There is a local option for residents seeking to improve both physical and mental health.
The American Aikido Institute, 2 E. National Ave., Brazil, has been teaching the martial arts skill Aikido to community members since 1994.
Aikido, a Japanese martial art form translates to mean, "the way of harmonious spirit."
It is designed to be a pure defensive art form as it implies no offensive motion whatsoever.
The institute was started by Sensei Garry Howard, who was already using the location under the moniker of "American Karate Institute."
Howard said he was inspired to try the form after watching the 1988 Steven Seagal film, "Above the Law."
After reading a piece about Seagal in Black Belt Magazine, he discovered the name of the school where Seagal trained.
Howard was so impressed by the Aikido displays of the film he called the institute for the sole purpose of expressing his admiration and wishing the action star well.
Impressed that he would call long distance, Howard was put in contact with Sensei Haruo Matsuoko, who introduced him to Aikido. Howard attended a seminar put on by Matsuoko and for the next six years, developed a long distance relationship with the Sensei, using what he learned from the seminar and calling him after his workouts.
It was Matsuoko who convinced Howard to change his institute to an Aikido institute, telling him, "you don't have a karate heart."
The two have remained close ever since, with Matsuoko even coming to Brazil every August to teach a seminar with Howard and the rest of the American Aikido Institute staff.
In addition to serving as a self-defense teaching tool, Howard stressed that Aikido served as an effective, full-body exercise that "stretches, strengthens and tones all aspects of the human body."
He said he has seen it do wonders to several of his clientele who have experienced a myriad of health issues.
Though not a student of Howard's, there is one area resident who can attest to the healing power of Aikido.
Parke County resident Judy Proctor practiced Aikido with her husband for several years before they stopped to raise a family. In 1989, Judy, a former employee of the Brazil Library, was in an automobile accident in Harmony and suffered a broken hip and jaw.
While rehabilitating, she suffered a major setback when she fell in her front lawn and cut her left femoral vein.
After months of rehabilitation, Proctor was able to regain full use of her leg and the ability to walk regularly. Seeking further physical improvements, she, along with her husband, got back into practicing Aikido under the tutelage of Shihan Mitsugi Saotome at the Schools of Ueshiba, located in Florida in 1992.
Getting back involved with Aikido has paid off for Proctor, who now has much better balance than she ever imagined was possible following the accident. She and her husband train three days a week.
The practice has proven to be rewarding in a material sense also, as both the Proctors have completed testing for their second-degree black belts. Judy said the satisfaction of reaching this point has been something she has been searching for her entire life.
"For me, (Aikido) is a lifetime thing," she said. "It teaches you to be a peaceful person."
For all its physical rewards, most people involved with the practice will say Aikido is more a conquest of the mind than of body. Proctor said this aspect makes the practice more meaningful to her.
"Why just exercise," Proctor said. "Why not do something that gives you balance of mind."
These sentiments were echoed by Howard, who agreed that people need to place more emphasis on mental aspects of the practice that teaches students, "how to be."
"The most powerful muscle is the mind," Howard said. "This practice can go a long way to helping people heal themselves mentally and physically. You can do anything if you believe in yourself."
For more information on the American Aikido Institute, call 448-8470 or visit online at americanaikido.com.
Commercial classes take place every Monday and Wednesday, from 7-8:30 p.m.