Teaching in Brazil

By Roger Park, Huron Valley Aikikai

I was invited to teach in Brazil by a gentleman by the name of Mauricio Nascimento, who trained with us here in Ann Arbor while he was at the University of Michigan for graduate studies. He is now a professor in the city of Maringa in southern Brazil, and runs an Aikido club there. He’s associated with Aikido Parana Brasil, an organization whose lineage is through Kawai Shihan. Kawai Shihan is credited with introducing Aikido to Brazil in the early 1960s and lived in Sao Paolo until his death in 2010. Aikido Parana Brasil is now headed by one his former uchideshi, Mr. Rodolpho Reolon Sensei, and headquartered in Curitiba, the capital of the Brazilian state of Parana.

I was very moved, both by the invitation and the warm reception Terri and I received over the course of the four days training we conducted in Maringa and Curitiba.

As expected, the local style of training was a bit different from what we do in Birankai, but all the participants were very open to something new and curious to have some exposure to our style of training. Because of the variation in style and the language barrier (i.e., my lack of fluency in any language other than English), I did find myself holding forth a bit more than I typically do while teaching, both about our approach to training and my own understanding of what Chiba Sensei had attempted to communicate to us through his teaching and example. I hope I did a reasonably good job of this, though must emphasize (as I did in Brazil) that these understandings and interpretations are my own and not meant to speak for Birankai as an organization.

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Why I Practice Aikido

By Haryo Shridhar, Brooklyn Aikikai

I practice aikido because it is my path. This is not what I would have said five and a half years ago when I started.

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When I started Aikido, I had no idea what it was. I had just moved to New York City from living in India and London, and was starting life over on my own. After about 22 years of dancing, I had decided to stop. I had studied one year of Indian martial arts while in Bangalore and knew that I wanted to train in a martial practice. I did not know why. It was like I was in a pitch black room and was following a simpler, more basic sense than sight. My friend said, “You should check out aikido, I think you would like it.” Watching class, I knew within a few seconds that I would like Savoca Sensei to be my teacher. In a way, as much as I found Aikido, I think it also found me.

Recently, I have been thinking about my previous dance training and Aikido. I have been asking myself why I decided to stop dancing and why I have made a commitment within myself to Aikido. The initial answer that came up was too easy. “Dance was heavily related to my married life and I wanted to leave that behind.” That wasn’t it. While I loved dancing, I felt boxed in by ideas of how I had to be as a female dancer, on stage and off. As I grew older, the high of performance also wore off. I grew more interested in finding a sense of depth and rootedness within myself and I also wanted to work with other people. I practice Aikido because it is not solitary. While each person must work on themselves, the work is also with another. If both people really give of themselves, practice can be a way for both to create and discover.

In Aikido, there is a sense of wildness. This does not mean crazy or wild movements. For me, this wildness is a feeling of not just being this list of attributes or qualities that I have for myself. It’s a feeling of existing and working with another person with fresh possibilities every time. This starts at a physical level, when you decide to not let your body tell the same story again and again. “I have bad knees so I can only go down this much, or I can only stretch this much.”

Sometimes, especially when resistance has been worn away, this wildness can be felt, and you find yourself moving differently than the list of “this is who I am and how I move”. This wildness moves beyond the physical level as well. It is not pushing down and hiding what comes up. Yes, we must work continuously to channel this wildness and learn how to use it. But Aikido does not ask me to hide. It asks me to be myself, in small ways, and in big ways.

When I started Aikido, I was training for myself. I felt like I had given away my voice to others, and I was training to find it. However, this has changed. Yes, I still train for myself – I want to go deep and I must bring a fierce commitment and energy to practice, but it is not only for myself anymore. Being part of a strong community at the dojo shows me how connected we are. What I do on and off the mat affects others. And what good is it for me to develop myself alone? In the first place, that is already impossible.

My training would not be possible without the lifelong dedication of many teachers, including Savoca Sensei, to this art. In this way, as soon as I started training I was connected. And as I continue training, it must be to continue this connection with others. So I also practice Aikido for the community that I am a part of, and in a greater sense, the world.

Perhaps the simplest answer to why I practice, is that I love Aikido. It is beautiful and fierce, and the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is rich and deep. It is not easy. But I love it.

While the following are not my words, they express how I feel. They are an excerpt from Mary Oliver’s “Starfish”:

“[…] What good does it do

to lie all day in the sun

loving what is easy?

It never grew easy,

but at last I grew peaceful:

all summer

my fears diminished

as they bloomed through the water

like flowers, like flecks

of an uncertain dream,

while I lay on the rocks, reaching

into the darkness, learning

little by little to love

our only world.”

This article originally appeared November 15th, 2017 in the Brooklyn Aikikai Blog. (www.brooklynaikikai.com/blog/) Reposted with permission from Brooklyn Aikikai.

Building a Bridge

By Sanders Anderson, Multnomah Aikikai

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A lot of things go through your mind when test time rolls into your life. Even more so if you happen to be someone with the misfortune of failing your previous test. Beyond the obvious considerations of assessing one’s skill, is perhaps an even more daunting survey of a student’s determination. For me beyond the technical requirements of passing or not passing, is the question of whether or not the fire is lit. Is my flame a mere flicker or is it sufficiently hot enough to do its job? Can it heat the contents and transfer energy with mind, body, and spirit integrated as one?

I had a lot riding on this test for the rank of 1st kyu (level/grade) in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. I really wanted to show I had spent significantly more time on the foundations of our art: hanmi (stance) and taisabaki (footwork). I also wanted to prove to myself that I had been willing to eat the bitter fruit, spending the requisite time alone outside of class, continuing to forge my will, and bringing those developments to the dojo. My hope was that others would bear witness to my progress.

Three nights of testing sounded like a good idea at the time as a welcome switch up to the usual program of having to prove yourself on a single night. This allowed myself, and others, I believe, to be less anxious about getting it all right (like such a thing was even possible). The test format proved to be physically taxing with one to two hours of testing every night for three consecutive nights, Tuesday through Thursday. Wednesday, as hump day, will forever have a new meaning for me. In summary, I feel it was more demanding physically, but less so mentally, since the one-chance-is-all-you-got pressure was mitigated by expanding the format into three days.

I even had a strategy. Or at least I thought I did. Rather than rush through the techniques with the nerves of a cattle bell, I would try to relax into a moderate pace and get into the groove, my groove, whatever that was. I needed to create my own stepping stones on this path to 1st kyu. I was naked, alone, and exposed. No further preparation could help me at that point. I relied on what had helped me most in all manner of challenges – positive mental attitude. This was something I could do. I just needed to focus my concentration.

Fleshler Shihan told me once: “This mat is just as much yours as anybody else’s. You need to own it.” I felt as if I was incapable of owning the entire area of the mat but surely I could attempt to own a small patch of it. That much I could do.

Unfortunately, after what felt like a near brilliant first night of demonstrating strong foundation level skills, things began to fall apart for me on the second night. Where did my basics go? Where did my confidence go? They didn’t tell me they were leaving. And suddenly I felt abandoned. Now missing both, I was feeling uneasy to say the least, and with a certain anticipatory grief for how this would all end up. I remember telling myself I just had to get through this and live another day. Perhaps my resilience would return the following night.

The third and final night of testing I felt like I got my groove back. I got the fire back I and turned up the heat. Even when I was caught off guard with tantodori (knife defense techniques) and jyodori (techniques against staff attacks) I remained as placid as a lake. It might not have looked that way on the outside but that’s what I was aiming for on the inside. I wasn’t exactly sure how I would express myself but I knew I had to be in control. I would embrace the circumstances as guests, and invite them in as if I was looking forward to seeing them. I wasn’t necessarily proud of my specific responses, but I was very proud of the resolve I displayed in the face of simulated threats.

