Cultivating An Aikido Body, Part 2: Connectedness and Wholeness

Darrell Bluhm, Founder and Chief Instructor, Siskiyou Aikikai

The discovery and development of a dynamic center naturally leads to greater core ability, which includes core stability, mobility and reversibility. It also leads to a stronger connection of the various parts of ourselves to each other: upper body to lower body, front to back, left to right. 

In his classes, Chiba Sensei often followed the exercise for discovering the center, (found in Cultivating an Aikido Body, Part 1) by what he called a “seesaw” exercise.

The exercise involves sitting on the mat, maintaining a strong extension through both legs with ankles and toes pulled toward one’s center, spine extended, with the head balanced on top. In this position the legs are lifted, center engaged, so that the upper body and lower body are held in a V-shape, and one rocks backward and forward without allowing the feet to return to the mat. This exercise is easily integrated into the basic practice of backward ukemi. 

Ukemi as a whole plays a central role in the forging of an Aikido body. The practice of ukemi, receiving and neutralizing the energy generated by nage (and by gravity) while falling and recovering is done repeatedly in our practice. Chiba Sensei often likened this aspect of training to the act of beating and folding iron in the traditional construction of a Japanese sword. No matter how well the blade is shaped, sharpened and polished, the smith will not produce a quality blade without first going through this initial stage of the process. The “beating and folding” that is promoted through the repeated enactment of basic forms, ikkyo, nikkyo, irimi nage, shihonage, etc., is the primary means by which we unify our bodies. This unification process, in my understanding, should be well underway by the level of third kyu, and completed by first kyu. 

We do not abandon this process as we advance in our art and as we age. As martial artists, we necessarily make a sustained commitment to physical training. In my experience, if the forging process is not well established in the early stage of training, the physical expression of one’s art becomes arrested and tends to break down with age. The development of one’s intellectual, ethical and spiritual understanding can, of course, continue to grow, but to maintain and refine the physical aspect of our art requires a commitment to the life of the body. This requires adjusting and adapting how we train to the changes living brings. It is much easier to do if we lay down a solid foundation early.

Finding and working with our center both connects ourself to ourself, but also deepens our connection to the lived-world in which we exist. In Part 1 of this article, under the section titled “Centeredness”, I introduced the concept of the “field of promoted action,” which refers to the learned ways that we habitually eat, walk, sit, stand, dance, defecate, and otherwise use our bodies in the culture into which we were born. The experienced world, which we each inhabit, is even more complex and varied than “the field of promoted action,” as it extends beyond physical movement to all aspects of our subjective experience. 

However, within that great expanse of variability there is a common foundation, the earth itself, what Chiba Sensei called our Big Mother. There are primordial ways that being creatures of the earth support and nourish us, whether we are conscious of them or not. Deepening our awareness of our connection to Big Mother can enrich our Aikido practice in countless ways. We are connected to the earth and to the atmosphere surrounding her through our feet, our breath, our hands and our organs of perception, eyes, ears, tongue, nose, skin and proprioception. 

Our feet provide the understanding for our action in the world. Adapted to the demands of this task, our feet are complex and wondrous instruments that dynamically connect us to the earth.

Each foot is comprised of twenty-six bones, thirty-three joints, numerous ligaments binding the bones, accessory bands and sheets of connective tissue and all the tendons attaching the twenty intrinsic muscles (originating from the bones of the foot itself) and dozen extrinsic muscles (originating from the bones of the leg above). The organization of these bones, joints, connective tissue and muscles in association with blood vessels, nerves and sensory organs (for pressure, pain, movement and position) allows the foot to mediate between the terrain of the ground below and the distribution of body weight and mass above. In accomplishing this role as mediator of above and below the foot acts as a sensory organ as well as an organ of support and mobility.

Living in a culture that imprisons feet in shoes from an early age, and within an environment that provides mostly even, two dimensional surfaces to move over, denies our feet the opportunity to develop the sensitivity, flexibility and strength that running, walking, climbing over varied natural surfaces provides. Martial practice offers antidotes to the dullness our feet acquire through our modern lifestyle. If you watch Chiba Sensei’s warmups you will see a variety of actions that work the toes, feet and ankles. Moving on our knees in shikko also works to enliven our feet. When enlivened feet act in accord with a conscious dynamic center, our ability to meet the fundamental demands of our practice — to manage distance, to transmit force from the ground through the whole of ourselves, etc. — is greatly improved. 

