To say Mark Larson Shihan [the highest title awarded to an instructor in aikido from the Aikikai World Headquarters, Tokyo, Japan—equivalent to a PhD in academia] had a busy summer 2023 would be an understatement. He was in five countries on four continents over a period of just 9 weeks and four days between June 11 and August 17, delivering volunteer workshops, seminars, and lectures on Language and Aikido—a traditional Japanese martial art. Larson Shihan’s first stop was Japan where he held a workshop on aikido, celebrated a 40 Year Anniversary at the dojo where he began studying this art, and taught aikido in English to youth and adult practitioners. Next, he traveled to South America where he first visited the country Uruguay to help set up a Martial Arts Program for college credit at a university to model his one here at NHCC. He met with faculty, staff, and administrators at the University of the Republic Uruguay and did a workshop and seminar for the university and public. He was a guest-lecturer at the university and shared his sabbatical work titled, “Aikido and Language Learning.” His inspiration for his sabbatical came from a poem written by Aikido’s Founder:
From times of old,
the path shared by literary and martial arts has been inseparable.
Through the virtue of training mind and body,
realize this truth.
Professor Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969), Founder of Aikido
(Translation by Mark L. Larson)
Mark Larson Shihan learned aikido for a decade at its birthplace in Iwama, Ibaraki, Japan, between 1992-2002, under the longest trained student of Aikido’s Founder Morihei Ueshiba. His teacher, Morihiro Saito Shihan (1928-2002), learned aikido directly from the Founder for 23 years, then taught at the Founder’s personal dojo for the next 33 years upon the Founder’s passing in 1969 and was the highest ranked living aikido instructor in the world at the time Larson learned from him. “You are training for an altercation you will probably never be in, and if you’re not, you’re happy. Aikido is educational and life-giving. The Founder trained for 80 years, my teacher trained for 60 years, and I’ve been training for over 30 years; this is 170+ years I don’t want to get lost, so I chose to bring this art to an educational institution for the purpose of both transmission and preservation when I moved back from Japan after my teacher’s passing.” Thus GCST 1211: The History, Philosophy, and Practice of Traditional Aikido was born (est. 2008 at NHCC).
GCST 1211: The History, Philosophy, and Practice of Traditional Aikido, a course offered at NHCC for credit under the Global and Cultural Studies designator, has served as a model for multiple colleges and universities not only around the United States, but in Japan, Sweden, Argentina, and now it can add Uruguay. “Aikido helps develop physical grace, clear thinking, a calm mind, and a healthy, vibrant spirit. Its training emphasizes physical balance, blending and timing, together with instinctive, precise action. Practicing aikido can assist with one’s focus, awareness, and control,” says Larson.
Following South America where he also guest-instructed at another dojo anniversary and spoke to community members in Argentina, Larson Shihan traveled to Sweden, where he teamed up with a gentleman who has over 50 years of experience in the art. Together they taught the people “how to teach aikido” to youth, adults, and other teachers of the art. “My teacher was big about the process of learning aikido and how to teach it. Every technique in Traditional Aikido has a specific form and a particular order, and my aikido teacher was the person who systemized and codified the integral precepts of this art from Aikido’s Founder in order for others to learn it. Two things my teacher would emphasize are: ‘teach in a way that anyone and everyone can practice and learn, and teach in a way people are content with what they are being taught.’ I see many parallels between learning aikido and learning another language or dialect.” Larson, an EAP and Global & Cultural Studies faculty member at NHCC draws on many of these parallels in the way he teaches aikido and English for Academic Purposes. “The key for students is to integrate what they learn in the dojo [place of practice] or classroom into their everyday lives. This is when it becomes a part of who you are and true learning begins…” Larson witnesses this on a daily basis with his NHCC students and all that have learned from him outside the college. Mark Larson Shihan, also known as Takuto [a name he received from his aikido teacher—meaning leader or teacher who preserves a traditional way or craft] finished up his world tour in his home state of Minnesota where many aikido practitioners from all over the United States and beyond came to witness firsthand Traditional Aikido as it was taught decades ago at its origin.
Recently on May 1st, 2023, Aikido of NHCC celebrated its 15 Year Anniversary with over 50 people in attendance, including NHCC students, alumni, faculty, staff, administrators and community members. “I want NHCC to be known for its authentic aikido and a place for students to know they belong to something unique and special and can always come back to [having a home and aiki-family here].” Larson has a saying: If I teach you once, I will teach you for life—unanimously voted on by aikido students at NHCC to engrave on a paver for the NHCC Heritage Garden. “It is a complete joy to see students interact and grow throughout each semester through GCST Aikido and EAP courses, staying true to our college mission of ‘engaging students, changing lives,’ then come back to the college after they have graduated to share with me what is going on in their lives and how aikido and their language learning has played a small role, obviously touching their heartstrings, as they contribute to society and the lives of others, creating a more peaceful, meaningful, mindful, and compassionate world,” Larson said.