There was also a certain ugliness and ego I experienced during testing. I began making odd comparisons between myself and others. “If you can do better than him you will pass.” Ultimately I had to let these comparisons go. No one could take this test for me. And comparing myself to someone else was not only a waste of time, but energy as well. Whatever basic level of body mechanics and integration I had attained, now was the time to show it. Winning had no resonance here, only existing in the moment as it presented itself.

“When one is under sound attack

one must die, and yet live, 

from moment to moment. 

It is in momentary living

 that one is free from distraction…” 

–– Thomas M. White

As the test results were called I sat on the floor in seiza (proper sitting) with dreaded apprehension. Was I good enough and were my techniques sharp enough? Regardless of the pending result, I felt some degree of my personal development was evident for all to see. What I did not expect, in my quest to attain the rank of 1st kyu, was to be elevated instead to the rank of shodan (black belt). In fact, upon hearing the results called, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. The handshakes and congratulatory gestures would have a significantly larger context now. Unexpected? Absolutely. In addition, it was a particularly special honor for me because I am one of the first shodans to be promoted by chief instructor Van Amburgh Sensei.

What does shodan mean for me? It means so much. I was so proud of this achievement and the perseverance it took to get to here. This was a 14 year journey of blood, sweat, and tears, both figuratively and literally. I only wish my mom was still alive to share this achievement with me. For three weeks after testing I felt like I was floating in the clouds. Now I could finally go to yudansha (black belt) class and feel I belonged there.

What I wasn’t ready for was a mild sense of shame or embarrassment coupled with a case of post-goal blues. Why couldn’t I just be happy with the present moment and simply bask in this glorious warm sunshine? These are answers I still don’t have. Maybe I was instinctively feeling that I had reached the top of a mountain fully unaware of the even higher mountain tops that lay directly behind it. Not only was the endeavor not over, it had just begun. In fact, shodan literally means “beginning degree”.

In regards to the technical aspects of our art, shodan means revisiting irimi (entering), tenkan (pivoting), taisabaki (footwork), and ikkyo (elbow control). Each has something I need to earnestly re-explore on a more intimate level. But more generally, shodan is a chance for me to begin weaving a tapestry with the basic elements of our art. Its pattern will only be revealed after jumping back into the forge, emptying my cup, and re-filling it anew with fresh insights from a beginners mind.

“The true warrior acquires the nature of a priest. 

It is in the mind that the body is trained, and in 

devotion that the mind is trained.” –– Thomas M. White

Shodan also means looking for ways to use Aikido in daily life. I recently delivered a design presentation to one of my clients. Just before that meeting my nerves were shot. This was a big account. So to raise my spirit, I bowed in (as if in Aikido class) in the hallway outside their office. After gathering my center, I stood up and then walked confidently into that meeting. The dojo’s boundaries are limited only by my own artifice and preconceptions.

There is also an opportunity to expand my definition of some basic Aikido concepts beyond the dynamic sphere of physical practice. For example, irimi (entering) could potentially mean finding space in my schedule and my heart to work at a soup kitchen. Or the idea of tenkan (pivoting) could mean making a dramatic shift in my previously held position to consider another way of seeing or looking at challenging circumstances in the world. Is it possible for me to be more compassionate towards others? Even someone I perceive as an opponent? Of course this is difficult but not entirely impossible.

“Be kind whenever possible. 

It is always possible.” 

–– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

And finally, shodan for me, means walking a spiritual path. This is what attracts me the most about the possibilities of the journey we share and infinitely more applicable. In fact, most of us are more likely to be in an automobile accident than a street altercation. Spirituality has the possibility to transcend the physical manifestations of our day to day life. I am fully aware that martial arts may not help me when faced with a periodontal surgeon or to deal with my trauma of being robbed as a youth in Los Angeles, but it can help me be more present. Here. Now. It can also help me shed the confines of the ego and the limitations it imposes on me. I’ve got some serious baggage. But I’m traveling lighter everyday, freeing myself from the unnecessary weights keeping me from swimming to that distant shore.

I dedicate this essay to all the teachers illuminating this path, both past and present. I sincerely feel that without their wisdom I would be nothing more than an empty shell, void of any base or structure: Sifu James Wing Woo, Shihan Thomas M. White, Shihan Albert Wilson, Shihan Nobu Iseri, Shihan Dennis Belt, Shihan Minoru Oshima, Sensei Nobu Arakawa, Shihan Aki Fleshler, Sensei Suzane Van Amburgh, Guro Albert Tabino, and Yangsi Rinpoche.

Am I Too Old For This?

By Charles Aarons, Aikido Takayama

70 years old! Where did the time go?

I have had a long aikido career…longer than many…less than others.

I look back at my aikido life with an equal measure of regret and hope.

In 1971 (or thereabouts) the newly founded Toronto Aikikai was run by Bruce Stiles, a newly minted Shodan from Kanai Sensei. Our dojo and our sister dojo the Montreal Aikikai began bringing up Sensei’s Yamada and Kanai for seminars. It seems hard to believe but they were 5th dan then. I have a promotional poster somewhere to prove it!

In those early years, I can only describe the teaching as “old school.” Waza were shown a few times and then off we went to practice with as much vigour as possible. I recall lots of talk about “extending ki”, but if conversations were held on the topics of connection, liveliness, and blending, I either missed them entirely or just wasn’t paying attention…a much more likely possibility.

Keiko was hard back then. Ukemi contained lots of break falls. Bruises and injuries seemed to be more common than today. It forged me into a person who mistakenly equated vigorous hard practice without connection as the correct way to train.

Fleshler Shihan recently said “it was so much simpler when the teachers were all Japanese.” I agree. There was a mystique and mysteriousness about them which made training adventurous. Looking back now though, I see I was spinning my wheels repeating the same things over and over without really looking and seeing what I was doing. I’m not referring to repetition, which is necessary. I am referring to rote training…more like an ox going around and around a grain wheel. The same thing each time.

Moving to Los Angeles for my music career led me to meeting my mentor Jack Arnold who opened my eyes to how much time I had wasted to date. Formally meeting Chiba Sensei in 1983 and beginning to train under his auspices really pulled the wool from my eyes. Finally here was someone who…to me…had the total package…dynamic aikido…a beautifully constructed syllabus…conceptual as well as physical training and spiritualism. Those were renaissance days for me.

Kokyu Ho

In 1989 I left Los Angeles to return to my home in Canada. During the time that transpired between my return to Canada and my being invited to join Birankai and re-unite with my friends and teachers, an entire new era of teaching had evolved. This included the formal Kenshusei program, the weapons curriculum and so much more. I missed all of it! To this very day I am still playing “catch up.”

That’s the “regret” part of this article. I have to consciously monitor myself to see if I am progressing. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, but harder to do when the cement had been set so long ago.

It has taken no small effort and plenty of help from my wife, my senior instructors and colleagues to help rid me of some of my ego and look forward to a future of honest practice. It is hard for someone like me to say “I’ve been in this art a long time….I should know this stuff.” It’s even harder for me to look at younger teachers who have had the full benefit of Birankai training and admit to myself that yes…they are a whole lot better than I am.

But, in the end, I am willing to embrace what our founder and my teachers tell me, to have Sho Shin and to just be glad that I can get up each day, put on the uniform and train.

So…am I too old for this stuff? I don’t think so yet. Each day is a gift. To be able to get on the mat and try my honest best to be open makes it worth everything. Maybe someday I’ll “get it.” I’ll let you know if I do.

Charles

 

 

Living and Training through Heartache

by Norine Longmire, Aikido Takayama

Recently my mother died relatively suddenly. The shock, anger, and sadness that accompanied the news and then the eventual acceptance of the reality of her death was overwhelming. Yet everything seemed to come into focus. Things that I thought mattered, I no longer tolerated; people who I thought would be in my life forever, are gone. When my mom was dying, all things including Aikido were dropped as if they were never a part of my life, nor mattered in the end. The act of swinging a wooden sword seemed pointless when the life of a mother so dear – I felt she was like my right arm – was draining painfully away.