Chiba Sensei often began his classes, especially morning classes, with a series of breathing exercises derived from Tempu Nakamura, known as the Father of Japanese Yoga. One exercise that Sensei frequently taught, independent from the series, connects breath to the feet, center, spine and vision via our imagination. The exercise is done standing, feet close together, spine extended, eyes focused on the ground six to ten feet in front of oneself. Beginning with the inhale, one begins to float upward onto the balls and toes of the feet, ideally maintaining the weight over the balls of the first and second toes, while one breathes in through the nose and imagines drawing the breath into one’s center through the soles of the feet. At the top, maintaining balance, one engages the tanden and begins to exhale and lower the heels to the ground with the image of strongly breathing out through the heels. At the end of the movement down, one tries to empty the lungs of air through the mouth, audibly, with a strong contraction of the expiatory muscles. The exercise was usually done three times. Sensei encouraged us to use our imagination to develop a more conscious connection to our feet, breath and center and to explore our ability to experience our weight creatively, learning to intentionally become light or heavy.

Another breath exercise (kokyu soren), one that often followed that described above, also involves the use of the imagination, this time linking the breath, center, spine, feet and hands. After jumping both feet out into a wide stance, one inhales extending the fingers and arms upward overhead, rising up on the toes and balls of the feet at the end of the inhalation and extending the fingertips and arms up and forward, then exhaling, lowering the arms and whole body to the starting point. The instruction, given by Sensei, was to imagine breathing in through fingertips, arms, down the spine to the tanden, then breathing out through spine, arms and hands, extending our consciousness as far as we could imagine (“to the furthest ends of the universe.”) Both inhale and exhale are to be done quietly, through the nose, with an emphasis on relaxation.  

This exercise is reflected in the basic kokyu exercise done in hanmi. Hands are raised overhead, thumb leading the motion up with the inhale, weight shifting forward, and then cut out and down with the exhale, little finger leading, fingers strongly extended and consciousness extending out from the center, while shifting weight onto the back leg. The same image is applied to all basic cuts with the sword, or strikes with the jo. I can still hear Sensei say, “Don’t contract your muscles, extend your consciousness!”

Our feet connect us to the ground, and within the martial context, they function optimally when in the service of our center. Our hands connect us to others. The human hand is the most sensitive and sophisticated manipulative instrument in the known universe. While our lower body moves us through the world, our upper body brings the world to us. When we contact each other in Aikido, as uke and as nage, our hands, be it through grabbing, striking or controlling, should connect us, center to center. An oral instruction I received from Sensei was, “When your students’ handwork is weak, help them strengthen their center. If they need to strengthen their center, work with clarifying their hand work.” 

Having established vital connections to the ground through our feet, to the air through our breath, to our partners and our tools via our hands, we also must connect to the world at large by means of our organs of perception, most of which reside in our head. To function as a whole being engaged in the world, every action we make involves orientation, using our vision, hearing, smell and possibly taste to direct our attention and or action appropriately. In developing ourselves as martial artists, we seek to cultivate “Ten direction eyes” — that is, an awareness in all directions and the ability to move in any direction without hesitation or preparation. This requires a well-organized posture, in which the head sits balanced on the spine, free to move easily, supported below by our feet and center, using our senses to guide the complex actions of daily living and the wonderfully varied forms of Aikido. The unification of the body that arises through an awakened center, connecting all parts into a cohesive whole, exists in collaboration with a fully embodied and awakened mind. 

Wholeness of being allows for wholeness of action. As Chiba Sensei wrote, “… (It) activates (an) essential life force manifesting as strong physical liveliness and culminates in the reification of the psychospiritual virtues such as humility, receptivity, modesty, etc. that are necessary to the process of raising (ones) art to its highest level.”

Cultivating An Aikido Body

Darrell Bluhm, Founder and Chief Instructor, Siskiyou Aikikai 

Part 1 of 3: Centeredness

“Study your own body through basic forms. Study the centralization of the body.” – T.K. Chiba

Chiba Sensei often spoke of wanting those of us he trained as teachers to understand the ways he helped his students condition their bodies through and for training in Aikido. He expected us to be able to assist each of our students to develop what he called, “their Aikido Body”. When he spoke of the Aikido Body, he spoke not in the abstract but from his extraordinary experience in working with his own body, and from the practical means for shaping and conditioning his students’ bodies that he developed over decades of teaching Aikido to many different students in many different cultures. He would sometimes refer to the ‘Aikido Body” as the “Natural Body” or the “Instinctual Body.” However, he was very aware of how unnatural the social and physical environment of the modern world is. We humans have created a world for ourselves that resembles a zoo more than it does the wild world our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived in, and in which our bodies evolved. In a very real way, we resemble captive or domesticated creatures more than adaptive embodied beings. The question Chiba Sensei sought to answer for himself and for us is: How do we, as modern humans, reclaim the natural abilities that exist within each of us?

