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 Natural Awakenings Lancaster-Berks

Aikido Center of Lancaster: Training in the Art of Peace

Oct 26, 2012 10:22PM ● By Lauressa Nelson

John Flinchbaugh


In college, Christian Recknagel did not imagine that his lifelong interest in athletics would intersect with his dedicated study of human behavior and leadership. Yet, discovering aikido led him to revelations that he never expected, and within 10 years, he had simultaneously opened Aikido Center of Lancaster (ACL) and built the leadership training company, SEM Development. He found that knowledge and experience in each of these worlds enhances his work in the other.

Recknagel obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology and marketing at Albright College, in Pennsylvania, and traveled to New Jersey to earn a Master of Business Administration degree in organizational psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University. At college, a friend introduced him to the martial art aikido. Recknagel had always been interested in the martial arts, but recalls, “The aggressive and adversarial relationships that I usually found outweighed the benefits of the disciplines.”

Aikido was different. “It provided an approach where you could be confident and strong and stand for what you believe, without having to be aggressive or overbearing,” explains Recknagel. “Aikido translates to mean, ‘the way of harmony with universal energy.’ Aikido is based on non-resistance and is practiced in a non-competitive dojo, which means, ‘place for practicing the way.’”

During graduate school, Recknagel noticed parallels between his academic work in organizational psychology and his aikido practice. “I began to see the correlation between what we were doing on the mat and creating effective relationships that work in a productive way,” he recalls. “In aikido, when you are in an adversarial relationship, your highest purpose is to lead that to a productive conclusion. One of the tenets of aikido is that you are responsible to take care of the person who is attacking you.”

Recknagel achieved the rank of Nidan, second degree black belt, as a student of Greg O’Connor Sensei, who built the Aikido Center franchise that provided Recknagel with a turnkey, branded opportunity to start a dojo, first in Hoboken and later in Lancaster, where he found a surprisingly large audience. “When I moved to Lancaster four years ago, there was nothing closer than 40 minutes away for training,” he says. “I started the dojo in donated warehouse space; after 18 months, the membership base warranted moving into my own building.”

ACL’s expansion was based on a need for students to practice together—the traditional style of learning aikido involves mingling all levels of students, except children. “Aikido is an energy practice,” explains Recknagel, “so you really cannot do it on your own.”

Aikido’s basic principles are to keep your center, or balance; connect with the attack or the circumstances that you’re in; blend with that energy; then redirect it, leading it to a more productive place. Recknagel quips, “I tell students that in aikido, we don’t start fights and we don’t end fights; rather, we turn fights into friendships.”

He also emphasizes a non-intimidating and inclusive environment. “All are welcome, no matter their age or physical ability, to practice to the level they want,” he notes, “whether it is to learn peaceful self-defense and how to deal with confrontation, or simply to practice a healthy discipline of physical exercise.” Students switch practice partners many times during a class so that they learn to apply aikido’s basic tenets to opponents of all types, levels and abilities. “The highest goal in aikido is to become a better person and create a better world,” affirms Recknagel. “There is nothing like someone grabbing your wrist forcefully to get you to face and overcome your first impulse.”

He finds that aikido principles apply to any leadership role, including parenting. “It’s about the practice, not only on the mat, of entertaining a higher level of consciousness; being more attentive to our internal reactions; noticing them; and trying to navigate, gauge and relate to them more effectively,” he says. “On this path, I overreact less frequently and catch myself more quickly. You can be firm with your expectations and yet be compassionate. Maintain a center in your psychology and physicality—it’s disarming in a good way.”

The center is evolving as Recknagel envisioned it, a facility aligned with aiki principles, but one that does more than teach aikido. ACL now offers a form of Tai chichuan, a type of Tai chi grounded in martial arts; Zen meditation led by an ordained Zen priest; and a unique form of deep tissue massage work that has its roots in traditional Hawaiian Lomi-Lomi and Japanese Seifukujitsu. Recknagel, who says additional plans include seminars with guest instructors and special classes, such as self-defense for women, humbly adds, “I’m open to suggestions.”

Location: 108 Crystal St., Lancaster. For more information, call 717-461-3494, email [email protected] or visit To learn more about corporate leadership trainings, visit

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