Norine Longmire Sensei

Norine Longmire Sensei

Shutting one’s self away is one way to cope with death. It is what I did. I did not want to see anyone. Hearing the language people use around death was offensive to me. “I’m sorry for your loss.” (I did not lose my mother – she died!) “She’s in a better place.” (How do you know she is in a better place?) When I could not touch her, hug her, speak to her, or hear her voice I could not be around people saying these platitudes. Having others assert their own beliefs and faith on my experience caused even more suffering.

The sadness that remains after the death of a loved one can be like a pit that continues to get deeper and broader. Every day is a struggle to get out of bed, to face a world where we continue to kill each other for religion, for money, for politics. Why live in a world such as this? Depression can consume someone “left behind” after a loved one has died. It can take you to the brink. It is the darkest room, one where some never find the door.

In my isolation I actively sought out ways to step out of that dark room, however briefly. I discovered RuPaul’s DRAG Race on Netflix. Its humor and spice helped me to escape from my sadness and depression, and I found myself binge watching. It is a reality show about people with talents such as designing, singing, and stand up comedy, who compete against one another for a prize. Men from the DRAG community all over the world showcase their ability to transform themselves into their interpretation of a woman (which is evolving all the time). One challenge for the participants is to dress straight men who are not DRAG queens as DRAG queens. At the end of the week, the cumulation of their challenges is judged by RuPaul. RuPaul Charles became known to the world in 1996 when he was the first man to be the face of a major cosmetics advertising campaign. He/she (she does not have a preference to what pronoun you use), was and is a risk taker and in a form, an educator.

The show offers an window of understanding to the DRAG community. The word DRAG originally was an acronym for “Dress Resembling A Girl”. DRAG has been around for centuries. In the 16th century male actors dressed as female characters, as women and girls were not allowed to act (think Shakespeare). In ancient times, in Greece, and in other cultures, many expressions and combinations of the male and female aspect were accepted and honored.

Dame Edna Everage is a character created and performed by Australian comedian Barry Humphries

Dame Edna Everage is a character created and performed by Australian comedian Barry Humphries

RuPaul’s DRAG race has done much to educate the public about the LGBTQIA community. She has been pivotal on being inclusive and representative of her own community and reaching out to build bridges to all communities. She challenges us to see things we might want to turn away from, to hear voices of those we may not like to hear. She has inspired communities throughout the world to host their own local and regional DRAG shows. They use this format to raise awareness, raise money to support charities, and showcase talent in many forms. It is not considered offensive, or mocking, to the LBGTQIA community (that I know) for non-DRAG people to dress up and have fun participating in DRAG shows. RuPaul has said, “…the key to perfectly executed DRAG is a sense of humor.” I think it would be a fun someday to have a Summer Camp fund raiser using a “DRAG race” format.

In the midst of my time of isolation and loss, I had hip replacement surgery, adding an element of physical and emotional recovery that served to elevate my grief. An energetic shift happens to the subtle layers of consciousness and the auric field when we encounter any trauma, whether physical or emotional. Healing does not happen on the physical and mental planes alone, but occurs in the varied levels of our subconscious. Through my experience of loss, grief, withdrawal, and with a little help from RuPaul, it has all combined into a new appreciation of the engagement of the centre (tanden). I’ve come to realize through my hip recovery that not only movements of power or strength come from the centre, but ALL movement comes from the centre. When our movement is not integrated we are not coming from a place of “wholeness”. I recall Chiba Sensei’s pillars of movement: first comes centredness (the hips), which enables the upper and lower body to connect, and thus the body is whole.

I’ve returned to training, picked up my bokken and felt the value of swinging it again. My grief for my mother continues. I still visit that dark room, but I know where the door is. Training has become more of a conscious act. The clarity that death brings of what is really important has serviced my training. The experience of the death of my mom cleared the table and nothing else mattered. I can see more clearly the emotional baggage I bring with me onto the mat. I don’t believe we can truly shed all of who we are or what brought us to this point, instead we must embrace it. I see that I have fear when I step on the mat. I realize and admit that I have been afraid, tentative, insincere at times, in my former training. There is a fear of injury. I’ve been hit (with a weapon) and hurt (nage not perceiving my flexibility limitations) before on the mat and though I was not hurt badly, every fiber of me wanted to collapse in tears and never return. There is also a fear of “not wanting to disappoint”. Acknowledging that I am fallible, faulty, and have fear helps me to see it. Seeing it helps me to overcome it. I see myself more clearly and when I am at my best, I lean into that fear.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my 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.” Frank Herbert, Dune (Bennet-gesserit litany against fear).

Coming back to training I often reflect on what I learned from my time of withdrawal into the world of RuPaul’s DRAG Race. RuPaul told Oprah Winfrey in a recent interview, “DRAG does not hide who you are, it actually reveals who you are… You are born naked and the rest is DRAG… all things are temporary: it’s just cloths, paint, powder…” In my mind I extrapolate, “Aikido does not hide who you are, it actually reveals who you are.”

When we step on the mat, we are asked to shed all that is ourselves and embrace the teaching. Backing onto the mat, with our shoes facing outward, we leave there our personal lives and all the thoughts, emotions and complications that go with them. When we step on the mat, all dressed alike, I believe definitions and boundaries are stripped away. I practice with a partner – not a male partner nor a female partner, not a gay nor straight partner. They may be rich or poor, from here, from there – I practice with a partner. On the mat we let society’s narrow and confining definitions of who were are, or are “supposed to be”, drop away. Possibly then our essence is revealed. We cannot hide who we truly are, no matter what masks we wear or clothing we adopt. Even in do-gi and hakama my essence shows through in every technique. My uniform cannot hide my flaws, nor my abilities. I am revealed.

Maybe what I think in relationship to myself is equally true for my partner. Each one is their unique self, each differently diverse. Each person I bow to is a reflection of my ability to remain open and connected or to close myself off in judgment. I must challenge myself to lean into uncomfortable growth and radical acceptance. In my dojo, I welcome all members of society to join our training. I must see outside the box – or outside the doors of the dojo, or even the way that we’ve always done things. Am I reaching out to those within our community and hearing their voices? Am I taking risks to reach forward and outward?

When I back onto the mat, I want to simply BE, no expectations, no judgement. I want to let the joyfulness of practice come through. I want to embrace my whole self. I want to embrace the fear, the determination, the faults and the talents, and to accept myself and my partner in the moment. I want to embrace our community and create opportunities that might look different from our traditional path. I want to embrace that all growth comes from taking risks.

I want to be centred, connected, whole, lively, and open, on and off the mats.

norine3

 

Progressing in the Absence of Time

By Jody Eastman, Goldstream Aikikai

Having read Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time,” I can assure you this will be nothing like it.  Rather, this is a personal reflection of my own Aikido’s progress over time. In summary, I think introspective thinking and maximizing seminar attendance have been valuable tools for my own progress.

Before proceeding, I think it’s important to briefly define progress – or rather, not to.  To many people, progress has different meanings depending on one’s training purpose, their experience and expectations and perhaps where one is at during that moment of training.  We use words like becoming rounder or softer, learning or letting go, shu ha ri, beginners mind, etc. There is no end to the discussion one could have defining “progress” and this is not within this paper’s scope.  Rather, the intent is what progressing has meant for me and likely, what progress could mean for others in the absence of time; regardless of one’s definition.

Like many – I’m busy.  There once was a time (I can now hardly remember) when my wife and I spent much time training at the dojo, attending most seminars within driving distance and going to summer camps.  Time was filled to the brim with Aikido conversation, videos and of course – practice.  I can even remember going to a spa for a weekend date and learning Sansho I, Part I, on a beach. Time was plentiful and being dedicated required only a selection within choice.

