Aikido and Gender Day 2018: Building Blocks for Gender Equity

Aikido and Gender Day 2018: Building Blocks for Gender Equity

How to make practical progress to achieve gender balance and equity in Aikido? At the Second Aikido and Gender Day 2018 around 20 aikidoka explored this question from various angels. In various ways, from aikido training to workshop to interactive dialogue, they identified a rich collection of aspects which may serve as 'building blocks' for an agenda for further work.

The 2018 Gender Day took place in Sports Centre Papendal near Arnhem in the Netherlands. Some 20 aikidoka (f/m) from the Netherlands, Slovenia, Sweden, and Austria participated. The seminar was a follow-up on the First Aikido Gender Day on 12 March 2017, in which  three over-all themes emerged which were now the focus of this day: 

  1. How to include more women in aikido, as participants, instructors and board members? 
  2. How can instructors and dojo leaders encourage the balancing of feminine and masculine qualities in Body-Mind unity, an essential part of aikido? 
  3. Experience indicates that Gender Balance can evoke a joyful training atmosphere inducive to learning. How can instructors and dojo leaders encourage this aspect? 

In addition, a list of female and male qualities had been identified in the previous leadership workhop by Anita Paalvast. The themes and the list were the basis for Gender Day 2018.

Aikido practice

The day started with two Aikido classes which focused on blending feminine and masculine qualities in aikido. Caroline Bied-Charreton (5th dan) showed how 'feminine' qualities such as flexibility, calmness and sensitivity could be applied in techniques like ikkyo and make them more flowing. By applying calmness and sensitivity, tori can not only improve herself, but also relate better to uke and transfer calmness to her. In the same spirit, Satomi Ishikawa (4th dan) demonstrated the importance of self-assuredness inaction. For both uke and tori, one's concern should be to find calmness in your own body. Action can have a positive effect only with this basic condition. This basic condition makes equality available to all practitioners, no matter if you are men or women.

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Workshop on feminine and masculine qualities in leadership

After lunch, Anita Paalvast (leadership trainer and member of Aikido in Company Foundation) led a workshop on feminine and masculine qualities in leadership based on the results of last year's workshop. She guided participants into deeper thinking about these qualities. starting from over-dominance of masculine or feminine traits in behavior and leadership styles in organizations. We then explored the link between feminine/masculine qualities and gender equality in the dojo and our aikido world. This produced a wealth of examples, a lively discussion and food for thought.



Staša Pisek (Slovenian Aikikai and member of the IAF Gender Balance Working Group) shared her experiences in organizing the International First Female Instructor Seminar in Slovenia on 11-13 May 2018. The seminar was led by Nadia Korichi (4th dan, France), Satomi Ishikawa (4th dan, Netherlands), and herself (3rd dan). The event was well attended by equal numbers of women and men from Slovenia and other countries. Everyone was inspired and motivated to further develop their aikido. 


 Katarina Gullberg (Chair, Swedish Aikikai) talked about her experiences as the chair of Swedish Aikikai, in which she was now chosen for a second term. Her main challenge was to provide space for every aikidoka to grow and develop while at the same time achieve concrete results. Positions for teachers, specialists and leaders in Swedish aikido organizations are still mainly occupied by men - the Board of the Swedish Aikido Federation being an exception with a 60/40 percent balance. She found that simply by being a woman in leadership inspires other female aikidoka to develop themselves.

Gerrit-Bartus Dielessen (sociologist at Johan Cruyff Institute and Utrecht University; Chair, Aikido Bond Nederland) reflected on 'Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Aikido from the social sciences perspective'. In this perspective, gender is socially constructed. Rather than ‘being’ a certain gender, people ‘do’ gender. They tend to act according to what they consider a 'real man' or 'real woman'. Sport tends to strengthen gender divisions more than in other instutitions. However, the gender construct is changeable; how to do this effectively, though, is greatly under-researched. Factors which would contribute to 'undoing gender' are: increasing visibility of and exposure to senior female aikidoka, practising with women and men together, maintaining equal standards of exercise and grading, and deflating sterotypes like 'fighting is masculine'. Leadership of sports organisations is still highly male-dominated, but a recent Zenger Folman study (see Forbes.com), found that women outscored men in all but one of the 16 leadership competences studied!

Interactive Forum

The last session was spent on the question what steps to take in order to put all the ideas generated so far into practice. This was done in an interactive forum led by José Otte (Researcher/Coach and co-chair of the IAF Gender Balance Group). Three "how to" questions were asked:

  1. How to include more women in Aikdio, in the dojo, in teaching, and in leadership?
  2. You wake up in 2022 to discover that everything you wrote on post-its has become true. What does your learning dojo look like, what has happened, who were involved?
  3. What can you do (in your dojo) to co-create more balanced body-mind or feminine-masculine qualities?

Participants divided in groups, wrote statements on post-its, ordered them into 'flows'/mindmaps and presented them in thee rounds. The result was a collection of 'building blocks' which are a good starting point for an agenda for research and development in gender equity in aikido.

Finally Cathrien de Pater, chief organizer of the Gender Day, thanked all participants, trainers and speakers. She also showed appreciation to Trudeke Sterringa and Pieter Lagerwaard of the Aikido Federation of the Netherlands for their support in the orgsnization. The Secretary of IAF, Mr. Wilko Vriesman, closed the meeting saying the Board was looking forward to receiving the results and inviting everyone for drinks! 

With thanks to the International Aikido Federation (IAF) and the Aikido Bond Nederland for making this Gender Day possible.