Photo Caption: Orrin Fitzmourice, center, leaps over a padded bat Sunday as part of an awareness exercise during the Ki-Aikido open house Sunday at ACEnet on Columbus Road.
A unique new martial-arts studio has opened its doors in Athens, under the wing of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACENet) business incubator on Columbus Road.
Athens Ki-Aikido introduced itself to the community with an open house last Sunday. Sensei and lead instructor Stan Haehl explained that he had been offering Aikido classes at the Athens Community Center, but chose to expand his offerings and create a more permanent school.
"We started it when I came back to Athens in 2008," he said. "I started off teaching classes at the Community Center, and this year, we decided to kind of take a step up."
This involved securing a space at the ACENet facility, and setting the wheels in motion for the studio to become a non-profit organization. Athens Ki-Aikido has already registered as a non-profit corporation with the state, he said, and is in the process of trying to obtain 501(c)(3) status from the federal IRS.
Currently, Haehl's classes include everything from beginners to experienced martial artists. Eight of his students are sufficiently advanced to be ranked by an international aikido organization, he said.
"We just recently started a kid's program," he added, and the school has six to eight younger students.
Haehl's background is in theater. He has a master's in fine arts in that discipline from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, and taught for eight years at various universities – including a stint from 1987 to 1990 at Ohio University.
This was actually a good intro to the martial arts, he said, as he specialized in stage motion, such as pantomime and stage combat. "That kind of led me to aikido training in particular," he recalled.
Another reason he took it up, he said, was that "I wanted a kind of ethical self-defense practice, which would not involve hurting people who were trying to hurt me." He felt the need to be prepared for possible violence, he said, because this was during the Vietnam War, and he was at that time "a long-haired anti-war guy in Kansas."
After leaving academia, Haehl said, he worked in textbook sales for a while, then for the American Cancer Society. He returned to Athens to be near his grandchildren, just in time to get laid off. "I became, as I say, unwillingly retired," he said. He started teaching aikido, though not as a major source of income – he got a small paycheck from the Community Center when he taught there, but doesn't pay himself a salary from Athens Ki-Aikido.
Haehl said he's committed to providing traditional training in a discipline that's "not as popular a martial art as some others," and wouldn't want to compromise that commitment to make money.
The school is affiliated with organizations including the Hsin Hsin Poitsu Aikido Kii, an international academy. It is open for students to sign up and begin training at any time, at any level of experience.
Perhaps Haehl's most advanced student at this point is Alina Kordesch, an Ohio University undergraduate studying Japanese and linguistics. She's one rank below a black belt, and has been training with Haehl since around 2008.
Kordesch said Haehl does a good job of conveying the elements of aikido to mixed groups of beginners and more experience practitioners. "He's really good at explaining," she said.