The November Issue of Birankai Europe’s Newsletter includes an interview with Chiba Sensei on the contradiction between diamonds and rocks and order and freedom.
The November Issue of Birankai Europe’s Newsletter includes an interview with Chiba Sensei on the contradiction between diamonds and rocks and order and freedom.
By Sarah Cuevas, Grass Valley Aikikai
In September I was fortunate to have the experience of attending the Women’s Aikido Camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The travel to the event was a story all on its own. Missed flights, multiple rerouted gates, and lengthy wait times (an extra 8 hours), were just some of the events that made the travel to Camp a hilarious story. However, my experience of Camp outweighed the travel to and fro. As I usually do when attending an event, I made an agreement with myself to let go of expectations. Life is too unpredictable to come loaded with desire. I had never been to an all women’s anything before (with the exception of a few girls’ nights here and there, but nothing of this magnitude). So I arrived with an open heart and mind and an intention to train hard and do my best.
Our rerouted travel kept us from attending the first evening class. We arrived by shuttle in the dark, to the retreat center where Camp was held. Showed to our room by Varjan Sensei herself, we were delighted to discover comfy beds and cozy furnishings. A good night’s sleep was definitely in store for myself and my dojo mate, Marci Martinez. The next morning we awoke to a perfect view of the high desert, and then were even more astounded by the breakfast buffet. After homemade granola, fresh greek yogurt, organic fruits and juice options, good coffee, scrambled eggs with meat or vegetarian options, we practically rolled ourselves back up to our rooms to dress and go to the dojo.
The dojo was a simple yet quality setup in the gym of the retreat center, with long, tall windows at the top for great natural light, and doors at either end to keep the air flowing. I walked in noticing the calm air. Not the calm-before-the-storm kind of calm, more like the quiet peace you find after the space of meditation. There was an inherent unhurried-ness coupled with the power of being a martial arena. Being one of the first to arrive on the mat, I noticed the energy shift as more women arrived. Having no expectations, I observed, interested to see how this was going to play out. Turns out, it began seemingly no different than a seminar where our brothers were in attendance. We lined, up, we bowed, we entered training with a confirmed sense of martial awareness. With skilled teaching, precision ukemi, and a relatively crowded mat, we trained hard. Technique followed technique, one after another, sweat abounding and egos aside, we trained in body arts and weapons.
It wasn’t until someone triggered a recognition in my head by saying, “So this is what it feels like when there is no testosterone on the mat” that I even noticed a difference in the energy of the room. There was a difference: a subtle, yet powerful, transcendence of this hormonal variation. It is challenging for me to describe, because it didn’t feel like anything was lacking, and it didn’t feel like an abundance of estrogen either. It just felt, well, softer. When I say softer, I don’t mean less martial, or easier training. I refer to a feminine energy, the type of energy you feel when you know you are being cared for and supported, yet held to a high standard, like that of a grandmother with her grandchild. Yet there certainly remained a requirement for all present to challenge themselves in their training, an element inherent to progression, regardless of gender, or of the gender of training partners.
Throughout the remainder of Camp, we went in this fashion: delectable meals, phenomenal teaching, sweaty gi, heavy sleep. We had some nights with evening discussion. It seemed a communal agreement that group meetings were something we could take with us back to our home dojos, and to our greater Aikido community.
Many topics were discussed, but there seemed to be much discussion around misogyny. I should comment that after hearing some of the stories that my fellow women Aikidoka have experienced, I feel grateful to not have had the circumstance of discrimination alive in my dojo or at any seminar I have attended. However, it was an obvious issue for other women, leaving me surprised at the reality of it. Male students and teachers have always been fair-minded towards me, however it seems not the same way for all women. Please don’t misunderstand and come to the conclusion that this was a man-hating event. There were many topics discussed, but because of the alarming nature of this topic, I choose to write about it. Due to my own ignorance, naivety, or both, I had never thought that women were managing discrimination in this way. Out of respect for the women attendees, I won’t go into details, but there were a range of patterns and actions brought up. I think it is enough to just mention it in this platform, to bring awareness to the topic. It seems likely to me, that after merely reading that misogyny is an issue for some of your fellow Aikidoka, that the reader will bring this awareness to the mat with a heightened sensitivity for fair minded-ness. That is all I am asking here, for the blessing of bringing awareness to training. Training is already challenging, let us keep it as simple as it can be without adding any friction to it. O’ Sensei instructs, “Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.” With this in mind, it may be easy to maintain his request, because with any type of discrimination comes the difficulty of managing the response. Let us be easy on ourselves and each other, free from bias and judgments, allowing each person their right to train in a safe and joyous environment.
After four days of amazing training, Marci and I headed back to the airport. Thinking we would arrive with no problems, our shuttle ran out of gas on the highway. Ironically, our rescue shuttle, once we were all loaded up, would not start. We joked about how our travel was cursed this trip, when all of a sudden, after half an hour of waiting on the rescue shuttle, and half an hour of sitting idle with the clock ticking to get to our flight on time, the shuttle van miraculously started. We arrived with literally five minutes to spare, made our flight, and nestled into the plane hilariously awaiting another debacle. But the trip home was fine with no other events. With a head full of new techniques, new friendships and life lessons, I returned home a happy Aikidoka.
By Rosa Mitchell, North County Aikikai
Why did I go to Women’s Aikido Camp? To be honest, I went mostly for the location. I looked at the pictures of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center, and thought a few days in Santa Fe, New Mexico would be a well-deserved “escapadita” (little escape), as we say in my family. Also, as a newbie, the idea of going to Summer Camp had just been too intimidating and I thought that Women’s Camp, with its smaller size, could serve as an introduction of sorts: a way to jump in, but maybe not too deeply.
We arrived at the retreat center with only a few minutes to spare before the first class. I scrambled to get my gi on and rushed back to the gym. As all the women began to line up, we were instructed by Varjan Sensei to do so in order of rank. This required us to talk to one another to find our place. There was no need for this shy girl to talk to anyone. As a 5th kyu, I just needed to go to the back at the end of the line, easy! When we all settled down, I looked down the rows at all the women in hakama, and the enormity of the situation settled on me and brought me to tears. The sound of all the female voices as we said our onegai shimasu in unison filled the gym and filled me with an unexpected joy.