In trying to answer that question for myself, in this three-part series I look to the five principles of embodied Aikido which Chiba Sensei identified: centeredness, connectedness, wholeness, liveliness and openness. Underlying these principles is a foundational assumption that the body is inseparable from the mind, and (as stated in his essay “On Food and Diet”) the body and the Earth are one. While I will explore this topic from the perspective of the primacy of the body, I too believe the body exists in union with mind and no body/mind union exists independent of a social and physical environment.


We are literally shaped by our everyday movement. Much of our movement is determined by what is known as the “field of promoted action”: the ways we eat, speak, defecate, dance, and so on, in the culture we are born into. This is different from culture to culture and even family to family. In the Japanese culture of the early to mid-20th century when, through the genius of Ueshiba O Sensei, Aikido emerged, there was little need to teach people how to move from their center. This teaching was embedded in patterns of action woven into daily routines: sitting on the floor in various postures, moving from sitting or squatting to standing and back to the ground. Now, in the 21st century, sitting cross-legged or on one’s heels on the floor (seiza) is uncommon. The chair intervenes between bodies and ground for many contemporary people as soon as they learn to walk. We sit, often while looking at a screen, more than we engage in any other posture. This creates challenges, even when confronted with simple actions such as kneeling, bowing, or getting up and down with ease.

To understand what it means to be centered, and to know how to move from our center, we need to have a clear image of where our center is and how it is related to the whole of ourselves. Chiba Sensei taught a very simple action for us to use to sense where our tanden resides and how to engage it actively:

He had us lie on our backs, place our hands by our sides (or sometimes place our fingertips on our lower belly) and with a sharp inhalation lift our head, arms and legs from the mat, hold for a moment and then with our exhale release our head and legs back to the mat. Try this for yourself. You will feel the engagement of your tanden and hopefully experience a sense of physical unity. This should be done carefully and without excessive muscular effort. Locating the center is the first step in cultivating our ability to use our centers dynamically.

To move in any way, we have to coordinate the mobilization of some parts of ourselves while stabilizing others. Given that our physical center resides in the basin of our pelvis, to mobilize that center requires fluency in the movement of the hip joints. If you watch video of Chiba Sensei conducting warm ups, you will see many actions both in standing and seiza that require movement in all planes of action, where the pelvis rotates over the hip joints, or the hip joints move relative to a stable pelvis, as well as very dynamic use of the tanden and breath:

Chiba Sensei 1986
Chiba Sensei 2009

For kinetic energy to be transmitted from the ground through the body to the hands, the hip joints must be fluid and the spine must be well organized, extended, flexible and stable. As teachers working at this time, we need to recognize that a life of accommodation to the chair has compromised the ability of most individuals entering our dojos to move freely at the hip joints or to have the requisite flexibility in their feet, ankles, and knees or the stability in their spines to execute the most basic actions of our art, sitting, bowing, suwariwaza, etc. Chiba Sensei modeled many ways to address this reality both through his warm ups and conditioning exercises, and in the precision with which he executed basic Aikido forms. I believe that going forward we need to study what he developed, and to expand it to meet the needs of our present students.

“Everything is hidden within your spine. The state of the spine is an indicator of the unification of the body and spirit. To study the body is to study your spine.” – T.K. Chiba

The primary function of our skeleton is to provide support to the body within the field of gravity. As upright, bi-pedal creatures with large brains — and consequently heavy heads — that task is complex. Literally central to that task is our spine. As mentioned earlier, in order for us to move freely, the spine provides the stability to transmit the forces generated by gravity downward and the forces generated by ground reaction forces and muscular action upward. Skeletal alignment, the organization of parts to each other and the whole relative to the ground, develops for us during infancy and early childhood. The movements of rolling side to side, front to back, lead to sitting and crawling, and create the strength and organization of muscles, connective tissues and proper neurological stimulation necessary to then stand, walk, run, jump, roll, etc. Returning to a closer relationship to the ground through seiza, shikko, rolling, etc. gives us an opportunity to refine and expand the quality of our movement by strengthening the stability of the pelvis and spine and their ability to support the actions of the body as a whole.

