Ikuko Kimura: How are you enjoying this Aiki Expo?
Jamie Zimron: Very much. I think it is a great event to bring all styles together, to bring aikido worlds together, for everybody to expand knowledge to be more open-minded, more open-hearted. We have needed this. It’s about time, more than time, to come together. I teach every year at the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation (NWMAF) that we have here in America. I have been teaching also in the Pacific area at the Women Martial Arts Federation since the late 1970’s, a total of some 20 years. We women have been thinking to get together and cross styles. I actually cross arts, karate, Korean arts, Chinese arts, Japanese arts, etc. We have been training together and we have demonstrations and performances of all the top trainers every Saturday night. So that helped me to be more broad-minded. Now I am so happy that we are getting together.
You studied Golf first?
I started golf when I was seven. I was shooting in the 80’s when I was nine or ten years old. I became the youngest winner of the Wisconsin State Junior Golf Championship when I just turned 13. Then I won when I was 14, 15, 16 and 17. I played nationally and I was ranked in the top ten national junior golfers in America. I went to school at Stanford and played in a golf team. It was a couple years before “Title Nine” started. Title gave equal funding or equal opportunity to women and girls in sports. However, I was just one or two years ahead of that and so I could not have it. I was a State National Golf Champion, but I could not have a scholarship because they did not give it to girls then. So that made me different. My friend was doing aikido and Frank Doran Sensei was a teacher. It was 1975 at Stanford University. I was playing golf at Stanford, but it was not a good program at that time. My friend told me that the aikido teacher talked in metaphors of nature and that the art was very harmonious, the practice very cooperative, and that everybody was helpful. I said, “This is too good to be true.” I was very doubtful. I thought “OK, I will try.”
So I went there and I fell in love the first day. I fell in love with aikido and with Doran Sensei. That was it! I trained every day from Monday through Friday. Doran Sensei was also teaching at the place that later became Aikido West and at Aikido of San Francisco as well. So I used to go about ten classes a week! I trained with Doran Sensei very much. I put all my energy into aikido and Eastern Philosophy.
In 1980 I started my aikido dojo and I was 25. During that time I got my Master’s degree in clinical psychology and I started with body work, healing work for the physical body, muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and everything with six masters. So I learned a lot about healing. I always do what we call, “somatic psychotherapy.” I always work with body, mind and energy. So I see my clients all day and teach classes at night.
My dojo started as a women’s aikido school in the beginning, then it became a mixed school. I was just Shodan. It was called the “Women’s Aikido School of San Francisco. It was small and there were only a few classes. In those years at the beginning of aikido, I kept thinking “Why am I good at this? How do I know how to do this?” I did not understand why it was familiar to me and I could not figure it out. I was not very good at gymnastics and tumbling so I was surprised that I learned to roll and fall. Sword, movements, circles and flow…all felt familiar to me. I could not figure out why. Then, when I started to teach, one day I said, “You know, see that it is like a golf club.” It was like an enlightenment. You know, the feeling is like having it on the tip of the tongue… I had it on the tip of my whole body for five or six years. All of sudden, I got it, ” Ah, Golf!”