In trying to describe why it was so different to train with only women, it is easy to jump to stereotypes, all of which are completely inadequate to describe what I saw and experienced. All these weeks later and I still haven’t been able to put my finger on what the difference was exactly, but I can say that I loved every minute. I can tell you that the encounters on the mat were intense and sincere, but also filled with love and so much joy.
Yes, the classes were amazing, but I haven’t been to a seminar yet where that wasn’t true. So, what was different? Maybe it was just the opportunity to see what I can become. It may have been just being in a room full of bad ass women and feeling that if I work hard, I can be like them. Maybe it was being told by a very open and powerful woman, that this little shy girl can become open and powerful. It probably had something to do with Graham Sensei telling the kyu ranks that it was time to inhabit the front row and know that we deserve to be there. It may also have been that while a mat full of men can sometimes feel intimidating, a mat full of women felt welcoming and empowering. I’m still not sure what it was exactly, but for me it was magical. I can tell you I found something in my Aikido practice that I didn’t know was missing, and I can tell you that I will be at the next Women’s Aikido Camp.
In the world of surfing, we seem to get a particular joy out of telling people that they missed it. We don’t share our secret spots lest they get too crowded. But this I will shout from the rooftops. Ladies, if you missed it, or if you hesitated for any reason; the next one is not to be missed! Go for the location, go for the local spas, go to get away for a few days, whatever your reason is, just go!
To my male training partners, I can’t say I missed you, but I will say that I thought of you often. I kept thinking that I would like you to experience this too. I know what you are thinking: “Summer Camp… not Women’s Camp.” But what I wish is that you could experience “Women’s Aikido Camp” so you could experience the intensity, the joy, and the sisterhood with me. Guys, while I can’t arrange an invitation for you, I can promise you that I will do my best to train with the intensity and the loving spirit that I felt in Santa Fe.
By Grace Rollins, Bucks County Aikido
Paolo Propato and Grace Rollins, licensed acupuncturists at Bridge Acupuncture, discuss the energetics of acupuncture and what it’s like to work and train in their field of Chinese medicine.
Paolo: What is qi?
Grace: Many people think of qi as “energy”, but I think that’s too materialistic of a translation. Qi is basically a very useful term that sums up complex processes that together create recognizable phenomena in the body. If you try to think of qi as some kind of literal substance or force you’re just going to frustrate people interested in scientific backing; you won’t find a measurable “energy” that corresponds to what people who practice Asian medicine are talking about.
“Qi” for acupuncturists is “weather” as it relates to the body. Weather is electromagnetic and gravitational relationships between elements and molecules; it’s pressure dynamics,
thermodynamics, radiation; it’s many processes, all overlapping and influencing each other. We can study it, characterize it and make predictions about it. The same way that we recognize many patterns in weather, we learn how to recognize patterns in qi, so we can influence bodily functions and promote health.
P: What do acupuncture methods actually do?
G: The traditional answer is that they stimulate special points that harmonize qi in the body, thereby promoting proper function and health. Scientifically, stimulating acupuncture points with needles and moxa has been shown to generate complex responses.
Needling causes distortions in chains of connective tissue throughout the body, which linkdifferent muscle groups, joints and organs. It also fires nerve endings that light up vastly
different areas of the brain and spinal cord. Acupuncture causes an electrical distortion in the body’s electromagnetic field—you’re putting a metal needle into an ionic solution (the body) which immediately creates an electrical polarity. The micro-injury caused by needling and moxa heat is also a very powerful method of stimulating the immune system and cytokines (chemical messengers). Plus, with acupuncture needles you can physically loosen tight muscle and connective tissue to release restrictions and improve blood flow.
I think one of the challenges in studying acupuncture scientifically is that its methods do so
much, all at once. One exact mechanism eludes us. That’s why, even though I have a very
scientifically oriented mind, I still prefer the traditional Chinese and Japanese pre-scientific
theoretical concepts. We still haven’t discovered a better way to describe the complex
processes happening here.
P: What makes acupuncture unique compared to other modalities that work with the subtle energy of the body?
G: Acupuncture is old, people! Over 2,500 years old! Moxibustion, the practice of heating
acupoints with the ember of dried mugwort, is even older. So even though acupuncture is
dealing with complexities that resist the scientific method, it has withstood a very important test with its continued use over such a long period of time.
A good scientist remains open-minded to the things that science doesn’t yet have the tools to measure and explain. That applies to a lot of what happens in healing. But that doesn’t mean you have to be open-minded to everything. Innovation is good. It helps our medicine get better and better, but with a methodology that is mainly observational, you have to be careful not to be led astray.
For this reason, I approach change cautiously, and I gravitate toward Japanese acupuncture, which monitors feedback during the session. We’re always checking diagnostic qualities in the pulse, the abdomen or a symptomatic area for signs that our treatments are having the desired effect. Vetting my methods this way gives me confidence.
P: What are you feeling for before, during and after needling?
G: Patients like to ask me if I can “feel the energy,” and if you think of it like qi, the summation of complex processes, then the answer is absolutely yes. We rely on touch, smell, sight and sound to collect information about the patient—especially touch in Japanese acupuncture. If I have to wear a Band-Aid on just one finger, I feel like I have a hand tied behind my back—it affects what I can feel.
Before needling, I’m feeling diagnostically for areas of restriction, imbalance and dysfunction in the patient. This might be structural, as in certain muscle groups or vertebral bodies that are too tight, twisted or compressed. Often internal imbalances will also be represented by certain qualities in the pulse, on the tongue or in reflective zones of the abdomen and back. For example, cardiac problems often show up with specific tender points on the upper torso and back.
Next I’m feeling for an appropriate point location; there are traditional anatomical locations as well as certain qualities that identify a “live” point. Depending on the point, it might be a
recessed area, a tight spot, a tender spot, thicker skin or connective tissue—qualities that
indicate a more effective point. When I insert the needle, there is a feeling I seek that
acupuncturists call the “arrival of qi”. To me it’s like a density on the end of the needle, like it’s connected well. Learning to recognize it is part of our craft.
