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Ida Ansell, who is more than 80 years old, uses a jo during aikido class.
Kate Logan (left) and Ida Ansell work through aikido moves during a class taught by Bob Kravetz at the
By CATHY DYSON
That's not a cane in Ida Ansell's hand.
It's a wooden stick used in the martial art of aikido. And be careful, because the white-haired great-grandmother, who won't give her age except to say she's "over 80," knows how to use it.
So does her training partner, 61-year-old Kate Logan. The Stafford County residents recently became the first in the Fredericksburg area to earn black belts in the Seniors for Aikido class.
The two had to demonstrate the 31 ways to use the stick, called a jo. They also had to show their ability to thrust and throw opponents, grab shoulders and lock wrists.
When the women finished their black-belt test recently at the Aikido in Fredericksburg center in Spotsylvania County, fellow practitioners stood and applauded.
"I have not seen that before," said Aviv Goldsmith, the sensei, or teacher, at the local center.
Goldsmith developed the class for seniors, and offered a demonstration at the Rowser Building in Stafford 41/2 years ago. Logan was in the audience and signed up.
Ansell heard about it a few months later, and the two became training partners--and fast friends.
Ansell said the classes have improved her sense of balance, something she has needed as she's aged. Logan likes the way it has improved her focus.
Both appreciate the polite and courteous attitude among teachers and fellow members. They also like aikido's nonviolent approach, the way it teaches students to get out of harm's way and end the conflict as peacefully as possible.
It suggests neutralizing an opponent instead of pulverizing him. Aikido also stresses technique over speed and strength, and that's why Goldsmith thought it would be ideal for the over-55 crowd.
He modified the training for those whose bones are more brittle than they used to be. He took out the technique of falling to the mat and rolling away from the aggressor, a move regularly used in other aikido classes.
And he toned down the severity of moves that involved bending joints.
There haven't been any injuries, Goldsmith said.
During a recent class at Rowser led by Bob Kravetz, a 66-year-old who regularly hit the mats with a pop, he paired the older students with younger ones.
Kravetz reminded them of the guidelines.
"Seniors may just back away, the regulars may take a fall if they wish," he said.
The seniors did other required maneuvers, such as twisting the arm or applying painful pressure to nerves. Logan and Ansell didn't move with the same zest as the teenagers and 20-somethings around them, but Goldsmith said they've got the might.
"I've very impressed with how much strength they do have," he said. "During their black-belt demonstrations, both their innovations and their power were obvious to everybody."
David Street, a 23-year-old who wore his blond hair in a ponytail, said neither woman holds back during training.
"They're high-spirited ladies," he said, "and they're wonderful to watch."
When Ansell isn't hoisting a wooden stick over her head, she volunteers every Tuesday at the Stafford County Administration Center. She and her late husband traveled the world through his job with the State Department, and she volunteered everywhere they lived.
She has always liked to stay active, just like her great-granddaughter, who can't sit still. Ansell attends classes--in water aerobics, on an exercise bicycle or in the gym--at least four times a week.
Logan stays busy in her acre garden for wildlife habitat. She also works as a docent one day a week at Belmont, and takes care of her home, pets and husband of 25 years, Chuck Steigerwald. She home-schooled two of her three children before the practice was in vogue, and once worked as a carpenter's apprentice.
"I have a family and they have their jobs, but this is, like, my thing, and they support me in it," Logan said.
The two were anxious for weeks before the black-belt test. It didn't help their nerves to know they'd have to perform in front of younger practitioners.
They were surprised by the reaction they got.
"I've never seen anything like that in my life," Ansell said. "They were clapping and hollering and whistling. Some of them were pounding on the floor."
One man kissed Ansell's hand and told her what an inspiration she was. Others sent the two flowers, cards and candy.
Herbert Hazeley, a 59-year-old who passed his first novice test recently, said the women were role models.
"They're an inspiration to people who just want to be sedentary, to come out and work with what you got."
He studied tae kwon do and jujitsu when he was younger. He wanted to learn aikido because he liked the notion of more technique and less energy.
"The older you get, you don't need all that roughhousing," he said.
Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425