Since I was seven years old, I have known it. Golf body, fluid motion, powerful center, base, stands, extension of energy through a stick, a golf club, relax… A little golf ball and a big person, but it’s kind of the same. The way of the grip of the bokken is almost the same as the grip in golf. Your hands are together in golf, so the shape is the only difference, but the way you have to extend your energy to the tip of the sword was like with the golf club. In golf, they teach you to bend your knees, keep your head down, keep your hands and your belly together. Your hips are ahead of your hands. Be relaxed and do not think too much. That’s what I learned when I was a kid. So in aikido, I translated it to the more universal principles. Bend your knees (base), keep your head down and don’t sway, and move but keep one point, center. Keep hands and belly together to keep the connection. Hips are leading the hands but connected. Relax, breathe, don’t think too much, no mind…. Aikido just unified the state of mind and body. So as a teacher I advanced more and more and I understood the universal principles. I work for many athletes of other sports, too, such as tennis, baseball, basketball, etc. and I saw they are same. Extension, breath…
Then, I moved to Israel in 1994 and stayed there till 1996. I taught aikido there and also in Gaza to Palestinians. It was a part of the peace process. Principles of peace for power. I call aikido “Peaceful Power.” I think people do not understand what peace is or what power is, and O-Sensei was trying to show us. We think power is physical muscle power and we try harder to overpower and dominate others. If we don’t look for that kind of power, then we just relax to be soft and nice, maybe spiritual, but that is weak and that’s not power either. So, the essence of power is in our Ki, our Life Energy, and it’s the power of the whole Universe itself. But we have to relax and follow the principles of our center, base, extension and connection, then we will really have this power which is peaceful because the Universe really is loving energy. It’s a peaceful and loving place. We are the same. We must blend and harmonize. The greatest power is when we harmonize with Life Energy in the Universe, which is in everything and everyone. So I think O-Sensei was trying to teach us about the real nature of Power and the real nature of Peace. Peace is not weak, peace is not the last resort, nor is peace like “Oh, nice.” Peace is very dynamic and it’s very life giving and harmonious. You see golfers always trying to kill the ball. “I try to kill it!” That’s what they say and they don’t get very good results. They hurt their body, they hurt the grass, their balls go and hit trees…. And they get upset. They don’t understand that killing it does not work. They don’t understand what to do as an alternative to killing it. They should really relax. If you relax, then energy becomes available. They should learn, like a martial art master, how to channel that energy into their center and into their minds, and then to flow it down in the golf club very focused and sharp like a sword. Then they should focus energy to the little ball and to a small target. Of course it is a challenge in a big playing field. You have to be as sharp as a samurai. When golfers begin to understand that the energy is in their body and the energy goes into their club, and that it goes into the ball when they swing, then into the hole, it transforms their way of playing golf. They play better, they feel better, they score better, and they enjoy more.
Are a lot of golf players learning from you?
Yes. I teach seminars in clinics. It’s called KIAI GOLF. My purpose or intention is to bring the teaching of aikido to the world, to more people, to mainstream and ordinary people. Ordinary people are playing sports, golf, tennis, baseball, basketball, or they go bowling. Sports are physical and so they need power and focus. It’s a good place to reach them. Not so many people come to the dojo, you know. I think these universal principles can help people transform their consciousness. In our society a place to find the most people is a place where they play sports. People play sports, go to music concerts and go shopping. So I want to reach them playing sports. I want them to understand mind and body principles, integration of mind and body united with Life Energy in the Universe. I think O-Sensei’s aikido is a way to make all human beings one family. Because everybody likes sports and plays together, I think that, if we bring O-Sensei’s aikido teaching of peaceful power to people playing golf or other sports, we can really carry O-Sensei’s message. Since it is a teaching of peace and we have so much trouble in the world with violence, war, hatred and division, it is really important. I am finding I can really carry that message or teaching to people through sports better than what I would do if I were a spiritual teacher or a priest, so better than through religion.
It’s because you can use body. You can help them to use their body. You can help them to understand what you are really doing. They can feel your blending with them.
Yes. They can learn through aikido on the mat and through sports. People can do it. They can understand. In fact, I find people are hungry for it. They are very excited. It’s much more interesting than the average sports instruction they get. Usually the teaching they get is only mechanic, how to play the game… just techniques.
They don’t expect to get any spiritual teaching from sports instructors.
Exactly. If they do go to the spiritual sport, then they think, “Oh, I just need to relax” Then they go in the other extreme again and they lose actual techniques in sports. But it’s both. That’s what O-Sensei did; it’s very spiritual, but also very physical. Sport is very physical and we want some spiritual understanding in it. The truth of our world is that the spiritual and the material are really blended. It’s not one or the other. Before we had so many spiritual things and religions, and we thought the body was no good, then we went to modern society and all Americans go shopping for material things, cars, etc. They should be together. This is the way for the future. We reached 2000, a new millennium, and we had a kind of holistic and alternative medicine, yoga, martial arts for the last 20 or 25 years. People are ready now. So now I have KIAI GOLF, and KIAI WAY, which is the name of my whole company.
Are many people working for you?