After needling I will re-check the diagnostic signs to see if the acupuncture was successful at balancing the qi. If I did a good job there should be signs of improvement; if not, I might need another point, or a different one, or to add moxa, for example.
I’m also feeling the qi of the person as a whole. This is the intuitive part, synthesizing the input from all of my senses.
P: How do you cultivate the necessary skills?
G: I started studying acupuncture at the same time I started studying Aikido and Zen meditation. Like acupuncture, Aikido trains the various senses of the body to harmonize with another person’s qi. These practices help me to be more centered and attuned to my patients, and to myself.
An invaluable part of my training is a regular apprenticeship with the acupuncture master Kiiko Matsumoto. I spend at least two or three weeks a year shadowing her here and in Japan, taking in practical knowledge as well as the qi of her practice—the complex combination of qualities that allow her to be a dynamic, effective practitioner.
Taking my own health seriously is also a critical way that I stay attuned to the balance of qi in others. I believe in it, I live it! I work on my posture throughout the day and study how to move in a way that’s healthy and efficient. I try to eat in a way that’s balanced ecologically, that doesn’t do me harm and that fills me with vitality. I get outdoors and experience the natural world to help keep those areas of my consciousness and humanity alive. I meditate, do yoga and exercise a lot, and I try to play and have fun. Last but not least, I get regular acupuncture!
Bridge Acupuncture, located at 30 Garden Alley, in Doylestown, is a Legacy Advertising partner of Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
To schedule an appointment with Paolo Propato or Grace Rollins, call 215-348-8058 or visit BridgeAcupuncture.com.
By Kristina Varjan, Aikido of Kohala
It was 1994 at Ghost Ranch, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 23 years since the last Women’s Aikido Camp here.
So, I thought that was long enough to wait for another great group of women aikidoists to learn from and train with eachother.
From September 7th thru September 10th 40 women from all over the United States, from different dojo’s and different organizations came together in friendship to Santa Fe, New Mexico to practice aikido for 4 days.
In the foothills of Santa Fe, at an old Carmelite Monastery (still active) we trained together, ate great food together, meditated together, exchanging ideas about our training, our teachers and the future of the next generation of women aikidoka.
Women aikidoists will gather together again next year from September 13-16 at the same Immaculate Heart of Mary Conference and Retreat Center here in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Come join us again or for the first time!
Bring your gi’s, your weapons and your hearts and train with us…
For more info contact: Kristina Varjan, email@example.com
Information and next years camp registration forms will be available at Aikido of Kohala on December 1st
Summer Camp 2018 is officially booked!
We are pleased to announce that Birankai Summer Camp 2018 will again be held at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wa. Training dates are Friday, July 20th- Wednesday, July 25th. There is an early check in option for Thursday July 19th, giving our Aikidoka an opportunity to allow for extra travel time, exploring the Tacoma/Seattle area, or taking a day of rest before our training begin. First classes begin July 20th, 2018.
You may check for camp updates on the camp website: Summer Camp 2018
We look forward to another great year of training and community. Thank you all for making our annual Summer Camp a phenomenal experience for all!
By Lynne Morrison Florida Aikikai
“Inspiration” comes up for me when I remember the 2017 Women’s Camp. The inspiration, the “breath” of Aikido I experienced in my practice with all of you. I took a wrist and felt the gentle wind in the trees. I took a wrist and felt the wild rushing of a mountain waterfall. I took a wrist and felt the raw deep earth. I took a wrist and heard the sweet song of birds. I took a wrist and felt the fierce struggle of a new bloom. Aikido living in so many forms within generations of women practitioners. Each woman, grateful for their individual teachers, and mentors. Each woman making Aikido her own.
by Jon Paul Oliva, Multnomah Aikikai
“In real discipline you are not entertained. You are simply presented with things – rock, jaw, chew. You are continually gnawing rock. Without even having the ambition to eat the whole mountain, you still keep chewing that rock.” – Chogyam Trungpa
Last year marked a twenty-year milestone for my practice of Aikido, a period of time during which my role has almost imperceptibly shifted from one of general student to sempai and more recently, assistant instructor. Along with changes in responsibility, the emphasis of my training has also changed. My training was once primarily focused on developing my ukemi and my technique. I now find that my focus is just as often on helping brand new beginners develop their confidence and more seasoned kohei on their journey to deepen their own study. During this process, I’ve been fortunate to discover that I have a genuine desire to help others with their own training, along with an evolving ability to meet people where they are within their own practice.
This shift in my practice presents me with significant challenges. Sometimes these challenges are straightforward technical considerations; other times they are deeply uncomfortable and personal in nature. Regardless of the form they take at any particular moment, I have a kind of intuitive knowledge, developed over my years of training, that these challenges are my “rocks to gnaw on”.
Our dojo has many junior students who need exposure to elementary aikido concepts. Training with these students has been immensely challenging and rewarding. When leading a class, I’m focused on finding new ways to help each individual discover their potential. It is important to me, particularly in the context of providing others with instruction, to continue to adopt a higher standard for myself in the technical curriculum. To this end, I have identified a need for my own self-directed study. My reasons include providing a solid foundation for kohei to develop their own technical proficiency, developing the self-confidence necessary to assist others in the learning process, and honoring the commitment of my teachers, who have created and carry on the path of study for us all to better ourselves through diligent practice and sincere commitment to Aikido.
Additionally, the need to structure training within a busy work-family life is a challenge with which many adult practitioners of Aikido can surely identify. I am fortunate to have family and friends that support my Aikido training and recognize the many benefits that training brings to my life. Even so, there are competing priorities that often need to take precedence. At forty-two, I have all the trappings that one might expect: a professional career, family, aging parents and a mortgage, to name just a few. It continues to be a challenge to find the right balance at any given moment. I don’t look at these as challenges that can be “solved” but I do believe that clear communication and constant vigilance (“Am I doing enough to meet the needs of X?”, “Have I clearly communicated that I need Y?”) is an effective strategy for successfully balancing all of the dynamic realities of my life in a way that honors my many commitments to community, work, dojo and self.
