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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

If you wish to contribute to the Cuba Aikido 4 Everyone Campaign, please visit
Aikido For Cuba

We have almost reached our goal, you’re donation is greatly appreciated!

How to Not Fight, How I Began Aikido Training at 40

By Bob Burns, Aiki Farms Aikikai

I grew up in a rural town, attended a one room school house with a large family of boys. We used to stage fights during noon recess in the old ball field across the road, over the stone wall. Often times I would come home with a fat lip, or a black eye, and my father, a college boxer, would take me behind the barn for a “lesson” in fighting. In high school we would fight behind the bleachers, where we all smoked. Some rolled our own; most smoked Lucky Strikes. On weekends we farm kids would attend the auto races at the Waterford Speed Bowl. We would fight with boys visiting our Connecticut beaches from New York City.The poorly lit parking lot was an excellent place for youngsters to share their home grown martial skills on Saturday nights in the warm summer air.

In the Marine Corps my skills were often called upon with an envelope filled with 10 dollar bills, and the name of a bad tempered sergeant, or the name of a CID (spies sent into our outfit from DISCO, the FBI of the Military). In fighting there is no winning nor losing, it is the excitement of the encounter that is the draw. The good thing about the Marine Corps was when I was on the short end of the stick, the base hospital was always there for recovery.

At age 41 my daughter was assaulted by a young man because of her caustic analysis of organized religion. He did not approve of her views and pummeled the young upstart, leaving her on the ground. Afterward, she and I knocked on his door. Ironically this is the first time in my life I had “no mind”. There was no anger, no rage, only a total feeling that this issue was to be confronted, and resolved. However, the assailant failed to answer the door. Later, the police arrested him, and jailed him, and being the day before Christmas, he was allowed the solitude of a cold jail cell to have lucid dialogue with his inner spirit.

I shared the story of my daughter’s encounter with my apprentice at work, a young Japanese fellow who had his own Karate dojo. He and I often fooled around with fighting techniques in the back room of the tool shed. I said, “My daughter and I need to train with you.”

“Oh no”, he said. He smiled, “You are a Marine, a fighter. You need Aikido.”

“What is that?” I asked.

“It is the art that is just right for you and your daughter. You already know how to fight. Now you have to learn how not to fight.”

“How can I defend myself if I don’t fight?” I asked

“Learn to be present” he replied.

“How do I do that?” I queried.

“Aikido” He replied.

My daughter and I began training with Sensei Gene Anderson at the Japanese Cultural Center in October, 1980. My daughter, being a teen, soon lost interest. Although she dropped out, I developed a lust for Aikido.

I used to go on Sundays to train with Francis Takahashi doing randori. Dennis and Pat Belt were there (they look the same today as I remember them then), and Dennis had just recieved his Shodan.

At our home dojo

At our home dojo

I went to my first seminar, not yet a 5th kyu. Recently divorced I went to see if there might be some pretty women at the dance scheduled for the evening. Fact was I was so beat and tired I went to bed at 6:00PM for a nap…and did not awaken until dawn. The next day however, I met this fellow wearing a hakama, with curly greying hair, who was also a former Marine. He and I spent almost two hours talking. Later, when I took his class, I learned he was the infamous Terry Dobson, one of the first Marines and US citizens to train with O’Sensei. I never forgot the kindness and the compassion he shared with me that day. I never saw him again, but he left my heart, soul, and tired body a message I still carry with me.

I shall zoom ahead now about 37 years. I graduated from Chiba Sensei’s kenshusei program, and became the chief instructor at the USMCRD Depot in San Diego. I earned a 5th dan, and was certified as a shidoin instructor. I am now a farmer with a dojo in Ledyard, Connecticut. I am assisted by two strong healthy sons, aged 13 & 17. The boys take all the classes we offer. They sit zazen. Sometimes they train begrudgingly, of course, since Pop is the teacher, yet I hope I am showing them the way of learning how to not fight.

If you are not sitting…

by Lorenzo Tijerina, Brooklyn Aikikai
Reposted from the Brooklyn Aikikai blog, April 23, 2015

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If you’re not sitting, the Sensei said, you’re wasting your life.

That, more than dying and death, the pupil feared most of all. Too easily he imagined himself old and dried up on a bed worn out and sad under a threadbare blanket looking back–as the light dimmed and the warmth faded–searching through all the spent years and finding nothing of more value than a broken promise, a forgotten dream.

So he sat. Legs crossed before him, perched on a cushion, on a mat, in a line with students likely motivated by nothing as petty as insecurity, as desperate as fear. He bowed when they bowed and chanted when they chanted, not knowing what any of it meant. Worrying he was doing it all wrong, while he did it all wrong.

A bell rang. The dojo descended into silence. And, before long, the pupil was drowning in the quiet. A slow panic rose as slight discomforts grew out of proportion and his thoughts ran wild. He tried to focus on his breathing, but he barely resisted jumping up and running out the door.

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Eventually, the bell rang again and zazen, an eternity — 30 minutes long– was over. The student swore to himself he would never go back, and swore to himself he would try again. Someday.

If you’re not sitting, you’re wasting your life.

In this case, I was the student and Savoca Sensei the teacher, but the story may sound familiar to at least some of you who meditate at the dojo. As it turned out, I never went back.

Then an opportunity presented itself, thanks to the generosity of Sensei Savoca and the hard work of all the students who have raised money for scholarships. In February I was able to attend Winter Camp at Juba Nour Sensei’s Baja Aikido dojo. I didn’t know what to expect, other than I would be expected to attend every class, including meditation. And it was the meditation I feared even more than the legendary Bulgarians I knew would also be there.

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I was right to be afraid. In addition to the Zen, we practiced Misogi every morning. As the sun rose each day I shouted along with the other students until my voice was hoarse, sitting seiza until my feet numbed and my knees screamed. Each day I felt pushed to the very edge of my tolerance.