The quality of support we sense, relative to the ground, influences the amount of effort and the distribution of effort utilized in any action. Just as learning to walk as children required moving from the ground up, learning to move from our center in Aikido is promoted by the practice of sitting in seiza and executing suwariwaza (kneeling) technique. Paradoxically, our instability as upright creatures enhances our overall mobility. All martial arts involve an exploration of stillness and motion. Finding stillness in standing is required in balance poses in yoga, the most basic being Mountain Pose or “Tadassana.” Tadassana is very challenging, yet, moving from standing requires almost no effort. I have become very aware, in my personal Iai-batto ho practice, of the difference between moving from the large triangular base provided by sitting in seiza compared to moving from standing, At this point in my life, due to 70 years of wear and tear on my knees, seiza and shikko are no longer accessible to me. The foundational form in our system of Iai is Shohatto, executed from seiza. The standing version of Shohatto is called Koranto. This form has become the root of my present practice. Without the years of practicing Shohatto and its sibling forms, from sitting, where stillness is more readily available and moving from an engaged and vital center is essential, I would not be able find the rhythms of stillness and motion, mobility and stability, necessary to execute Koranto in a satisfying way.

If we as teachers of Aikido within Birankai wish, as our newly drafted vision statement states, to “meet our students where they are”, we need to develop ways to help them find comfort in their relationship to the ground and learn to mine the treasures accessible to them in the fundamental actions of sitting, bowing, knee walking etc. For those who can’t get all the way to the ground, we may need to explore ways we can help them discover their centers and how to move dynamically from their centers in and out from a chair (or zafu). What we must never do is remove seiza, bowing, shikko, etc.  to accommodate the many who will be challenged by them. To do that would be to  abandon the foundations of our practice.

Are you “antifragile”?

Biran Online Editor

The antifragile gain from disorder, volatility, and other stressors

Reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, is to feel stuck next to him on a long flight. During the journey, you’re confused, intrigued, frustrated, inspired, and uncomfortable. Most significantly, you’re motivated to get back out into the world and apply your hard-earned knowledge…much like our current predicament with COVID-19.

If you have the time and fortitude, Taleb’s book is exceptionally insightful and worth the effort.  For the rest, being antifragile means to gain from disorder, volatility, and other stressors.  By contrast, the fragile wants stability and predictability, and the robust doesn’t care.  The wind extinguishes a fragile candle and enlarges an antifragile wildfire.  A forest which endures periodic fires is more robust than one which hasn’t withstood a fire in centuries. Fragile is bad, robust or resilient is better, antifragile is best.

The philosophy of antifragility complements Aikido, if one appreciates the peace, love, and harmony we aikidoka strive for comes from working through and even seeking conflict, pain, and disorder.  Making the commitment to train. Shaping the body through ukemi, off-mat training, and diet. Practicing techniques until they are instinctive.  Working through injuries.  Maintaining commitment to train when life events and other competing priorities emerge. Assuming leadership roles in the dojo and Aikido community. Perhaps, becoming a teacher, responsible for transmission to new generations and maintaining a dojo. Wherever you might be on your path, consider the following principles Taleb promotes in Antifragile:

If one has nothing to lose, then everything is a gain, making one antifragile.

One’s ability to switch from one course of action to another is an option.  Options allow you to benefit from the positive side of uncertainty without a corresponding serious harm from the negative side. Continuously set conditions which maximize your options, preferably with open-ended, not closed-ended payoffs.  Avoid being “squeezed” – having no choice but to do something, regardless of costs.

When you’re fragile, you depend on minimal deviation and demand predictability – a rarity in our increasingly volatile world. The antifragile need only the wisdom to not do things which might harm themselves and to recognize and seize emerging favorable outcomes. 

Base decisions principally on fragility, not probability. Failure to predict a tsunami or economic meltdown is excusable; building something fragile to them is not.  Natural systems are antifragile thanks to layers of redundancy – high birthrates, extra organs (kidneys, lungs), the ability to store fat or lose tails to a predator…

By tinkering, one incurs lots of small losses at minimal cost to occasionally find something rather significant.  A “loser” or “victim” is one who, after making a mistake or suffering harm, doesn’t reflect and exploit the lesson for gain.

So, which are you? Your dojo? The Birankai community?  More importantly, how are you working to increase antifragility among the people and things you care about?  Biran Online posts in the coming months will meditate on these questions and make suggestions for greater antifragility.  Please email your submissions to

Women’s Aikido Camp Redux 2017

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.

Moments before the Bow
Moments before the Bow

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.

Some of the original attendees of the first Women’s Camp in 1994

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…

Gina, Lynne Morrison, and myself, celebrating my birthday during camp!
Gina Zarrilli, Lynne Morrison, and myself, celebrating my birthday during camp!

For more info contact: Kristina Varjan,

Information and next years camp registration forms will be available at Aikido of Kohala on December 1st 

Chew on Rock

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!

A Teen at Summer Camp

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.

Birankai Summer Camp 2017 Instagram Contest

Photo by Mike Head, Aikido Daiwa

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.

Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

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.


Photo by Suzanne Gonzalez-Webb

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!


Photo by Chris Poe, Aikido Daiwa
Photo by Chris Poe, Aikido Daiwa

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!


Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

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!


Photo by David Pedowitz, Aikido Daiwa
Photo by David Pedowitz, Aikido Daiwa

Friday night Tai no Henko at Engine House No. 9, wins Friday’s best picture for David Pedowitz. Congratulations!

Uke: Hideki Okuda, Aikido Daiwa.


Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb
Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

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:

Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb
Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

JD Sandoval Sensei, Hayward Aikikai, one of the camp’s core instructors. Uke: Chris Wagner, Logan Square Aikikai.

Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb
Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

Uke: Bryce Walker, North County Aikikai


Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb
Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

Dennis Belt Shihan, Ventura Aikikai! Another camp core instructor. Uke: Chris Wagner, Logan Square Aikikai.

Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb
Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb


Photo by Pat Belt, Ventura Aikikai
Photo by Pat Belt, Ventura Aikikai

Nage: Kortney Barber, Brooklyn Aikikai. Uke: Dennis Belt Shihan, Ventura Aikikai!


Photo by Claire Wilson, North County Aikikai
Photo by Claire Wilson, North County Aikikai

Rat batting practice! Accuracy and fine technique from Carole Gifford!

Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb
Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

John Brinsley Sensei, Aikido Daiwa, watching rat batting practice.

Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb
Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

Nage: Frank Apodaca Shihan, Deep River Aikikai. Uke: Iris Vandevorst, Grass Valley Aikikai.

Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb
Photo by Suzanne Gonzales-Webb

Nage: Gloria Nomura Shihan, Aikido Institute of San Francisco.

Uke: Leonard Schwartz.

Photo by Hannes Schweiger, San Diego Aikikai

Easy Rider

Photo by Ram Lichtman, San Diego Aikikai

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!

Life Skills Learned in Aikido and the Applicability to Physical Therapy

By: Mitsu Nobusada-Flynn, Alameda Aikikai

My dad, Mike Flynn, Shihan) and I
My dad, Mike Flynn Shihan, and me.

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.

Stay focused or you might cut 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.


Just do it!
Just do it!

I would like all of you to join me if you are ever in the San Francisco Bay Area and try out Aikido!

Sandan as a Weapon

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.

sandan as a weapon image

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.

Study The Way

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.

Summer Camp 2017 In Full Swing

First bow in at Summer Camp 2017.
First bow in at Summer Camp 2017.

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!

Head Injuries and Concussions

By Mark Goudsblom RN
Birankai North America Medical Director
Aikido Takayama

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

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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

Non visual:
• Problems with concentration
• Problems with memory and judgement
• Problems with balance and coordination
• Tiredness
• Dizziness
• 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.

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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
Learn to recognize the symptoms of head injuries and concussion.
You can save someone’s life!

First Aid

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. bowl Knowing him personally for almost 30 years, I’m grief-stricken.

Alex Peterson
President, Birankai North America

Working With Kids

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.

yay I passed

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 wyattmarci
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.”

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!   

Marci and Veda

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. 

veda roll

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.

Iris and Ian

All One Body

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!

Head Injuries

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.


Medical Series Announcement

From the desk of Mark Goudsblom Aikido Takayama

My name is Mark Goudsblom and I am the Medical Director for Birankai North America. It is a great honor to be able to provide the medical support for our organization. Many of you know me from the first aid table at Summer Camp.

I am a member of Aikido Takayama, and have been Birankai North America’s Medical Director since 2014. Many Aikido students have expressed a desire for information about injury prevention and treatment. Therefore I am beginning a series of medical articles and will publish them regularly here on Biran Online.

I am a Registered Nurse with just over 25 years of experience, predominantly in Critical Care and Emergency Care but I also have my standard first aid, level 1 (its important to understand the basics 😃). The last decade of my career has been in administrative roles. I have other experiences in supporting the medical needs of large organizations, most recently the 2014 BC Winter Games (an amateur athlete event supporting 2200 young athletes from the ages of 8-19, in British Columbia, Canada). As the co-chair for the medical venues, I was responsible for organizing the first aid response in the sports venues and the medical clinics.


In general, our vigorous training is done fairly safely. Insurance companies regard us as low risk in comparison to other sports. However, as all Aikido practitioners know, such vigorous exercise is taxing on the body and from time to time, there are injuries.

This new medical series will, over time, attempt to address injuries both large and small, and the many ways to prevent and treat them. If there is a topic that interests you, or if you have found helpful information that you would like to share, please make a comment here, or contact me at I would like this series to be inclusive of alternative therapies in addition to western sports medicine.

