Know Your Neighbors: Sensei Dianne Costanzo (5th Dan) of Tokushinkan Dojo, One Point Center Aikido

During the month of January, promises are made and resolutions are set for that gym membership to finally be put to good use. Ironically enough, and according to Time, losing weight and getting fit is the number one resolution to be made to ring in the New Year…and also the most broken New Year’s resolution, as well.  Physically and mentally revolutionizing oneself has always been the number one aspiration to start off the New Year.  Yet, if you take a walk down to 48 Lake Street, you’ll see through beautifully clean windows that mental and physical discovery, hard work, and harmony are all in a day’s work for Dianne Costanzo Sensei and her Aikidoka (students) of Tokushinkan Dojo, One Point Center Aikido.

Aikido, literally translating to “the way of harmonizing energy”, is a Japanese martial art derived from classic samurai weapons work.  The martial art emphasizes leverage, timing, and energy to neutralize an opponent’s attack and, unlike other martial arts, focuses less on physically attacking your opponent back.  Dianne Costanzo Sensei, a Chicago native, has been teaching this highly physical, mental, and spiritual martial art for over 20 years and in 2004 opened her very own dojo right here in Oak Park named Tokushinkan Dojo, One Point Center Aikido.   This dojo ignites all senses, so don’t expect to be happily surprised by just only the alluring smell of incense.

I’ve been one of Costanzo Sensei’s Aikidoka (students) for two years now and can remember the very first day I walked into her dojo.  It’s honestly one of the most beautiful, clean, and humbling places I’ve ever stepped into.  It’s no wonder that our dojo proudly has 30+ active students ranging from ages 5 to 75.  Covered by a giant green mat and a huge bright skylight overhead, Costanzo Sensei takes as much pride in keeping her dojo as welcoming as she is a Sensei to her students.  Catching up with my Sensei is always a joy, especially when discussing Aikido and her dojo.

Around Oak Park
In your own words, please describe “Aikido.”

Costanzo
At the very heart of Aikido lies the belief of being natural, yet the ability to be natural, direct, and pure is difficult to manifest and express. Those whose Aikido seems most effortless demonstrate clear intention-their Aikido shows a congruence of body, mind, and spirit, a direct connection between thought and action, an elegance in which there is neither excess nor deficiency. Everything is significant and at the same time, nothing is overvalued. Sensei called Aikido “the art of peace,” but this in no way minimizes the martial or warrior nature of the art. Simply put, Aikido expresses body/mind connection in which the inner and outer self is the same. Aikido is usually seen as a defensive martial art, but in order to do good defense, we also practice good offensive strikes and grabs. Ultimately, offense and defense are the same. Clearly, Aikido is a wonderful and effective martial art, providing many other benefits: stamina, balance, control, breathing, mental and physical acuity, calm, and stress reduction. At its best, Aikido training can help people negotiate conflict on and off the mat. Because we are non-competitive, Aikido is done in a spirit of cooperation and non-judgment.

AOP
You credit much of your Aikido life to Toyoda Sensei, the founder of Chicago Ki-Aikido Society and of the independent organization Aikido Association of America, and most importantly your own beloved teacher and mentor.  Tell me more about how he and Aikido influenced you as a student and later as a Sensei with your own dojo.

Costanzo
He kept asking me when I would make my own dojo, so little by little and in a plethora of locations, I began teaching Aikido in Oak Park in 1997.  I started with only a handful of students and gradually and consistently our dojo grew to its current enrollment of about seventy students, who range from six to seventy in age.  Teaching and continuing to practice Aikido has made me very aware of the importance of creating a community of learners who are engaged in something that is both personally and societally significant.

AOP
What have you discovered is the reason people want to learn Aikido?

Costanzo
We learn Aikido for a number of reasons: we want to learn a martial art; we want to polish our spirit.  But perhaps the deepest reason is to help make the world a better place.  We do this by becoming better people and I truly believe that we change the world by changing ourselves.  Aikido is a full body, mind, and spirit endeavor.  Often people begin because they want to do something physical and fun, and then they stay because they benefit from what I call “the invisible things”; they notice interior changes within themselves.  They become calmer, braver, and more confident.

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I also had a chance to talk with some of Constanzo Sensei’s Aikidoka, who are also dear friends of mine.  Sarah and David Rose have been studying with Costanzo Sensei for different respected amounts of time, however, the amount they both have learned inside the dojo has been inspiring for them to say the least.

Sarah, who currently lives in Chicago with her husband David, has been practicing Aikido for 2.5 years and took her very first class with Costanzo Sensei. She is currently a brown belt (2nd kyu), the last belt before black belt (1st kyu).

AOP
What do you enjoy about practicing and studying Aikido with Costanzo Sensei and the Aikidoka at our dojo?

Sarah
I simply love the people from our dojo! I know that we all care deeply for each other and I feel like we are all very welcoming to new people. It’s amazing to see how we all grow both inside the dojo and also outside in our everyday lives.  Whenever I go to the dojo, I come back with a smile on my face because doing Aikido just lifts my mood and spirits. I feel reconnected, both with my friends and fellow Aikidoka and even more so with myself. In that regard, Aikido works like yoga.  As far as the actual practice of Aikido, I just love the rolling around, going into details of a technique or fall, and working together on adjustments for the different body types.

