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Petersen sits in 'seiza,' waiting for instruction during his Aikido class at Paragon Gymnastics
Petersen prepares to disarm his attacker.
Petersen, practicing his skills in the martial art of Aikido, uses control and leverage
Second-degree Aikido black belt Dwight Petersen performs a hip throw, while working out with his sensei, Aviv Goldsmith.
"ONE WHO HAS GAINED the secret of Aikido," said its creator, the late Morehi Ueshiba, "has the universe in himself."
At times, Dwight Petersen, 58, has felt as though he had the cosmos to himself when it comes to his commitment to Aikido.
He recently received his second-degree black belt in the nonviolent Japanese art--the first such honor to be awarded in the Fredericksburg area.
Membership in the Fredericksburg Aikido Club he created is soaring. A fresh fourth-degree black-belt instructor has climbed on board. And the club has a new site and an expanded schedule.
It's a long way from the sparsely populated classes Petersen started leading nine years ago in his single-car garage in Spotsylvania County's Parkwood subdivision.
"There were times, literally as well as figuratively, when he was the only one there," said dedicated Aikido student, Dr. Robert Kravetz. "[Dwight] has held the club together."
Like other martial arts, filled with white robes and rituals, Aikido melds the mental, physical and spiritual realms.
But Ueshiba, a master of spear fighting and the Japanese arts of jujitsu and kendo, created Aikido to be different. He wanted to break the cycle of violence and competition he saw in other martial arts.
Aikido students learn to neutralize attacks while protecting, not defeating, their opponent. Pupils move with, rather than against, an attacker.
They take turns practicing techniques with a partner, sometimes with a bokken and a jo (a wooden sword and staff).
"The essence of what they are doing is taking their attacker's momentum and redirecting it," said Aviv Goldsmith, FAC's new "sensei" or teacher.
There are no tournaments or competitions, and students don't change colored belts as they climb the ranks. "It's not a sport. It's an art," said Petersen, who earned his original black belt more than six years ago.
Because it gives control to those who aren't necessarily the strongest, Aikido attracts all ages. "As I get to be 65 and 70 and 75, I hope to still be doing this," said Kravetz, who is 58 now.
For some, it becomes a lifelong practice, its philosophy seeping into the psychology of everyday life. Devoted students say Aikido helps them quell conflict at work, at home and on the road.
Petersen discovered the physical and mental benefits of the martial arts when he took a college judo class. "Some years later, I realized I was probably never going to get any exercise the rest of my life," said Petersen, who then worked in San Francisco as a computer programmer for the Army. He is now employed by Intuit in Stafford.
He flipped through the Yellow Pages in search of a Judo "dojo," or training place, and stumbled across an Aikido class, instead.
He found something in its falls and rolls. Something spiritual. Something he couldn't give up.
His work whirled him around the country and beyond--to San Francisco; Takoma Park, Md.; Italy. And everywhere he landed, he sought out an Aikido sensei.
"Finding a home not too far from a dojo was a major consideration," Petersen said. But when he moved to Fredericksburg in 1992 with his wife, Karen, he could find no dojo, no sensei, no club. So Petersen was forced to take another path.
He coaxed two senior students at a Washington dojo into travelling south to teach. He recruited Aikido enthusiasts, bought supplies and prepared his garage for classes.
But when it came time to train, there was a problem. The D.C. instructors thought they'd agreed to travel to Frederick, Md., not Fredericksburg. Petersen's garage was too far away.
He didn't give up.
"I had people who wanted to train, and I wanted to train, and I'd already bought mats," he said. "So we just went ahead."
As senior student, he reluctantly appointed himself instructor. Then membership grew, and he set out to find another place to practice.
The FAC burned through its share of locations through the years. They currently train at Paragon Gymnastics in Spotsylvania, and are in the process of moving to a new site on Spotsylvania's Leonard Drive.
All the while, Petersen has sought a professional sensei to take over teaching classes. He credits the club's recent popularity to the arrival of Goldsmith, who trained in Japan and served as a dojo "cho," or chief, in Reno, Nev.
"I am no longer expected, quite so much, to know more than I do," said Petersen, who was relieved to turn over the reins.
He was shocked last month, when Goldsmith presented him with his "nidan," or second-degree black belt, awarded for Petersen's technical knowledge and commitment to sharing Aikido with the community.
Achieving higher ranks is an intense process that takes plenty of time and patience. So Petersen can't be sure when he'll reach the next level.
But that isn't the point.
"I find that people come to class feeling better about themselves," Goldsmith said. "Then they leave and make the world a better place."
For more information on the Fredericksburg Aikido Club, call 540/582-9600 or look online at aikidoinn.com.