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Students learn self-defense at Northern Blvd. center

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Aikido is a Japanese martial art centered around taking the energy of an attacker and redirecting it in self-defense. The training hall at 252-26 Northern Blvd. held its first class nearly 10 years ago, when founder Robert E. Waltzer - Waltzer Sensei, to his students - brought aikido to Queens."Aikido is using the other person's energy against them," Waltzer said. "It is not using force against force."Waltzer came to aikido after studying karate and jujitsu to learn self-defense and self-confidence. As a kid who grew up in 1950s Brooklyn too small to make his school's basketball team, he said he wishes he had learned it earlier."You really had to learn how to defend yourself in the schoolyard," he said.Now he is passing those skills and more on to his own students. In 23 classes a week for adults and children as young as 4, he focuses not just on physical techniques but on the mental and spiritual elements that are integral aikido."Here they're working on life skills," he said. "We're not teaching them to be fighters."Parents appreciate the discipline and focus that children bring to other aspects of their lives, including respect for teachers and better manners at home, Waltzer said. And while many of his adult students come for exercise or enjoyment, others are people who, in their professional lives, can find themselves in sticky situations: police, corrections officers and private detectives.Waltzer moved to Queens in 1996 for his job. He was shocked to find there was no Aikido dojo in the borough, so he founded one. He spent five years running the dojo while he worked full time as a print production manager. Now 60, he retired five years ago and spends six days a week at Aikido of Queens.In 2003, he purchased the Little Neck storefront he had leased since 1997. Last summer, he replaced the glass storefront and canvass awning with a distinctive cedar facade that evokes a Japanese farm house. Opaque sliding shoji screens hang in the windows - they are closed for privacy during practice."I'm very much into the tradition, not the commercialism," Waltzer said. "I didn't want this to have a storefront. I wanted to reflect the inside."He now has more than 200 students, and in Great Neck his wife -- also a student - runs another dojo, Aikido for Kids."Being that this is Queens, the children here, the ethnicities, this is like a little United Nations here in this school," Waltzer said. "Everybody wears the same uniform and everybody is treated the same."Now preparing to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Aikido of Queens, Waltzer would not trade his dojo for the world."When I saw Aikido, it kind of drew me," he said. "This is my calling."For more information, visit www.aikidoofqueens.com or call 718-224-7702.

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