At the heart of these practical considerations is always the deeper context of training vis-à-vis my personal development and relationship with others. Perhaps my greatest challenge in embracing this changing role is that I fear failing. Both inside the dojo and beyond its walls, the fear of failure is an obstacle that I’ve often struggled with, and struggled to acknowledge. Oddly enough, it’s been a growing recognition of this fear that has led to a sense of opening up and a new joy in my practice.
Every new day on the mat it is an act of faith for me to believe that I can honor the life work of my teachers by devoting myself to the system of study that Chiba Sensei has laid out for us. The role of teacher – no matter how junior – is a gift and responsibility to be taken very seriously. Truthfully, I am uncertain if I can meet this challenge and I continue to make mistakes. Yet I feel very fortunate that training has provided me a window to use the very personal experience of my own imperfection to work for the benefit of others.
On the eve of my Fukushidoin test, I was very nervous. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t going to do well and that I would look foolish in front of my teachers and peers. That fear made the test much more difficult for me and obliterated any sense of relaxation in a way that felt tangibly familiar. This turned out to be the best outcome. The uncomfortable feeling lingered for weeks, providing me with an opportunity to really sit with my experience and become intimate with its unpleasant qualities.
It would be disingenuous to say my discomfort has gone away, but in a fundamental way it has shifted. I’ve spend almost two years now looking with curiosity at my experience and it continues to soften me to the difficulties that others face. This may seem such a common-sense outcome that it sounds banal, but making friends with my fear has melted some armor I didn’t know I was wearing. While we all have our own unique challenges, seeing the processes fear engenders – the way it can freeze us or push us into aggression – has become a basis for me to experience an uncontrived tenderness toward myself and other people. Empathy is no longer a theoretical exercise but a practice that has emerged from the crucible of the dojo. I feel immense gratitude toward my teachers and fellow students that our mutual commitment to sincere training provides us with this unique opportunity to chew on rock!
By Sabrina Fogel, North County Aikikai
Aikido has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember – quite literally. I was 5 years old when I started training (although at that age I imagine there wasn’t much actual training going on), and have kept up with it for the last 10 years. My first memory of Aikido is actually my first bow – the tan mats slightly chafing the palms of my chubby 5-year-old hands as they learned how to make a triangle for the first time, the warm light coating the dojo in a light haze.
The first Summer Camp that I went to (2015 at the University of Puget Sound) completely terrified me. I wasn’t technically the youngest kid there (I was 13 at the time, and there were a few smaller kids), but it sure felt like it. I was at least a full head shorter than everyone else, and the pigtails sticking out of either side of my head didn’t scream “maturity” to anyone. Many of my nights were spent playing cards with people from my dojo – familiar faces in a sea of tall, scary aikidoists who could probably toss me around like a beanbag.
Being so young at Summer Camp had its disadvantages; I was often too short to see the sensei’s full demonstrations of the techniques, and to me it felt like people were slightly patronizing, if they meant it or not. Looking back, it is easy to see that most of them were just trying to be conscious of my size and skill level. At the time, however, I was so frustrated that people seemingly underestimated me and what I could do. I remember thinking, “Just give me a chance, I’ll prove to you that I can do this.” I did get that chance a couple of years later at the 2017 Summer Camp, but by then the need to prove myself had gone away. Instead, I was able to focus on actually being at Summer Camp and what I could take away from it.
When I looked around the mat at that Summer Camp, I could see where I’ve been and where I want to go reflected in the people all around me. Now that I train mostly with adults at my home dojo, I can see the reflection of my younger days more clearly. It is visible in the way that they quietly count out the steps of the technique to themselves, and in the quiet hesitancy of their movements. Conversely, I can also see where I want my Aikido to go. Because of the incredible diversity of styles at Summer Camp, someone like me – who is still learning and adapting their own techniques – can draw from so many different people. I, like most people, have goals and ideas about where I want my Aikido to develop (I want to become more grounded, etc). However, Summer Camp can broaden those goals to encompass different styles and more people (I want my ukemi to look more like theirs, etc), and I think that’s great.
I recently read a quote (cliché, I know) that I think relates not only to my times at Summer Camp, but to Aikido in general: “Everyone is just a collage of their favorite parts of other people.” No matter what stage of Aikido you are in, there is always something more you can learn, something more you can add to your own personal style. I think Summer Camp is an amazing place to get exposure to new styles, and to reflect on how far you’ve come on your own Aikido journey and how far you still have to go.
At Birankai North America’s annual Summer Camp this year, Julian Frost, North County Aikikai, kicked off an Instagram photo contest. The contest was advertised as “Your Best Summer Camp Shot”.
The rules were one photo per day, per entrant. It didn’t have to be an action shot, but something that captured the spirit and fun of Camp.
Winning entries, and some runner-up photos were published on the Birankai Summer Camp Instagram feed (#birankaisc) and the Birankai Summer Camp Facebook page. Julian Frost ran and judged the contest, along with Joanne Fogel, who provided the daily prize… a ticket to the camp raffle.
This was Wednesday’s winning photo, taken during the first night’s opening class with Alex Peterson Sensei, Summit Aikikai. Uke: Jake Davis, Sonoran Aikikai. Congratulations to Suzanne Gonzales-Webb!
Winner of Thursday’s Best Picture… Ganapatiye Sivaji, Chris Poe, and Adam Bowlds, all from Aikido Daiwa. Congratulations Chris Poe! He had tagged it #sexymofos. Not sure we can argue with that!
Thursday the honorable mention goes to Suzanne Gonzales-Webb, who actually won the contest the day before. Brian Keaney, Green River Aikikai, with Paddy the otter. Can’t help it, we’re suckers for otters!
Friday night Tai no Henko at Engine House No. 9, wins Friday’s best picture for David Pedowitz. Congratulations!
Uke: Hideki Okuda, Aikido Daiwa.
Saturday’s best picture of the Birankai Summer Camp 2017… Suzanne Gonzales-Webb again! Nage: Darrell Bluhm Shihan, Siskiyou Aikikai. Uke: Archie Champion Shihan, Central Coast Aikikai.
Other excellent entries included the following submissions:
JD Sandoval Sensei, Hayward Aikikai, one of the camp’s core instructors. Uke: Chris Wagner, Logan Square Aikikai.
