Sunday, September 8, 2019


It has been a month since I came in Varanasi, India, at the invitation of VIDYASHRAM-THE SOUTHPOINT SCHOOL , in order to spread aikido within the ‘Nirman project’, which aims to broad-base education of young people attending that school.

I have been practicing aikido for 50 years. The style that I practice and teach is Kobayashi Ryu Aikido, which is based on the teachings of Master Kobayashi Hirokazu (1929 - 1998), a direct pupil of the founder of aikido Morihei Ueshiba (1883 - 1969).

Aikido ("The Way of the Harmonious Spirit") is a traditional Japanese martial art. It is not a sport but a "Budo", a Japanese word meaning "Way to Stop the War".

Aikido, besides being an extremely effective martial art, is first of all an educational discipline for everyone, without distinction of age, sex, culture or social level.

It teaches how to work with the body in order to discover the tensions that inhibit it.
It teaches how to release an energy that can be used to act and create.
It leads to self-esteem and respect for others in favour of common growth.
It leads to the realization of one's dreams.

This educational message is key for the young since the future of the world is in their hands. Khalil Gibran said about our children:
"You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams."

Education lies in the knowledge of one's own body, in the search for one's own identity through one's relationship with others.
For this reason, the teaching of aikido turns out to be of fundamental importance in schools, where the young are trained.

Assisted by Sanjukta Roy, 1st dan, I am teaching the young students in Betawar, Varanasi.
Here at Betwar, students already have an excellent educational and relational training as they are prepared in a school environment where the aim is to enhance the personal qualities of the student.
Not unexpectedly, the first impact with an aikido class has revealed expectations borrowed from the information about martial arts – often incorrect or even harmful – coming from the media or more simply from friends and acquaintances.
Some of the boys were looking forward to fighting in order to demonstrate their strength and superiority; others were keeping aside fearful; the girls usually made a group of their own, wondering if they would ever be considered in an environment which is wrongly considered of male relevance.

The young people of Betawar are taught first of all:

* The management of space, discipline, silence, listening (which is the foundation of the relationship) and respect for the place devoted to the practice. 

* Respect for the aikido partner, through the technique, and therefore the understanding of differences, sharing and mutual help; the understanding that the martial gesture is not used to suppress but to make live both contenders, by respecting their physical and moral integrity.

* Respect for the group, through the ritual and the relation to sacredness.

At the basis of all this there is the acceptance of essential rules to form a framework within which the young can find themselves, having points of reference in an environment unknown to them – namely the dojo (or place of practice) – and in conditions unusual to them.
Since the first lesson, many rules have been accepted immediately with great diligence:
- how to get on the "tatami" (a mat on which Aikido is practiced);
- which side of the mat the students sit on;
- which side the teacher sits on;
- the salutation towards the honour side of the dojo, i.e. the "kamiza", which is the place where the teacher stands;
- the salutation towards the aikido partner.
Of course, the acceptance of these rules has been accompanied by a number of questions, sometimes asked in a confused way, but this is ultimately a positive aspect, a point in favor of young Indian students, since it translates the enthusiasm to learn new aspects, which is something difficult to notice in Europe.

That is why I immediately proposed movements belonging to the ritual of aikido where the silence is paramount.
Everything was accepted with some perplexity, with lost looks looking for confirmation in the aikido partners. However, after a few classes, the students themselves looked for this specific aspect of the practice, the silence, which is key to allow them to listen to themselves and their companions.

We have also overcome the first resistance on the part of males to practice with girls.
The sky needs the earth to create the horizon! Yang energy needs yin energy.
The boys have understood this and now the practice is common, as it should be.

My teacher, André Cognard, says that in order to teach children and young people it is necessary that the instructor has solved his/her own infantile and adolescent problems.
This is a thorny issue, since sometimes violent children come out of our dojos, who consider the martial art as an instrument of domination over others.

