CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In an out-of-the-way corner upstairs at the YMCA, Greg Noble stands quiet and composed. Before him, there are a dozen young students, dressed as he is, in white martial arts attire.
Noble is teaching the art of Aikido, a traditional Japanese martial art that redirects the force/energy of one's attacker. He's the chief teacher, or sensei, of the Zenshinkai Aikido Association with 11 affiliated schools in West Virginia, New York, Connecticut, Puerto Rico, Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Ohio. He follows the teaching methodology of the late Fumio Toyoda Shihan and Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba.
"I have been training for about 26 years," Noble said. His army-strong physique (he's been active in the National Guard for 23 years) has helped him earn the rank of Godan (fifth degree black belt) Aikikai. He's the former chairman for both the Aikido World Alliance technical committee and the national testing committee and his credentials also include long-term formal training in Zen and black belts in Iaido and Jodo. Iaido is a modern Japanese sword martial art, and Jodo is classical Japanese martial art for stick and sword.
"Aikido is a perfect fit for the YMCA," Noble said. "It goes well with the philosophy of the Y. There is no hitting or striking. It's a defensive martial art, using evasive body movements to get out of an attack."
Aikido is relatively young in West Virginia, but worldwide, Noble said, it is very popular.
Noble has taught classes in Bulgaria and, most recently, in Poland.
The strength of character and confidence of this sensei is not lost on the young students. Their rapt attention is focused on Noble, as he stands in front of a small shrine-like feature in the blue-padded room. Noble said it wasn't a shrine, but a "shomen," or front of the room. It contains a picture of the founder of Aikido, a scroll with Japanese lettering spelling Aikido and other artifacts. Noble likened it to a mantle in a home with photographs of grandparents.
"At the beginning and end of class, we bow to the shomen," Noble said. It's all about respect, and tradition.
The students range in age from 3 1/2 to young teens, and they go through the paces of their class with quiet enthusiasm. When Noble asks them to move to a different exercise, they hop up quickly and line up efficiently.
Robert Clay Shriver, 12, acts as Noble's assistant with confidence and authority. His father, Robert, said the young man enjoys the class and has learned many life skills from Noble.