After less than three years, Lia Suzuki is on a roll — a roll-a-thon, that is.

Since starting her nonprofit Aikido Kenkyukai Santa Barbara in 2009, Suzuki is finding success raising funds for it. Her nonprofit group’s fall Roll-a-Thon fundraiser will be from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21 at the Buddhist Church, 1015 E. Montecito St. on Santa Barbara’s Eastside.

How does going from trying to run a for-profit dojo as a business differ from raising funds for a nonprofit?

“It allows me to tell the American public what a dojo should really be,” Suzuki said. “Here, dojo owners are forced to focus more on making a profit, unlike those in Japan and France.”

Suzuki operated a for-profit dojo on State Street in 2007 until the rent soared from $1,200 to $6,500 a month.

“I had to take a step back and decide what to do next when I lost the dojo,” she said.

That’s how Aikido Kenkyukai was started. “Kenkyukai” translates from Japanese to “research group,” she said. It appears she has done her homework since the group has grown steadily, as demonstrated by its list of board members, advisory council volunteers and monetary sponsors.

Sponsors of Tuesday’s event include Montecito Bank & Trust, Buynak Law Firm, LanSpeed, John Kelly Communications, Ken Switzer Realty and Eve Konstantine Coaching. In addition, Larry Crandell, aka “Mr. Santa Barbara,” has joined her advisory council.

Suzuki said her nonprofit is trying to provide South Coast residents with a path toward peace. It encourages the practice of the Japanese nonviolent martial art of aikido, promoting it as a vehicle for self-improvement and spiritual growth, as well as a harmonious way to resolve everyday stress and conflict.

Suzuki received her sixth-degree black belt in aikido in January. She teaches the “art of peace” to anyone age 3 or older. The nonprofit also runs various community projects, such as its sponsorship program for low-income and at-risk children who are given the opportunity to train in aikido.

Lia Suzuki demonstrates aikido, the Japanese nonviolent martial art.

Lia Suzuki demonstrates the art of aikido. (Lia Suzuki courtesy photo)

She initially became interested in aikido and trained in Boston. Suzuki is a former competitive horse rider from Pennsylvania. She planned to visit Japan for a short time in 1987 and ended up finding a job as an English teacher, getting married and returning home in 1996.

She visited Santa Barbara in 1999 while going through her divorce and was taken with the South Coast. She taught at YMCAs in Pennsylvania for awhile, and then decided to return to Santa Barbara. About that time, she reached her fourth-degree black belt.

Along with teaching aikido, to help earn a living, she performed deep-tissue massage, which she had learned earlier and practiced as a side job. Her senior students wanted her to come back to teaching the martial art in which she was becoming a one-of-a-kind teacher.

“I was doing the type of aikido no one was doing in the United States,” she said.

Suzuki also started the Aikido Kenkyukai in Pennsylvania. Aikido Kenkyukai dojos operate in Australia, Germany and Chile, but only two are located in the United States.

As do many nonprofit founders, Suzuki hopes to accomplish the group’s goals through teaching, but she needs to spend more time handing administrative duties. So, she continues to seek more board members and volunteers. These positions help her find sponsors to pay for low-income students.

Using Facebook, YouTube and other social media, Suzuki is raising funds with the aid of Aikido Kenkyukai’s Web site.

She said she raised about $1,000 in donations just using Facebook during Memorial Day weekend.

Noozhawk contributor Ray Estrada can be reached at