Uke: Bryce Walker, North County Aikikai
Dennis Belt Shihan, Ventura Aikikai! Another camp core instructor. Uke: Chris Wagner, Logan Square Aikikai.
Nage: Kortney Barber, Brooklyn Aikikai. Uke: Dennis Belt Shihan, Ventura Aikikai!
Rat batting practice! Accuracy and fine technique from Carole Gifford!
John Brinsley Sensei, Aikido Daiwa, watching rat batting practice.
Nage: Frank Apodaca Shihan, Deep River Aikikai. Uke: Iris Vandevorst, Grass Valley Aikikai.
Nage: Gloria Nomura Shihan, Aikido Institute of San Francisco.
Uke: Leonard Schwartz.
Goodbye University of Puget Sound, goodbye majestic Mt. Ranier. We will see you again next year, July 20th – July 25th, 2018. Until we meet again.
Thank you to everyone who sent in entries, and especially Suzanne Gonzales-Webb, photographer extraordinaire!
By: Mitsu Nobusada-Flynn, Alameda Aikikai
Martial arts has always been a big part of my life as I was practically born into Aikido. My father was an Aikido instructor before I was born and when I turned 3 he opened his own dojo. I started training immediately and even have home videos of us practicing when I was less than 2 years old to prove it! Even before I could walk I was drawn to the art and during class I crawled across the mat to give him a Jyo (wooden staff). Aikido was ingrained into and has stayed with me throughout my life.
Starting off as a child you learn how to be disciplined and focused during class. You must pay attention at all times to learn. By starting off young, you also develop good motor patterns as well as learning how to fall properly.
Everyone has fallen at some point in their life, but Aikido teaches you how to constantly get back up again and fall without injuring yourself.
As you grow older, you learn that Aikido is not a competitive martial art and although some of my friends have competed in other arts and tournaments, I have always stayed away from competition. I believe that with competition comes ego and this is what must be avoided to succeed in life. In Aikido, you are solely competing against your own demons and this heightens your level of self awareness. Battles are constant, as I too have a lot of faults and am no better than anyone else because I do not compete, but I have learned how to suppress my ego and take criticism. I think that by understanding one’s self at an early age, you will discover what to pursue in life and for me that was PT.
Of course, martial arts are not all mental, there is still the physical aspect! It keeps you fit and since I am more interested in manual therapy, it allows me to be in shape to perform manual interventions without tiring quickly (as you can see here, get up and keep moving).
Nage: Mike Flynn Shihan. Ukes: JD Wright, Deena Drake Sensei, Mitsu Nobusada-Flynn, Elmer Tancinco Sensei, Sarah Crawford.
There are many ways to stay healthy, but personally this is one of my favorites. If you are a therapist struggling to maintain a high level of fitness, you are doing a disservice to all of your patients as the level of provided care will decline if you are withering away throughout a day of back to back treatments.
So you ask may be asking how does this all tie back together? Starting grad school three years ago, I learned early on that one needs to be able to take criticism from professors and CI’s while not letting your ego get the best of you. I have learned that one will fall early and often in school, but it is a necessity to persevere through these falls and constantly get back up to get where you need to go. Additionally you must stay focused during class while maintaining an outlet during school. Aikido was and still is my outlet as there is no better place to clear your mind than on the mat. Similar to becoming a healthcare professional, you must not think of anything else but the present moment, or ultimately you will be struck in the face.
I would like all of you to join me if you are ever in the San Francisco Bay Area and try out Aikido!
By Sean Sheedy, Multnomah Aikikai
In his letter to the dojo after our most recent set of dan promotions, Fleshler Sensei referred to the metaphor of the student as a sword: at shodan a block of metal; at nidan a sharpened piece of steel; and at sandan a polished, integrated weapon. As a new sandan, what does it mean to “be a weapon”?
A dictionary definition is perhaps a place to start. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “weapon” as:
1. A thing designed or used for inflicting bodily harm or physical damage.
2. A means of gaining an advantage or defending oneself in a conflict or contest.
As an aikidoka seeking to reduce conflict rather than increase it, the first meaning seems problematic. Although aikido is certainly capable of resulting in bodily harm to an uke unprepared for absorbing and dissipating the power of the techniques, inflicting bodily harm or damage is not a goal of our art. The second meaning appears more promising, as defending oneself in a conflict by diffusing that conflict is a goal. One thread that is common to both meanings, however, is that of intent: in both definitions a weapon is a means of projecting one’s intent into a situation of conflict.
In this sense a weapon is a specific form of tool. Just as a chisel can be used to project one’s intent onto a piece of wood, thereby transforming that wood, a weapon can be used to project one’s intent into a conflict, thereby transforming that conflict. The type of transformation actually achieved depends on both the intent of the wielder of the tool and his skill level. A piece of wood can be transformed into a beautiful carving with proper intent and skill with a chisel. Conversely, a different intent or the lack of sufficient skill to produce a carving can result in wood chunks only suitable for firewood. Similarly, a conflict can be transformed into peace with both the intent of diffusing the conflict and skill with a weapon. Lacking peaceful intent or sufficient skill can result in more conflict and damage.
One consequence of this observation is that a weapon, like a chisel, has no intrinsic morality. Rather, the morality is derived from the intent of the tool wielder being transmitted through the otherwise inert tool. Seneca the Younger relayed a similar observation some 2000 years ago: “Quemadmodum gladius neminem occidit: occidentis telum est. A sword by itself does not slay; it is merely the weapon used by the slayer.”
Though necessary, proper or moral intent is not sufficient to successfully project one’s will to transform. Skill acquired through study and regular practice is also required or the result can be indistinguishable from that of bad intent. This requirement for a constant refining and honing applies to the tool itself as well as the user of the tool. Chisels and swords must be actually handled to develop the skill of their use, but doing so causes them to nick and dull, and eventually requires them to be sharpened. Even when sitting unused, chisels and swords must be cleaned and oiled or they may rust and not be ready when required. Similarly, even if not engaged in their art, the artisan and warrior must maintain their basic physical and mental conditioning or risk not being ready to apply their tools when required. The tool and the tool user are thus inseparably intertwined: both must continue to develop together in an endless cycle or forfeit the ability to successfully transform their surroundings.
