Reflecting on Women in Aikido

Siegel, Andrea. Women in Aikido. Berkeley, Calif.: North Atlantic Books, 1993.

In performing background research for this book, I found a review of it plainly stating that the pages were filled with women complaining and whining about their lives and experiences. This struck me as odd and perhaps too extreme of a view on the women that offer their voices at the turn of the millennium almost thirty years ago. With this review in mind, I read Women in Aikido from cover to cover to see if this blunt review was true. What I found within were stories and experiences that were not remotely close to the review and that other anecdotes from the book contradicted that online review. I, instead, found many examples of women finding their power. 

What makes this book unique to the various other aikido books I have read like John Stone’s and Ron Meyer’s Aikido in America, Susan Perry’s Aikido Talks, and John Stevens’ Abundant Peace is that the author Andrea Siegal does not cover the historical aspect of the art  or leaders of the American aikido community. Rather Siegal’s book discusses and examines mostly women who practiced the Way of Harmonizing Energies for a short time and were forever effected by their respective experiences. Furthermore, the manuscript touches upon the female experience within aikido as women began to populate areas of the workforce usually popular with men in the early 1990s. In this sense, aikido becomes a starting point for these conversations as these women narrate their stories, finding their way through the world and society.

Women in Aikido recounts experiences of twelve women and their aikido experience. Only a small handful of the of the twelve continued to practice and/or teach aikido at the time of their  interviewed. That handful decreased to two people when researching their names thirty years later. But what is interesting throughout the conversations is the fact that aikido affected them in some way – whether seeing the world through a different lens, discovering something about themselves, or finding a space to discover a power that was not readily available to them off the mat. Many of these women found something they enjoyed and prospered in the dojo and diligently applied that to their lives outside the dojo, looking at life, careers, and interpersonal relationships in a different light.

What is also unique about Women in Aikido is the large portion of the interviewed women found further connection between aikido and the newly budding New Age movement. They referenced the similarities in finding the energies of their partners and blending with it, creating harmony. It is from that harmony, as they spoke in relation to New Age thought, healing can occur. This healing, as the women described, can take physical, mental, or spiritual form. For them, aikido was a conduit and a pathway to better understanding these energies discussed in New Age thought. 

All in all, Women in Aikido is a different aikido book than the standard ones concerning technique, historical lineage, or even the drama of being uchi deshi. It unapologetically displays the female experience within aikido while demonstrating a pivotal moment in American society for women. It actually expands on the female aikido experience covered in the few interviews offered in Aikido in America and Aikido Talks, giving further credence to the “other half” of the community; demonstrating that their experiences and thoughts matter and should be included in aikido conversations.


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