by Rija Rotering

This year in summer we had the third international feminist aikido-camp in Benais in France. Last year a group of 25 women from 5 european countries trained aikido and lived together for a week. For 1986 two weeks are organized because of the great interest and our wish to promote the women-aikido. 5 women from Hamburg did the organisation; this meant a long period of preparing, much discussion, much deliberation, looking for teachers, bringing in of women.


Both weeks took place in L’Enfumée, some houses outside Benais, in a famous wine-district. Around the houses is lot of space where we could camp and where we fully enjoyed the french sun, beautiful clouds, brilliant starry sky, the full moon and woodfires to keep us warm.


In the first week we had many women who practiced aikido rather short (less than one year), a group who practices 2 till 3 years and a single woman having 6 years of training. One of the interesting things of aikido is that you always train with every one and learn in each contact. Yet for the more advanced women there was not enough challenge, although this was compensated with a great deal in the last training.


The teacher, Miwako Penopp, is a japanese woman who lives in Germany for about 20 years where she also did her aikidotraining. The fact that she is from Japan where the origin of aikido lies adds something special to her training: she has a wonderful deep kiai and to hear her count in japanese sounds like a bell.


Miwakos teaching was very varied. She used many different technics and forms in her warming-ups. We did a lot of basics, very important because in weekly training there is often not enough time for that. She was sensible to the needs in the group and we all could do the training without getting really exhausted. At the end of the week we were, but only partly because of the training.


Living together as a group is tiring and inspiring. We had to organize daily life: cooking, cleaning, shopping, eating, washing. We managed very well with that which surprised many of us. The atmosphere in the group was good. Everyone felt comfortable and some had never felt so good in a group. A lot of things happen in a week like this. It is touching and heartstrengthening to see how intense women live together, the fun we have, the creativity there is, the attention we give to individual needs etc.


The most important subject why we meet each other is aikido, women-aikido, for many of us our great love. Most of us don’t have the opportunity to train with women in our daily life. Hamburg has a womens group and in Berlin is a womens dojo and Paris has her womens group. Beside that we all train in mixed dojos. So the camp is a place which we really need and we have a lot to give and to get from each other.


Our experiences in mixed dojos differ: it seems very important what kind of person the teacher is and whether he (it is almost always a he) is accenting on working in harmony or not.


It is fascinating to work with women who come from different styles. This is also a week to improve languages, especially german. The majority in this week is german and the teacher is, so we speak german and there is translation in french pour les francaises. And of course the dutch women speak many languages. 


The sanitary at L’Enfumée is limited and simple: some of the women had problems with that. But most of us are very glad with the houses and we do have enough showers and toilets at the dojo. On Sunday we have the traditional saying goodbye with tears and laughter and we know we will see each other again. Because if camplife gets you, you get addicted to it. But it is the best addiction I can think of. 


The second week in Benais:


A new week and partially a new group: we stay with 8 women from the first week. So now it really starts: I was much more interested in the second week because there would be a lot of women I met last year. We will be 22. 12 of us have been here before, so it is a kind of reunion. Exciting to see the women again, to hold them, to hear how they are doing.


The departure of the first group and the arrival of the next is on the same day. A bit too much. We needed a day off in between because the goodbyes are so emotional and beside we have to clean all the houses, dig a new toilet etc. And all that after night that became shorter every day, concerning the sleeping.


On Sunday evening all the women are present. We eat together and have a meeting afterwards where we introduce ourselves. These meetings take a lot of time because of translation, now in two other languages. At the end we decide to limit the group-meetings as far as possible. But the meetings remain a subject of many jokes. They are of course necessary to organize life in a group.


This group is more international than the first one. Still we are only 5 countries, so it is more a middle-european camp. We do try to reach women from other countries. Now we are with french, dutch, german, english and suisse women. In concern of nationality we have a woman from Luxembourg and one from India. The age varies between 22 and 42.


We meet each other because of our love for aikido and our love for women: the combination makes it perfect. Our teacher is Ulli Serak from Berlin where she has her own womens dojo. So she is used to train women but not over such a long period. To be the teacher and live together with the group you teach means that you have to change roles all the time. This asks a lot of ones capacities as a leader.

I think Ulli did that very well. I trusted her as a teacher and she was an open, beloved member of the group.


The majority of the group is lesbian, some are bisexual and a few are heterosexual (full of confusion in this feminine, lesbian atmosphere).


Like in the first week we train twice a day: in the morning from 9 to 11, in the afternoon from 4 to 6. The hours between are for relaxing, eating, doing courses, sleeping, cooking, doing massages, writing letters to lovers at home.


Aikido gives energy: everything is moving in never ending movements. Everyday you can see that women look so much better after a training: more alive.


At the end of the week all the faces have openend up, look younger, there is a light in the eyes, energy in the bodies, so much warmth to give and so much desires are raised. 


We are tired because of little sleep but still we can go on, we are on another level now. Many of us have problems with sleeping because of the cold in the tents, because of the continuous flow of energy: as if our bodies cannot get rest. The last evening there is so much connection with the group that we all find it hard to go to sleep. So we don’t sleep very much, we wake up early to say goodbye to women who leave. We don’t want to miss anything.


In this second week the level of training is higher, we are more advanced aikidoka. Still there is a wide range of experience: beginners and with 7 years of training. If you are young, beginner in aikido and perhaps going to your first camp than it is quite a job to find your place. This is something we should care for next year, especially as some of us will be at the camp for the third time. And we really want to stay open for new women.


We train very concentrated, no energy is spoiled. Ulli is a clear teacher and it is a pleasure to see her at work. Many of us are teachers: in aikido, in selfdefense or in other kind of body-work. So we used this expertise too by letting a member of the group do the warming-up in the morning or afternoon. This often was surprising. One of the fascinating aspects of women aikido is that we make an integration with the other knowledge we have. The camp in Benais means an important source of inspiration for the women aikido: a place where we improve ourselves, make plans to spread out women aikido and think of ways to make things better in our mixed dojos.


We need this, we need the contact with women who choose aikido to be an essential part of their lives. And to meet women on the mat is meeting them in an essential way of being, moving, infinite movements, circles and figures.


In this week we talked a lot about differences in culture. Are there differences between german women, dutch and french women: if so, what are the differences and what has our identity to do with the history of our country? What can we learn from each other because of our differences? And what does it do in your personality if you cannot be proud of your nationality? Aikido brings us together but the camp is also a place where we are confronted with differences and the way we handle them. Living together, talking together teachs us to understand each other better (altough we were also labeling others).


Last evening we organized a party. Every woman was asked to show something. We ate together at the fire and afterwards we had an evening filling programm with acrobatic, aikidodance, witchdance, aikneedo, a critical t.v. journal etc. It was a big succes. A lot of us are already addicted to the women aikido camps. For them we organize an extra meeting at christmas in Holland. And the fourth international women aikido camp will be next year in august in Benais again, organized by dutch women. 


Aikidomeeting at Christmas 22nd  – 28th  decembre. This will be for those who have already been at one of the camps. If places left we invite others to join us.


With love, Rija Rotering