The Misogi never got easier. If anything, it got harder, but it was gratifying to know I could do it.

A strange thing happened, however, during zazen on the day before I left. I experienced the most fleeting of epiphanies, yet the realization has stayed with me. That morning I gave up on trying to control my mind; I did not fight it or try to push down the panic. Instead, I stopped worrying about it–not altogether, but enough to begin to understand the voice in my head, the babbling stream of consciousness– it is not me. I don’ t know who I am, if I’m not that relentless narrator who never seems to shut up, but I do know now I am more than that. The day before I left, for just a moment, I was able to ignore the noise in my mind.

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I didn’t find enlightenment that day, but it felt like I took a step toward something important.

If you’re not sitting, you’re wasting your life.

I’m not sure it is possible to waste a whole life. In all these years I’ve lived, there have been moments that counted for something. No matter what happens in the future, I know that trip to Baja was filled with them. For that, I can’t thank Brooklyn Aikikai enough.

I am sure I’ll waste plenty more of the few precious days I have left, but I’ll have my moments, too–moments that count–and not even I can take those away from me.

The River of Aikido

by Dan Reid Multnomah Aikikai

Aikido is many things to many people. For me it is like a broad and deep river flowing through time. It springs from its source in the mountains with O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, runs down and spreads across the plains and valleys with his students, and carries us forward through the decades as we continue to train. And like any river, the deeper we venture into the water, the more powerful the current becomes.

I first discovered Aikido in May 2000 at Tom Read Sensei’s dojo in Arcata, California when I was an undergraduate at Humboldt State University. I had always had a fascination with martial arts and Eastern philosophies, but up to that point I had only dabbled my toes in the water. My training at Northcoast Aikido gave me a chance to wade in and start to feel the current. My body began to learn these strange new ways to move, resulting in sore muscles that I never knew I had. As I continued to train, the movements and techniques gradually began to feel more natural, and I began to understand the first layers of their underlying martial logic. At the same time, the humbling knowledge that the more senior students and sempai had been training for years or decades reminded me how little I yet understood. I began to sense the depth of the channel that stretched out before me.

River of Light, by Denise Wey.  denisewey.com

River of Light, by Denise Wey.
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I moved to the Bay Area after college in 2002 and reconnected with my training at Aikido Institute of San Francisco under Gloria Nomura Sensei. After wading tentatively into the water from this new bend in the river, I gathered my courage and plunged in headfirst. As one of Chiba Sensei’s disciples, Nomura Sensei and her students carried forward his unique interpretations of Aikido in a vigorous and challenging style of practice. The training seemed dauntingly martial and even severe at first, but as I began to accept my fear and give myself to the swiftness of the current, I found that it supported me even as it swept me downstream. My body began to change, my instincts and reactions began to align with the practice, and I grew more confident even as I struggled through my own limitations. At the same time, my membership through the dojo in Birankai International connected me with a worldwide community of Aikidoists. I had the opportunity to train with many new people through seminars and Summer Camps, and I realized that the river of Aikido has many streams, channels, and tributaries, all flowing toward the same sea.

The deep and serene waters of Aikido have also been an enormous source of stability and community during periods of transition and difficulty in my life. I moved to Minneapolis in 2007 when my wife started her doctoral program there, and I had the opportunity to train at the Twin Cities Aikido Center for the next three years. The members of TCAC became like a wonderfully boisterous extended family, and the training and friendship I found there carried me through many trials in my professional life. We then moved to Oregon in 2010 when I began graduate study at UO, and I was lucky to train briefly with Steve Thoms Sensei at Eugene Aikikai before the combined demands of children and architecture school forced a hiatus. Even when I was unable to train, however, I always considered myself an Aikidoist, and the pull of the river’s current was never far from my mind and heart. We then spent my wife’s internship year from 2013-14 in southern Illinois, and I was able to rejoin the stream with an Aikido community there to continue my training through another difficult period.

Finally, my family and I moved back to Oregon in 2014, where I had the opportunity to join Multnomah Aikikai. This return to the Birankai community was a long-awaited homecoming. I feel fortunate to be able to continue my development in Aikido with Suzane Van Amburgh Sensei and Aki Fleshler Sensei, who also trained with Chiba Sensei. A sense of continuity in the lineage of my training stretches upstream through Van Amburgh Sensei, to Fleshler Sensei and Nomura Sensei, to Chiba Sensei, and finally to O’Sensei at the wellspring of Aikido. However, to paraphrase an old saying, one never swims in the same river twice. The flow and swirl of its currents and eddies are constantly carving new channels, silting in old ones, eroding old banks, and depositing new ones. Aikido is a living river that evolves with the dedicated training and stewardship of its practitioners around the world, and it is my honor to be considered a fellow Aikidoist. I can’t wait to see where the flowing water takes me.

My First Summer Camp

By Leslie Cohen, San Diego Aikikai

The first time I went away to an Aikido summer camp was in 1994, to Portland State University. I had done a few classes at prior camps before, as a commuter in my hometown of San Diego, and my band at the time had even played the farewell party, but this going-away-and-full-camp-experience, was all new to me. I was young(ish), 27. I was in the thick of training hard with a group of similarly aged folks at San Diego Aikikai, under the strong guidance of Chiba Sensei. He expected as many of us that could, to attend camp. So off we went, in somebody’s car (mine, Liese’s?). Our first stop was a rendezvous with a group of Shibata Sensei’s Kenshusei in Berkeley. Many memories are hazy – there may have been a bit of drinking that stopover night.

The following morning we continued our journey North. In the morning, there was a mysterious note from Shibata Sensei that had been left from him for his students: “Meet me in Yolo”. So off we went to Yolo County, almost a hundred miles up towards Highway 5. I think we side-tripped to the actual namesake tiny town of, but never did see him…(yes, these were the days before cell phones). Next stop was somewhere in Oregon, a campground for the night. A tent and a tarp came out. We crowded five or six of us into a tent meant for maybe three, tops. Heavy overnight rains came, and then the wet sleeping bags from the tarp we had laid underneath the tent, were now a nice lake to lay in. I may have crawled out to sleep in the car, but barely remember.

