For a quarter century, Kona couple Sharon Gilbert and Bill Stockton have been local ambassadors of aikido — a beautiful, flowing, peaceful Japanese martial art that blends rigorous physical training with a harmonious philosophy.
Their passion for aikido, along with their desire to make it accessible to everybody in the community, led to these Aiki Kai O Kona instructors to offer free aikido classes for children and adults on Mondays and Wednesdays at Hale Halawai. Anyone age 7 and older can join.
The community service means a great deal to the students and families who have come to know them over the last 25 years. They said the selflessness, humility and generosity Gilbert and Stockton display are inspiring. A few parents also admired how the couple has their dedicated time, talent and knowledge of aikido, which they say has resulted in positive changes in their children.
Gilbert holds the rank of fifth dan and Stockton is ranked fourth dan. They have been training in aikido for more than 35 years each, and prior to offering classes at Hale Halawai, they instructed at the former Kona YMCA. The couple is also involved in the business community — Gilbert is the owner of Lehua Jewelers in Waimea and Stockton owns Manta Enterprises, a Kailua-Kona based building company.
In celebration of Aiki Kai O Kona’s 25th anniversary, a two-day aikido seminar will be held this weekend at Kekuaokalani Gym in Kailua-Kona. On Saturday, classes will be held at 9:30 a.m., 10:45 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. There will also be a public demonstration at 1:30 p.m., as well as a party from 6 to 9 p.m. Classes continue on Sunday at 6:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. A special guest at this event will be Takeshi Yamashima from the seventh dan Aikikai Hombu Shihan based in Tokyo. He is a well-respected master instructor licensed in sword who gives seminars throughout the world. He has studied aikido for more than 40 years.
The public is invited to attended the much-anticipated seminar, which is anticipated to have attendees from across the state. Gilbert and Stockton said the event is a wonderful opportunity for people to find out more about aikido and discover how students apply its philosophy in their everyday lives. Those interested will be encouraged to attended the ongoing free classes at Hale Halawai. “They’ll learn how to breath and fall down,” Stockton added.
Gilbert and Stockton are trying to grow Aiki Kai O Kona. The club currently has 15 regular students, of whom five are adults and 10 are children. Gilbert and Stockton are grateful for their students, supporters and volunteers. They thanked the county Department of Parks and Recreation for providing a space for the club to practice.
Developed by Morihei Ueshiba, aikido involves some throws and joint locks that are derived from Jujitsu and other martial arts. But there are no attacks, only defense. Instead of focusing on punching or kicking opponents, aikido was designed to defend not only one’s self, but also bring the attacker under control without the necessity of inflicting injury. Student use their own energy to gain control of an attacker or to throw them away. “It is not a static art, but place great emphasis on motion and the dynamics of movement,” Gilbert said.
Aikido is not an easy martial art and isn’t extremely popular because of the amount of time and commitment required, she added.
Still, those who practice aikido find it teaches very valuable self-discipline, blending, harmonizing and defensive techniques in an exciting, yet noncompetitive atmosphere. With Aiki Kai O Kona, children earn color belts while adults only work towards earning a black belt. All go strive for certain ranks. The use of wooden swords and walking sticks may appeal to some people’s romantic views of Samurai. The calligraphy, chants and etiquette offers a window into another culture.
The noncompetitive atmosphere is particularly important because “competition brings out egos and egos distract from learning the practice,” Stockton said.
Thirteen-year-old Caleb Kow of Kona has found that, with no competition, he isn’t worry about being the best in the club and can learn at his own pace. Caleb has been apart of Aiki Kai O Kona for four years and has confidently led the children’s class when the instructors are on vacation. What he has taken away most from aikido is how to be calm.
His mother, Candace Kow, has noticed other transformations in him.
“Aikido has made Caleb more confident and more sociable,” she said. “He’s also matured a lot and has become a class leader who’s quick to help anyone. I see a change and I’m really proud of him.”
Candace also spoke in length about Stockton and Gilbert, whom she described as “so humble and amazing.” She said their passion to share something they truly believe in and their dedication to pass aikido to today’s generation and the next inspires all who meet them.
Kona residents Sean and Shoko St. Louis signed their 6-year-old son Hiroshi up for aikido last year. With the ongoing trend to get rid of art and physical education programs in schools, they wanted to provide him with outlet that work stimulate his mind, as well as help keep him active and healthy. Hiroshi, who was a pretty shy kid, instantly fell in love with the martial art and only recently inquired about whether he would have to stop. His parents response: “Only when you want to.” Hiroshi says that will never happen — a fact that makes Shoko especially proud.
Shoko said she wanted him to take aikido because in her native country of Japan it is known for being founded in peace and effective self-defense. She said the martial art helps make children stable and strong. The training is not just for fighting an attacker, but for life, she added.
Sean described Stockton, Gilbert and Aiki Ka O Kona as “pretty incredible.” He said the instructors are “exceptional, caring, giving people,” who are supported by “a nice group of kids and adults,” all of whom are reliable, dedicated and passionate about aikido.