Lee and I came into contact with each other through Facebook. I’ve enjoyed reading her posts and following the growth of her Aikido community. In fact, tomorrow is the 7th Anniversary of her starting her dojo, North Valley Aikikai. Congratulations, Lee and the same to your community!
Below are the questions I asked Lee and her replies:
-Where did you grow up in Israel? And when did you come to the States?
“I was raised in a (then) small town called Hod Hasharon, which is about 20 minutes NE of Tel Aviv. The area was known for its citrus orchards and its reddish-colored soil. I left home at 18 for the big city, Tel Aviv, and served in the IDF [Israeli Defense Forces] for 3 years as an officer-commander in the officers academy for women. I was 25 years old when I moved to the USA in July 1988, following a handsome young man whom I met in Tel Aviv. So, it was love that brought me to Los Angeles.”
-Where did you first come in contact with a martial art? And with Aikido?
“One day, when I was 13, my younger sister came home and wanted to show me a trick. When I agreed, she did a Judo throw and I found myself laying face up on the rug. I signed up for it the following week. I competed in Judo for six years and was a member of the national Judo team. Judo was mostly a sport and not much of Budo.
“After a few years in the US I started looking for a martial art that was not competitive, and stumbled upon information about Iaido and Aikido. I went to check out a dojo in West LA and signed up right after I observed a class.”
-Who were your first instructors?
“Pablo Vazquez Sensei, of WLA Aikido Institute was my first Aikido teacher. I trained there for about a year and a half. On my first year I participated in a seminar and saw a teacher that impressed me greatly, yet due to the fact his dojo was in Berkeley, Northern California, the possibility of becoming Shibata Sensei’s student seemed unrealistic.
“I did find a way and ended up being Shibata Sensei’s apprentice (Kenshusei) for almost six years, traveling from Los Angeles to Berkeley every week and living a ‘double life’—half the week in Los Angeles as a business woman, running a commercial printing company, and half the week in Berkeley, as an apprentice who trains close to a thousand hours a year. Shibata Sensei has been my teacher for the past 17 years.”
-What are things that your Aikido training has helped you on and off the mat– with work, friends and family?
“Many life lessons were presented in the Aikido framework, and these are only a handful. Some of them were learned the hard way and some were assimilated slowly:
“Never assume. Be humble. Have compassion and care for others. Karma happens. Sit on a rock for at least three years and you will discover new things. There is more than what meets the eye (in its Japanese version: The wheels within wheels).”The quieter you become the more you can hear” (Ram Das). Every moment is precious – be present. Life’s too short – enjoy it. Love is the way. Choose to be happy.”
More with Lee’s insightful and wonderful answers will follow in Part II.
And a reminder: tomorrow Sensei Lee’s dojo will have a community celebration from 4-9 PM at the dojo with Aikido tests and demonstrations and a pot luck. The link above for the dojo provides more information.