The next day we arrived at camp, found our rooms and then it was game on. Training, training, training. Bad food eating. Weapons class was outside on a beautiful green grassy lawn. The unforgettable event of Jack Arnold Sensei’s heart attack during that class, him laid out on that same beautiful lawn as CPR was administered. My partner (Bob Burns Sensei) admonishing me to look away and keep training, and us doing just that, me with tears in my eyes. (And for those of you who did not know this, Jack Arnold Sensei was revived and went on to live for almost 20 more years!).

I made many new friends at that camp, including one (Ben Pincus) who eventually introduced me to my husband. There were many other memorable moments …(Sundance anyone)?

I can’t tie it up to a neat conclusion, that “blank” happened training-wise, and that changed everything for me. But that wasn’t why we went to camp. We went with our teachers and for our teachers. We went to train with our peers, and make new connections. The experience was transformative because it was different and challenging, and there we were, working our way through it, together.

2017 Camp will be held at University of Puget Sound, July 26-31 2017. I am coordinating it. Do you want to drive cross-country to join in the fun? Maybe camp along the way? Flying is ok too. Any-which way, I hope to see you there!

-Leslie Cohen

Special Announcement: T.K. Chiba Shihan Private Swords and Fittings Collection

Dear Students of Chiba Sensei,

Mrs. Chiba has agreed to sell the last of Sensei’s lifelong collection of weapons and accessories. Below is a link to a website containing the collection. The site will be available for you to browse beginning January 14th.

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On January 28th at 2:00 PM PST, we will enable the “Buy Now” buttons. We will not be sending out additional notification of the opening of the sales. This email is being sent to Birankai NA and Birankai International instructors, as those are the email addresses that we have available.

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Please feel free to pass this email on to other students of Sensei’s that you feel might have been inadvertently left out. It is Mrs. Chiba’s wish that Sensei’s students are given the first chance to buy these items before they are offered to the general public.

The site itself is divided into three areas:

• Tsuba
• Kozuka, Kōgai, Menuki and Fuchi/Kashira
• Swords

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In each area there is a list of items. Clicking on a single item will show you details about that item as well as a Certificate of Authenticity, if one is available.

You can click on images in the detail pages to see larger versions.

The purchase process will take several steps:

1. Click the “Buy Now” button you see on the listing page next to the item you wish to purchase.
2. You will be directed to a page for you to fill in your shipping and personal information.
3. Click the Purchase button.
4. You will receive an email with further instructions, and the item will be placed on hold.
5. Payments are being processed through Paypal. We will not be accepting checks. Items will be held for 4 days pending receipt of payment from Paypal. If no payment is received after 4 days, we will release the item to be sold to someone else. Once payment has been received, your item will be processed and shipped to you, and the item marked as sold.

Thank you to Derek Shaw for building this website; Didier Boyet for cataloging, researching, and appraising all of the items; Gary Payne for photographing them; and Dick Miller for storing and shipping the items.

Website:

https://chibasaleitems.azurewebsites.net/

Warm regards,

Lynne Ballew

New Found Community and Warrior Spirit Discovered Through Aikido Training

By Brooke Cannon Grass Valley Aikikai

I moved to the west coast over a year ago to work with goats. I was way up in the mountains in a secluded area hoping that I might have found my home there. But as life would have it, I was led to the little town of Grass Valley where I’ve been living now since last April.

I still feel quite new to the community here in Grass Valley. I dove right in though, with joining an Aikido class in September. I thought it would just be learning a martial art! What a surprise it was to me, that it’s a little community all on it’s own. An awesome mixture of some women close to my age, kids ranging from 7 to 12, older adults with hearts as big as Texas, and the kick ass 20 somethings that make everything look easy.

Practicing good form while learning Shihonage.

Practicing good form, ukemi, and mai-ai, while learning Shihonage.

Our dojo just had some young ones test for their orange belt two days ago – two young men and two young ladies. After our Sensei told us to be serious and not to laugh or smile, I watched as their little faces put on a “warrior face”. “Pretend as if you’re going into battle,” she said. I have to say it was hard for me not to smile while watching those young people try so hard to show their parents, who were sitting in the corner watching them, what they know. I was even feeling proud!

It was pretty humbling for me as well. I’m still in the toddler stage when it comes to Aikido. So, when I was asked to be an uke (the “bad guy”, the attacker), I jumped up and prayed that I wouldn’t be too ignorant or clumsy. I only messed up once (that I know of), at which time Sensei was very gracious and quick thinking to switch me out.

The young warriors awaiting their tests.

The young warriors awaiting their tests.

At one point during a technique, I was facing one of the little warriors, he had to look me in the eye. I don’t know if he was reflecting back to me what he saw, but I was truly impressed with his “warrior face”. All at once I could see the warrior spirit in him, that I’m sure everyone has. Honestly, it almost brought me to tears. I can’t really say why. I guess I’d just seen him as a goofy, sweet, young man.  I don’t mean that as an insult – (to those of you who might read this that may know who I’m speaking about).

Afterward, when the parents and kids were excitedly chatting, I walked up to the oldest young man who just finished testing. It was he who I had messed with during his test, but he looked at me and thanked me for being such a good uke, and he genuinely meant it. I told him I was sorry for messing up, but I could tell that he wasn’t phased at all by it. He was gracious without even thinking about it. That’s the kind of people I get to see three days a week. They keep helping me with the little things, like patience. They graciously correct and guide me through the simplest movements. Especially Sensei, who has probably repeated the meaning of “aihanmi” to me, a thousand times by now (yes, that’s tricky to spell, so I did have to look it up).

Practicing Aikido is fulfilling my own warrior spirit in a way. I feel like I have one that needs to be expressed. Maybe most people do. I’m learning new things about myself through this experience, even deeper than I’d imagined. I have to admit, I’m grateful.