This fundamental inseparability between tool and tool-user is what it means as a martial artist to “be a weapon”. If I, as an aikidoka, am a weapon, I am both the intentional agent and the tool to achieve a transformation from conflict to non-conflict. If I am a weapon, I must consciously and consistently develop my skills, renew my sharpness, and avoid deterioration due to inattention; failure to do so risks producing firewood instead of a carving.
“Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
By Greg Urbina, Aikido of Albuquerque
I first joined Aikido to get fit and learn how to fight. I liked the idea of protecting myself and also the person attacking. I was not looking for a traditional school or any type of philosophy when I came to Aikido of Albuquerque (AOA). I had preconceived ideas on what I thought was going to happen with me and my training. I would come, learn a technique, and I would be able to use it in a fight. I learned over time that Aikido forces you to use different parts of yourself, and if you are open to learning, you will grow from your training. Everything we do has a lesson in it; we are part of that lesson. “To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.” The Way is not just Aikido, but the way of all things.
When I first came to AOA I thought it would be tough. It was not tough; it was hard. I was out of shape coming in, but I had played sports in high school, and I thought after a few months things would get easier. Eventually things did get easier, but my training also became more challenging. During my practice with Sensei, he would have me lift weights, sprint, then do a series of push-ups, sit ups, and jumping jacks. At the end of practice, I could barely breathe or stand. This was great for conditioning, but the real practice was pushing my mind when all I wanted to do is give up. Everyone falls apart when they get tired. Withstanding the mental and physical discomfort of that state is the true training behind this practice.
Sensei once had a conversation with me about how caring for the dojo and putting detail into your work is how to begin to analyze technique on the mat. Finding dust or out of place objects gives attention to detail. Everything we do has a purpose, everything in the dojo has its place for a reason. This is how we should approach our Aikido training, but also how we should approach everything. The training never ends; it only changes from one task to another. The intensity of training, the clearing of the mind in zazen, the detail put into cleaning, all these things we can take and apply them to everything we do in our life.
Growing up my family never really went to church or had relationships with any groups of people outside of close relatives. During my time at AOA, I have really gotten to experience being part of a community. Over the past four years, I’ve grown close with the people at AOA. The Senseis, all my Sempai, the Kohai, and all the kids I’ve seen grow, have had a huge influential impact on my life. The best times I’ve had, easily the healthiest time in my life, has been the past four years, and it’s because of the people at AOA. They have been there for me to talk to, had me over for dinner, and shown me the importance of togetherness. I would be much less without the compassion and guidance that all my comrades have shown me. I’ve always been able to put myself out and be there for people, but being able to take help from people is much harder and is an important part of being in a community.
I believe that someone can take many paths to finding oneself; I was lucky to find Aikido. To face the challenges in life, a person needs self-control, focus, confidence and help. Using Aikido in a fight is a byproduct of our training. What we truly get out of practice is to see ourselves.
Greg Urbina has been studying Aikido for 4 1/2 years and is an uchideshi at Aikido of Albuquerque.
Birankai North America wishes to express our love and support for the family of Bob Burns, who passed away July 15th in a car accident, and for his son, Bruce Burns, 17, who was badly hurt in the same accident.
We encourage those who wish to help to donate to this GoFundMe account for Bruce. Thank you.
Gathering again for our annual Summer Camp, it is official that we have begun our week of intense training. It’s a pleasure to welcome all members of Birankai that have taken the effort in coming to the Pacific Northwest to join us in training. It is great to see so many familiar and new faces! Beginning with an energizing first class led by Alex Peterson Sensei, he taught swariwaza ikkyo and nikkyo, variations of tachiwaza tenchinage, kokyuho, and hamni-handachi shihonage. Thank you to Leslie Cohen, Camp Director, for giving us such an organized orientation after the class, and also a whole hearted thank you for her and her team’s months of effort and work before camp. Remember to stay hydrated and volunteer when possible. Have a happy and safe training experience here in Tacoma, Washington!
By Mark Goudsblom RN
Birankai North America Medical Director
With summer camp just around the corner, please think about the first aid for head injuries, one of the most serious training injuries that may occur. Generally our training is relatively safe, especially as compared to sports like football, but accidents do happen. A head is hit, perhaps with a bokken, or bumped on the mat, or caught by a flying heel. What do you do?
Here is a straightforward article on head injuries and concussions by Birankai North America’s Medical Director, Mark Goudsblom RN. I recommend that all dojos print it out and keep it with their first aid supplies.
Remember that wild, crazy movement and accidents go together, so be mindful in your training. Train hard, train safe. – Cecilia Ramos RN
A head injury is any injury to the skull or brain. The injury maybe only be a minor bump on the skull or it could be a serious brain injury. Head injuries include concussions, skull fractures and/or bleeding into the brain tissue or surrounding layers.
Head and spine injuries can be fatal and can result from a direct blow to the head or penetrating injuries. A hard blow to the head can cause shaking and jarring of the brain. If the blow is hard enough to injure the brain it is called a concussion. People affected can have symptoms such as paralysis, speech and memory problems, and behavioral changes. Head or spine injuries can lead to permanent disability.
• Scalp wounds or injuries
• Skull or jaw fractures
• Bleeding from the nose or ears
• Problems with concentration
• Problems with memory and judgement
• Problems with balance and coordination
• Having trouble sleeping
• Feeling anxious, depressed, or irritable
Symptoms of a head injury can occur right away or develop slowly over several hours or days. Even if the skull is not fractured or pierced, the brain can bang against the inside of the skull and be bruised. The head may look fine, but problems could result from bleeding or swelling inside the skull. In any serious head trauma, the spinal cord is also likely to be injured.
Serious symptoms of brain injury include but are not limited to: unconsciousness, blood or clear fluid coming out of nose or ears, seizures, difficulty breathing, nausea and vomiting, unequal pupil sizes, weakness or inability to move arms or legs and loss of bladder control.
Some head injuries cause changes in brain function. This is called a traumatic brain injury. Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way the brain functions. Effects are usually temporary, but can include problems as a headache, concentration problems, memory lapses, judgment problems, balance and coordination issues. Other symptoms include tiredness, dizziness, having trouble sleeping and feeling anxious, depressed or irritable.
