New York Daily News - Boroughs - Clem Richardon's Spotlight on Great People:

Luqman Hakeem is probably not the first person to find his life's work in a department store.

But how many people discover a martial art at Macy's?

"It was the first time I saw an aikido move," said Hakeem. "Macy's was having a Japanese festival, and the teacher, T.K. Lee, used a nikyo [an often painful wrist technique] on me. I had taken jujitsu, so I knew what it was."

From that beginning more than 38 years ago, Hakeem, 69, would come to devote his life to the study and practice of aikido - a Japanese martial art created in the early days of the last century - with much success.

Among local African-American martial art practitioners, Hakeem's name is as well-known as that of Moses Powell and the late Dr. Vee.

Hakeem has operated or taught martial arts schools, or dojos, here and in Casablanca, Morocco, where he has lived since 1985.

Last week, he was one of 15 instructors from around the world who taught classes at the New York Aikikai's 10-day, 40th anniversary summer camp at Colgate University in upstate Hamilton.

More than 1,000 people (including this writer) from dozens of countries - including Japan, Brazil, Colombia, France and Great Britain - attended the event.

"It was a great camp," Hakeem said. "All those people working out together in such harmony, it was really beautiful."

Hakeem was born in Cleveland. His family moved to Flushing, Queens, when he was an infant, then to Bayside, where he graduated from Bayside High School in 1952.

He went on to New York Technical University for a few months before enlisting in the Navy, where he stayed for two years.

"I tried school, but at the time I didn't have a sense of direction," he said. "I didn't get that direction in the Navy either. I never left the country or served onboard a ship.

"You know what they say about the service: you ask for one thing, and they give you the exact opposite. Well, I asked for ship duty and ended up in Springfield, Mass., and Glencoe, Ill. - on the land the entire time."

He moved to Brooklyn when his hitch was done, and by 1966 was studying jujitsu and aikido.

"I studied under Prof. Charles Elmore and Dr. Naraki Hara," Hakeem said. "I was 31 when I started. Some friends of mine were taking jujitsu classes and told me I should come with them. I had been boxing before that, so I went along and liked it."

At his instructors' advice, Hakeem quit jujitsu to devote himself to aikido full time. He trained under Yoshimitsu Yamada, chairman of the United States Aikido Federation, host of the just-completed summer camp.

Hakeem would rise through the ranks to become an instructor - he taught a 6:45 a.m. class at the federation's 18th St. offices in Manhattan for 17 years.

"Sometimes I would have 50 students in that class," Hakeem said. "I think people liked it because I taught what I learned. A lot of instructors would be creative and teach things they came up with. But I taught traditional movements, the movements my teachers taught me.

"What I like about aikido is its harmony and beauty, as well as its utility and effectiveness. I like that it's not competitive - the only person you are competing against is yourself.

"Anyone who has spent any time in an aikido dojo knows that eventually the people there regard each other as family. When someone you are used to seeing doesn't show up, people are concerned and try to find out what's going on with that person.

"Aikido is medicine for the mind, body and spirit."

Hakeem joined one of his brothers in converting to the Islamic faith in the early 1960s. By the mid-1980s, he was considering moving to an Islamic country as a way of bringing up his children within the faith.

He chose Morocco because of its California-like weather, stability and short (6-1/2 hours) flight time from New York.

"I have visited 25 countries in my life and still feel Morocco is one of the best places to live," he said. "I moved there in January 1985. The people are friendly, the streets safe."

Hakeem maintains a dojo in his hometown, Casablanca, and regularly teaches at his former students' schools in the cities of Asafi, Essaouira and Tarouadant.

"The aikido students tend to be younger in Morocco because people love sports there," he said.

He has two wives, six sons and four daughters in Morocco and five other children living in the states.

Hakeem said he teaches six days a week and works out or stretches every day, a schedule he plans to keep until he "can't anymore."

"You have to stay active to enjoy life," he said.

Peace for all; no enemies need apply

Aikido was created in Japan by Morihei Ueshiba (1883-1969). Before creating aikido, Ueshiba trained extensively in several varieties of jujitsu, and in swordsmanship. Ueshiba also immersed himself in religious studies and developed an ideology devoted to universal socio-political harmony. He incorporated these principles into his martial art.

Aikido has no tournaments, competitions, contests or sparring. Instead, all aikido techniques are learned cooperatively at a pace commensurate with the abilities of each trainee. According to the founder, the goal of aikido is not the defeat of others, but the defeat of the negative characteristics which inhabit one's own mind and inhibit its functioning.

One reason for the prohibition of competition in aikido is that many techniques would have to be excluded because they can potentially cause serious injury. By training cooperatively, even potentially lethal techniques can be practiced without substantial risk.

Exerpted from "Aikido Primer" by Eric Sotnak.

Originally published on August 13, 2004


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