A day in honor of North County Aikikai’s 25 years

By Julian Frost, North County Aikikai

What a great day of training to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the North County Aikikai! Saturday’s classes began with Coryl Crane Shihan teaching body arts for the first hour – a fun class which was attended by many of NCA’s juniors and teens, as well as adult members. Next up, was Norman Wight Sensei, who taught a great Tanto Dori class. After lunch, Archie Champion Shihan taught the third class of the day, emphasising timing, direction and relaxation. Crane Shihan rounded off the day’s training with an hour of Jyo.

After training came the party! Thanks to everyone who made the party such a success, especially Party Planner Extraordinaire, Joanne Fogel, and host, Noam Ziv.

Many thanks to all who attended one or both of the activities, and to all those who sent gifts, flowers, and congratulatory messages.

Celebrating 25 years at North County Aikikai

By Coryl Crane North County Aikikai
November 19, 2016

To all of you who have been a part of my life and that of North County Aikikai throughout the years, a personal message.

There is an exquisite line from Dante’s Inferno that I was reminded of recently: “Oh beautiful moment, please linger…” Coming together with all of you at this time is a moment to savor! This is the heart of Aikido – opening up and expanding the moment, seeing so much more while time seemingly stands still. You want it to last but there’s nothing to hold on to, for as soon as you try, it’s gone! There’s the paradox!

Invitation to our celebration

Invitation to our celebration


We are celebrating the culmination of 25 years of my life and that of the Dojo. A quarter of a century no less. I have resisted looking back since so much of my practice is about staying in that moment! But how fast now it seems to have flown, and how much more important become those moments ahead. It has been a rich and varied life, so much of it shared with so many of you, and so much of your lives shared with me. Teaching is truly a privilege, a gift and of course, a lifelong responsibility.

Looking back to the beginning of the Dojo, I want to honor three people who have supported and influenced me: my teacher, T.K. Chiba Shihan, my husband, Allan Kaprow, and my son, Bram Kaprow. It had never been my ambition to become a teacher but because of my circumstances – a husband and a young child at home, my teacher in San Diego and a practice that I was passionate about, I had to find a way to keep training and ease the pressure. I asked Chiba Sensei if I could start teaching close to home. Here was his reply dated March 7th, 1991:
‘… I wish you every success on your Dojo. You are truly ready to make your own path separate from me. That is your practice and (the) more you practice your way, (the more) you will feel a stronger connection with your mother dojo.’ He went on to say that he would name my dojo KAKU SHO KAN, Dojo of the Happy Crane. So I had my teacher’s blessing, I had his support, and I feel closer to him now since he passed than ever before. Because of his teaching, I have never seen my teaching as anything other than a journey of personal practice.

Enjoying each other's company at the party.

Here we sit enjoying each other’s company at the after party.

Some of you had the good fortune to know my husband, Allan Kaprow. He was always there behind the scenes, helping me lick my many Aikido wounds, taking care of our son, Bram, so that I could freely go to the Dojo. I don’t think I realized at the time what a huge commitment it was to be. No students, one student or 10 makes no difference – you have to be there to open the doors every day there is a class. Allan was an experimental artist and really appreciated and understood Aikido. He wrote an essay in 1991 for the Women’s Issue of Sansho, a subject dear to my heart, in which at some point he addressed the readership to say: ‘… you may wonder who I am. I’m not an Aikidoist but an artist whose art is very close in its essentials to Aikido. I live with a woman who is a full-time Aikidoist and so have come to learn a little about it, and to admire it.’

I have thought a lot about what he might have meant by ‘essentials’. A little while ago, I woke up one morning recalling a talk that he had given about his own work, to an auditorium full of people. At some point, having talked enough about what he did, he asked everyone to stand up, which they did. He then asked them to take some money out of their pockets or wallets, and they did. He then asked them to turn to the person next to them and give the money to them. They did. That was all. He then went on with his talk.

Allan’s work as an artist wasn’t in the realm of convention but in the breaking through of self limiting boundaries. This is the real work that goes on in Aikido. The inner work that is the constant within the martial context. This is the process of creativity. We are always pushing those boundaries and in so doing experiencing more of ourselves than we ever thought possible. This is what my teacher made evident to me and what I endeavor to pass on to you.

For my son, Bram, I have love and respect. He has been part of my journey whether he liked it or not! He came into the world doing Aikido. I trained well into my pregnancy. Because of him, I started a children’s program that continues to this day. I often felt torn through and questioned whether I was being a good mother, leaving him at times to go to the dojo when I felt I should have been at home. Forgive me Bram for all those times, for in spite of them you have become a wonderful man and generous human being.

So to all my students, this is the journey that we are on together. We share it every time we step on to the mat. You have all been a part of my life in ways you may not have ever realized. You have been a source of strength to me when I have most needed it, and are now here with me celebrating this occasion! I am blessed.

Now, more than ever, the Dojo and by extension the world outside, need us to turn to our neighbors and give something of ourselves.

With love and appreciation as always,

Coryl Crane Sensei
North County Aikikai
Solana Beach, California

Fear

By James SawersFox Valley Aikikai

My fear was so powerful
It was afraid of itself
Fear is the mind killer –
But only if allowed to take root

Sitting in seiza, breathing deeply
Doing four-count breathing
Letting the fear wash all over me

And pass on through me
Slowly the fear diminished
Disappearing, with everything else
Till I sat calm, still, ready…

The call when it came – hajime!
Found me centered and prepared
Mind clear, I faced myself

Aikido as an Exploration of Fear, Pain and Reaction

By Norine Longmire, Aikido Takayama

Let me be clear: until November 4, 2016, I was a person who hated flying. Specifically, lift off and landing. Not to mention, the only reason to arrive at an airport is so you can get the heck away from it. So flying to Phase II Weapons Intensive from Vancouver, BC to Oakland Airport (Alameda Aikikai) was not high on my priority list of fun activities to take up on an early Friday morning.

