I first met AlejAndro Anastasio about 10 years ago, after picking up a copy of his short-lived Boise bike newsletter, "Spoke'n'Word." Anastasio is an avid biker, sculptor, musician and motivational speaker and was born without a left hand. When you walk into his aikido studio on 10th Street in the North End, it's like stepping back centuries in time, when men lived by certain codes and art was given a primary position in society. Anastasio recently had to close the doors at 3 Shapes Aikido and his wood-paneled dojo with upstairs living quarters is for sale. But Anastasio is not going anywhere. You can catch him around town on his bike, in the Red Light Variety Show or at BlakBook Art Studio at 1708 W. Main St.
Tell me about "Spoke'n'Word."
My roommate got hit head-on by a car that wasn't paying attention in the North End, and he broke his neck. I was talking to another good friend of ours, and he said what this city needs is a bicycling publication so I came out with one. I'm actually contemplating maybe bringing that back a little bit.
Are you still riding?
Not as much as I used to, since I've had the dojo. However, I didn't own a car until I was 33. I spent the first third of my life on the bicycle. It's a combination of things, simply my love for the planet, finances--living as an artist, sometimes it's better to live simple--and health wise, it's just a really good way to live. In this transition in my life I'm really excited to get back on the bicycle.
Why did you eventually get a car?
It's a funny story. I ended up buying the dojo, March of 2001, and my co-worker wanted to sell me his car. I continuously turned him down. One day he said, look, you have a business now, you are going to need a car. So he ended up kind of giving it to me. He ended up passing away, and he willed me his car. So it's an interesting thing in my life. I've never bought a car. I've had four cars in my life, and they've all been given to me.
How does one start an aikido studio?
In most cases you have to have a lot of years of training underneath you. Typically you have third-, fourth- or fifth-degree black belt rank and you are known to be a very good aikido practitioner. I didn't have any of those, I simply had a lot of love for aikido. At that time I had no teacher, no affiliation and really no rank other than a couple of years training. So I took a big chance buying the building to run a martial arts studio. Up to that point I had about three years training in aikido.
You got into martial arts as an adult ... how did that come about?
It's really a byproduct of spending my whole life without two hands. I was really looking for some kind of movement, tai chi, yoga, martial arts that really incorporated a lot of posture and energy work. I really wanted to keep my back more straight. Not having two hands I tend to be a little rotated. When I was living in Seattle, aikido was one of those words I started to hear a lot.
Are you good at it?
I'm very good at aikido. And I only say that because that's what other people tell me. I probably travel two times a month to get more training. I have three black belts total: one in jiujitsu, one in kenpo karate and a third-degree black belt in aikido. For aikido, I spend a lot of time in Washington, California, Oregon and Colorado. I fly to seminars a lot, I go to see my mentors and my sensei, acquire the training, bring it back and filter it through my students.
Have you ever had to defend yourself?
I have never been in a position where I've had to defend myself. Typically as a martial artist we're in positions where we're taking care of other people. A good martial artist will diffuse any situation before it gets physical.
What is a modern-day samurai?
That's how I live my life. Typically people understand samurais as bad and ninjas as good. But that's totally backwards. Ninjas are assassins. They get paid to do bad things. Samurai defended the good; they're like Jedi knights. But a modern-day samurai does very specific things. They take care of their community, which I do, they tend to their parents, which I do. Always do the right thing in the moment, speak and act appropriately, and pretty much it's typically to be in a position of service, so serve my students, serve the community. Make sure things are safe, simply by watching things.
How do you use your left arm?
My left arm pretty much functions as a big thumb ... I look at it as one large finger. I'm using it for a lot of connection and movement. Since I cannot grab on that side, I have to be connected to things. In aikido that is a critical element, being able to connect with your partner. It's so weird; not having two hands is actually an advantage in aikido.