Aikido of Montpelier was founded by head instructor Sara Norton. Sara began Aikido in Paris in 1971. She studied with Masamichi Noro, a direct student of Aikido's founder Morihei Ueshiba (O-Sensei), who had sent Noro Sensei to teach in France. Subsequent to completion of her instructor training with Noro Sensei, Sara co-founded a dojo in Paris and established Aikido of Montpelier after moving to Vermont in 1979.
The unique spirit of our dojo can be illustrated in several ways. First, we are more informal than other dojos that put more emphasis on Japanese tradition and hierarchy. We sit in a circle before bowing to each other at the beginning and end of class. We also thank each person with whom we practiced after every class. We offer a supportive community atmosphere and try to remain true to the essential principle of O-Sensei's teaching that Aikido is a way of promoting peace rather than defeating opponents. Our entry area features a reproduction of Japanese artist Hokusai's famous print, Great Wave Off Kanagawa, which captures the flowing, wavelike nature of Sara's approach to Aikido. She also brings us the soft style that Noro Sensei developed following his recovery from injuries sustained in an automobile accident and which enabled O-Sensei to throw his opponents lightly and effortlessly, as if dancing, even in old age.
Finally, you will notice that we do not wear colored belts signifying rank, which were introduced relatively recently when many martial arts transformed into competitive sports. Instead, everyone at Aikido of Montpelier, from newcomer to instructor, wears a beginner's white belt to remind us to maintain a “beginner's mind” whenever we are on the mat. In this way we honor the earlier tradition practiced by O-Sensei and Noro Sensei. Our goal is to always be learning and improving ourselves, no matter how long we have practiced.