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Aikido instructor teaches self-improvement through martial arts

May 23, 2018 02:09PM ● Published by Travis Barton

Aikido instructor Jeremy Neff warms up his students at the Copperview Recreation Center. Neff is a third-degree black belt in Aikido. (Travis Barton/City Journals)

By Travis Barton | travis@mycityjournals.com

Jeremy Neff was about 10 years old at an Aikido dojo in Logan, Utah. Having accomplished the technique being taught, Neff’s teacher, Lara Anderson, told him to go assist the other students in the class.

It was a small moment, and Neff’s first memory of Aikido, but it was a sign of things to come for his life.

He became an assistant instructor that day in the dojo almost 22 years ago and he continues teaching today. Neff is an Aikido instructor at Copperview Recreation Center in Midvale (8446 Harrison St.) where he holds classes three days a week for both kids and, currently, 85 adults. 

What exactly is Aikido? It might sound familiar to avid “Walking Dead” watchers. The character Morgan, is known for utilizing the skill and espousing its philosophy for a time. Aikido is a martial art known as a way to harmonize with energy (the literal translation of the word). Neff explained it as a means to disable an escalating situation. 

“It is a very defensive martial art,” he said. “A lot places you go, (like) karate, it can focus more on how I'm going to punch you in the face. Aikido is very defensive in that you wait for the other person to give energy, or attack you, and then you blend with it to disarm or calm down the situation to a point where you can deal with them without injuring them as much as possible.”

With most martial arts, the philosophy is to inflict the least amount of damage possible. That aspect is probably best exemplified through Aikido. Its focus is “blending with the energy,” Neff said.

“So if someone is coming at me with a punch, how do you accept the punch, not get hit with the punch and then redirect it into a throw or a pin to disable the situation,” said Neff, a programmer with Sorenson Forensics by day.   

He added that Aikido is fundamentally founded on the principle to do no harm and peacefully resolve the situation. Rather than boiling to the surface, a dispute is meant to simmer through Aikido. 

“The art itself feels philosophically like a good way to approach conflict,” said Elliot Scheelke, an Aikido student of eight years. “Where it isn’t so much about beating up whoever approaches you in a bad way. It kind of deals with the conflict more peacefully and less by breaking people.”

While other martial arts train with kicks and jabs, or striking techniques, Aikido involves more soft techniques. Karate offers different levels that can include both methods. Aikido has built a reputation as a martial art for all ages, especially the elderly, because it’s training isn’t as body straining.

There are also no competitions. Neff, who holds a third-degree black belt in Aikido and a black belt in Karate, said the goal is harmony, not superiority. 

“The martial art is about self-improvement, how do I improve myself, how do I become a better person, not am I better than you?” said Neff, who also learned Tae Kwan Do from his father as a child.   

 Neff teaches children—he’s taught kids as young as 4—the necessary techniques, but also the mental fortitude that comes with the martial art such as discipline, respect and stillness. Something not easily done with that age group. 

“I’ve helped a lot of students with the ability to focus on and sit and pay attention to what’s going on around them,” he said. “It’s not a quick change where they're better in five weeks (but) after a year they start having those things.” 

One student, a problem child in school at the beginning of the year, recently had a report card from his teacher that said the student was paying attention, focusing, listening and sitting up straight. A complete difference from the child’s radical ways early on. 

Another boy, who has autism, is experiencing better connections with his brain, Neff said, Aikido is almost like physical therapy for the child.

“As he goes through and does these techniques and moves his body and thinks about it, he’s more integrated with himself and it helps with his demeanor.” 

Neff’s teaching ability isn’t only noticed by parents, but by the Aikido community at large.

Rachel Rayner is a student of Neff’s. She moved to Herriman a few months ago from Kansas where she attended a dojo that’s part of the Aikido Association of America (just as Neff’s is here). She even met Neff at a National Instructors Seminar a few years ago. 

“I was really impressed by his teaching,” she said noting she had heard of him in Aikido circles a year before meeting him. “His technique, the rolling and falling, he’s really, really good at that. It’s kind of legendary in the association so we're really lucky to have someone as skilled as he is.” 

Just as he had mastered a technique well enough as a child to instruct his students, Neff’s technical comprehension continues to set him apart. Rayner said his deep understanding of techniques allows him to adapt his teaching for all types of people. 

Rayner not only benefits from Neff’s technical training (she noted he adapts his teaching to each person giving them “cheats” as she called it). She’s also experienced subconscious assistance of Aikido in her life. 

The Herriman resident was studying abroad in Germany (where she trained under a man who was taught by Aikido’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba). She was walking down the street when a guy broke off from his group to run into her. Without looking up, Rayner put her arm into the man’s chest. Her perfect timing and momentum almost knocked the man over. 

“His friends got a good laugh out of it,” she said.

While Rayner can speak to personal experience, Neff can speak to the structure Aikido gives his life. The mental and emotional abilities to diffuse situations due to his almost lifelong experience with it, he even spent three months training in Japan. 

“One thing the martial arts do is they constantly, as you go through the ranks, they make it more stressful and more stressful and more stressful,” Neff said. “So then when you're put in a stressful situation outside the martial art, your body doesn't over react to it because you've dealt with worse. I had a guy come at me with a sword, I can deal with this.”

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