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Ron Chestnut and the Art of Aikido

Deputy Head of the Controls Department Ron Chestnut is an expert in harmony and internal energy moving along the correct path. This may sound like designing, implementing, and maintaining hardware and software for SLAC experiments, Chestnut's job, but it's actually a literal translation of the Japanese martial art Aikido, his passion.

Chestnut began taking Aikido lessons on his 46th birthday for exercise. He had been an adamant volleyball player, but felt he had "mastered" the sport. "In other words," he said jokingly, "my trickery was no longer enough to overcome youth."

He began learning Aikido from Frank Doran, one of the preeminent instructors in the United States who taught lessons at Stanford, and immediately fell in love with the sport, taking lessons five days a week.

"I went nuts and had a ball," said Chestnut.

According to Chestnut, Aikido is a soft, internal art, as opposed to martial arts such as Karate; a hard, external sport. The goal of Aikido is to first be aware of an attack and then to resolve the confrontation with neither party injured nor the attacker having gained a thing.

Beginners first learn to fall without injuring themselves. "If a student walks away after one semester of classes and has learned to roll instead of face planting, that is a skill that is useful for life," said Chestnut.

Students slowly work up to defending declared attacks, and eventually learn to disarm wooden weapons from an adversary. But there is no competition and no true sparring. Practice involves repetition of technique until it becomes second nature to remain calm in a pressure situation.

This is a skill that translates to life in a very useful way, says Chestnut. "When someone gets mad, you learn to just deal with it. You don't have to win, just step out of the way," he said.

Chestnut is now a 3rd degree black belt and teaches lessons at Stanford's Arrillaga Family Sports Center. One-hour Aikido classes are given there at noon, Monday through Thursday. Chestnut teaches the Thursday session. For more information, check out Stanford's Aikido webpage.

—Ken Kingery, SLAC Today, June 6, 2007

Above image: Ron Chestnut practices Aikido in the Arrillaga Family Sports Center. (Click on image for larger version.)