Jody Summercamp San FranciscoIn 2012 however, this all changed. In 2012, we welcomed the birth of our boy Raven.  Here, like Hawking’s black hole, so too began the steady and constant demise of time.  As time to eat and savor one’s food became non-existent, so too did the ability to remain entirely focussed on training. One does not appreciate time until it’s taken away, or as Shakespeare would better phrase, “O, call back yesterday, bid time return.”  So then arose the struggle – how to progress in the absence of time?

During the first two years of my child’s life, my training stumbled. I attended every class at the dojo and did attend a few seminars and a summer camp. However, with a “new dad” focus and nightly sleep that amounted to less than what a rocket would take to reach the stratosphere, energy was lacking. Emerging from that for me, would require a new definition of training and hence a new way to progress.

The first change I made to my training was the intentional use of introspective thinking.  This is nearly obvious as we do it all the time, especially when doing menial tasks.  What was different however was not merely slipping into the thoughts but intentionally becoming determined to use my “time” more productively when off the mats.  Time included watching my kid nap, completing work around the house, biking to work, walking, etc. This time would now involve intentional thoughts towards Aikido techniques.

I think introspective thinking is useful on many levels.  First, can the body perform what the mind cannot create?  Reinforcing what I (think I) saw is an important mental practice.  I noted “think I” because as I have progressed, this too has changed.  Without going too far down a rabbit hole, one could argue that this must change or one would become fixed or lost within ego or without progress. For me, the evaluation of what I “think I” saw often occurs off the mats within this type of thinking.

Further, the mental regurgitation of technique is especially important when time on the mats is limited. For example, I bike most days to and from work.  This journey gives me time to mentally practice Aikido techniques.  I usually give myself a goal; today I have to recall eight gyakuhanmi katatedori kokyunage techniques. This brings forward a memory bank of past classes, seminars, videos, etc., all to recall what I can.  From here, I sometimes check my technique before or after class with a willing aikidoist. Naturally, from this there are lessons learned to improve my technique on the mats, in my head, or to seek advice. Introspective thinking has therefore been essential for my own progress.

My other progression tool has been maximizing the attendance of seminars.  If we look at O Sensei’s quote “the purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit;” it all exists at seminars.  First, seminars break the repetitive nature of time. As days blend into months and years, one’s largest progress may be their child’s weight and height.  Within a regular training schedule, work and family priorities tend to creep in and steal the remaining time that has already been marginalized.  Setting one’s calendar towards a seminar is like a (narcissistic) vacation. It forces one to dismiss these time pirates and refocus, even if briefly, one’s attention to training.

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Seminars also enable one to train with a variety of different ukes and instruction. Frank Zappa once said “without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” Similarly, regular training at a dojo is important but it has limitations. Ukes may be new to the art or conversely, may anticipate through familiarly.  In addition, similar bad habits may reinforce each other.  Finally, despite one’s Sensei constantly repeating the same corrections, it may be at a seminar where the error is finally “seen”.  It may be through a variation in teaching or (and likely) that in that moment one was focussed enough to grasp what had repeatedly been shown.

Unlike regular training, seminars also require an increased and prolonged physical requirement that leads to a decreased physical and mental ability. Musashi is often quoted as having said “you can only fight the way you train.” Training under exhaustion is vital and requires practice.  Training under exhaustion enhances progress by forcing one to “let go” of all those unnecessary muscles that are used to cheat techniques. One is therefore, forced to “find” Aikido technique. As a generally physically strong person, without the exhaustion of seminars, my own progress would surely have been limited; and much more exhaustion is still required.

Finally, seminars allow one to experience and support the bigger Aikido community. This time spent together off the mats may seem irrelevant to progress, however this would discount the power of motivation.  Most people are more productive when motivated. Seminars for me stimulate excitement towards the art and motivate me to want to train more; not with the intention of progressing, but to enjoy the training as it is. Progress at or following a seminar is therefore merely a side-effect of training.

So how does one progress in the absence of time?  There are many different methods to be sure but for me, introspective thinking and the maximum use of seminars have been two tools that I have relied on. To finish, I’d like to end with a quote from one of my favorite guitar players Steve Vai, “passion eliminates time.” If you have the passion, you will somehow find the time.

Rolling Sequence Video

By Suzane Van Amburgh, Multnomah Aikikai

This is a rolling sequence video for aikido practice and teaching.

Beginning Aikido students are often introduced to rolling practice in their first week on the mat. The experience of getting down on the ground and coming up again is fundamental and yet also instinctive. New students have so much going on mentally, emotionally and physically as they begin a new movement practice.

Small rolls, sometimes called “Bucky Ball” rolls or “baby rolls” offer teachers a rich opportunity to orient the new student, practice learning skills, foster attention skills and give them something they can do successfully and improve upon quickly.

For more senior students, the practice serves as a mental and physical warm up, calming the nervous system and relaxing the body.

Bringing attention to what you do and how you do it, matching your breathing to your movement and varying your intention in movement are all excellent ways to prepare yourself for aikido practice.

In this quiet (no-talking) video, Suzane Van Amburgh Sensei demonstrates a rolling practice sequence useful for all levels, from beginner to senior student.  It begins with orientation to the relative position of body parts, rocking left and right. It progresses through use of weight shifts, finding the natural levers and counterbalances of the body, smooth transitions from sitting to side lying and up to sitting again. By the end of the video, the roll has evolved to advanced sequences requiring clear intention, core conditioning, good body control and awareness of the space around you.

Let this post serve as a reference tool and “cliff notes” for aikidoists in your regular rolling practice.

If rolling is new to you, don’t try this alone. Come to the dojo or schedule a private lesson with a certified aikido teacher.

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Suzane Van Amburgh, shidoin, Multnomah Aikikai

Rolling sequence 5:37 recorded 2015

Trouble viewing the video? Here’s the link to the video shared on google:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B71m_xdJDqYvekVBdnVSR3lBYXM/view?usp=sharing

Polishing the Aikido Spirit

By:  Andy Brastad, Clallam Aikikai 

Aikido Seminar with Frank Apodaca Sensei, November 3-5 2017

“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body and polish the spirit.”

-Morihei Ueshiba

Recently, I had the great fortune of attending a Clallam Aikikai Aikido seminar taught by Frank Apodaca Sensei in Carlsborg, Washington.  It was my first seminar since I returned to training in Aikido after a six year hiatus.  Six years – it may not seem like a long time.  But time off the mats and aging (I’m 63) act like a slick pick-pocket – taking your valuables from you and you have no clue that they are even gone, that is until you need them.  So with a bit of trepidation I signed up for the 3-day training hoping that my stout-hearted spirit would indeed shield me from the feelings of awkwardness, lack of memory of techniques, and the aches and pains of hard workouts. I also volunteered to host visitors attending the seminar from nearby Victoria, Canada.

The seminar began on a Friday night – suwari waza techniques. I’m thinking that my training is back to square one; just do your best and don’t sweat it if you make lots of mistakes.  Throughout the session Frank Apodaca Sensei stressed the basics of good techniques; stance, posture, movement, position, timing, breath, completeness of techniques, and a martial attitude.

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For the entirety of the seminar the basics would be the mantra of the seminar.  The seminar ended Sunday afternoon with a pot-luck on Saturday night. As it turned out my visitors from Victoria, Maggie and Jody, were a couple that had stayed in my house about 6 years ago.  When we met at the seminar it was as though we had just seen each other yesterday, not like 6 years had gone by. It was truly reconnecting with friends.  Also traveling with them was their son Raven and one of their students, Paul.  We all became really good friends.

This brings me back to the wise words of O’Sensei. As a student with a huge amount of “slack’ in my techniques, this seminar was just what I needed as a retuning new student.  I definitely took in as much as I could and “stole” from black belts what they offered to me.  Yes, my body ached on Monday (and Tuesday too) but I like the feeling of testing my body and learning to adapt to the limitations that I now have.  After all I’m in it for the long haul.  However, for me the words “polish the spirit” really ring true.  The basics really extend not just to techniques and training but also to developing and renewing friendships, camaraderie, and the shared excitement of friends getting promotions.  All of these activities are polishing (and rekindling) the spirit.