Although concussions are usually are caused by a blow to the head, they can also occur when the head and upper body are violently shaken. These injuries can cause a loss of consciousness, but most concussions do not. Because of this, some people have concussions and don’t realize it.
Concussions are common, particularly in contact sports, such as football. But every concussion injures the brain to some extent. This injury needs time and rest to heal properly. Luckily, most concussive traumatic brain injuries are mild, and people usually recover fully.
Please take a moment (5:30 min) to watch the following video about concussions at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zCCD52Pty4A
Learn to recognize the symptoms of head injuries and concussion.
You can save someone’s life!
If a person is unconscious call 911. Remember to apply spinal stabilization if it was an unwitnessed event or significant fall/injury. If the person is unconscious apply the first aid principles of Airway, Breathing and Circulation to ensure these are all present. If the person is awake, ask them if they are aware of what happened, which day of the week it is, the date, and time of day, and if they know where they are (this is to check their orientation to time, place and person. Try to find out what happened and how it happened.
All persons that experience a loss of consciousness should be seen by a doctor. Other symptoms that will require medical attention are: if the person becomes very sleepy, behaves abnormally, vomits more then once, develops a severe headache or stiff neck, has unequal pupils, or is unable to move an arm or leg.
What not to do:
• Do not wash or clean a deep head wound (more than ½” deep or ½” wide)
• Do not remove an object sticking out of a head wound
• Do not move a person unnecessarily
• Do not shake the person to try to wake them
• Do not remove a helmet or protective gear
Care at Home
The person with a head injury needs to take good care of his/herself. They need to stay at home for the next few days and gradually return to regular activities. The person should avoid strenuous physical activities for at least 24 hours. The person should refrain from watching TV or working on a computer for long periods of time. They should not be left alone for the first 24 hours following the head injury/ concussion as it is possible that more serious symptoms may arise. They should be watched closely by another responsible adult.
In the days following the head injury or concussion the person should not drive for at least 24 hours. If they are having trouble concentrating they should avoid driving or operating any kind of machinery until the symptoms subside. They should visit a medical professional if the symptoms worsen.
The person should not drink alcohol, take aspirin, Ibuprofen or any anti-inflammatory medication as these will increase the chance of bleeding in the brain.
Activities and exercise can be increased slowly as long as the symptoms do not return. They should start with light exercises first and gradually increase in duration and intensity. If the injury was caused during Aikido practice, the person should check with their doctor before returning to Aikido practice.
While a primary concussion can be damaging, the overall recovery form concussion is good. However another head injury shortly after a first injury, also known as Second-Impact Syndrome (SIS) or repetitive head injury syndrome, can be devastating. The symptoms can be similar as described above, but the recurring brain damage could impact neurological function in the long run and affect memory or cause permanent symptoms as reccurring headaches. It is therefore vitally important to ensure that they recover fully from the initial head injury before assuming all daily activities and training again.
Author: Mark Goudsblom RN BSN MSH October 2014
It is with great sorrow that Birankai mourns the passing of Robert Burns, 5th Dan Shidoin of Aiki Farms Aikikai. Bob was the crazy uncle of BNA. We all loved him dearly, especially Chiba Sensei. Bob’s loyalty, love, and dedication to our community and teacher, was unquestioned. Knowing him personally for almost 30 years, I’m grief-stricken.
President, Birankai North America
By Marci Martinez, Grass Valley Aikikai
I absolutely love teaching children Aikido! I want to help them learn to fall without hurting themselves, throw someone without hurting them, and how to speak up for themselves if something isn’t to their comfort level. In turn, they share enthusiasm, creative ideas, and at times, silliness.
When working with kids, I find that they bring out our best Aikido. I have heard that some adults are afraid to work with children because they are concerned they may hurt them. I think this is what Aikido is about – being able to control without hurting your partner. People can use that fear to make sure they are going slow, that they are exerting just enough force to make the technique work, and that they aren’t pinning hard and fast. The reverse side of this is another reason I love teaching kids; I love that I get to remind them to speak up for themselves in a way that is respectful while creating a situation where they are listened to respectfully as well. I love that they are learning that it’s okay to tell an adult, or another child that what they are doing is not comfortable, or hurting
them. Then the behavior changes and they learn that communication can work to make things better for them, not just on the mat, but in life too. I have seen children, who would first just get upset and shrink away when they were grabbed too hard, develop the confidence to speak to their partner and tell them that they need less pressure or to go slower. I think this is such a valuable ability to learn, not just for Aikido, but for life.
Another aspect I enjoy while leading kids class is that their minds are so creative. We feed off each other’s creativity. When we play a game, after playing the game a few times, the kids love to pipe in with new variations of the game and look for something to make it more exciting. We have a game we call the “Timing Game” where the students run from one corner of the mat to the other without getting hit by a foam noodle. They learn to anticipate the timing of the noodle swing, watch where it goes, when it’s coming, and learn when to run flat out. Being somewhat tired with the game, one kid suggested that we do it as a group and try to run past a blind tagger who lies on the ground. Now the students must navigate other people and the noodle. A new game was born which we now affectionately call “Blind Alligator.”
Not only do the kids love to share their ideas to modify the game, they also enjoy analyzing the efficacy of the game, or how to make it use Aikido principles even more. Just today, we were warming up with a game the kids love. The students were supposed to get up as quickly as possible after falling but it was difficult to tell who got up first. Seeing some kids so set on winning that form was being sacrificed, I also shared my dilemma. After a bit of sharing, we came up with the addition of standing up into a hanmi. We practiced some more, then a new challenge arose. Two students were exactly in sync with each other. I had them ro-sham-bo it out, which resolved the issue, but then another student suggested that the leader judge which hanmi was better. Just brilliant!
When I work with the really young children (3-5 year olds), it helps me to discover how to break things down to their simplest elements. You step back and think, “What is the first thing we need to do?” Then we practice that, add the next bit, practice that, then add another bit, until finally, something emerges that resembles a roll, or a back fall, or a technique. We celebrate with a high five or huge smile of appreciation as they experience a 155 pound adult fall to the floor from their throw. Working with small children, not only do you have to break things down to their simplest parts, you also learn to celebrate small victories, point out what they did well, see how it inspires them to do better, or try again until they have it. I think this celebration of small steps is imperative to success as I see people, young and old, getting frustrated when they can’t do something well the first time. I remind them of babies… they can’t walk when they come out… I couldn’t do a back fall well when I first tried….so just try and get one thing right and into solid memory, and then add. Fall down seven times, get up eight.