Plane flights transformed me from an ever pivoting agnostic, to an atheist, back to an agnostic, then miraculously into a cold-sweating quivering mass mouthing prayers to Hindu, Pagan, Jewish God/Goddesses, as well as chanting ancient yogic mantras to myself until a manageable level of serotonin was released into my bloodstream to balance out the cortisol shooting through my veins.

However, on a previous flight to the other end of the country in August, I happened to encounter a seat mate who was even more terrified than I was. She dropped an Ativan on the floor and was frantically searching for it. After finding it she immediately swallowed it – which rattled my slight germaphobic OCD. Nevertheless, I talked to her through the take off and landing to the point of calming us both. So when we lifted off at 5:05 am on November 4, I found myself reading without interruption, only feeling inconvenienced that we weren’t already there.

Group photo from the last day of the Seminar

Group photo from the last day of the Seminar

In Aikido, we are asked to back onto the mats, leaving our footwear pointing outward, leaving what is unnecessary off the mats. We are meant to train unfettered by the tethers of our daily dramas, emotional ties, and monkey minds. This was never more important than at Phase II of the weapons intensive lead by Mike Flynn, Shihan, hosted by Elmer Tancino Sensei, with Deena Drake Sensei (San Diego Aikikai), JD Sandoval Sensei (Hayward Aikikai) and Steve Thoms Sensei (Eugene Aikikai).

A quick recap of the previous years’ intensive lead into Sancho I, II and III over the 11 hours of training. But bokken was first. A recap of kiriotoshi foundation forged the basis of understanding ma-ai, “stickiness” and connectedness in the six kumitachi. With the expectation that advanced students knew the forms, foundational concepts like precise footwork, concise sincere attacks and demonstration of the fluidity of ma-ai (contraction and expansion) were covered.

We needed to use all of our senses to be aware of our environment, our neighbours and our partners. If you’ve been training in Aikido weapons, you know you are going to be hit at some point in your training. In some ways the difference in training in Aikido and other martial arts is that we practice NOT to be hit, whereas in others we are training to be comfortable being struck repeatedly. So what happens when we do get hit by a weapon?

To the novice practitioner (and maybe to the not so novice) when you hit your training partner: practice can stop with, “Oh! I’m sorry!” or training can continue without outside acknowledgment from either partner. We likely all have been the recipient of the regret of hurting a partner or on the wrong end of the admonishment from a senior for not being responsive – “Take UKEMI!”

So what about being hit? In Aikido we do not have the constant batter of sparring – conditioning our bodies and minds to accepting being struck. So when we are hit with a bokken or jyo we might be surprised by our response. This is especially true when you don’t see it coming. A dojo full of flying jyos can lead to just that – a jyo coming from behind because of a kesa meant for someone else.

In his book, “Meditations on Violence”, Rory Miller goes into detail on the effects of adrenaline and states of consciousness in a fight or after receiving a blow to the body. The ability to remain totally and completely present is completely misrepresented in action movies (as if we all didn’t already know that!).

When we are taken by surprise or hit hard enough, a myriad of reactions take place in the body and mind. Adrenalin shoots through our veins, our fight or flight mechanism kicks in. But we might also notice that we can have strong emotional responses: explosive anger; disabling grief; regret, guilt (I did something wrong); shame (I am wrong) – reactions that seem overblown to the actual situation. These biological reactions well up to the surface unwelcome, often leaving us embarrassed and unsure of ourselves.

Aikido practice can offer fertile ground for exploring our deepest, hidden, habitual emotional reactions. A respected teacher told me that we can train ourselves to recognize these reactions, “get under them” without shutting them down, remain present and continue to train. It takes self reflection, presence of mind in the moment, and as ever, training.

I fell down the stairs a week after the incident: rushing, arms full, and landed hard on the edge of a step…the same emotional response started to well up as when I was hit from behind. Hmmm. “get under it.” What is this? Why is this reaction rising up again? I paused, remained still, silent, felt it. In that moment I could discover where it came from, and with the words of Frank Herbert’s Litany Against Fear, “I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Our teachers tell us that understanding Aikido is a lifetime practice. The techniques, the art, the training. Maybe Aikido is also the lifetime practice of understanding ourselves.

Living Collaboratively

By James Sawers Fox Valley Aikikai

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I want to touch
The rings of Saturn
I want to float
Through interstellar stardust
Another choice was a recent weekend
Celebrating ten years
Of living collaboratively
With teachers, students,
And community – Aikidoists
Training with heart and intent
Successfully testing to limits
Nages and ukes leaving
Little on the mat
A large cricket attacking guests
With doleful looks and demands
For lots of belly-rubs
An anniversary, birthday, testing
Promotions, grand weather
All great reasons to share
A mutual gathering of like minds
Two wooden posts – a hard reminder
That ten-directional eyes
Is more than just a weird saying!
A visiting west coast master
Such were all the ingredients
For another great seminar
At Kyoseikan Dojo
Where tradition meets community

Living Collaboratively

By James Sawers Fox Valley Aikikai

img_7760

I want to touch
The rings of Saturn
I want to float
Through interstellar stardust
Another choice was a recent weekend
Celebrating ten tears
Of living collaboratively
With teachers, students,
And community – Aikidoist
Training with heart and intent
Successfully testing to limits
Nages and uses leaving
Little on the mat
A large cricket attacking guests
With doleful looks and demands
For lots of belly-rubs
An anniversary, birthday, testing
Promotions, grand weather
All great reasons to share
A mutual gathering of like minds
Two wooden posts – a hard reminder
That ten-directional eyes
Is more than just a weird saying!
A visiting west coast master
Such were all the ingredients
For another great seminar
At Kyoseikan Dojo
Where tradition meets community

