UW News

August 8, 2002

Getting to know Aikido

Eric Oberg has been moving toward harmony for about 20 years, and wanted to share something of his journey with others. That’s why he’s written a book of the same name, Moving Toward Harmony, which he describes as “a meditation on the principles of aikido.”

Aikido is the Japanese martial art that Oberg, a receptionist in the UW’s English Language Programs office, has been studying and teaching since he was 19. The fact that he has a book on the subject goes back to his grandfather, Henry Tatsumi, who was connected with the UW for more than 35 years.

Tatsumi, who earned two degrees at the University and taught Japanese language here, published his own language textbook under the Far Eastern Press imprint.

“Far Eastern Press was really a foot-operated printing press in my grandfather’s study,” Oberg says. “He set the metal type himself. I revived the Far Eastern Press name to publish my book, but I’ve used more modern methods.”

Moving Toward Harmony is not a book from which one can learn to do aikido. Although it contains multiple photos of aikido moves, the text more nearly resembles poetry. Here’s a sample:


The other person will change you

Let it happen

Out of apparent conflict will come growth

With growth you will acquire wisdom

With wisdom you become patient

With patience you can accomplish great things

“There are a lot of technical books about aikido out there,” Oberg says. “I started to write one but wasn’t satisfied with the way that it was turning out. Then, when I began to think more about the principles of aikido, I decided to do something from a more philosophical/emotional perspective.”

Aikido, he explains, is not simply a way to fight an opponent. The word breaks down into three parts — ai, meaning harmony; ki, meaning the unknowable source of life, or life force; and do, meaning the way. So aikido is the way of being in harmony with the life force.

Oberg discovered it when he studied drama and his acting teacher recommended practicing movement arts. He was interested in judo, he said, until he found a book on aikido in his grandfather’s study and was instantly enthralled. It turned out that the book had been given to his grandfather by a student who had gone to Japan, learned aikido there and returned to start the Seattle School of Aikido. Oberg later studied and taught at the school.

Aikido, he says, focuses on defensive moves and is noncompetitive. There are no matches or tournaments in aikido. Rather, one simply practices, with the main goal being to learn about oneself.

“Aikido is kind of a laboratory for you to examine your philosophy, your relationships to other people and your attitude,” Oberg says. “The training — since you’re not really trying to kill each other — allows you to examine things a bit more closely.”

For example, Oberg says that being resistant to change is a liability in aikido because in practicing, one tries to flow with the attack rather than trying to stop the person who’s attacking. “You allow the attack to change you,” he says, “and you add energy to the attack, using the energy to unbalance the attacker.”

That in turn requires sensitivity, Oberg says. “In a way, the defense is to allow yourself to be more vulnerable because it’s based on opening up to what’s happening in the moment.”

Although Oberg is proficient in the physical aspects of aikido — he’s earned a second degree black belt — it’s always been the philosophy that has attracted him. That’s part of why he created gentle aikido, a form that requires no falling or being thrown. In gentle aikido, he says, he concentrates on breathing, body awareness and adaptability.

“For a lot of people, the idea of being thrown to the ground is the hurdle that keeps them from learning aikido,” he says. “This opens it up to a larger audience.”

And audience is what it’s all about for Oberg. He started covering classes as a substitute only a year after becoming a student of aikido, and started offering his own classes after about four years. He was the coordinating instructor at Seattle School of Aikido for six years.

“When I get a student who says to me that my teaching made a difference in his life — that’s the big payoff,” Oberg says. “That’s why I do this.”

Oberg will be teaching a class in gentle aikido this fall at the Women’s Center. He also teaches at the Space Within and at Ravenna Park. For more information, see http://www.GentleAikido.com .