I want to thank Frank Apodaca Sensei and Neilu Naini Sensei for bringing this seminar on “the Basics” to Clallam Aikikai.  I could not have enjoyed it more.

 

Sprains and Strains; understand and rehabilitate

By Mike Doren

With introduction by Suzane Van Amburgh, Multnomah Aikikai

Have you ever incurred a strain or sprain? What’s the difference really and what can one do about it? 

IMG_2786 copyDuring an intensive training session we sometimes push a little harder, reach a little farther and an injury can occur.

After a period of intensive training (such as Aikido summer camp), there is also a risk of suffering an injury as you return to your regular training schedule. Even regular daily activities can trigger an injury after a period of intensive training. People often report that they were “doing nothing” at the time they incurred the injury. After further inquiry it is revealed that the person recently engaged in intensive physical activity or an unusual use of self (eg. we moved last weekend or I went white water rafting for the first time).

Whether you have an injury now or you recently trained intensively, I encourage you to read this excellent article below by my colleague Mike Doren.

Along with being a Guild Certified Feldenkrais® Practitioner, Mike’s background in construction, mechanics, bodybuilding, martial arts, and professional marksmanship provides a deep knowledge base to draw from, regarding the physical/mechanical aspects of the work. Learn more about Mike Doren at: http://www.feldenkraisinstitutenw.com/Michael_E_Doren.html 

posted by Suzane Van Amburgh, GCFP, 5th dan, shidoin, Multnomah Aikikai

Sprains and Strains

By Mike Doren

Sprains are injuries that affect ligaments. They occur in response to a stretch or tear of a ligament. Sprains are an acute type of injury that results from trauma such as a fall or outside force that displaces the surrounding joint from its normal alignment. Sprains can range from a mild ligament stretch to a complete tear. Bruising, swelling, instability, and painful movement are common symptoms experienced after a sprain occurs.

Sprains occur most often in the ankles, knees or the arches of the feet. Sprained ligaments swell rapidly and are painful. Generally, the greater the pain is, the more severe the injury is. For most minor sprains, you can probably treat the injury yourself. If you heard a popping sound at the time of the injury, have a fever or aren’t improving within a couple of days, seek medical treatment because inadequate or delayed treatment may cause long-term joint instability or chronic pain.

Strains are injuries that affect muscles or tendons. They occur in response to a quick tear, twist, or pull of the muscle. Strains are an acute type of injury that results from overstretching or over contraction. Pain, weakness, and muscle spasms are common symptoms experienced after a strain occurs.

What Causes a Sprain? 

A sprain can result from a fall, a sudden twist, or a blow to the body that forces a joint out of its normal position and stretches or tears the ligament supporting that joint. Typically, sprains occur when people fall and land on an outstretched arm, slide into a baseball base, land on the side of their foot, or twist a knee with the foot planted firmly on the ground.

Where Do Sprains Usually Occur? 

Although sprains can occur in both the upper and lower parts of the body, the most common site is the ankle. More than 25,000 individuals sprain an ankle each day in the United States.

The ankle joint is supported by several lateral (outside) ligaments and medial (inside) ligaments. Most ankle sprains happen when the foot turns inward as a person runs, turns, falls, or lands on the ankle after a jump. This type of sprain is called an inversion injury. The knee is another common site for a sprain. A blow to the knee or a fall is often the cause; sudden twisting can also result in a sprain.

Sprains frequently occur at the wrist, typically when people fall and land on an outstretched hand. A sprain to the thumb is common in skiing and other sports. This injury often occurs when a ligament near the base of the thumb (the ulnar collateral ligament of the metacarpo-phalangeal joint) is torn.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Sprain?

The usual signs and symptoms include pain, swelling, bruising, instability, and loss of the ability to move and use the joint (called functional ability). However, these signs and symptoms can vary in intensity, depending on the severity of the sprain. Sometimes people feel a pop or tear when the injury happens.

A grade I or mild sprain is caused by overstretching or slight tearing of the ligaments with no joint instability. A person with a mild sprain usually experiences minimal pain, swelling, and little or no loss of functional ability. Bruising is absent or slight, and the person is usually able to put weight on the affected joint.

A grade II or moderate sprain is caused by further, but still incomplete, tearing of the ligament and is characterized by bruising, moderate pain, and swelling. A person with a moderate sprain usually has more difficulty putting weight on the affected joint and experiences some loss of function. An x ray may be needed to help the health care provider determine if a fracture is causing the pain and swelling. Magnetic resonance imaging is occasionally used to help differentiate between a significant partial injury and a complete tear in a ligament, or can be recommended to rule out other injuries.

People who sustain a grade III or severe sprain completely tear or rupture a ligament. Pain, swelling, and bruising are usually severe, and the patient is unable to put weight on the joint. An x ray is usually taken to rule out a broken bone. When diagnosing any sprain, the provider will ask the patient to explain how the injury happened. He or she will examine the affected area and check its stability and its ability to move and bear weight.

When to See a Doctor for a Sprain

•You have severe pain and cannot put any weight on the injured joint.

•The injured area looks crooked or has lumps and bumps (other than swelling) that you do not see on the uninjured joint.

•You cannot move the injured joint.

•You cannot walk more than four steps without significant pain.

•Your limb buckles or gives way when you try to use the joint.

•You have numbness in any part of the injured area.

•You see redness or red streaks spreading out from the injury.

•You injure an area that has been injured several times before.

•You have pain, swelling, or redness over a bony part of your foot.

•You are in doubt about the seriousness of the injury or how to care for it.

What Causes a Strain?

A strain is caused by twisting or pulling a muscle or tendon. Strains can be acute or chronic. An acute strain is associated with a recent trauma or injury; it also can occur after improperly lifting heavy objects or overstressing the muscles. Chronic strains are usually the result of overuse: prolonged, repetitive movement of the muscles and tendons.

Where Do Strains Usually Occur?

Two common sites for a strain are the back and the hamstring muscle (located in the back of the thigh). Contact sports such as soccer, football, hockey, boxing, and wrestling put people at risk for strains. Gymnastics, tennis, rowing, golf, and other sports that require extensive gripping can increase the risk of hand and forearm strains. Elbow strains sometimes occur in people who participate in racquet sports, throwing, and contact sports.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of a Strain?

Typically, people with a strain experience pain, limited motion, muscle spasms, and possibly muscle weakness. They can also have localized swelling, cramping, or inflammation and, with a minor or moderate strain, usually some loss of muscle function. Patients typically have pain in the injured area and general weakness of the muscle when they attempt to move it. Severe strains that partially or completely tear the muscle or tendon are often very painful and disabling.

How Are Sprains and Strains Treated?

Reduce Swelling and Pain

Treatments for sprains and strains are similar and can be thought of as having two stages. The goal during the first stage is to reduce swelling and pain. The sooner you treat the sprain, the sooner you will recover. Take a hint from the pros: By getting immediate attention, they are back out there in a matter of days. If you do nothing, keep playing and then put some ice on your ankle later that night, you will end up with a sprain that can take weeks or months to heal properly. Most of the damage from a sprain comes from the swelling. Your main goal is to reduce swelling as much as possible, and to do that, every second counts. It’s also helpful to use an nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medication to help control inflammation. Studies have found that patients using NSAIDs after ankle sprains had less pain, decreased swelling, and a more rapid return to activity than those who didn’t take any medication.

For people with a moderate or severe sprain, particularly of the ankle, a hard cast may be applied. This often occurs after the initial swelling has subsided. Severe sprains and strains may require surgery to repair the torn ligaments, muscle, or tendons. Surgery is usually performed by an orthopedic surgeon.

It is important that moderate and severe sprains and strains be evaluated by a health care provider to allow prompt, appropriate treatment to begin. This box lists some signs that should alert people to consult their provider. However, a person who has any concerns about the seriousness of a sprain or strain should always contact a provider for advice.