Dealing with Conflict

By Greg Urbina Aikido of Albuquerque

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During the first class at AOA’s fall seminar held on October 2016 with Alex Peterson Sensei, Philip Sensei calls me up for ukemi. He gives me the opening and I attack. I’m on the floor, Sensei has me down: only he decides when I can get up. I feel pressure in my arm release, so I get up as fast as I can. It’s Sankyo, Sensei turns, I do everything I can to keep up with him, a pain shoots through my arm. One slip, if I miss one beat, if I put my guard down for one moment, I’ll be spending the next few months sitting seiza, watching class with my arm in a cast. I’m on the floor again, all my bones still intact. Sensei let’s go of my arm, I need to get back up, Omote is over and it’s time for Ura. Then three more sets of this. I need to get back up. During this seminar Alex Peterson Sensei said “if you want to be forged you need to go to the hottest part of the fire”. After hearing this I reflected on my own  personal progression of dealing with conflict.
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I’ve been practicing Aikido for four years now. About three years ago I was a fourth kyu in the Soto Deshi program. I was working as a supervisor at a grocery store making just enough money to get by. I wanted to go to school but I didn’t have the money or the time. The whole reason I originally joined Aikido was to prepare to become a police officer and I needed some college credits to qualify for the academy. I didn’t want to quit Aikido, I loved it, but I needed to work, and I also needed to go to school. I kept thinking about how I could manage doing all three, but things wouldn’t fit. I needed more time and money to go to school. I could not afford to pay for everything if I cut my hours at work. If I cut my hours at the dojo how much would my training suffer? Eventually I was so frustrated I couldn’t even focus on training. I ended up failing my third kyu test and eventually my Sensei’s recommended that I take a break from the Soto Deshi program and focus on work, paying bills, and going to school. I was told the Soto Deshi program will not be going anywhere.
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I was now able to spend  more time focusing on work and eventually I became a manager, not easy. I would work on homework late after I got off work. Some days I would sleep for a few hours and try to make the 6 A.M. morning Aikido class, then go to school. My hours at the dojo went up and down, and my training did suffer. I did not make the best grades and I gained about about 40 pounds and took on some debt, but at the end of summer 2016 I got the credits I needed. I stepped down from work and joined the Uchi Deshi program at second kyu.
I could have quit Aikido many times and found some cheap excuse to save face, but I would be a lesser person because of it. Every time I take a class, I have some kind of obstacle to overcome. You can call it conflict, you can call it fire, you can call it yourself, but to get through it you need patience and dedication.  I still don’t know how to take proper ukemi for Sankyo but I’m getting on the mat tonight.
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British Birankai Celebration


By Liese Klein, New Haven Aikikai
Lots of old friends and many new ones made my recent visit to England after more than a decade quite memorable. The British Birankai Autumn Course in Birmingham was my reason for the trip, a special celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Chiba Sensei’s arrival in the U.K. that brought Mrs. Chiba together with many Birankai veterans.

Mrs. Chiba and Eric Beake of London Aikikai at the special memorial dinner in Birmingham, Oct. 8, 2016.

Mrs. Chiba and Eric Beake of London Aikikai at the special memorial dinner in Birmingham, Oct. 8, 2016.

At a special dinner on Oct. 8, Mrs. Chiba offered heartfelt thanks to the many British Aikido students who helped her and Chiba Sensei make a life in London – and continued to keep the flame of his Aikido alive after their return to Japan in 1976. It was an emotional reunion with British Birankai stalwarts like Dee Chen, Steve Beecham, Tony Cassells, Joe Curran, Chris Mooney and Eric Beake.

Many of these veterans also told me lots of great stories as part of my research into Chiba Sensei’s time in England for the biography project. I traveled across the island in my quest to find out more about Chiba Sensei’s challenges as young man trying to bring the art of Aikido to often unappreciative audiences. I was struck time and again by the strong impression he made on so many and of the intense loyalty of his British students extending into the present day.

My most joyful discoveries came on the mat, as I got reacquainted with the dynamic, clean and powerful Aikido of our British brethren. (See more videos of some of the instructors at the BiranOnline channel on Youtube.)

Along with vibrant veterans, it was amazing to see future leaders like Davinder Bath and Ian Grubb come into their own on and off the mat. It was also great to see the enthusiastic and diverse new crop of students who are keeping up the very high standards of British Birankai Aikido. I was impressed and humbled.

Mrs. Chiba, Miguel Moreno and Liese Klein at the Birmingham Course.

Mrs. Chiba, Miguel Moreno and Liese Klein at the Birmingham Course.

Also inspiring was the strong training of Birankai Europe teachers who taught at the seminar: Amnon Tzechovoy of the Dojo in Tel Aviv University Sports Centre, Israel; Alexander Broll of Aikido Dojo Gen Ei Kan in Landau, Germany; and Miguel Moreno, formerly of San Diego Aikikai, now of Venice, Italy. (No, Miguel doesn’t take a gondola to his new dojo!)
Somewhat disappointing was the absence of some familiar faces due to a split within the British ranks a few years back – a warning to us in Birankai North America. Egos and personality conflicts have always been with us, but sincere, strong training will prevail, no matter the setting.
One constant at all the dojos I visited in England was sliding mats – most dojos can’t afford a full-time space due to high rents and put mats down before class with no anchoring. At the seminar, the mats on the edges of the temporary dojo would slide apart with every few rolls.
But every time the gaps between mats threatened to swallow up toes or fingers, a few hearty souls would pause and push them back together. After a while I stopped even noticing and got into the spirit of things – slide apart, push together.
There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

Setting up the mat before the Birmingham seminar.

Setting up the mat before the Birmingham seminar.