In Betwar aikido classes aim exactly the opposite way. Aikido is definitely a martial art, an extremely effective fighting art where it may be easy to transcend into oppression. However, its educational aspect, for a trained teacher, is the foundation of the practice.
Respect, humility, benevolence and listening are the foundations for making aikido an instrument of peace and not of war, at the service of man and not against man.
Neither domination, nor submission, nor compromise is our motto. That is what we propose to our children in our classes, and it seems that the message has been received very quickly, with enthusiasm and intelligence.
Many things – as is logical – need to be improved, since we are at the beginning. The prospects of growth for this group of young people are exceptional though.
In the next classes we will provide the children with more information and explain further techniques, gradually, as is appropriate to a consciousness that is bound to grow.

  Paolo Salvadego
  8th dan, Shihan KRA, Kyoshi DNBK
  India Shibu-chō

 P.S.  For more information about our classes, please check our facebook page @ Kobayashi Ryu Aikido Varanasi. You can also write to us with your queries :

Exploring themes of Diversity and Discrimination - A Panel Discussion

A fresh perspective, a different outlook, new opinions and thoughts… this is what allows our students to constantly evolve and develop through their learning. Learning is never limited to only what surrounds us. While we learn best from our surroundings, in order for it be well-rounded, it’s important to explore topics in the bigger picture and to keenly listen to the experiences and opinions of others from different cultures and backgrounds. 
In an attempt to explore the big picture of the various facets of diversity and discrimination around our world, a panel discussion was held for the students of class six, seven and eight at our school. The topic seemed fitting for all three classes as they explored themes of diversity, discrimination, equality and learnt about the Indian Constitution in their individual classes. Our aim was for our students to gain an understanding on a local as well as a global level and make the interconnections between these themes at various levels. 
Our first two panellists were Célia Dufournet and Davis Saul, body mime practitioners from Toulouse, France who were spending a month at NIRMAN working on various projects and conducting workshops. And our third panellist was Nita Kumar, director of NIRMAN.
Our first speaker, Célia Ma’am, shared her experience of living in France and America and her experiences of being a woman in different countries, including India where she was currently traveling. Célia also spoke about racism in France and how it affects the lives of immigrants and refugees. She also taught students some greetings in French, hoping they would embrace different cultures and languages with equal enthusiasm as they adopt that which is familiar to them!
‘Race’ and ‘Racism’ were new terms for our students, since the conversation about discrimination was centric to ‘caste’ or ‘religion’ so far. Célia’s talk explored themes of gender and race for our students and in response to her talk, many asked questions about the causes of discrimination, if she was discriminated or had discriminated someone and the differences and similarities in India and France.
Our second speaker, Nita Ma’am, shared experiences of her childhood about how she had understood the difference on the basis of one’s ‘class’ very early on, in the company of Shankar, a helper in their house. She spoke about caste and class discrimination in India and how any form of discrimination is dangerous as it completely devalues the person being discriminated.
Students quickly made connections from her talk to their lives and asked questions about class discrimination in India, how can one define discrimination and the difference between inequality and discrimination. 
Our third speaker, Davis Sir, spoke about religious diversity in the world and introduced our students to Judaism. He shared his experiences of being a Jew and the history of the religion as well as the atrocities that Jewish people had faced during World War II.
Through this talk, students learnt about the multiplicity of religions in the world and how some people choose to be religious and some do not. They also learnt about how certain sections of the world have been discriminated against throughout history.
  In response to the panel discussion, class 6 students wrote reflections in their diary. Here are a few excerpts:  

Reflection #1  
“In Panel Discussion, we were talking about discrimination and inequality. We learnt it in three different ways. First France, second America and third, India.

We asked questions about discrimination and inequality. One by one, sir and ma’am told us what is discrimination and inequality. In France, we learn what type of discrimination is happening in that country and in America, the difference between discrimination and inequality.”

Reflection #2
“Today, I and my class went to class 7 for a discussion with Celia Ma’am, Davis Sir and Nita Ma’am. The topic was Diversity, Inequality and Discrimination. After this, we know that discrimination is a thing which happens with everyone, at least once!
In USA, there are many races and the white skin is special for them. It’s high like ‘Bhramins’ over here. The black skin is (treated like a) waste by them, like ‘Shudras’ over here!”

Riya Parikh,
Teacher and Researcher,