It’s growing. It’s still a new business, but it’s growing. I want to take KIAI WAY to many sports and many things and teach. It’s also very nice that it reaches cross-age levels. Because martial arts are very cool, I can teach junior and young golfers to bow to their golf clubs and draw their golf clubs like a sword. They love it! I can teach them respect, discipline, focus, and dignity. It’s the way you do a martial arts class, but in golf! It’s great for the kids and it makes golf more interesting because golf sometimes can seem like an elder person’s sport. But this makes golf really cool and that’s good. Seniors and elder golfers like what I do because I do a lot of fitness and stretching. Middle aged women like it because it’s very empowering. Men like it because it is a martial art and they are learning how to be powerful in a less stressful way. I teach many middle-aged men.
Do you actually teach aikido to them or teach golf in an aikido way?
J: I teach them in an aikido way. I do bring my black belt uke to my golf seminars and I demonstrate real aikido to my golfers. Sometimes I teach them a technique or two, but it’s not like a regular aikido class. But I teach them a lot of energy works and I relate them to golf. Then some people want to start training aikido. Now I teach in classes which are called “Aikido for tennis and golf,” and they practice from aikido. They learn about their base, their center, ki flow and how to move from their hips and center, relaxation, breathing and focus… So these are the principles of aikido and they practice them in pairs like we do in aikido. So in my golf clinics, I conduct classes like an aikido class. I demonstrate and I make them bow to each other and I have them practice in pairs! Then I just watch them for a minute and I demonstrate some more, and maybe I hit some golf shots, I have them hit and we watch and comment, and do more paired practices. That’s the way I like to teach and it’s a great way to learn. They enjoy it a lot. I don’t just lecture to them and I don’t just go around like a golf teacher who talks and pushes them saying, “Do this.” I demonstrate because you learn from your teacher. What’s nice is that you get to learn to bow and have respect. Unless you do a martial art, you don’t have a ritual in America. We don’t have it in our culture. Now I am bringing it to golf. They bow to the golf ball. Actually, when you bow to the golf ball, it puts you at a perfect angle to set up for your shot. So the energy starts to flow down to the ball because of your consciousness. They bow to their golf club. Most Americans have never done this and if they do it, it changes them. It makes them more focused, respectful and more conscious. I also work a lot on communication between the mind and body so that people can know where the body parts are and what the breath and energy feel like. If they need to turn their knee or move their shoulder or release their hand, they know where their body parts are. My exercises help to naturally train body—mind communication. That’s what we do in aikido, but most sports instruction does not have that. The KIAI Sport Instruction does.
Did any Japanese people come and learn from you?
I had some. Japanese people love golf so I have taught some people. I don’t have solid Japanese students. I want to get more. Some of them are quite interested. I am hoping that I will have more, and I would love to go to Japan and Korea and teach KIAI GOLF. What do you think? Do you think they would laugh at it in Japan or would become interested?
Well, it all depends on the results. If they see good results, they will be interested. Especially in Japan, because of the cultural difference, when they see you are a woman teacher and are doing aikido in golf, people may not be interested in the beginning. But if you prove what you are doing works, they will become interested. It takes time. But once you become successful, you will become very successful.
I would like to get some Japanese professional golfers to work with me. People can come up in women’s and men’s professional golf tours here or in Japan.
In Japan now there are many professional sports athletes who are becoming interested in martial arts. They are trying to get some hints from martial arts. For example, Ushiro Sensei, a karate teacher, has a lot of students who do sports professionally. Those people are not really doing karate, but they use the principles of martial arts in their sports. Ushiro Sensei teaches many professional baseball players.
Oh, I should talk with him. There is Annika Sorenstam here, the number one on the ladies’ professional golf tour, the LPGA. She is like a Tiger Woods; she is the best one. She was the number one professional golfer about four years ago, and she fell down a little bit. Then last year she won eleven tournaments. She won four tournaments in a row and shot fifty-nine. She is the first woman who has ever broken sixty. So she had the record-making year last year. Everywhere she was asked what happened to her, how she got better. What she did was she started to do first more physical training, physical fitness and she became more athletic. Then she hired a fourth degree black belt in karate and did martial arts training. When she came back last year, she became the number one again. So people are starting to understand.
