The Way of Harmonious Spirit: How Aikido Is Helping One Anaheim Native Overcome Discrimination

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By ANNAKAI HAYAKAWA GESHLIDER, Rafu Digital Team

Keith is a 40-year-old Chinese American living in Anaheim. His home turf growing up were the predominantly Asian/Pacific Islander communities of Alhambra, Pasadena, and Monterey Park. After working in Downtown L.A., Keith moved to Orange County over 12 years ago. He started his own financial services business and has been running it since. We spoke with Keith about personal and community safety in a time of increased anti-API racism, and what lessons his aikido practice can offer.

Have you experienced anti-Asian/Pacific Islander discrimination due to the coronavirus pandemic?

I have not experienced it myself. But also, I have not been out that much. Just sheltering-in-place; no reason to go out. 

That’s good to hear. Do you know others in your community who have? 

Even before the pandemic, there were robberies in the Yorba Linda area targeted toward Asian communities and Asian homes. A friend had their house broken into. It wasn’t a random occurrence — there were specifics showing the robberies increasing in Asian communities. That contributed to the current atmosphere of xenophobia due to the pandemic.

On the other hand, there’s an enlightening story about communities banding together to support each other. There was a local Asian-owned store selling T-shirts. That store had gotten vandalized [during the past few weeks]. The customers, who are generally [Latinx], were protecting the store. These were [long-time] patrons of the store. They stepped up — really without the plea of the owner — more because they had a relationship with it and wanted to protect it.  

Have you noticed people interact with you differently since the pandemic started because you’re Asian American?

I do notice people looking at me. I do wonder, when they look at me, whether they are looking at me because I’m Asian and I’m wearing a mask, or just literally because I’m wearing a mask and they’re not. [Their thought being,] “Asian wearing a mask, therefore might be protecting himself, therefore sick,” versus, “hey are you really that paranoid that you’re wearing a mask?” Like I’m encroaching on their belief, their lifestyle. 

As a Chinese American, do you feel unsafe going outside the home?

I don’t actually feel necessarily unsafe. But that probably has more to do with the fact that I feel prepared physically because I practice aikido. I also do carry a taser for protective purposes, in case something does happen. So the question does come up, but I wouldn’t say I feel unsafe where I need to hide.

Can you tell me more about your choice to carry a taser?

I carry a taser that shoots 15 feet. That’s something I’ve done recently, just as a preventative and protective measure. I had it for a long time [before the pandemic], and that was more for personal protection. I got one for my wife as well. But I didn’t really start carrying it around ’til recently [after learning of the increase in anti-API hate due to the coronavirus]. 

What are your thoughts on people calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus”? 

When I hear “it’s a Chinese virus” — to me, it originally was just a fact. My opinion is that it’s been twisted for political gain. It gets to the point where [people]say, “only Chinese people have it.” When it gets to this point, and you’ve made a symbol out of it, people are going to take the symbol and skew its meaning. You’re fueling the flames. It’s unfortunate when people do that. You shouldn’t take that symbol and use it for negative association.

You mentioned that you practice the Japanese martial art aikido. Can you tell me about your practice?

I’ve been a loyal student for 18 years. Even though I live in Orange County, I still drive up to the Aikido Center of Los Angeles to practice aikido. The people there are my friends. [We’ve] become friends through aikido. I also have great mentors there. I think it’s been one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I feel calm, I feel safe, I feel capable.

A scroll hanging in the Aikido Center of Los Angeles that says, “Aikido Shoshin” or “The aikido beginner’s mind.”

What links do you see between Aikido and responding to stressful situations? 

The main role of aikido is to be aware. The way of the traditional practice is to watch and learn. Being observant, even copying, trying to replicate. It allows me — more in a meditative way — to forget, not stress out over the daily grind. 

[The dojo] is kind of a sanctuary for me. When I go, I get to just focus on aikido. It is largely [about]the people there. The attitudes of my mentors, the people I train with. 

Aikido also gives you the benefit of adjusting your intensity. In tae kwon do, [which I used to practice,]you have to basically be adrenaline-rushed all the time. However, in aikido, being more slowing in nature, you can either turn it up to be more intense, or you can turn it down. Because of that range, it expands a person’s perspective. 

So, it has functionality to it, but it is also an art form.

How can aikido play a healing role for API folks experiencing COVID-19 racism? Would you recommend aikido to others? 

Very much so. [Aikido] helps you stay in shape and feel better about yourself. Keeps your mental health well. If you feel physically safe, then you are going to not be as neurotic or anxious about your surroundings. Which helps you be able to see actions more clearly. 

Community-wise, if you’re in a community that is diverse — which the Aikido Center of Los Angeles is — you recognize that you have a community of different backgrounds. You’re not so homogenous with the people you hang out with. You know that if someone from another race is angry towards you, you have someone from that race that’s also a friend. 

If you are interested in practicing aikido, you can visit the Aikido Center of Los Angeles’ website at www.aikidocenterla.com and follow on Facebook and Instagram. This dojo has been active during the pandemic, with online classes, exercises for training at home, and daily newsletters including written teachings on the practice. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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