Dean Gloster Reflects on Seven Years of Aikido Practice

Dean Gloster is approaching his seven-year anniversary at the Aiki Arts Center dojo. His checkered past includes being a law clerk to two Supreme Court Justices, being a lawyer for several decades, and then turning to write stories for young people. His debut YA novel, Dessert First, is out from Merit Press/Simon & Schuster, and his YA short stories have appeared in the Spoon Knife 6: Rest Stop and Spoon Knife 7: Transitions anthologies from Autonomous Press.


What inspired you to begin practice?

My Aikido practice has a strange origin story. I’d heard a little about Aikido, but the real impetus was the election of Donald Trump in 2016. At the time, I often commuted into San Francisco, and there was a concern that his election would embolden racists and bullies, particularly on public transit. Some of us began wearing large safety pins to signal that we were allies who would intervene if we saw racist harassment of riders. I have some practice with de-escalation techniques, but I also thought I should probably learn some skills applicable if someone decided to punch me. When I looked around for a dojo to start practicing, I saw a wonderful blog post by Nick Walker Sensei about how the greatest challenge for beginners is often an unduly harsh internal critic, and as a long-term path for transformation and growth, you have to let go of that harsh self-criticism when you’re learning something new. That was something I was working on and struggling in other areas of my life—especially with writing novels, which is my second career. So I thought (correctly) that the Aiki Arts Center dojo and the practice of Aikido would be a great fit.

How has your practice evolved in the last seven years?

Initially, I had a lot to unlearn, about trying to do too much and to muscle attackers around, instead of blending with their attack while relaxed, and I’m still working on that. It’s been really great because my other physical activity is downhill ski racing, and my progress in Aikido has helped me understand how to change some bad habits on the ski hill of similarly trying to do too much instead of really flowing from the ground up.

What are you working on these days?

I’m now in my sixties, and I’m trying to evolve a way to do things that’s sustainable for the next decade or two, which really involves more of a gentleness and smoothness, and I’m trying to apply what I’ve learned about that in Aikido to other areas of my life. I’m also trying to transition from an athletic approach and evolve to something more minimalist, and I’m especially fascinated by small stance Aikido, which didn’t come naturally to me. I’m trying to be quieter and calmer and meet attacks with a more relaxed openness.

Do you have any advice for new students?

Show up and try it. It’s great exercise, and it’s a real practice (like meditation or some other things) that flows into the rest of your life. And it’s a great way to make good friends. Out on the mat, you are responsible for your partner’s safety and the safety of the people around you, and we’re all doing things that are sometimes challenging. Because it’s an environment where each of us experiences vulnerability, and we rely on and trust each other, it fosters genuine connections between people. And, as Nick Sensei wrote, leave your inner critic outside for a while, and be gentle with yourself as you’re learning something new, which for many of us is counterintuitive. And have fun.