On Saturday, October 24th, Bay Marin Aikido will celebrate the 20th anniversary. The dojo, founded by Hans Goto, Shihan, has been an important part of the Greater Bay Area martial arts community since Goto Sensei began teaching in the Terra Linda Rec Center 30 years ago. The event will also acknowledge Simone Wedell, 4th dan. Simone has studied with Goto Sensei for 30 years. She is 80 years old this year, and still trains and also teaches. I could not resist the opportunity to ask her a series of questions. Below are my questions with her answers.
Paul Rest: Please tell us about your background and where you grew up?
Simone Wedell: “I was born before WWII and traveled a lot with my parents. As a child, I went to many different schools and eventually became a teacher where I taught in France and then in North Africa (as a participant of the economic and cultural exchange) after Tunisia’s independence. It was there that I met my husband who was a member of the first batch of Peace Corps volunteers. We traveled extensively throughout the Middle East. And then, In 1967, I arrived in the United States with only 2 English words: ‘whiskey’ and ‘weekend.’”
PR: How did you discover Aikido and where and when and who were your teachers?
SW: “I have been watching a friend practicing Tai Kwan Do. I also took classes in aerobics, Tai-chi, yoga, all of which were great. But after seeing a demo by Hans Goto Sensei, I felt enthusiastic about Aikido and decided to join his dojo (Bay Marin Aikido). I was 50 years old at the time. Fortunately, my children were old enough I could free myself 2 or 3 evening classes a week.”
PR: How has Aikido influenced your life both at work and at home?
SW: “Life has its challenges and one of these was that I became the sole support for my family. So when I started Aikido it provided a friendly and secure space to be. It represented a path of stability to which I could refer for choices : dealing with conflicts and making wiser decisions. Then it became a way of life: one trains, comes home tired, happy and relaxed. I quote Musashi (1584-1945) (“The Five Rings,” p. 11): ’ If you permit the spirit to permeate your being, the spirit will permeate through you by permitting you to be its instrument.’ In the same line of thought, Aikido, for me is also music : space, silence, rest, Ki-ai, intuition, where understanding the changes of timing and rhythms is essential to strategy.”
PR: Have you had any books that were important to your training?
SW: “Once a month, when I prepare to teach an Aikido class, I always refer to Saito Sensei’s (1928-2002) legacy. Goto Sensei studied with Saito Sensei, who in turn studied directly with O’Sensei, the founder of Aikido. I also refer to John Stevens Sensei, who in his books presents the Eastern Philosophy of Aikido to the West, Last, the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) offers what I could call, the spirit of Aikido in the notion of ‘plane of immanence.’”
PR: What do you see when you think about the future of Aikido in California and America? What perspective and insights do you have?
SW: “A well functioning democracy relies on responsible citizens. And a healthy society is based on good individuals, In context, Aikido, as “true victory is victory over oneself,” builds positive individuals for our challenging times.: What advice would you give to someone thinking about beginning to train or who has just begun training? Answer: “Go for fun! Go to liberate yourself from your frustrations! Go for exercise! Go for friendship! Go for guiding your spirit! Go for it!’
PR: And what is the funniest moment or funniest moments (if there are more than one) that happened to you on the mat?
SW: “At Bay Marin Aikido, we are very lucky to be Goto Sensei’s students. It is not only his commitment, and knowledge of the martial art that are superior, it is his great sense of humor. He has also created a joyful atmosphere on the mat. I am now 80 years old. I trained with adults who would tell me I am their mother’s age, or older. I also train with kids. They tell me, “You could be my grandma.’” Musashi, on the reward of training wrote, ‘…Devote yourself as much as possible to the study…to the degree with which you feel that you will have accomplished that which you wanted to accomplish. The level of commitment that you give to it will indicate what to reveal of itself to you.; And, finally, hey, for me, Aikido “eases the passing of time.’”
Great words and insights Simone. Thank you for sharing them. And congratulations again on your many years in Aikido. This is truly an accomplishment worth celebrating.