I have gotten to know many Aikidoists at previous Summer Camps and have enjoyed supporting the medical venue these last 3 years. Besides this, we’ve done some work on updating our first response guideline and registration requirements at Summer Camp for those with pre-existing medical conditions to make it easier for folks to let us know if they have any health issues before going on the mats. In addition, the Medical Director can write and share valuable medical news, information, or articles that will help chief instructors and many others feel more comfortable around medical concerns, for example in the case of head injuries.


My first few posts will concern head injuries and concussions. It is one of the most serious injuries that an Aikido student can sustain. Although rare, concussions can happen on the mat and all practitioners need to know what to do in the event that a head injury occurs.

Please take advantage of this blog format and use the comment box for comments and questions. Train safe and see you on the mats.

I train under Sensei Charles Aarons, Chief Instructor at Aikido Takayama in Mission, BC, Canada and have cultivated a great love for the art. I hope to meet many of you (on the mat) as I support the Medical Directorate of Birankai North America.

With great appreciation,
Mark Goudsblom

Grace of the Eagle, Eye of the Tiger, Heart of Budō: Sandoval Sensei’s visit to Eugene Aikikai

By Elizabeth Goward, Eugene Aikikai

Training hard during the Sandoval Sensei Seminar
Training hard during the Seminar

There is utter ferocity in stillness. As the bell rang, the air seemed to cease all movement and quiet descended upon the dojo. When Seminars take place, there is an elevated level of sincerity, a tone of digging deeper within ones self to be present, aware and prepared to be pushed into new challenges and perspectives. Seminars offer us the reminder that in practice, we are engaging in something much deeper and much more threatening than technique, we are engaging ourselves. As Sandoval Sensei began the first Iaido class on Friday evening, this understanding was nourished. “You must be like an eagle, diving for a fish.” Silent. Graceful. Wholehearted. Deadly. As this comparison sprang out like the enlivened tip of Sandoval Sensei’s blade, “Eye of the Tiger” began to sound through the walls from the recording studio next door, and our seminar was underway.

Thoms Sensei and Sandoval Sensei
Thoms Sensei and Sandoval Sensei

Thoms and Sandoval Sensei
Thoms and Sandoval Sensei

As we approached training on Saturday, the mat was full of life and hunger. Friends, old and new, had arrived from up and down the west coast from Washington to California to train. The first class, taught by Isaih Fernandez Sensei, got our blood pumping and our bodies moving and responding to one another and presented an opportunity to establish trust in our fellow Aikidoka, and ourselves. As we moved forward through the afternoon we were challenged by Sandoval Sensei to become more open, lively and connected. This challenge may seem, through paper, a run of the mill endeavor, but this was not your average seminar in any way. Through word and action, we were reminded that connection moves beyond our physical interactions with our training partner, it begins the moment our hearts and minds engage and is ever-present in each moment on or off the mat. Our connectedness can often be shallow, and we incorporate mistruths into our practice in forgetting the serious nature of ourselves and the spirit of our budō; in a way, we often cheat ourselves, missing opportunities to truly be present daily, often unaware. This call to true connection was commanded fully through the utter sincerity and humbleness of our guest teacher and struck into the heart of budō; we had found something new and precious to hold onto.

Sandoval Sensei and Kumiko
Sandoval Sensei and Kumiko

There is no greater offering than sincerity. Sunday morning began with Thoms Sensei teaching a class with Sandoval Sensei as Uke. Thoms Sensei, a student of Kanai and Chiba Sensei’s, has ferocity within his aikido that commands Uke to engage without hesitation, Eye of the Tiger. Watching these two men together, we were not being shown technique, but something much greater, and much more rare. This was, in reality, Sandoval Sensei’s first class of the day. As he absorbed and responded to each unforgiving movement, we were being offered insight as to what would be expected of us ahead, we were being shown the heart of Chiba Sensei’s teachings, as interpreted through his student, we were bearing witness to true martial connection. Sunday’s classes addressed basic techniques on the deepest of levels. We were called to cultivate the under-acknowledged depths of our center, to find ourselves and to fully inhabit the space which our bodies occupy. It is a curious thing, the quest for understanding, and we were left shaken. Shaken in the way you feel glimpsing a trout’s back curling beneath the waters edge, or standing beneath a 1,000 year old tree, or holding a newborn child, shaken in spirit. “It is truly a beautiful thing.” There is no term to describe the gift we receive when fully present and able to perceive what is being offered to us, but I am sure each practitioner of Aikido, new or old, understands that moment. Sandoval Sensei extended this offering through the entire Seminar through wholehearted connection, evoking our humbled spirits within, and delivered to us the grace of an eagle, eye of the tiger, and heart of budō.

