North Hennepin Community College seeks to revive aikido class

10:00 AM | Saturday, May 14, 2022

Sometimes academia involves more than lectures and textbooks. Although it’s not often that you find a college class involving hand-to-hand combat where one wrong move could get you knocked to the ground.

North Hennepin Community College sophomore Amari Townsend is one of the students who enrolled in “Introduction to Japanese Culture” this semester. In this course, students are introduced to the martial art known as Aikido.

“Usually when you think about fighting or something, it’s more like hitting hard, hitting fast,” Townsend said. “This one felt more like it was navigating life.”

Mark Larson is an aikido instructor at the Brooklyn Park campus in North Hennepin.

“I want [students] live an authentic experience,” said Larson. “You know, I was very lucky to live in Japan for a decade and I’ve also been going back and forth for 30 years, so I want authenticity. I also want them to learn more about their own mind and their body.

According to Larson, aikido is unique in that there are no competitions or tournaments, like in other martial arts.

“A lot of people will talk about [Aikido] being more of a defensive art,” Larson said. “Here in the West, there is a lot of movement.”

Mark Larson (left) demonstrates an aikido move with student Amari Townsend.

For 12 years, students could take aikido as an official college course at North Hennepin.

Part of its appeal is that it can be learned by anyone of any size, strength, or ability.

“It’s a lot of joint manipulation and it’s not just pure strength,” Larson said.

This is one of the reasons why 50 students enrolled in the course in spring 2020.

Pandemic break

“And [the class] was building,” Larson said. “You know, there were people on the waitlist who wanted to join next semester, and then the pandemic hit and here we go, squash.”

Now, Larson is on a mission to bring the class back for the fall semester. He recently obtained the title of “Shihan” in Aikido (comparable to a doctorate level), and he would like to transmit this knowledge to the students of North Hennepin.

“I think at the end of the day, if you can incorporate the things you learn in class, like focus, awareness, control, into your daily life, you’re going to benefit,” Larson said.

This is an advantage Townsend could already see during his limited time in the Aikido dojo.

“I feel like this course is good for self-defense, #1, but also for getting a fresh perspective on things,” Townsend said.

Brooklyn Park

Kristen T. Prall