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Seminary Student Combines Martial Arts and Peacemaking

by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Brian Emery, a first-year student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, has rekindled his interest in martial arts since attending seminary.

Brian Emery
Brian Emery blends biblical study with practical peacemaking as a seminary student and martial artist.

Emery began karate at nine years of age in his hometown of Canton, Ohio. By 13, he had earned a black belt. He continued various types of martial arts training through high school and his first year of college.

Following college, Emery spent three years as the associate pastor at Emmanuel Mennonite, in Reinholds, Penn. Time and finances did not allow him to continue his martial arts training.

When he returned to EMS for seminary in the fall of 2004, he was looking for a reason to get back into martial arts. He discovered the Aikido class taught by Doris Martin in the university fitness center. "The location was perfect and it fit into our budget," says Emery.

Martin, who has instructed Aikido since 1997, says, "Aikido is different from other martial arts in that there are no offensive moves, only defensive moves that seek to redirect and bring an attacker to the point where the situation is safe for all. The ultimate goal is to prevent any harm to anyone."

Aikido means the way of harmony. Indeed, a basic tenet of Aikido training warns against attacking to gain advantage; those who attack first are not trained well enough in the way of Aikido, and the will to attack contributes to the attacker's defeat.

Aikido has been an outlet for energy for Emery and a way to discipline his body as well as mind. "One of the reasons I'm in Aikido right now is for the physical part of it -- it is good exercise and a nice break from the study routine and sitting in classes all day. It's also a mental stress reliever. When I'm practicing Aikido I'm not thinking about the stuff I learned in class, or the book I have to read, or homework that needs to be done."

True to the Aikido form, Emery doesn't use any of his martial arts training in aggressive ways.

"I've never been one to go out and look for trouble. I've always been the kind of person to look for friends and try to get along with everyone." However, his training has helped him occasionally to neutralize situations that could have been violent. "I use what I've learned to be aware of going on around me. I pay attention to who is around me, the people I'm with, and the environment. It helps me see how I can get out of a situation that is potentially violent or dangerous."

For Emery, Aikido has been a way to continue training in martial arts while thinking about peacemaking. "Karate is very physical and has to do with attacking and counter- attacking. Aikido is more blending with another person's energy to neutralize a situation rather than neutralizing the person. Aikido is more about your mind, moving with the energy to try to slow things down a bit, to avoid hurting people and getting hurt. It's more peaceful that way."

Martin, who grew up in a Mennonite family and is now a Quaker, says, "As Mennonites (and as Quakers) we talk a lot about pacifism, but we have few opportunities to practice in a way that integrates our whole being. We can be 'nice' on the outside and angry or resistant on the inside. Aikido provides an opportunity to examine the coherence of our response to 'attacks' as we seek to integrate our mind, body and spirit."   " Though few of us experience physical attacks," she adds, "we are bombarded by those who may 'attack' our ideas, our integrity, or our beliefs. The principles that we apply on a physical level are equally valid for attacks on our spirit."  

Even in elementary school and high school, before Emery learned Aikido, he used his skills to get away from potentially violent situations rather than to incite them.

"In high school some other students approached me and seemed friendly at first," he says, "but then one grabbed me from behind, while another one was ready to strike me. I used a self-defense break-out technique in which I didn't have to hit anyone but I was able to get loose from that person's hold on me, and I ran. I didn't want to stick around and fight. I didn't want to get hurt or hurt someone else. I just wanted to get away from the situation."

Emery's training has taught him to get away from the situation when possible and to only use his training as a last resort. Fairly low-key about his martial arts training, he says it's something he will continue for a long time.

"It's a lot of fun. You can get into some interesting conversations with people. People are usually surprised when they find out I practice martial arts."