Aikido Back Home

By Isiah Fernandez, Hayward Aikido

As the old adage says “There’s no place like home”. So when I had an oppurtunity to go back home to the Philippines, specifically Manila, I took it. It was my sister’s wedding, but I also wanted to get some Aikido training in. I started Aikido training in 2008 at Hayward Aikido under JD Sandoval Sensei. I was also his Kenshusei beginning in 2010 and graduated from the program in 2013, after passing the Fukushidoin test.
The first thing I did was find a dojo that was close by, because as everybody that has ever been to Manila, knows how horrendous the traffic conditions are there. I found Ateneo Aikido Club, which was inside the Ateneo University of Manila, one of the more prestigous universities in the whole Philippines. I had already emailed them beforehand of my intention to join class. The head instructor of the dojo is Rommel Miel, a 4th dan blackbelt of the Aikikai. They gave me permission to do so.
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The dojo itself is located inside the gymnasium. I came a little earlier to meet the teacher and the students. Some differences from training back in the States are that we had to set up the mats because other arts and sports were using it during the day. Also they have 2 hour classes which was a challenge due to the very hot and humid climate in Manila. The instructors themselves also do not get paid for their services, which in my opinion, is very noble and sincere in a 3rd world country, that people still do things just for the love of it.
The practice was great. Very good energy was shown on the mat. After the class the head instructor asked me if I could lead class the following week. I happily obliged and the next week I did. Teaching and training in Aikido in Manila is very special to me, having grown up here and being given the chance to show the art that I have dedicated my life to. The focus of my class was to present Aikido as a true and complete martial art.
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Sometimes we as Aikidoka focus on the philosophical aspects of the art, that the martial aspect of it becomes secondary. I wanted to highlight the martial side of it. We finished class and I spoke about how we should all take pride that we do Aikido because it has everything, and will work on any situation or circumstance. I wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t.
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After class we went out for pizza and beer at a local pizza parlor (Shakey’s! Love that place!). All in all I really enjoyed training and teaching in the homeland. I would like to thank Miel Sensei and all the members of Ateneo Aikido Club for having me and making me feel like family. Thank you very much.

Isaiah

Summer’s Last Stand – A Weekend of “Firsts”

By Jan Arkless North County Aikikai

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On August 26, Summit Aikikai hosted their inaugural Late Summer Seminar with guest instructors Ed Hernandez, 3rd dan, and Todd Fessenden, 3rd dan. Keeping with a weekend of firsts, it was Ed and Todd’s first seminar. The president of Birankai North America, Alex Peterson, 6th dan, Chief Instructor of Summit Aikikai, lead the charge of the directive sent from the teacher’s council, to get more young teachers out into the larger community, sharing their wealth of knowledge. Answering the call to Park City were aikidoka from Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, California, Wyoming and Oregon. With a mix of out-the-box beginners to a Shihan, it seemed everyone checked their ego at the door and donned the cloak of sincerity.
The event kicked off Friday with Hernadez Sensei humbly proclaiming that this was his “first gig,” then joyfully shook off our travel weariness by leading us through a number of high energy techniques. Spirit was high, smiles were abundant, sweat was profuse. A number of us sea-level folk wilted minutes into the class due to the altitude, but determiningly persevered. Is there no oxygen in Park City?

Ed Hernandea and Scott Swank , Ed and Michael Cevasco, Ed and David Friend

Ed Hernandea and Scott Swank , Ed and Michael Cevasco, Ed and David Friend

Friday evening, Peterson Sensei, along with ever-smiling Elizabeth Goward from Eugene Aikiakai, had arranged a rambling walk through the heart of Party City (not a typo) to a pub called the Wasatch Brewery. We all got to know each other with libations such as “Polygamy Porter,” and “Last One In Lager.” 
Saturday morning brought Fessenden Sensei into the mix with his precision-sharp weapons. Using the 8-count suburi in partner practice, he drew us into his personal exploration of the hip turn ending and the extension which necessitates it.
Todd Fessenden, Todd and Jan Arkless, Todd illustrating hip turn

Todd Fessenden, Todd and Jan Arkless, Todd illustrating hip turn


The afternoon practice started off with an introduction to the Russian martial art, Systema, by Mark Zamarin. With a focus on breathing, relaxation, and development of intuition/sixth-sense, and using the opponent’s energy against him, it was easy to see Systema’s relationship to the deeper levels of aikido. 
After all that relaxation, Hernandez Sensei, used yokomen attacks to keep us responsive and connected. Fessenden Sensei followed up with the 12 kesa jyo basics, again with an emphasis on hip turn and getting off the line. 
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The perfect ending to such a day was a picnic and frigid dip in Rockport Reservoir Lake. We perched like mountain goats on the side of a rocky bluff watching the watersports and our friends swimming. As the sun went down and we bundled up, Elizabeth entertained us with guitar and folk songs. 
Enjoying the evening BBQ, Elizabeth Goward about to take the plunge, Alex Peterson and Suzanne-Gonzales-Webb, Cindy Moore Paddleboarding

Enjoying the evening BBQ, Elizabeth Goward about to take the plunge, Alex Peterson and Suzanne-Gonzales-Webb, Cindy Moore Paddleboarding


After Sunday’s classes, Dennis Belt Shihan presented Alex Sensei with the Biran Bowl, the “gift from heaven” that inspired Chiba Sensei to name our organization Birankai. It was a humbling moment to see this exchange. I know this symbol is in good hands, in a dojo with a Chief Instructor who keeps the legacy of Chiba Sensei’s aikido protected and alive.
Pat and Dennis belt presenting the Biran Bowl to Alex Peterson

Pat and Dennis belt presenting the Biran Bowl to Alex Peterson


Biran Bowl

Biran Bowl

After the seminar, our generous host, Alex Sensei took us to one of his favorite rock climbing places where he introduced us to top-roping. It was my first experience rock climbing and to say I was filled with trepidation is an understatement. However, safe in my harness and with Alex’s brother-in-law, David Friend, on belay, I felt secure and made it as high as my weary muscles would allow. Much higher than the climbing gym! As my experienced climber fiancé says, “Be scared…. and do it anyway.” Cindy Moore also took on the challenge, calmly climbing until called down so that we could catch our flight.
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I feel honored to have experienced Todd and Ed’s first seminar. Their commitment and sincerity left me inspired and determined to forge on.   Alex Peterson is a thoughtful and generous host. Walking into his dojo is a cross between walking into a church and your own living room, equally deferential and welcoming. With a dojo named “Summit,” you are expected to reach great heights. Under his guidance it is certainly attainable. I would encourage all to give his next seminar a try. You never know what adventure he will entice you into. 
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Mountain Weapons Seminar: Training in Nature’s Elements to Become Annual Event

By Cecilia Ramos Sensei, Grass Valley Aikikai

Our Grass Valley Aikikai Mountain Weapons Seminar with Elmer Tancinco Sensei, on July 23rd has come and gone. Resting afterwards and reflecting back on the experience, my mind is flooded with images and emotions. As the host I should show humble modesty, but it was a grand seminar!