I like to train people like that but also just the average person. I call it “Way to black belt golfers,” beginners, intermediate and advanced golfers. For beginners it is a great way to learn because they can avoid a lot of bad habits and start off just with good habits. Many golfers want to break handicap; they want to break 90 or 80 and wonder how they can make their next step. It is competitive, of course.
There’s one more thing I want to say. In golf, we have in the last 25 years a huge improvement and advances in golf technology. Golf clubs, golf balls and also in golf instruction. People go to golf schools, have videotapes or computer to analyze their swings, lasers on the putter line, everything. So we went from here to here in golf technology, but golfers have not improved so much. The technology has not helped golfers, so we are missing something. There’s a big gap. Golf handicaps have not gone down and golfers are not any less frustrated than they have ever been before. We have better equipment and we even have better instruction and more instruction and training aids, but it’s not helping golfers. So, you have to look at this and say, “Something is missing,” Any intelligent and rational person would say, “We are missing something. Something is not working. What is it? What do we have to do to close this gap?” Nobody is really asking that question, but I did and I answered it! I said, ” Look. There is a tremendous amount of wisdom in Eastern philosophy and Eastern practices, martial arts, especially, yoga and meditation.” So we need to bring in the Eastern spiritual practices and Eastern body practices and combine them with Western knowledge, scientific methods and equipment. Then we shall see real improvement. But people need to understand their body and their KI, their life energy. They should know that life energy comes into their physical body, into the physical energy, and the mind is the mental energy or thoughts, emotions, feeling, spirit and passion, motivation. They need to understand their own energy systems and become the master of their own energy systems. They need to understand “I”—our true nature—and the power of oneness or unification. When we all understand that KIAI unites ourselves with this natural power that is in us, in our mind, body, emotion and spirit, and then we will have real life skills to do anything, golf, tennis or whatever. We can pick up equipment, technology, and we will see real success.
This was what Tiger Woods has done. Tiger Woods is a golfer, but he is the one, on the planet earth at this moment of time, who, as a human individual, has realized more human potential than anybody. He is doing things nobody has ever seen before. It’s like running a mile in three minutes, a baseball team scoring 150 runs, or a basketball team scoring 400 points. I mean, what he has done is just incredible. He has been training since he was little and he did physical fitness, meditation—his mother is a Buddhist from Thailand—and he is the master of his emotions pretty much. He is all around and operates in another zone. You can see it. He has just a whole new level, but that’s available to everybody. He is just an example of person who cultivated all since he was young.
That’s what we are doing in aikido but most of us never get there till we are 20, 30 or 40 years old. I would like to see my goal of “ki” and “ai,” those two words, those two kanji, become household words in America, around the world. Everybody should know, “ki” = Life Energy, “aI” = Harmony, Love, Oneness, Unification. Two words, two concepts. Very simple. Everybody understands those things. We learn about them, we practice them and we teach them to our children. Children learn reading, writing, mathematics, then they will also learn ki and ai. They will learn about their own energy system, mind, body, emotions, and spirit. They will be the master of it and the center of it. Then they will choose what to do with it. They can pick up a golf club, a tennis racket, a book or a computer, or drive a car to go skiing. It does not matter whatever they do. They will be healthier and there will be more harmony in the world, and there will be great performance. People do better and have more success, a great achievement in a healthy way. So, that’s really my goal. My job is teaching golf and bringing aikido to more people in the world. I want to bring more peace, harmony, health, and capability to all the people in the world and hopefully make the world more peaceful, harmonious and healthy. I think that is what O-Sensei wants us to do.
I have been talking with a lot of people and everybody talks about O-Sensei and what he taught us. I see he has influenced so much so many people far away from Japan.
When I was in Shingu, I went to Tanabe where O-Sensei was born and buried. One day, early in the morning I went to visit the graveyard by myself, then I saw a peace pole, “May Peace Prevail on Earth,” where O-Sensei is. I walked with that in the Middle East, you know. So, I stood in front of the place where he is buried and where the peace pole is, then I said, ” He is not dead!” He was so alive. I was shocked. I have been to many cemeteries, I have been around people with AIDS, around death and everything, so I know it. But there was so much life force in his grave! I said, “Oh, my God!” He is not dead. His energy was so vibrant. I was really shocked. I never had that experience. I don’t really talk about this too much, but it really shocked me.
