By Kimberly Ilkowski
At the beginning of each practice, members of the College’s storied Kokikai Aikido Club dress in proper attire, set up mats and go through a series of stretches and warm-ups. The Senseis discuss what will be addressed in practice before students work on their training, technique and form, just like they have for the last 28 years — with one crucial difference. For the first time in the club’s history at the College, the Aikido Club is practicing in the Rec Center tennis courts rather than the Packer Hall wrestling room.
This has been a source of conflict and tension between the wrestling program and Aikido Club, which has been offering free defensive martial arts classes since 1986. Aikido — a form of self-defense — is overseen by psychology professor Arthur Hohmuth, and the club has been practicing on the same days and times for years, with hundreds of students and faculty members.
“It’s not only about the community for me, now it’s the love for the art itself. The things I’ve learned in Aikido have become guiding principles for my own life,” class of ’11 alumnus Lloyd Woods said. “I walked in my freshman year and saw the amazing things people could do to others twice their size.”
The Aikido Club may be permanently prevented from returning to the wrestling room, though, as the wrestling team’s concern with skin rashes has become more pronounced under head Coach and Assistant Director of Athletics Joseph Galante.
After being relocated to the Rec Center, the club was not allowed to keep its Monday and Wednesday practice schedule times. And when intramural basketball season started and the groups’ schedules overlapped, Aikido was forced to change yet again to accommodate another organization. This resulted in unworkable scheduling conflicts for the Aikido club, preventing a fifth of its members from being able to attend meetings, according to Hohmouth. The club also lost the instruction of beloved Sensai Anchuing “Chewie” Wang, class of ’05 alumnus and third degree black belt, who can no longer lead practices around his work schedule.
“The basketball team has to share the courts, the swimming team has to share the pools,” Wang said. “The wrestlers own the mats, but not the room.”
When the Aikido Club asked the wrestling team what caused this change in policy, they were told “times have changed” — in other words, the priorities of the wrestling team had been adjusted since longtime head coach Dave Icenhower retired in 2011.
“Coach Icenhower was here for 35 years,” Galante said. “He was a wrestling coach. He was also assistant director of athletics, and a wrestling coach gets competitions — they sign you up, they train the guys, go to the competitions, come back, train them again and on and on and on. This is a different job now: It’s about making money, reaching out to alumni and making sure that everyone is involved, so I kind of understand the pieces a little bit differently than he understood them.”
Due to the alleged health risks of having an outside club in the space, Galante is not sure “if they should have been in there in the first place.” Before the Aikido Club began using the mats which the Student Finance Board purchased for them, they were using wrestling mats purchased by the team itself, which posed a question of safety and cleanliness for Galante.
“(We’re) mopping the mats at eight each morning, Sunday through Saturday,” Galante said. “At the beginning of practice, we hold skin checks where the wrestlers form a line, take off their shirt, hold out their arms to both sides (and) we check their skin for any open cuts, lesions or bacterial infections. After practice we mop the mats again at 6 p.m.”
The club had seen a steady incline in membership over the past several years until this semester, when numbers dropped. Thirty-one students signed up for the first interest session following the fall activities fair, only to be met with three practice mats and insufficient space to allow everyone to safely participate.
“The wrestling room is much bigger and allows them to do much more and go into more complicated techniques,” said Hohmuth, who has been practicing Aikido for more than 40 years.
The Aikido Club has been joining forces with other organizations to promote self-defense techniques. The club already held two self-defense courses with sororities in the past, and on Wednesday, Nov. 12, they held an open invitation with the TCNJ Off-Campus Student Organization and the Brazilian Ju Jitsu club on-campus.
“With the school’s ongoing concerns with the safety of their students, you would think they would know the importance of mixed martial arts training,” said Rachel Alderman, the club’s secretary.
Along with the previously stated precautionary measures, the wrestling team also has a trainer in practice each day to stop, clean up and cover any bleeding that occurs, as well as high-power, high temperature washers that are used each day to clean the teams practice clothes.
“It is an NCAA violation if you were to wrestle with any type of skin infection and we do have these skin checks everyday and along with these skin checks if we go out on a mat and have a skin infection we automatically get disqualified and not allowed to step on the mat,” sophomore wrestler Patrick Schinder said. “Is this Aikido Club going through the same process?”
Due to the room only being used by wrestlers this semester Galante said, “ringworm, MRSA, infantigo, staff — we don’t see issues with that nearly as much as last year.”
“If we’re fundraising and making the dollars, and if our dollars are going into what we’re doing, we’re a little more apprehensive of just inviting someone in if it’s going to cost us possible health problems.”
However, the Aikido Club was caught off guard by the skin allegations, as Hohmuth said there have been no recorded skin rashes in the club’s history.
“First and foremost, we aspire to (have) a clean, safe environment to practice, from the mat to uniforms and clothing, personal hygiene, including covering cuts or abrasions, clipping nails and limiting offensive odors as well as perfume,” said Bryan Gibbons, the lone remaining Aikido instructor at the College. “If blood is found on the mat or a uniform all practice stops, all students are checked, cleaned, covered and mitigated.”
This is not the first time the group has been disallowed from using the wrestling room. For an entire semester in 2011, the group lost access to the room without warning. Members were forced to scavenge for any open areas on campus to practice, like the Sundial Lawn, Hausdoerffer and Ely, Allen and Brewster lounges — all places that were not properly equipped and were considered a safety hazard.
“When we were previously in the wrestling room, we were able to sweep and mop to our hearts content,” Gibbons said. “We had the perfect practice space. Then ousted and eventually moved to the North Gym, we were confronted with carpeted mats used by the cheerleaders, dance and anybody else that walked in. There was no oversight with all sorts of outdoor traffic and debris on the mats with no program for properly cleaning them.”
A lack of proper communication between organizations may be to blame for the inconsistent cleaning policies of both groups.
“For 25 of the 26 years that we used the wrestling room, the room was swept and disinfected prior to each class,” Hohmuth said. “In the summer of 2013, Coach Galante told us not to disinfect, that he would take care of that if we would sweep. I don’t know why he did not want us to disinfect, but last year we did not.”
With Galante’s new measures, concerns of cleanliness arose for the Aikido Club.
“In 2013, back in the wrestling room … our biggest issue with cleanliness continue(d) — outdoor shoes on the mat,” Gibbons added. “Now unable to clean them, we face a reality that there are others using these mats with outdoor shoes — and in this case, shoes that have likely walked from the locker room via the bathrooms.”
In response to the Aikido Club losing access to the wrestling room, Rob Simels, head of the Office of Recreation and director of Club Sports and Intramurals, said, “I’m a big safety, risk management person personally, so to me right now it’s best.”
At the moment, he cannot help them directly because he only oversees athletic clubs.
It is unclear whether both organizations will be able to compromise on the issues at hand.
“I would not mind working with Aikido or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu on coming up with the correct skin procedures and policies,” Galante said. “Does that mean that even if they have them I’m just going to allow them to come right back into the room or ask them to come right back into the room? No, because I still think they should be using their own mats, still think they should be following their policies and procedures, and if we’re not there to monitor those, its going to be very, very difficult.”