“Aikido makes strong people.”
So says Lee Lavi Ramirez Sensei, former Israeli judo champion and military officer turned aikido instructor and founder of North Valley Aikikai in Northridge, California. The pupil of Ichiro Shibata Shihan (8th dan) – who was himself a direct disciple of Kisshomaru Ueshiba – is now marshaling all of her training to face the greatest challenge of her life: her teenage daughter Aria’s bone cancer.
In this special Aikido Journal podcast, executive editor Josh Gold sat down with Lee Lavi Ramirez to talk about her background, the lessons she has learned in her extensive martial arts training, and how the art of aikido and the aikido community have created a groundswell of unexpected support in the battle for her daughter’s life.
She describes Aria as a sixteen-year-old who was nearly born on the mat at North Valley Aikikai. Aria, who has trained in aikido on and off since she was very young, reported a pain in her thigh a few months ago that wouldn’t go away despite the usual care and physical therapy. She was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare bone and soft tissue disease, after a sports medicine doctor had her take an MRI. Aria, an exuberant animal lover who has trained to volunteer with a teen support hotline, is now undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment in the hopes of curing the disease and returning to normal life.
When she received the fateful call from the doctor, “one reality snapped into a completely different reality,” Lee recalled. Despite the total upheaval in her and her family’s lives, doctors and nurses alike have noted that her steadfastness and ability to act under pressure without succumbing to shock and emotional paralysis are unusually good. Lee in large part credits her ability to stay present and mentally disciplined to her aikido training.
In the weeks since the diagnosis, many aikido instructors, practitioners, and dojos from Lee Lavi Ramirez’s circles and beyond have stepped up to help support the family and contribute to the GoFundMe campaign to finance Aria’s treatment. The proceeds from several recent seminars have been donated to the cause, led by the likes of Ray Feliciano of Maru Dojo and Josh Gold of Ikazuchi Dojo, Lia Suzuki of AKI USA, Chetan Prakash of Redlands Aikikai, and Chris Wong of Aikido of Santa Barbara who organized a seminar with 7th and 6th dan instructors from both the USAF and the Birankai organizations. John Brinsley of Aikido Daiwa has also organized a seminar with Roo Heins for the weekend of October 26-28 in support of Aria’s fund.
Many others in the aikido community continue to organize events and donate proceeds from seminars around the world. If you are interested in organizing a fundraising event or donating proceeds from a seminar, please contact Lee Lavi Ramirez directly.
Lee’s dojo, North Valley Aikikai, is a non-profit organization which works with other nonprofits to offer financial and logistical support to the victims of local and international natural disasters, in addition to teaching classes in aikido, tai chi, and other disciplines. Lee reflected that, as aikido trains people to both give and receive during practice, she is now learning how to receive the help of others off the mat. While she has felt humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the aikido community, she is not entirely surprised that this is happening, as she has witnessed firsthand the compassion and tenacity nurtured in herself and fellow practitioners by the art of aikido.
Aria’s GoFundMe campaign
Listen to the podcast with Lee Lavi Ramirez