Tim Cooper, Ph.D., in fighting stance

Aikido (EYE-kee-doh) is a modern Japanese martial art that unifies mind, body and spirit. Its practitioners learn to defend themselves by redirecting their attacker’s energy and using it to control them.

Tim Cooper, Ph.D., assistant professor of history at Siena, is a fifth-degree aikido black belt, a passion that neatly complements his teaching and research on Japanese, Asian and world history. 

“There are broader lessons that aikido has for daily life,” said Cooper. “This is about nonviolent defense, about redirecting an opponent’s attack. The concepts can be applied to the basic struggles of daily life as well.” 

Want to see aikido in action, and experience a bit of Japan? Cooper will do a demonstration May 3-4 at “MUJO – An Exploration of Japanese Culture Across Time” at the Chapel + Cultural Center in Troy. There also will be demonstrations of ikebana (floral arranging), calligraphy and music.

He explained that mujo is Japanese for “impermanence” and that the Buddha taught that all things within our lives are constantly changing, and as such it is important to remember that nothing lasts forever. 

“Aikido and other elements of Japanese culture help us realize that we need to learn to let go of this desire to hang on to things,” he said.

In addition to learning various throws, joint locks and pins, aikido offers spiritual teachings, meditation and breathing exercises. The techniques are taught as a defense against attack, rather than as attacks in and of themselves. 

“The practice teaches us to be more composed, and more aware of our surroundings,” he said. “It allows for a different way of interacting with the world around us.”

When Cooper is not teaching history in a Siena classroom, you can find him teaching aikido at his recently-opened Studio Ki in Guilderland. 

“The beauty of aikido, like so much of Japanese culture, is that it forces us to be in the moment, to be aware of ourselves and the world we’re connected to,” he explained. “This is how we experience the aesthetic of mujo, or impermanence. You must be present, aikido teaches us, because it’s all gone in an instant.”