All News & Blogs
Spotsylvania County resident Donna Pienkowski is the first woman to earn a first-degree black belt from the local aikido studio
View More Images from this story
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 4/24/2005
By CATHY DYSON
Donna Pienkowski has a black belt in the martial art of aikido--and the gracefulness of a dancer.
She bounds across the floor as if she were on a stage, not a rubber mat. When she goes up against an opponent and he deflects her, she rolls into a somersault, then springs to her feet like a gymnast.
She laughs with everyone around her, from the youngest boy to the oldest senior. She's 51/2 feet tall, but her mannerisms are so gentle, she almost seems dainty. The long braid of hair down her back has as many silver strands as black ones and adds to her delicate appearance.
But anyone who's trained with Pienkowski in class has discovered she's anything but frail.
"She might look little, but when you get ahold of her, you can feel her power," said Josh Candler, a fellow aikido student. "You're like, 'What do I do now?'"
Pienkowski, 46, is the first woman to earn a black belt from the aikido center in Spotsylvania County. She passed the test last month and will receive a certificate from Japan, where the nonviolent art form originated.
Her husband, Aviv Goldsmith, is the teacher or "sensei" of the local studio. He's quick to point out that aikido is not a sport because it doesn't have competitions or levels. It also stresses a nonviolent approach.
Aikido focuses on neutralizing attackers instead of hurting them. Students are trained to move with their opponents and redirect their force, rather than move against them.
That's why Pienkowski rolls herself away into a somersault instead of bracing herself for an attack.
"You simply go with the energy," she said, "and spring up safely."
Pienkowski jokes that she doesn't have the strength--or inclination--to hurt someone. "They laugh at me in class because I have girlie punches," she said.
Her size and strength are suited for aikido, Goldsmith said. She has to learn the proper techniques and positions, instead of muscling her way through them. Some of the men in class, who are twice her size, can get away with brute force, he said, but Pienkowski can't.