Begin Rehabilitation

The second stage of treating a sprain or strain is rehabilitation, the overall goal is to improve the condition of the injured area and restore its function. The health care provider will prescribe an exercise program designed to prevent stiffness, improve range of motion, and restore the joint’s normal flexibility and strength. Some patients may need physical therapy during this stage. When the acute pain and swelling have diminished, the provider will instruct the patient to do a series of exercises several times a day. These are very important because they help reduce swelling, prevent stiffness, and restore normal, pain-free range of motion. The provider can recommend many different types of exercises, depending on the injury. A patient with an injured knee or foot will work on weight-bearing and balancing exercises. The duration of the program depends on the extent of the injury, but the regimen commonly lasts for several weeks.

Another goal of rehabilitation is to increase strength and regain flexibility. Depending on the patient’s rate of recovery, this process begins about the second week after the injury. The provider will instruct the patient to do a series of exercises designed to meet these goals. During this phase of rehabilitation, patients progress to more demanding exercises as pain decreases and function improves.

The final goal is the return to full daily activities, including sports when appropriate. Patients must work closely with their health care provider or physical therapist to determine their readiness to return to full activity. Sometimes people are tempted to resume full activity or play sports despite pain or muscle soreness. Returning to full activity before regaining normal range of motion, flexibility, and strength increases the chance of reinjury and may lead to a chronic problem.

The amount of rehabilitation and the time needed for full recovery after a sprain or strain depend on the severity of the injury and individual rates of healing. For example, a mild ankle sprain may require up to 3 to 6 weeks of rehabilitation; a moderate sprain could require 2 to 3 months. With a severe sprain, it can take up to 8 to 12 months to return to full activities. Extra care should be taken to avoid reinjury.

RICE Therapy

Rest
Reduce regular exercise or activities of daily living as needed. Your health care provider may advise you to put no weight on an injured area for 48 hours. If you cannot put weight on an ankle or knee, crutches may help. If you use a cane or one crutch for an ankle injury, use it on the uninjured side to help you lean away and relieve weight on the injured ankle.

• Ice
Apply an ice pack to the injured area for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times a day. A cold pack, ice bag, or plastic bag filled with crushed ice and wrapped in a towel can be used. To avoid cold injury and frostbite, do not apply the ice for more than 20 minutes.

• Compression
Compression of an injured ankle, knee, or wrist may help reduce swelling. Examples of compression bandages are elastic wraps, special boots, air casts, and splints. Ask your provider for advice on which one to use, and how tight to safely apply the bandage.

• Elevation
If possible, keep the injured ankle, knee, elbow, or wrist elevated on a pillow, above the level of the heart, to help decrease swelling.

Nutritional and Herbal Therapy for Muscle Strain and Sprain

Vitamin C (250 to 500 mg two times a day) is important for keeping collagen, ligaments and tendons strong. It helps reduce swelling, repair tissue, support connective tissue and promote proper healing.

• Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation which is important for strains and sprains.

• Bromelain (250 to 500 mg three times a day between meals) can help reduce swelling.

• Turmeric (250 to 500 mg three times a day between meals). If taken with bromelain, it can make the effect of bromelain stronger.

• Zinc (15 to 30 mg a day) promotes wound and tissue repair and is very important for bone health.

•Be sure get enough protein in your diet

• Calcium (1,000 mg a day)  and magnesium (500 mg a day) are very important for bone and muscle health.

•There are some very good Chinese herbal patent formulas that help reduce inflammation and swelling and promote healing: Jin Gu Die Da Wan 

•For pain relief, the Chinese herbal plaster, Shang Shi Zhi Tong Gao, is very effective.

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Grass Valley Aikikai says, “Take care of yourselves, don’t be like us!”

 

 

 

 

Interview with Kazuo Chiba Shihan

This is an interesting interview of Chiba Sensei (by Stan Pranin) that was recently posted in the Aikido Journal.

By STANLEY PRANIN

A Historical Interview with Kazuo Chiba Shihan

(February 5, 1940 – June 5, 2015)

As a young man of eighteen, Kazuo Chiba took one look at a photograph of Morihei Ueshiba in a book and knew that his search for a true master of budo had ended. Now 8th dan and chief instructor at the San Diego Aikikai, Chiba recounts episodes from his years as an uchideshi, and provides a detailed explanation of the concept of shu-ha-ri, as well as explaining his own view of the modern aikido world.

Aikido Journal: Sensei, I understand that you began martial arts with judo and later switched to aikido.  Perhaps you could tell us about the way things were in those days?

 

IMG_0660A young Kazuo Chiba

Kazuo Chiba:   Well, I liked budo quite a bit, especially judo. One day I happened to find myself in a situation where I had to fight a match with one of my seniors who was a nidan. He was a fine person who had taught me quite a bit about judo ever since I first entered the dojo, and he had been good to me in matters outside the dojo as well. He had a small body but he did marvelous judo, and could throw larger opponents without using any power. He used a lot of taiotoshi (body drop) and yokosutemi (side sacrifice) throws of a caliber you don’t see much anymore. He was very fast, too.  He used to beat me all the time, but then…………..

To read the full article click on the link  https://aikidojournal.com/2004/04/26/interview-with-kazuo-chiba-1/

Biran Online wishes to thank Josh Gold Sensei for graciously giving permission to excerpt and link to the Aikido Journal.

November 2017 Seminar with Frank Apodaca Sensei, Shihan, at Clallam Aikikai

By James Burtle, Clallam Aikikai

I first met and trained with Frank Apodaca Sensei in Michigan in 2002. He had established and was then operating Mid-Michigan Aikikai in East Lansing, MI. I had recently moved to Ann Arbor, MI, two hours drive from East Lansing, and had had the good fortune there to meet and train under Rodger Park Sensei, my root teacher, at Huron Valley Aikikai.

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From 2002-2004 I benefited greatly from regular group training with these two dojos and consider Apodaca Sensei’s instruction an inseparable compliment to the excellent foundational instruction that I received from Park Sensei then in the early years of my martial arts training. These two teachers consistently demonstrated friendship, deep respect for each other and for students, and a high level of technical instruction. They also happen to both be great guys!

I am currently a member of Clallam Aikikai, in Carlsborg, WA, benefitting from the vast experience and excellent instruction of Neilu Naini Sensei. Due to her efforts, our dojo was lucky enough to recently host a full weekend seminar lead by Frank Apodaca Sensei, Shihan.

When I consider the teaching style of Apodaca Sensei as I have experienced it, I am first inspired to comment on the relaxed, confident power that he so gently, and effectively, displays. His mat presence inspires me to give more fully of myself in training. He is always smiling. His utilization of illustrative example from walking life, and especially from other martial arts, helps to open and deepen Aikido study; His instruction is always rich with just the right amount of technical information to perfectly compliment established, overarching themes.

James Burtle AIkido image 1Some highlights I (hopefully) took away from Apodaca Sensei’s recent instruction at Clallam Aikikai include:  A detailed description of the importance of knee/forearm cross-substantiality necessary to soften and protect the affected shoulder while taking ukemi during ikkyo and kata gatame, and how this positioning preserves mobility and increases safety; On cutting, to cultivate the relaxed “zero point” also crucial to accurately discharging a firearm, or throwing an effective punch;  and the necessity of full, dynamic balance taking in ki no nagare.

Apodaca Sensei reminded us that self-care is of paramount importance as we work to maintain our bodies and bring longevity to our training. A generous section of seminar instruction was dedicated to the application of a Systema method of partnered whole body muscle/nerve therapy. Like many members of our community, managing chronic pain and acute injury is an ever present part of my personal practice. I am always encouraged and refreshed when this aspect of martial art is addressed directly on the mat, and especially by an instructor of such high level.