Group photo of all students at the Seminar
Group photo of all students at the Seminar

A Solid Yet Flowing Centeredness

By Bernard Nikklajs Dalay Alameda Aikikai

The conveyor belt stopped and my luggage had yet to come out. Three long hours after landing in Cuba, I was forced to accept the fact that my checked-in baggage had gone missing – along with my clothes, toiletries, and (most disconcertingly) my keiko gi and hakama.

About two months prior, my teacher, Elmer Tancinco Sensei of Alameda Aikikai, invited me to attend a seminar which he, in turn, was invited to teach in Havana, Cuba. As is known to most, Cuba has been closed off from the United States and has had limited contact with the outside world for the better part of five decades. During that time, economic strife has plagued most of the inhabitants of the island nation. Most of the local populace working for the government would only earn an average of $20 per month. Even those in a specialized profession such as computer programming would only make a meager $30 per month. Very few have ever had the privilege and/or finances to own a car. And many people have had to turn towards off-the-books work in order to subsist and support their families through their day-to-day lives. These conditions have persisted up until present time despite relations between Cuba and the United States finally beginning to thaw.

Right from the get-go of the trip, I found myself already being faced with a fair bit of adversity. We touched down at Jose Marti Airport on November 11, 2016, at approximately 1:30 pm. And by around 5:00 pm, when airport staff had finally surmised that someone else mistakenly took my luggage instead of their own, I had finally resigned myself to fate and was leaving the airport without most of the belongings that I packed for the excursion. Nonetheless, I was determined not to allow the setback to tarnish the rest of the trip. Ironically enough, the scarcity in personal belongings made me feel somewhat more sympathetic to the local populace. And if the people of Cuba could gladly persist in the conditions under which they are forced to live, I could surely manage my predicament with no great destitution.

Besides Tancinco Sensei, I travelled in the good company of Patricio Jaime Sensei of Houston Aikikai and Dave Mata Sensei of Grand Rapids Aikikai. We were assisted by two representatives of the Cuban Aikido Federation: Ricardo M. Garcia Sensei and Angel Mata Sánchez Sensei.

To my great appreciation, upon finding out about my missing luggage, Angel Sensei offered to lend me a spare keiko gi to use during the seminar. Humorously enough, he kept apologizing in advance, explaining that the gi would apparently be grey and stained due to the difficulty of procuring clean/proper training equipment in his country. He also later expounded that much like Japan in the aftermath of World War II, Cuban Aikido practitioners would frequently obtain a hakama by having to create one using any materials that were available to them such as spare table cloths and curtains. Such is the meager life of our generous hosts.

The day of the seminar came the following morning. Angel Sensei met and presented me with the keiko gi he promised: a thin, mildly stained gi top with coarse gi pants. He joked that what the gi was lacking in cleanliness, it made up for in the energy and power it contained. As comical as his statement was, I could not help but think that there was truth behind the humor: The gi was in such a ragged state because of all the figurative (maybe even literal) blood, sweat, and tears that its owner had shed in order to persist training Aikido in such a poverty-stricken country. I humbly accepted the garments, packed my and Tancinco Sensei’s weapons, and went off to the training site. After about a 30-minute drive through some pot hole-riddled side streets, our troupe was dropped off at a small dojo in the middle of Havana where about 40 Aikido students of different ages and backgrounds were awaiting our arrival.


I began changing into the unfamiliar keiko gi shortly thereafter. The jacket was light and of the wrong size. And the pants were very stiff and rough to the touch. Nevertheless, I promised myself that I would abide by one rule through the course of the seminar: remain centered and just train. No matter what problems and no matter what distractions I was experiencing, they were likely no worse than what my training partners have been going through their entire lives. Surely I could persist through a mere weekend of scarcity.

To start off the event, Ricardo Sensei informed us that their youngest students would like to perform an Aikido demonstration for us. We watched the demonstration in pleasant surprise as the kids put on an energetic and tightly-executed show. Suwari-waza techniques, breakfalls, tanto-dori, bokken-waza, randori – the children performed Aikido with a degree of centeredness and technical proficiency that would make many adult practitioners envious. The amount of discipline and dedication to the art displayed by the young Cuban students was a sight to behold and completely set the tone for the rest of the seminar.


The seminar itself was lively right from the beginning. Setting up for a seminar that would come to highlight the strong connection between weapons work and body art in Chiba Sensei’s Aikido, Tancinco Sensei began with Suwari-waza Shomenuchi Kokyunage (Empty-hand Suriotoshi Variation). Despite being unfamiliar with the nuances of Birankai Aikido’s unique attention to martial details, the Cuban Aikido practitioners all did their best to adapt their prior training (which seemed to consist of an unusual blend of traditional Aikikai, Iwama, and USAF styles, among others) in order to try to absorb the knowledge they were being presented. All the while, Jaime Sensei, Mata Sensei, and I took ukemi for Tancinco Sensei and tried our best to help the Cuban practitioners understand the concepts being put on display. Jaime Sensei, in particular, took extra steps to help with translating everything being taught into Spanish.