I am incredibly excited to have the opportunity to get to work with the youth at summer camp this year. I look forward to hearing about the games they play at their dojos, the way they stretch, what they really enjoy in their classes, and to see how they learn. Last year, we had a meeting with the youth of summer camp but there weren’t many young kids, and there wasn’t a kids corner to the training mat. Our meetings for the Youth Program became a meeting up of experienced and new teachers and allowed an exchange of ideas for teaching youth things like rolls, warm ups, games, etc. I’m hoping that this year we get more time to exchange ideas between teachers, but also a chance to work with the young people present. I want to hear what they have to say about learning Aikido, their day-to-day training, and their hopes and dreams for the future.
By Tim Reynolds, North Country Aikikai
What I knew of Frank Apodaca Sensei before Summer Camp of 2015 in Tacoma WA, were a few tales of training in the “old days”, and that he’s the tall guy with bushy hair taking lots of ukemi for the 5th – 1st kyu Technical Guidelines videos. Although I still had not met him at Summer Camp, it was a pleasure to have had my first experience of his teaching during a weapons class outside in the grass at a training weekend in Florida this last April. Since then, North County Aikikai was very fortunate and honored to host the Birankai Southern California Regional Seminar this last May featuring Apodaca Sensei as our guest instructor. It was truly an inspirational weekend of training not only for myself but also for everyone I’ve discussed the seminar with since. Although he made many points during the weekend, there were two that stood out the most for me. He made a point to explore “all one body”, and demonstrated the importance of hip movement and uke providing a “true attack”. I feel honored to give my interpretation of a few concepts Apodaca Sensei focused on during this seminar.
“All one body” or “body oneness” as he pointed out is a key element of a complete aikido movement. During the early period of aikido training students are mostly learning left foot, right foot, step in, step back, strike this way, fall that way and so on. As we progress and as we become more proficient, all the pieces and body movements need to come together as one. He took us through several exercises and movements to demonstrate this point. An emphasis was placed on all one movement as well. Instead of thinking of all the movements through a technique as pieces of a part, think of the movement as all one piece: everything all one. It’s a simple idea but very hard to do.
Move your hips. More….really move your hips. Certainly, we hear about moving your hips commonly but Apodaca Sensei emphasized hip movement as essential to achieving a full movement to incorporate all one body. We were instructed to “sink” our hips while practicing as both nage and uke. For nage, Kokyo Ho is a good technique to really turn and sink your hips. For uke, “open” your hips when responding to Tai No Henko. He demonstrated using your hips rotating from side to side when practicing backward rolling ukemi as well. Furthermore, he went on to make a point of how your shoulders and feet can prevent hip movement. If your shoulders are tight and unmoving, or if your feet are planted and unmoving, then your hips will not move- not very well anyway. There was a great emphasis on hip movement.
Provide a true attack. This point resonated with me as it’s something I often think about and try to be mindful of. For aikido to be aikido there must be intent from an attack that causes you to feel that you must respond. The martial art of Aikido is to use an opponent’s force, energy, and motion and redirect it. If your training partner is pulling a punch or stopping because they do not want to hit you, then you do not have a force or energy to redirect. Then it simply becomes a kata and not a martial art. Apodaca Sensei made a great point of this, and insisted that uke provide an attack that was meaningful. He demonstrated not moving if he didn’t feel “threatened” by the attack. This was very interesting as it pointed out how often your training partner will not hit you if you don’t move. He went on to mention that the attack doesn’t necessarily need to be hard or fast but that it just needs to follow through. This is essential for developing proper timing and response.
When I finally got to meet Apodaca Sensei at the training weekend in Florida last April, I mentioned to him that I enjoyed the weapons class at Summer Camp in Tacoma. He asked me what I liked about it. I said that I appreciated the clarity and precision of his weapons. I was inspired during the following Birankai Southern California Regional Seminar by his teaching and have come to realize that he has that clarity in all of his Aikido. I was also inspired by his conditioning. He stretched our limits with a good deal of conditioning exercises that we typically don’t see and that was great. Although there were a good many concepts explored during the regional seminar, the aforementioned are what stood out for myself and others. The integration of these concepts is what I understand he means by “all one body”. Thank you, Apodaca Sensei, for your time, energy and teaching!
by T.K. Chiba
Excerpted from Sansho Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 1998
… One might wonder about or get scared at how dangerous Aikido training could be. A head injury could happen in Aikido training just like any other martial arts training or sports activity. As far as I can remember from my own experience of 38 years in Aikido training, it has happened four times.
The first incident was at Hombu Dojo 35 years ago during futaridori (two persons grabbing). The two ukes went down in a pile on top of each other and banged their heads together.
The second incident was 25 years ago during a demonstration in England; I was using someone from a different school. (I did not have any choice as I didn’t have my own students then.)
The third incident was also in a demonstration, on the occasion of Doshu’s visit to the U.K. The uke became self-blind due to the pressure and mental tension of the occasion, and went down on their head.
The fourth incident was last year at my own dojo. A kenshusei landed on her head taking ikkyo ukemi. This particular student had been warned and advised on many occasions about a tendency toward upper body orientation when in motion, but somehow never understood what it meant to be in a serious encounter. The accident happened when a senior kenshusei member, who had just returned from a European tour, carried back with him high energy toward training at his home dojo.
None of the above incidents resulted in serious consequences except for the first example. Although they were taken to the hospital right after the incident, one of the students lost his eyesight in the left eye.
The rate of injury is, I believe, nothing more than in any other physical activity. But keeping in mind the potential seriousness of the consequences, students and instructors should gain more first-hand knowledge of how to handle the injuries that occur. This is why [we] have been presenting information about head injuries. As far as preventative measures are concerned, they should include awareness training as well as basic conditioning exercises to develop the muscles of the abdomen which help control the weight of the head when one is falling down. I am planning to give instruction about this more precisely in the future.