Mary McLean Sensei
I first heard about Aikido when I attended Esalen’s 1974 world tour in New England, where I was a psychology professor at a state college. George Leonard led a seminar on Mind-Body Integration, in which he spoke eloquently about this art called Aikido. He described watching his ten year-old daughter stand under a sword attack and step off the line with – he used this word: aplomb. Then he said, “Aikido is a martial art where you learn how to protect yourself without having to hurt other people back.” Suddenly and unaccountably, chills ran up and down the whole length of my body, and I heard a small, clear voice in the back of my head say, “Aikido will save your life.” I knew instantly that it meant in the broadest sense of the term. I had always sensed there must be a way to deal with violence without abandoning what I’d come to understand as Universal Love. I vowed to train in Aikido at the soonest possible opportunity.

Four years later in 1978, I heard about a remarkable doctoral program at The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in California, which started each day of classes with an hour and a half of Aikido! ITP was founded by Robert Frager Sensei, who was one of the few Americans to have trained with O Sensei. He organized a richly diverse Aikido faculty for us at ITP, including senseis: Jack Wada; Foster Gamble; and Betsy Hill. Little did I know what that meant at the time! I applied and was accepted.

I had the great good fortune to start my Aikido training in a dojo where the spirit of the Founder of Aikido, O Sensei, was brought alive in three dimensions on a daily basis. Bob Frager’s teaching was at once both wild and traditional. I remember one day his teaching us to get off the line from a knife attack, with a foot-long carving knife he brought in from the kitchen…

I got my black belt in 1983, back when we still held regional exams. Fourteen of us tested that day. I was the first one out of six to be left standing on my randori (multiple person attack). Terry Dobson was one of the senseis who sat for our exams. Afterwards, they took us one by one into a back room to tell us whether we had passed or failed. Terry Dobson winked at me. I knew he wouldn’t have done that for just anybody.

Centerfield Aikido was born in 1985, out of a shared vision with my friend, Sylvia Marie, then a brown belt in Aikido. With Sylvia’s visionary and tactical support, we created Centerfield out of cloth. I was its primary sensei for the first six years. As classes grew, we decided to expand, inviting more teachers to join us. The teaching staff finally distilled itself to Betsy Hill, David Keip and I for the last twelve years of the dojo. We shared a unique balance of power and creativity, with myself as original dojo-cho and business owner, and Betsy some twelve years David’s and my senior in the art. All three of us valued the consensus model of decision-making, and made all policy and ranking decisions on that basis. As a result, Centerfield developed a spacious atmosphere of acceptance amongst all who trained there, fostering over twenty black belts in its 21 years of existence in its first location.

The Universe loves to turn itself inside out. In 2006, Centerfield underwent cell-division. David, Betsy and I have each started our own schools in Sonoma County. I have recreated Centerfield Aikido in the coastal redwoods of the wine country above Bodega, CA.

Centerfield’s new incarnation is a country dojo that welcomes local students, as well as offering a destination-retreat for teachers and students, where Aikidoka interested in transmitting the art may explore their deepest questions. We train in a spacious, light-filled tent under the redwoods with the call of ravens overhead and the sound of the distant sea.
About Sensei Mary McLean


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Centerfield Aikido
16721 Burl Lane, Occidental, CA 707.876.1968