Jacqueline Siapno is emphatic. The Japanese martial arts discipline has had a profound impact on her life.
Student Joy Siapno and her Japanese instructor.
"It has changed my life totally," the Philippine-born professor of political science said after a strenuous workout with 15 other participants in the discipline known as aikido held at the university campus in the Timor-Leste capital of Dili.
Aikido, translated as "the way of harmonious spirit" is a blend of ancient martial arts, philosophy and religious beliefs and now has a worldwide following of more than one million adherents.
Sports activities may contribute to raise the quality of life in developing countries and in Timor, twice a week, Yoshikazu Wada, JICA's assistant resident representative, supervises classes.
For some of the participants like Mrs. Siapno, the wife of the President of Timor's National Parliament, aikido has a special resonance in Timor-Leste, a place which has been wracked by violence for years and where its people need not only a military sturdiness to confront such trauma but also a peaceful philosophy to build a better future.
"Living in a place like Timor takes a lot of skill," Mrs. Siapno says. "We are in a fragile, post-conflict situation and people get burned out very quickly. Aikido gives you a sense of health, confidence and renewed spirit."
A dedicated feminist and, in her words, a 'radical' she believes that a discipline like aikido gives women in particular a greater sense of self worth and empowerment than many mainstream women’s programs.
"These often want to portray women simply as 'victims' and in that respect they are flawed," she said. "They do not help women grow and become confident. Aikido does those things."
Practicing aikido in Timor-Leste.
"Here people are attacking us all the time," she continued. "They burned my house at one point. I wanted to fight back. To do something."
She did. In the summer she said, smiling broadly, "I rounded up all of my radical friends and we invaded the aikido training sessions."
One colleague, Mery Barreto, who works in a local organization helping women who are victims of domestic violence, agreed: "I receive a lot of threats in my work. I want to feel confident that I can defend myself in such an environment."
Joy Siapno intervenes enthusiastically: "Half of us are mothers," she said. "Aikido is good for mothers. It makes us better mothers. They should have a special book on aikido for mothers."
And she repeats: "It has changed my life, not just the practice of aikido, but its philosophy of peace" in a troubled place.