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Donna Pienkowski is the first local woman to receive
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.
Goldsmith believes the art appeals to women for another reason. It offers "an option that can be very attractive to women--stop the person from injuring you, while minimizing injury to the attacker."
Goldsmith has been studying aikido for the 17 years he and Pienkowski have been married--and for years before that. He's a fourth-degree black belt. Students can go as high as 10th-degree.
Pienkowski supported him and even went to Japan with him when he trained. But she didn't start taking classes until 2002, when the couple moved here from Nevada.
They both grew up on the East Coast and wanted to get back to greener scenery. Out West, Goldsmith worked to develop geothermal energy sources, and Pienkowski taught middle school science.
Now, they're both focused on aikido and building a studio on the 20 acres they own in the Massaponax area of Spotsylvania County.
Pienkowski wishes she had started training years earlier. She said she feels like she's in better shape, and she loves the way the training focuses on mind and body.
"A lot of students look at black belt as achieving your goal, but in Japan, you're just beginning," Pienkowski said. "You've just reached the first rung of the ladder, but you're at the bottom."
"But now you know how to hold on," Goldsmith added.
To reach CATHY DYSON: 540/374-5425 email@example.com