Off of the mat, Apodaca Sensei’s unassuming, approachable personality greatly contributes to a warm, welcoming sense of community. This feeling, in my opinion, indicates good health among a group of practitioners and is an excellent example of the potential to enrich human relationships through the martial arts.

A huge “Thank you!” to Sensei for traveling across the country to be with us in Washington for the weekend! Please return as soon as you are able! And to aikidoka not already aware, absolutely do not miss any opportunity that you may have to benefit from the instruction and example of Apodaca Sensei.

Women’s Camp Addresses Important Topic

By Sarah Cuevas, Grass Valley Aikikai

In September I was fortunate to have the experience of attending the Women’s Aikido Camp in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The travel to the event was a story all on its own. Missed flights, multiple rerouted gates, and lengthy wait times (an extra 8 hours), were just some of the events that made the travel to Camp a hilarious story. However, my experience of Camp outweighed the travel to and fro. As I usually do when attending an event, I made an agreement with myself to let go of expectations. Life is too unpredictable to come loaded with desire. I had never been to an all women’s anything before (with the exception of a few girls’ nights here and there, but nothing of this magnitude). So I arrived with an open heart and mind and an intention to train hard and do my best.

Our rerouted travel kept us from attending the first evening class. We arrived by shuttle in the dark, to the retreat center where Camp was held. Showed to our room by Varjan Sensei herself, we were delighted to discover comfy beds and cozy furnishings. A good night’s sleep was definitely in store for myself and my dojo mate, Marci Martinez. The next morning we awoke to a perfect view of the high desert, and then were even more astounded by the breakfast buffet. After homemade granola, fresh greek yogurt, organic fruits and juice options, good coffee, scrambled eggs with meat or vegetarian options, we practically rolled ourselves back up to our rooms to dress and go to the dojo.

The dojo was a simple yet quality setup in the gym of the retreat center, with long, tall windows at the top for great natural light, and doors at either end to keep the air flowing. I walked in noticing the calm air. Not the calm-before-the-storm kind of calm, more like the quiet peace you find after the space of meditation. There was an inherent unhurried-ness coupled with the power of being a martial arena. Being one of the first to arrive on the mat, I noticed the energy shift as more women arrived. Having no expectations, I observed, interested to see how this was going to play out. Turns out, it began seemingly no different than a seminar where our brothers were in attendance. We lined, up, we bowed, we entered training with a confirmed sense of martial awareness. With skilled teaching, precision ukemi, and a relatively crowded mat, we trained hard. Technique followed technique, one after another, sweat abounding and egos aside, we trained in body arts and weapons.

Stretching my back to warm up before the morning class.

Stretching my back to warm up during the morning class. Nage: Sherri Waldman, Rhode Island Aikikai

It wasn’t until someone triggered a recognition in my head by saying, “So this is what it feels like when there is no testosterone on the mat” that I even noticed a difference in the energy of the room. There was a difference: a subtle, yet powerful, transcendence of this hormonal variation. It is challenging for me to describe, because it didn’t feel like anything was lacking, and it didn’t feel like an abundance of estrogen either. It just felt, well, softer. When I say softer, I don’t mean less martial, or easier training. I refer to a feminine energy, the type of energy you feel when you know you are being cared for and supported, yet held to a high standard, like that of a grandmother with her grandchild. Yet there certainly remained a requirement for all present to challenge themselves in their training, an element inherent to progression, regardless of gender, or of the gender of training partners.

Throughout the remainder of Camp, we went in this fashion: delectable meals, phenomenal teaching, sweaty gi, heavy sleep. We had some nights with evening discussion. It seemed a communal agreement that group meetings were something we could take with us back to our home dojos, and to our greater Aikido community.

Many topics were discussed, but there seemed to be much discussion around misogyny. I should comment that after hearing some of the stories that my fellow women Aikidoka have experienced, I feel grateful to not have had the circumstance of discrimination alive in my dojo or at any seminar I have attended. However, it was an obvious issue for other women, leaving me surprised at the reality of it. Male students and teachers have always been fair-minded towards me, however it seems not the same way for all women. Please don’t misunderstand and come to the conclusion that this was a man-hating event. There were many topics discussed, but because of the alarming nature of this topic, I choose to write about it. Due to my own ignorance, naivety, or both, I had never thought that women were managing discrimination in this way. Out of respect for the women attendees, I won’t go into details, but there were a range of patterns and actions brought up. I think it is enough to just mention it in this platform, to bring awareness to the topic. It seems likely to me, that after merely reading that misogyny is an issue for some of your fellow Aikidoka, that the reader will bring this awareness to the mat with a heightened sensitivity for fair minded-ness. That is all I am asking here, for the blessing of bringing awareness to training. Training is already challenging, let us keep it as simple as it can be without adding any friction to it. O’ Sensei instructs, “Training should always be conducted in a pleasant and joyful atmosphere.” With this in mind, it may be easy to maintain his request, because with any type of discrimination comes the difficulty of managing the response. Let us be easy on ourselves and each other, free from bias and judgments, allowing each person their right to train in a safe and joyous environment.

Warrior mode

Warrior mode

After four days of amazing training, Marci and I headed back to the airport. Thinking we would arrive with no problems, our shuttle ran out of gas on the highway. Ironically, our rescue shuttle, once we were all loaded up, would not start. We joked about how our travel was cursed this trip, when all of a sudden, after half an hour of waiting on the rescue shuttle, and half an hour of sitting idle with the clock ticking to get to our flight on time, the shuttle van miraculously started. We arrived with literally five minutes to spare, made our flight, and nestled into the plane hilariously awaiting another debacle. But the trip home was fine with no other events. With a head full of new techniques, new friendships and life lessons, I returned home a happy Aikidoka.

Women’s Aikido Camp: “An Experience of Intensity, Joy, and Sisterhood”

By Rosa Mitchell, North County Aikikai

Why did I go to Women’s Aikido Camp? To be honest, I went mostly for the location. I looked at the pictures of the Immaculate Heart of Mary Retreat Center, and thought a few days in Santa Fe, New Mexico would be a well-deserved “escapadita” (little escape), as we say in my family. Also, as a newbie, the idea of going to Summer Camp had just been too intimidating and I thought that Women’s Camp, with its smaller size, could serve as an introduction of sorts: a way to jump in, but maybe not too deeply.

We arrived at the retreat center with only a few minutes to spare before the first class. I scrambled to get my gi on and rushed back to the gym. As all the women began to line up, we were instructed by Varjan Sensei to do so in order of rank. This required us to talk to one another to find our place. There was no need for this shy girl to talk to anyone. As a 5th kyu, I just needed to go to the back at the end of the line, easy! When we all settled down, I looked down the rows at all the women in hakama, and the enormity of the situation settled on me and brought me to tears. The sound of all the female voices as we said our onegai shimasu in unison filled the gym and filled me with an unexpected joy.

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photo by Karen Hamilton

In trying to describe why it was so different to train with only women, it is easy to jump to stereotypes, all of which are completely inadequate to describe what I saw and experienced. All these weeks later and I still haven’t been able to put my finger on what the difference was exactly, but I can say that I loved every minute. I can tell you that the encounters on the mat were intense and sincere, but also filled with love and so much joy.

Yes, the classes were amazing, but I haven’t been to a seminar yet where that wasn’t true. So, what was different? Maybe it was just the opportunity to see what I can become. It may have been just being in a room full of bad ass women and feeling that if I work hard, I can be like them. Maybe it was being told by a very open and powerful woman, that this little shy girl can become open and powerful. It probably had something to do with Graham Sensei telling the kyu ranks that it was time to inhabit the front row and know that we deserve to be there. It may also have been that while a mat full of men can sometimes feel intimidating, a mat full of women felt welcoming and empowering. I’m still not sure what it was exactly, but for me it was magical. I can tell you I found something in my Aikido practice that I didn’t know was missing, and I can tell you that I will be at the next Women’s Aikido Camp.