AOP
What is one thing that makes our dojo unique as compared to other dojos (and even other places in general)?

Sarah
One thing is for sure: there are not that many female dojocho’s out there! Costanzo Sensei is pretty small in height, which makes her Aikido different in many aspects. She had to learn how to adopt the style of Toyoda Sensei to make it work for her, which is great for me because I am exactly her size too! It is hard – maybe especially as a woman – to believe that it is not the pure strength, but leverage and timing that makes Aikido work. It’s good to get reminded all the time that there is another way to get what I want

AOP
What is this biggest or most impactful thing you have learned or experienced from Aikido thus far?

Sarah
Hiding is never the answer. I used to just hide from everything in life, but being on the mat – where there is absolutely no hiding – has taught me to not do this anymore. You fall down seven times. You get back up eight times.

David has been practicing Aikido for 21 years, first in Michigan, then as uchi-deshi (live-in student) under Toyoda Sensei in Chicago, training alongside Costanzo Sensei. He is a fourth dan, black belt (the fourth highest level of black belt).

AOP
What do you enjoy about practicing and studying Aikido with Costanzo Sensei and the Aikidoka at our dojo?

David
I enjoy it because it is not only physically rewarding, but it’s also mentally stimulating and gives me a measure of inner peace and serenity. I enjoy working with Costanzo Sensei in particular because she has a strong sense of Aikido’s deeper meanings and principles. The people I train with are some of the best people I’ve ever met, including my wife.

AOP
What is the most impactful thing you have learned or experienced from Aikido thus far?

David
Aikido has literally changed how I interact with other people and events in every aspect of my life. As a teacher, Aikido is my greatest resource. As a father, Aikido gives me skills and strategies to connect with my children. As a husband, Aikido has made me far more sensitive and capable. And as an American, Aikido has inspired me to be a far more engaged citizen. I have seen Aikido principles strongly reflected in the speeches of Dr. King and Gandhi.

Physical, mental, and spiritual transformation is relevant for not only the students at Tokushinkan Dojo, One Point Center Aikido, but also for Costanzo Sensei herself.

AOP
How has studying and teaching Aikido transformed you?

Costanzo
Studying and teaching Aikido has transformed how I look at and approach the world.  Part of our training is deeply influenced by Zen thought, which emphasizes seeing the world as it is.  This is so much more difficult than it sounds because things are not always as they appear.  We try to accept incongruity and paradox and embrace the fullness of what we think we know, what we actually know, and what we can never really know.  This has made me more compassionate and also more fierce simultaneously.  When I say fierce, I do not mean aggressive, but unfair aid.  Aikido has given me a way of life, a practice for me to stand in my truth.  I want that for my students–I want them to stand in their truth, knowing that doing so does not guarantee anyone agreeing with you.  But that is part of living a virtuous life.  We try to do the right thong because it is the right thing to do.  That is the greatest gift I can give my students, aside from learning a phenomenal martial art that focuses on cultivating peace, but I cannot ask students anything that I do not practice myself.

AOP
How would you describe your dojo?

Costanzo
The spirit of our dojo is compassionate and demanding.  Physical, spiritual, and intellectual virtue requires devotion and a willingness to push ourselves.  I think our dojo encourages us to battle our own inner inertia.  To achieve this, I like to teach in a way that uses humor, humility, and just a touch of ferocity.  It is my job to help my students break their own limitations, to face their fears and become the best person possible, to turn charcoal into a diamond.  That happens with appropriate pressure and time.

While also teaching at her own dojo, Sensei Costanzo currently teaches English courses and liberal arts and sciences seminars at Dominican University in River Forest.  Costanzo received a Ph.D. in literature and a Masters in pastoral studies from Loyola University Chicago. In addition, she studied at the Institute for Spiritual Leadership in Chicago.  Sensei Costanzo’s most popular senior seminar at Dominican University entitled “Aikido as Contemplation” allows her students outside the dojo to experience the same physical, mental, and spiritual contemplation and discovery as does her Aikidoka in her dojo.

If you’re interested in learning Aikido or would like more information on Tokushinkan Dojo, One Point Center Aikido, visit:

Tokushinkan Dojo: One Point Center Aikido
48 Lake Street
Oak Park, IL 60302
(708) 383-4711
http://www.tokushinkan.net/
Email: info@onepointcenteraikido.com

About

Melissa Rohman is currently a college junior majoring in Journalism with a double minor in English and Social Media. She is also the Managing Editor of her university’s student led newspaper. Her focus with Around Media Group has a broad range, covering crime reports, features, and news.

One thought on “Know Your Neighbors: Sensei Dianne Costanzo (5th Dan) of Tokushinkan Dojo, One Point Center Aikido

  1. Wonderful interview. I love this Dojo. Costanzo Sensei is a genuine person whose dedication to Aikido and to our late great Teacher Fumio Toyoda is without question. I am very much looking forward to coming to an event at Tokushinkan Dojo very soon. David Rose Sensei and his wife Sarah (Who I met at the last event) are wonderful people and David’s Aikido is so physically robust and technically articulate (Like that David?) that he and Diane are a great combination for excellent instruction. Thank you Melissa and keep living your Aikido-Life.

    Sincerely,

    Michael Black
    Aikido Shinjinkan Dojo-cho
    HHR Foundation inc

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