If you’ve been stopped by the train at Johnson Drive and Interstate 35 in Merriam, you’ve seen the aikido masters whirling balletically in long black skirts.
If you’ve approached that intersection traveling east on Johnson Drive at any time in the past 30 years, you’ve seen the Midland Ki Society.
Those skirts are called hakama and are what aikido brown belts and black belts wear at this dojo to signify rank.
But the school’s founder, Vic Montgomery, a fourth dan (or fourth degree black belt) doesn’t care much about rank.
Montgomery, an environmental scientist with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said that what he has learned in Aikido has aided him with everything from keeping calm at wild city council meetings, to keeping his balance while leaning over a bridge for a water sample.
He wants his students to feel that, too, not worry about a belts.
In contrast to some Tae Kwon Do schools where a student might become a second-degree black belt before leaving elementary school, Midland Ki doesn’t even test students for that rank who are under the age of 15.
Montgomery started the school in 1985 as a nonprofit organization. “I opened it up because I wanted to keep learning. As long as it paid for itself I was happy — I don’t have time to make this a business,” he said.
All six of Midland Ki’s teachers are unpaid volunteers.
The dojo offers 10 classes for children and adults — children make up half of the dojo’s students — that average about 16 per class.
Orie Wall, a systems architect at BlueScope Buildings, is a sensei for the kids’ class, which on a recent Saturday had only seven pupils.
“We have a difficult time retaining students because they want to do what they see on TV — the kicking and punching. And we’re not about that,” Wall said.
Wall led the children through stretches which took up about half of the hour-long class. The stretches are preliminaries to the sparring they’ll do in the second half of class.
The kids range in age from first through eighth grade. Wall wanted them to move together like a school of fish — aikido emphasizes harmony and form. He asked the students, “What happens in band class when some people play slow and some play fast? It sounds really bad, doesn’t it?”
They all nodded and tried to sync up with their neighbors a little better.
Larry Conway, father of Sasami, the class’s eighth-grader, said they’ve been part of the dojo for three years.
“Sasami is a very pacifistic person, and we wanted something that catered to that. This martial arts style is very defensive, not offensive.”
Tanya Bishop of Shawnee enrolled her sons Isaac and Oliver around the same time as Sasami. “I like that they teach self-control and awareness of the body,” Bishop said.
Patrick Beach is the father of the youngest child in the class. A veteran of both the Army and the Osawatomie police force, he enrolled Emily in aikido when she was only 4 because he wanted her to learn physical confidence.
Beach said the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center uses the same aikido techniques the kids are learning, though they might not call them that. “It gives them (officers) maximum control over a suspect with the least amount of damage,” Beach said.
The chief aikido instructor in the United States, Koichi Kashiwaya, will be visiting the dojo in March and leading classes.
Contact Anne Kniggendorf at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Midland KI Society
Address: 9303 Johnson Drive, Merriam, KS 66203
Contact: 913-362-7314; email@example.com
Class times: Saturday 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Tuesday 6-9 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday 7-9 p.m.