In the world of surfing, we seem to get a particular joy out of telling people that they missed it. We don’t share our secret spots lest they get too crowded. But this I will shout from the rooftops. Ladies, if you missed it, or if you hesitated for any reason; the next one is not to be missed! Go for the location, go for the local spas, go to get away for a few days, whatever your reason is, just go!

To my male training partners, I can’t say I missed you, but I will say that I thought of you often. I kept thinking that I would like you to experience this too. I know what you are thinking: “Summer Camp… not Women’s Camp.” But what I wish is that you could experience “Women’s Aikido Camp” so you could experience the intensity, the joy, and the sisterhood with me. Guys, while I can’t arrange an invitation for you, I can promise you that I will do my best to train with the intensity and the loving spirit that I felt in Santa Fe.

 

Acupuncture, Actually: A Practical Look at Qi and ‘Energy’

By Grace Rollins, Bucks County Aikido

Paolo Propato and Grace Rollins, licensed acupuncturists at Bridge Acupuncture, discuss the energetics of acupuncture and what it’s like to work and train in their field of Chinese medicine.

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Paolo: What is qi?
Grace: Many people think of qi as “energy”, but I think that’s too materialistic of a translation. Qi is basically a very useful term that sums up complex processes that together create recognizable phenomena in the body. If you try to think of qi as some kind of literal substance or force you’re just going to frustrate people interested in scientific backing; you won’t find a measurable “energy” that corresponds to what people who practice Asian medicine are talking about.

“Qi” for acupuncturists is “weather” as it relates to the body. Weather is electromagnetic and gravitational relationships between elements and molecules; it’s pressure dynamics,
thermodynamics, radiation; it’s many processes, all overlapping and influencing each other. We can study it, characterize it and make predictions about it. The same way that we recognize many patterns in weather, we learn how to recognize patterns in qi, so we can influence bodily functions and promote health.

P: What do acupuncture methods actually do?
G: The traditional answer is that they stimulate special points that harmonize qi in the body, thereby promoting proper function and health. Scientifically, stimulating acupuncture points with needles and moxa has been shown to generate complex responses.

Needling causes distortions in chains of connective tissue throughout the body, which linkdifferent muscle groups, joints and organs. It also fires nerve endings that light up vastly
different areas of the brain and spinal cord. Acupuncture causes an electrical distortion in the body’s electromagnetic field—you’re putting a metal needle into an ionic solution (the body) which immediately creates an electrical polarity. The micro-injury caused by needling and moxa heat is also a very powerful method of stimulating the immune system and cytokines (chemical messengers). Plus, with acupuncture needles you can physically loosen tight muscle and connective tissue to release restrictions and improve blood flow.

I think one of the challenges in studying acupuncture scientifically is that its methods do so
much, all at once. One exact mechanism eludes us. That’s why, even though I have a very
scientifically oriented mind, I still prefer the traditional Chinese and Japanese pre-scientific
theoretical concepts. We still haven’t discovered a better way to describe the complex
processes happening here.

P: What makes acupuncture unique compared to other modalities that work with the subtle energy of the body?
G: Acupuncture is old, people! Over 2,500 years old! Moxibustion, the practice of heating
acupoints with the ember of dried mugwort, is even older. So even though acupuncture is
dealing with complexities that resist the scientific method, it has withstood a very important test with its continued use over such a long period of time.
A good scientist remains open-minded to the things that science doesn’t yet have the tools to measure and explain. That applies to a lot of what happens in healing. But that doesn’t mean you have to be open-minded to everything. Innovation is good. It helps our medicine get better and better, but with a methodology that is mainly observational, you have to be careful not to be led astray.

For this reason, I approach change cautiously, and I gravitate toward Japanese acupuncture, which monitors feedback during the session. We’re always checking diagnostic qualities in the pulse, the abdomen or a symptomatic area for signs that our treatments are having the desired effect. Vetting my methods this way gives me confidence.

P: What are you feeling for before, during and after needling?
G: Patients like to ask me if I can “feel the energy,” and if you think of it like qi, the summation of complex processes, then the answer is absolutely yes. We rely on touch, smell, sight and sound to collect information about the patient—especially touch in Japanese acupuncture. If I have to wear a Band-Aid on just one finger, I feel like I have a hand tied behind my back—it affects what I can feel.

Before needling, I’m feeling diagnostically for areas of restriction, imbalance and dysfunction in the patient. This might be structural, as in certain muscle groups or vertebral bodies that are too tight, twisted or compressed. Often internal imbalances will also be represented by certain qualities in the pulse, on the tongue or in reflective zones of the abdomen and back. For example, cardiac problems often show up with specific tender points on the upper torso and back.

Next I’m feeling for an appropriate point location; there are traditional anatomical locations as well as certain qualities that identify a “live” point. Depending on the point, it might be a
recessed area, a tight spot, a tender spot, thicker skin or connective tissue—qualities that
indicate a more effective point. When I insert the needle, there is a feeling I seek that
acupuncturists call the “arrival of qi”. To me it’s like a density on the end of the needle, like it’s connected well. Learning to recognize it is part of our craft.

After needling I will re-check the diagnostic signs to see if the acupuncture was successful at balancing the qi. If I did a good job there should be signs of improvement; if not, I might need another point, or a different one, or to add moxa, for example.

I’m also feeling the qi of the person as a whole. This is the intuitive part, synthesizing the input from all of my senses.

P: How do you cultivate the necessary skills?
G: I started studying acupuncture at the same time I started studying Aikido and Zen meditation.  Like acupuncture, Aikido trains the various senses of the body to harmonize with another person’s qi. These practices help me to be more centered and attuned to my patients, and to myself.

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An invaluable part of my training is a regular apprenticeship with the acupuncture master Kiiko Matsumoto. I spend at least two or three weeks a year shadowing her here and in Japan, taking in practical knowledge as well as the qi of her practice—the complex combination of qualities that allow her to be a dynamic, effective practitioner.

Taking my own health seriously is also a critical way that I stay attuned to the balance of qi in others. I believe in it, I live it! I work on my posture throughout the day and study how to move in a way that’s healthy and efficient. I try to eat in a way that’s balanced ecologically, that doesn’t do me harm and that fills me with vitality. I get outdoors and experience the natural world to help keep those areas of my consciousness and humanity alive. I meditate, do yoga and exercise a lot, and I try to play and have fun. Last but not least, I get regular acupuncture!

Bridge Acupuncture, located at 30 Garden Alley, in Doylestown, is a Legacy Advertising partner of Natural Awakenings of Bucks and Montgomery Counties.

To schedule an appointment with Paolo Propato or Grace Rollins, call 215-348-8058 or visit BridgeAcupuncture.com.

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.

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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, kvarjan@gmail.com

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

Summer Camp Announcement

 

Summer Camp 2018 is officially booked!

We are pleased to announce that Birankai Summer Camp 2018 will again be held at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wa. Training dates are Friday, July 20th- Wednesday, July 25th. There is an early check in option for Thursday July 19th, giving our Aikidoka an opportunity to allow for extra travel time, exploring the Tacoma/Seattle area, or taking a day of rest before our training begin. First classes begin July 20th, 2018.

You may check for camp updates on the camp website: Summer Camp 2018

We look forward to another great year of training and community. Thank you all for making our annual Summer Camp a phenomenal experience for all!

Womens Aikido Camp Experience

By Lynne Morrison Florida Aikikai

“Inspiration” comes up for me when I remember the 2017 Women’s Camp. The inspiration, the “breath” of Aikido I experienced in my practice with all of you. I took a wrist and felt the gentle wind in the trees. I took a wrist and felt the wild rushing of a mountain waterfall. I took a wrist and felt the raw deep earth. I took a wrist and heard the sweet song of birds.  I took a wrist and felt the fierce struggle of a new bloom. Aikido living in so many forms within generations of women practitioners. Each woman, grateful for their individual teachers, and mentors. Each woman making Aikido her own.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.