Your Instructors

Jeffrey B. Hecht

Jeffrey B. Hecht
Retired Professor and Associate Dean from the College of Education at Northern Illinois University. He has been studying Aikido since 1984 and has earned the rank of Godan (Fifth Degree Black Belt). Jeff taught Aikido for three years in the Martial Arts Program at the University of California, Riverside and ten years at the Aikido Club at Illinois State University prior to relocating to Sycamore, Illinois. Together with Leslie he taught Aikido at Northern Illinois University for thirteen years prior to his retirement in 2015.


Leffrey B. Hecht
Leslie B. Hecht

Retired Academic


from the College of Education at Northern Illinois University. Leslie has been studying Aikido since 1986 and has earned the rank of Yondan (Fourth Degree Black Belt).


Gracia Watson
Gracia Watson


Assistant at

Kishwaukee College. Gracia has been studying Aikido for 13 years and has achieved the rank of Nidan (Second Degree Black Belt).


History of Prairie Aikikai

The Beginning

In December 2000 Jeff, Les, and their daughter Rachel moved from Bloomington, Illinois to their new home in Sycamore, Illinois. The new property housed an outbuilding that the previous owner had used to work on his car collection. The Hechts envisioned the greater part of the building as an Aikido dojo, and began reconstruction work in early 2001. Several building parties and nearly two years of evenings and weekends later, it was finally able to open.


See pictures of the construction process


In September 2002 the dojo was ready for an "unofficial" grand opening. The event allowed all of the hardworking folks who had contributed to its construction to get together and practice in the new place for a while.


See pictures of the unofficial grand opening


A few months after the unofficial grand opening, Prairie Aikikai hosted a friendship seminar together with some of the students from the Fox Valley Yoshinkai Aikido Club.


See pictures of the friendship seminar


It took almost another entire year for the remainder of the dojo to be completed, but on September 20, 2003 Prairie Aikikai held its Official Grand Opening seminar featuring Sensei Wendy Whited, a 6th Dan from Inaka Dojo in Beecher, Illinois!


More about Your Instructors

The Hechts' first instructor was Ace Atkinson Sensei, who has over 30 years of Aikido training and teaching experience and is the Head Instructor at the University of California at Riverside. Over the years the Hechts have studied with several wonderful instructors, and had the pleasure of practicing with some talented Aikidoka from all over the world.


Jeff and Les Hecht, and the Prairie Aikikai, are affiliated with the Aikido Shimbokukai, led by Lisa Tomoleoni Sensei. The Aikido Shimbokukai is an Officially Recognized Organization by the Aikido World Headquarters (Hombu Dojo) and the Aikikai Foundation in Tokyo, Japan. Membership in the Aikido Shimbokukai provides Prairie Aikikai students numerous benefits, including:

  • International recognition of rank promotion
  • A world-wide network of member dojos, special seminars and camps
  • Other Aikido students to learn from and practice with


Occasional special seminars, guest instructors, and field trips to other dojos are also a continuing part of the experiences available. These, and other more social events, allow each student a chance to practice with others from outside our school, and learn from instructors of national recognition.


Feel free to visit and observe any practice! The instructor and students will be happy to talk with you, explain what is going on, and to answer any questions you might have.