All of sudden I started to take things off. I took off everything I could take off in public. I took off my hat, my sunglasses, my backpack, my pouch, my socks and shoes… I was only in short pants and shirt. Then it was like O-Sensei conducted a class. I just closed my eyes and did meditation. It was a spiritual experience. He really gave me an aikido class and it was like a negative of a photograph, reverse black and white photograph. We did a lot of hanmi handachi techniques and a kind of randori, just practice and it was very fluid. So it was this kind of message, “Practice, practice, and go into the world.”
Then, when it was over, it was over. It was just like, “The class is over. Bow, put your stuff on and leave!” I could not put my stuff back on fast enough. O-Sensei was like, “When it is done, it is done. Leave. Bye!” It was very powerful. It was 1990. Ever since that day, I feel the communication has been quite strong. I read O-Sensei’s teachings and poetry. I started to go back to the Middle East and do peace work there. I went to teach in Russia. I feel O-Sensei is very alive. I noticed that more and more people are talking and studying about O-Sensei. We are taking to heart what O-Sensei was trying to teach us and what he is telling us to do.
Aikido is extending and many people are adapting aikido in many ways in professions in the world and I think this is something O-Sensei wanted. So we will reach the world with it. It is not just doing martial arts in a dojo. It is to change the world. That’s why we re-center ourselves and learn. Not everybody comes to the dojo so we have to go out, spread it, and combine it with other professional knowledge and skill.
How long did you stay in Japan?
Two months. It was very important for me to be able to train in Japan. I trained in Shingu, also at Hombu dojo, then I went to Hokkaido and went to nature. I went to Sendai as well. I hiked in the mountains and went to onsen (hot springs). It was a very good trip. People were nice to me and also I am always good to the Japanese people when they come to America. We have to blend. It’s like in China when they talk about ten thousand things. It’s Chinese Taoism, Confucius and others. One Source, One Energy, One God, One Spirit, One World, One Universe… and it manifests in ten thousand, ten million, ten billion things. We have different color skin or hair, different language, food…. We are all same but different. If you can start to see the sameness or single reality and appreciate that, then you appreciate the difference, but the difference only comes out from the same source. It is a very important understanding. In the Middle East, there’s a terrible war in Israel, but they are brothers, sisters, cousins. All are the same and in the same land. You see violence in war, hatred and terror. They are killing each other. It’s because they are not understanding or accepting.
They do not know what peace is. They have never experienced it.
J: I work with Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis. We try to get together and understand that we can be friends. They must taste peace. There’s aikido in Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. One of my dreams is to build a dojo “Salaam Sharon” in the Middle East, an international peace dojo where we can practice cross the lines and bring people from all over the world to practice together in the Middle East. On the mat we practice harmony.
It must be very difficult for the people in the Middle East even to just go out and try to do something together.
J: Yes. Now you can not even get together at the same place. You cannot cross the line at checkpoints. But some people do peace work with Palestinians and Israelis in the States and Europe. Then they can go back to Israel taking it there. I talked with an Israeli last week. He fought in the 1967 war. Nine of his 13 friends were killed in one blowup. He survived together with three other friends. He said, “I have never known peace” and left. He moved to Europe, Canada and America. He said just as you said, “I need to know what peace feels like” and he has never returned to live in the Middle East since he learned what peace feels like. He tries to do what he can. He will go back there and do what he needs to, but he does not want to live in the war all the time. It’s very difficult when you have young children growing up in the war. But the war shows you how stupid violence and war are, because in the Middle East nobody is any safer; nobody is achieving their goals and dreams. Everybody on both sides is suffering. Their military is very strong in Israel but they have not made it better for the Israelis. Palestinians are commiting acts of violence but are not winning in that way either. So violence is not working. It really shows you violence does not work and it causes hatred over generations. It is very destructive. It does not go anywhere. That’s what the Middle East is showing us.
O-Sensei is showing us the life-giving energy, the positive way. He is showing us that peace is very dynamic and very important.