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Brains and brawn: Japanese martial art blends perfectly in Bellevue | Community sports feature

George Ledyard has spent much of his adult life pursuing his passion for Aikido.  - Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter
George Ledyard has spent much of his adult life pursuing his passion for Aikido.
— image credit: Josh Suman, Bellevue Reporter

BY JOSH SUMAN

George Ledyard has seen all the martial arts fads.

From the Kung Fu craze that swept the US in the 1970s to the current popularity of MMA, which has taken combat sports to a new level both in terms of violence and mainstream attraction, Ledyard has been there for it all.

But even in the midst of a society constantly seeking something bloodier and closer to the edge, the longtime Bellevue resident and the countless students he has taught in the inviting Factoria dojo at Aikido Eastside, have found studying martial arts is about more than breaking boards or noses.

Ledyard began his study of martial arts with a variety of forms, including Kung Fu and Judo. But after dabbling in several of the more mainstream martial arts, which are primarily focused on self-defense and carry a certain level of inherent violence, Ledyard found he was left unsatisfied.

That's when he found Aikido.

Started around the turn of the 20th Century in Japan by Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido is a uniquely intricate martial art that combines commonly used techniques and a spiritual focus that is considered equally important. While many of the physical tenants of other martial arts come into play in one form or another, Ledyard emphasized that Aikido is probably not the best option for those looking to fend off purse snatchers or put on their best Chuck Norris impression when trouble starts brewing.

"Aikido is really a different martial art," Ledyard said. "It's definitely not the short road to self-defense."

Like any martial art, Aikido is made up of pillars that remain constant throughout all practices and interpretations that can vary widely based on an instructor and his or her lineage through the art.

For students at Aikido Eastside, that means an opportunity to carry on principles laid down by the founder himself.

Ledyard began his intensive study of Aikido while in Washington DC during and after college and his instructor was Mitsugi Saotome, one of the original students of Ueshiba. The opportunity not only to teach Aikido but carry on the philosophies from the originator of the genre is one of the many joys Ledyard said he experiences in the dojo.

"I've had a lot of feedback from people who tell me what we did here was transformative," he said. "People find the community of the dojo to be a supportive place."

It is mostly professional clientele that fills classes at Aikido Eastside today, as the younger generation has increasingly gravitated towards the more popular MMA. Ledyard said he also trains a number of females, and that most of his students are more concerned about the spiritual growth that can be gained rather than self-defense.

That was especially true for a young man who studied with Ledyard for only a few months during a time of intense personal struggle. While in the class, the student was able to connect with an array of business leaders and technology gurus, which caused him to reexamine his own path. Ledyard received an email from the man recently, which was written from his combat zone in Afghanistan, where he was serving as a member of the United States military. Though he only took classes at Aikido Eastside for around a month, the experience and fellow students were enough to leave a lasting impact.

"I remembered him, but you never would have predicted three weeks would have that effect on him,"Ledyard said. "It was the people."

The dojo at Aikido Eastside is exceptionally authentic to the Japanese martial arts experience. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER

Training implements hang on a rack at Aikido Eastside, where all of the training is done in pairs. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER

Ledyard pays homage to the many historical figures of Aikido, including its founder. JOSH SUMAN, BELLEVUE REPORTER

Contact and submissions: jsuman@bellevuereporter.com

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