It is always fun for me when I learn how Aikidoka are expressing Aikido in their work as artists. I’ve seen Michelle’s textile creations first hand and they are truly works of art. Here are my questions and her answers about her Aikido, and her art.
Q: How did you first learn about Aikido? Had you heard of it beforehand?
A: “I’ve had a vague notion of Aikido as a martial art for a long time, but was never drawn to it personally. 6 years ago, I was talking to neighbor, Richard Squeri, Flowing Dragon Swords founder, about wanting to get back into tai chi. I had studied in in my late teens and early twenties with my Dad and sister via different locations during his battle with AIDS. I even had the fortune to study with Ben Lo in San Francisco above the Rainbow grocery store on the corner of Mission and 16th in the late eighties/early nineties during this difficult time. Richard got a twinkle and said he knew of just the person, his beloved sensei in Aikido, Bob Noha. Noha was also a tai chi teacher and had studied under the Professor, Cheng Man Ch’ing, in New York in the 70’s. I was excited for such an obvious answer to my inquiry and started training with Bob Noha in 2007. I went to class and I would see the Aikido folks come in after tai chi to start their training. Bill Misson, still training today at 82, kept teasing me to come play with the “big kids”. Noha, invited me to weapons classes, and after studying with Bob in Tai chi for 4 years, I decided to switch arts and give Aikido a try.”
Q: You just took a test, your 4th kyu, what was your biggest take away from the test?
A: “[My]biggest take away was that I want to keep training. I am a beginner. Aikido is full of mysteries, surprises, challenges and joy. It seems the challenges, benefits, and inclinations on the mat directly reflect the same in life. Aikido is the echo. There are constant metaphors and analogous situations that fit right into everyday life in very meaningful ways.”
Q: Have you had any Aikido books that have helped you? If so, what are they?
A: “Best Aikido, The Fundamentals by Kisshomaru and Moriteru Ushiba and The Essence of Aikido, The Spiritual Teachings of Moriei Ueshiba, compiled by John Stevens.”
Q: In your work, how has Aikido informed what you do? Aikido has helped me in many ways: creative and personal.
A: “As a textile designer, Aikido has shown me new tools to work through creative issues. The principles of O’sensei’s circle/center practices taught by Noha have been very helpful and mind blowing. Additionally, the artist/craftsperson is continually subject to the personal versus the public. You put yourself out to the world in vulnerable ways. Through Aikido, those vulnerabilities are met in direct supportive ways.”
Q: Has the wonderful textile art from Japan influenced your work in any way?
A: “Yes. Out of college, I studied with textile designer, Mark Thomas who is a masterful Arashi Shibori fabric dyer and woodblock printer. I have also been fascinated by kimono in general, especially from the 1930’s through 60’s. I have re-purposed hundreds of vintage kimono in my apparel and home accessories collections in the late 90’s. I still make custom pieces that incorporate Kimono. What I love about Japanese textiles is the value placed on the hand made process: its deliberateness and ‘chanceness’ (wabi-sabi) are such an intrinsic combination in the art.”
Q: In your field, who do you look up to for inspiration? Or, maybe a better question would be to ask where your inspiration comes from?
A: “Mostly, inspiration comes from Nature, its patterns, color combinations and inherent beauty. My studio is in an enchanted place atop Sonoma Mountain. A never ending source of inspiration surrounds me on a daily basis. I find invaluable inspiration from my friends working in creative fields. I am also inspired by what is happening today in hand printed and painted textiles available to the the interiors markets. There is a growing appreciation for hand printed yardage and it is wonderful to see what is happening.”
Q: Where do you see yourself in your work and with your Aikido in 5 years?
A: “I see myself studying with Sensei, Bob Noha, meeting existing challenges and discovering new areas of inquisition and study. I plan on continuing my work as a textile designer.”
Thank you Michelle. You are a martial artist making a difference, and one who is bringing beauty into the world.