet Tuesday and Thursday evenings, 6:30-8:00 p.m. and Saturdays, 9:30-11:00 a.m., in Room 217 of Shore Centre (291 E. 222nd Street). New students can start anytime. Call 216-310-2147 or visit for more information.

Dennis Dooley

See I'm retired and living in Euclid by the lake now. I may come upon a story from time to time that needs telling. I think I found a good one here. Hope you agree. Good photos coming this afternoon.

Read More on Health
Volume 6, Issue 2, Posted 10:32 PM, 02.05.2015