Everyone, including the kids, trained with much vigor and enthusiasm. And although there were some apprehensive students who preferred to watch the class by the sidelines, there was not a single sign of lethargy on the mat. By the time the first two classes were over, everyone had smiles plastered on their faces and I had already forgotten about my luggage problem.

The afternoon came and the focus shifted into bokken work. It was then that I was faced with a poignant representation of the strife that the Cuban people were experiencing and had to overcome in their daily lives. As students and teachers all funneled into an outdoors courtyard where the class would be held, I noticed many of them carrying various makeshift implements in place of bokkens: shafts of bamboo, pieces of driftwood, sawed curtain rods, and many other forms of crude equipment. They were going through such hardship that many of them were forced to wield items such as tree branches as training equipment. Yet, when the class started, they trained with such passion and energy that one would think they were holding real swords in their hands. Tancinco Sensei introduced them to Birankai’s basic bokken exercises and techniques such as Makiotoshi, Suriotoshi, and Suriage. They devoured every piece of new knowledge – savoring every moment they could spend honing their art under a guest instructor from outside their country. What they were using in place of bokken did not matter; they did not mind that they were using unorthodox – even poor – equipment. All that mattered was that they were given the opportunity to receive and absorb precious new knowledge.


After the class, everyone returned to their homes – eager to find out what the next day’s training session would bring. And with much patience and plenty of help from Angel Sensei and Ricardo Sensei, I was finally able to retrieve my luggage from the airport that same night. Once again equipped with my trusty gi and hakama, I was prepared for the last class of the seminar.


Sunday came and the seminar resumed into its final leg. The focus was on jyo work, and the Cuban Aikidoists again showed up with their bamboo shafts, curtain rods, and tree branches.
That day was indubitably the portion of the seminar with which they were the most unfamiliar, especially since Chiba Sensei’s jyo curriculum contains some especially intensive martial concepts and drills. This fact was no more apparent then when Tancinco Sensei first introduced Sansho 1A to them by calling me up to present the form with him at full speed. I will never forget the unmistakable look of suppressed terror combined with unbridled excitement and uncertainty that was embossed upon their faces – for it was probably the same look each of us currently training in Birankai once had when we first saw Chiba Sensei’s Aikido on full display.


Senior student or long time teacher – it did not matter at the time. They were all beginners in the face of such an intensive form. And they responded by training with the greatest asset belonging to a novice: a beginner’s mind – Shoshin. The Cuban Aikidoists all trained with such surprising adaptability and openness that I was shocked to see that many of them, including a couple of children, had begun to embody the basics of the form by the end of the 90-minute class.

As the seminar drew to an end, the Cuban students and teachers alike thanked our group for sharing our knowledge and assured us that they would gladly welcome us back anytime we wished to train among their ranks.

As a symbol of our newfound friendship with the Cuban Aikido Fedaration and our appreciation for their hospitality, Tancinco Sensei and I donated our bokken and jyo to Angel Sensei and Ricardo Sensei. Moreover, with Dave Mata Sensei’s collaboration, Alameda Aikikai and Grand Rapids Aikikai are now planning a joint fundraiser seminar so that we could help the Cuban Aikidoists obtain quality replacements for their makeshift weapons.
Through the course of my journey, I never once observed the Cuban people showing any propensity for giving up and folding under the pressure of their living conditions. If anything, they strove to subsist with unerring grace and calmness. They seemingly live their lives free of anxiety but are nevertheless constantly prepared for whatever their next trial may bring. It came to me that perhaps the Cubans’ outlook on training and life – a solid yet flowing centeredness – is the embodiment of Aikido. They only strive to control what they can – much like nage strives to control his own body and mind. By being centered and blending with the universe rather than resisting and fighting against it, everything else – all those other uncontrollable factors, such as uke’s aggression – will follow suit. Whatever trait one could conjure up to define a martial artist on and off the mat, these people carried it in their blood. They live and breathe the path of true budo each and every single day.


As of November 19, 2016, I had returned to my home near San Francisco, California. However, my luggage had once again gone missing somewhere between our layover in Guadalajara and the flight back to San Francisco. But I no longer found myself worried about such an ordeal.
Our trip was primarily designed to teach our style of Aikido to the Cuban Aikido practitioners. However, it seems that I also learned a thing or two from them as well: Keep centered and everything else will eventually fall into place.

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