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Interview with Birgit Lauenstein

Off Time No. 5

by Kenta Shimizu

The 3rd interview in ‘Off Time’ takes place with Ms. Birgit Lauenstein (Tendoryu Aikido for 25 years), who is the only woman within Tendoryu Aikido holding the 4th dan. She practiced and taught Tendoryu Aikido continuously of course in Germany but as well in Japan and Singapore. Ms. Birgit Lauenstein, who states that people of every country are able to practice Aikido, talked to us in perfect Japanese about her personal experience on spreading Aikido and about the fascination of Aikido.

Could you first of all tell us, why you started with Aikido?

From childhood I was thinking to learn self-defense, and in the beginning I visited several Judo and Karate Dojos in the neighborhood, but my mother was against my studying of a martial art. In spite of that I went on looking for a Budo art, because I didn’t want to give up. Just in those days Aikido was introduced in television, and I was fascinated by the feminine impression and the beauty and power of the circular motions, which seemed to take in the opponent. And my mother also agreed, that I learned Aikido.

What did you learn by Aikido, and how did you profit from Aikido?

There are two aspects, the physical as well as the mental aspect. Regarding the physical aspect in the course of time I was able to keep bodily balance. I obtained softness and strength, and finally I always had the feeling of bodily fitness. Furthermore, a foreign man attacked me from behind, when I was on the way alone late in the evening in Berlin some time ago. As the distance shortened more and more, I could feel the danger, and after I launched an Aikido Atemi the attacker run away totally surprised (laughter).

Regarding the mental aspect the mental balance became well, too. By now also outside the Dojo I became considerate of other people. Up to now I only was thinking of myself, I guess.

Ms. Lauenstein, up to now you taught Aikido in many countries, could you tell us something about your career?

I first started with Aikido in Munich/Großhadern, thereafter I went to Tokyo on business purpose; then I returned to Germany , and among other places lived in Berlin , Hungary and Singapore . Berlin built the base, and I practiced Aikido at all places, where I stayed, didn’t I? Especially in Singapore I stayed four years.

How did you teach in your home country Germany ?

It was the time when I wanted to start teaching Aikido together with companions, and during those days Aikido was not yet well known in Berlin . We organized new Dojo facilities and started with training. In this Dojo previously a Judo club practiced, and all of the more than 100 Judo and Jiu-Jitsu members changed to our Aikido club after watching our Aikido movements and after listening to our explanations (laughter). Today there are many Tendodoryu Dojos all over Berlin.

In Germany there are many Tendoryu Aikido students, why did Aikido spread in Germany up to now in such a way?

Well, that is the merit of Shimizu Sensei, who teaches the students every year. Another reason is that you are able to establish a club quite easily with government support, if you name a trainer. By this you can provide a proper environmentyou’re your teaching, without making too much efforts.

Regarding the birthday and the positive development of Tendoryu Singapore we learned that your activities played a decisive rol; what difficulties did you encounter?

In the beginning it was extremely difficult, wasn’t it? In Singapore conditions are quite different to Germany , the requirements of the government are very strict, and you cannot start teaching Budo arts so easily. Especially in the case of foreigners a sponsor has to be found, otherwise the government will not provide an authorization. Therefore in the beginning we met various people, and it actually was very hard, until we were able to find a sponsor.

And how did it continue after you were able to teach?

Until the training actually could begin, there were various hardships, but people in Singapore were very interested in Aikido, and after launching some advertising many people came to watch. In the beginning by chance an advertisement was place in a magazine mainly for women, and thereafter many women entered the Dojo. Later as well followed reports in magazines and on television, and with the support of many people I was able to teach. When I was teaching personally at that time the share of women was more than 60%.

What differences do you feel regarding the training atmosphere and the Dojo when comparing Germany , Singapore and Japan ?

Well, there are some differences. First of all regarding Germany the difference to Japan is that teacher and students are on the same level, you keep up friendly contacts, and you talk as to friends. I think, in other European Dojos the relations are just the same. It is true that the mental aspect is attached considerable importance as well, but I have the feeling, that often training methods could be seen, where movements rely more on physical power.

In Singapore the relations between teacher and students are precisely nearly in the middle between Germany and Japan . As I mentioned earlier about 60% of the students were women. The reason is that in the female part of the society there are strong tendencies of social climbing and therefore the women were very active. And there were also many students, who wanted to learn Aikido for self-defense.

And finally regarding the Tendokan in Japan you feel the different atmosphere as soon as you enter the Dojo with the first step. Continuously you get the feeling that the students always are intensively training their own self.

What kind of feeling is it to start with Aikido in a totally new environment?

I have the feeling that I want to be challenged always by new things. Especially in the case of Singapore there were many difficulties in the beginning, and there often were times as well, when something went wrong and I wanted to give up, but finally I was able to start teaching.

The establishment of an Aikido Dojo in a new environment is an extremely pleasant process. Up to today I practiced Aikido at various locations continuously, and I think, people of whatever country and whatever culture are absorbing the typical natural beauty and the spirit of Aikido.

Now to the last question. If there is an easy trick to become good in Aikido, could you please tell us?

Well, you just have to continue (laughter). And you should develop the love for Aikido.

Many thanks for today. Could you please give us still a message for those people, who are considering beginning to learn Aikido from today?

If you are interested, you shouldn’t consider too much in the beginning, but just try it once. If you feel Aikido directly with your body, you will be able to experience the fascination of Aikido.

© translated by Peter Nawrot 05/2006