Jyo training with my student Kirk at our dojo in Grass Valley, Ca

Jyo training with my student Kirk at our dojo in Grass Valley, Ca


I bought my home on 10 acres in the Sierra Nevadas in 2004, and from that time until now I have dreamed of having an outdoor weapons seminar. At long last the stars have aligned and it has come to pass! It was an experiment, I didn’t know if it would work out. I worried people would find it too hot, too dirty, too buggy, or too far to drive. I was prepared to have it be just a handful of my own students and Tancinco Sensei. Instead we had 36 people training, plus 9 more friends and family joined us for dinner. Judging by everyone’s faces and comments as they trained and then partied, and by all the Facebook posts afterward, the experiment was a success! Obviously, we will have to do it again! In retrospect we will have to rename this seminar the First Annual Mountain Weapons Seminar!
Kamiza in the woods

Kamiza in the woods


We had students come from Alameda Aikikai, Hayward Aikikai, Eastshore Aikikai, Aikido Institute of San Francisco, Davis Aikikai, plus Daniel Acosta Sensei from Mexico and Brian Batchley, formerly from Ventura Aikikai and now at-large in Paradise, California. Lizzy Lynn Shihan, my dear friend, came too and lent her support. I was dumbfounded when sneaky Alex Peterson Sensei and his sidekick Karen Kalliel Sensei showed up unannounced to surprise me, having conspired with my students at summer camp. What a wonderful surprise it was!
A nice smile from Tancico Sensei

A nice smile from Tancico Sensei


There was an element of stress for our family in preparing because we had decided to repair our pond. The pond was there when I bought the house. Originally it was a spring fed creek. A former owner dug it into a pond but didn’t do it right. It was pretty from a distance, but up close it was a mess, and it leaked. The project originally had nothing to do with the seminar, but the seminar date had already been set when we realized that we were in a position to finally rebuild the pond. Fred (my sweetheart and the cook) determined that it could get done before the seminar, rather than waiting until after. Naturally the project expanded and we kept adding things, like the Fred Flintstone outdoor kitchen, the terrace, the beach, and the wood chips! As the seminar date approached, we stayed calm, on course, and yet I am amazed that it came together in time. Many thanks to Fred’s son Forest (also the cook) and to my student, Kyle Comte, who labored like convicts in the hot sun moving rocks, and of course to Fred himself who was the chief architect and laborer! We have learned some lessons and it will continue to evolve. Obviously there will have to be an outdoor foot shower, after everyone was gone the house was full of sand!

The aspect of the seminar that had to do with the training itself was Tancinco Sensei’s department. Of course, I knew he would do a great job, that’s why I invited him, but in my opinion, he seemed to rise to a new level. His teaching was so clear, so martial, funny at times, and kind. I could see every student pulled forward in their practice. With first the bokken and later the jyo, he started with basics, then took everyone into deeper forms. JD Sandoval Sensei graciously served on the uke side, and between the two of them, it was something to witness. Here in Northern California we are very lucky to have instructors of such caliber.

Tancico and Sandoval Sensei demonstrating ni no tach

Tancico and Sandoval Sensei demonstrating ni no tach

After the last class people swam in the pond, and dined outside. Later, those who could stay late sat up by a campfire. Tancico Sensei slept in a tent by the pond and Acosta Sensei slept under the stars. The next day he told me he had been a little cold, but said he had adjusted the blankets and was OK. That was when I realized I had forgotten to give him a sleeping bag! The two (very thin) blankets that he used, were to have protected the bottom of the tent (that he didn’t use). He is a pretty tough guy to sleep out like that. Sandoval Sensei, Bernadette, their two girls, and little dog took the attic. Lizzy Lynn Shihan was in the living room. Antonio and Joshua were outside in their RV. So it was a darn full house! Just what I like – having a lot of aikido people all together. It was like summer camp for 24 hours at my home – heavenly.

Peterson Sensei and Carol enjoying the pond!

Peterson Sensei and Carol enjoying the pond!

A wholehearted thank you to everyone who came. You made a dream come true for me, and now I can look forward to sharing the mountains with all of you for the rest of my life. Next year I hope even more Birankai students can come and continue our martial development, exploring our weapons curriculum, fighting the mountain. Work like this, through each of us, will make Birankai strong.

A great group photo to end the training

A great group photo to end the training

Closing Time

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It’s that bittersweet moment at every Birankai Aikido Summer Camp when we roll up the mats, pack up most of our stuff and get ready for the farewell party. One more class tomorrow then we fly, drive, ride the subway or otherwise make our way home.

It’s been a very positive event, with record numbers on the mat for an East Coast Birankai summer camp, positive financials and strong training with no serious injuries so far. We were joined by Birankai members from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and welcomed visitors from countries including Switzerland, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Canada.

Special guest and excellent Birankai friend Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan of New York Aikikai led a dynamic and enjoyable class on Saturday. Our Birankai shihan and shidoin collaborated to create a thematic curriculum for the rest of camp with a focus on connection and centeredness. Now for the raffle, our ultimate test of stamina and concentration. See you all at the party!

Liese Klein