Awareness and empowerment through Aikido at the Y

Dec 27, 2021

The new year is bringing a new instructor and a fairly new martial art to the Gleason Family YMCA. 

Scott Fennell, who was asked to teach classes after a previous martial arts instructor at the Y retired, will offer regular aikido classes at the YMCA this January. 

First and foremost, Fennell wanted to let people know that aikido is not karate — in fact, it’s “very different from karate.”

“Aikido is actually a relatively new martial art,” he explained. “It’s actually stated that it’s a non-violent martial art.”

He said the focus of aikido isn’t teaching things like punching and kicking. 

“We’re not breaking boards or anything like that,” Fennell said. “It’s about using your partners’ energy against them.” 

He explained that one of the key tenets of aikido is respecting all life and protecting others: “For example, if your best friend is having a bad day, and he or she lashes out — do you really want to punch them? Do you really want to hurt them? No, so we teach you how to get out of the way, we teach you how to restrain them in a way that doesn’t hurt them.” 

Fennell’s classes will be offered to kids ages 4 to 14 on Thursdays and Saturdays at the Y. 

Fennell said his classes will teach the basic fundamentals of aikido. But it will go beyond that, too.

“It’s about kids being aware of their surroundings,” he said. “This is a really good way to get kids to stop looking at their phones, and look up… That’s something that I stress a lot in my program. It’s about being aware of what’s going on, building confidence, being empowered by your fears and your anxieties.”

He said the hope was to get those things — and other fundamentals — to become second nature.

“We teach them how to fall,” Fennell said. “So if they trip and fall they can safely roll out of it or fall down without banging their head… They can fall in a way that would make them safe.” 

He recalled that when he first started learning aikido, he tripped on a root when jogging on a trail and put his training to use. 

“I just rolled out of it, hopped back up and kept on running,” Fennell said. “My headphones didn’t pop out, my music didn’t skip a beat. I didn’t get bruised. It became instinctual for me.” 

Learning those physical skills now can benefit kids in the long run, he said. He added that aikido also teaches kids discipline and other real-life skills. 

“I’m serious about following tradition — following some of those disciplines,” he said. “We sit in a comfortable position; we don’t talk over others.” 

He mentioned that he’s launching a “Samurai Challenge” as a bit of real-world homework. 

“It teaches the kids these virtues of the samurai — honesty, respect, teamwork,” Fennell said. The kids will do a small report on how they are achieving or implementing those virtues at home or at school and earn a special stripe and certificate of achievement.

In Fennell’s experience, aikido can help boost kids’ confidence, build character and come out of their shells.

“What’s cool about aikido is that some of the things that we teach them are things that they will always be able to use throughout their life,” he said.

Fennell stressed that although he was building the classes around teaching the aikido principles, it wouldn’t be overly serious. 

“It’s meant to be fun,” Fennell said. “I like playing games, but they’re games that help build on some of the fundamentals.”

For 4 to 7-year-olds, the class will meet from 6-6:30 p.m. on Thursdays and from 1-1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. For 8 to 14-year-olds, Thursday classes are from 6:45-7:45 p.m. and Saturday classes are from 1:45-2:45 p.m. 

To sign up, people can visit this site or reach out to the Y’s program director, Lu Brito at