Footwork First in the Mountains

Frank Apodaca Shihan at the 2018 Mountain Weapons Seminar.

Thirty students gathered at Grass Valley Aikikai Chief Instructor Cecilia Ramos Sensei’s home, ten acres ten miles into the Sierra Nevada mountains, for the 2018 Mountain Weapons Seminar with Frank Apodaca Shihan of Deep River Aikikai. We were pleased to host students from San Diego Aikikai, Summit Aikikai, Alameda Aikikai, and Aikido Institute of San Francisco, along with visitors from Chico.

The importance of correct usage of the feet and twisting movements, was the theme of the day. With jyo in the morning and bokken in the afternoon, basic strikes and movements were reviewed. There were beginners and youth, so the material was appropriate for their level, yet by the end, the senior students realized the teaching was thoughtful and presented a deep understanding that Apodaca Sensei has developed through his personal training.

After the last class, kids and dogs went swimming. Then the make-your-own pizza party got started! Afterward, some people had to get home, but lots stayed for a campfire and conversation. The next morning those that were still around had an unplanned class at the dojo. It was interesting to apply the footwork and twisting themes from the day before to body arts.

The day before the seminar Apodaca Sensei visited Grass Valley Aikikai and conducted a shodan test for Marci Martinez, who passed. We were so happy to include out of town guests and all visit together over tacos at the dojo.

Looking back, we realized that while we officially hosted a one day seminar, that in reality it turned into a three day event. So we decided next year we should just turn it into a proper three day seminar – Friday night, all day Saturday, Sunday morning! We invited Apodaca Sensei to come again and he said he would! So make your plans – probably next year the weekend after Father’s Day. Why not make a vacation of it? Bring your family and spend a week seeing the sights and enjoying the beautiful Sierras. Do come if you can. Everyone is welcome.

Calling All Teachers

Birankai Aikido Instructors Intensive in California, 2012. This year’s intensive is in Upstate New York May 18-20; the theme is “Kihon,” or the building blocks of our training.

How do I attract new members? What is the best platform to fundraise for new mats? How can I get more from my dues-payment system? What is a good strategy for teaching Sansho?  We have a lot of experience in our organization – and we have a lot of know-how to share.

“Grow Your Dojo” is the focus of our new Birankai Aikido Teachers news blast, a monthly rundown of tips and real-world experience from instructors across the continent (and beyond, we hope). We’ve also started a closed Facebook group to encourage discussion and sharing of videos, news items and other media with the goal of supporting and encouraging each other in trying to transmit Chiba Sensei’s Aikido.

All Birankai Aikido teachers in North America, Europe and beyond are welcome to take part and join the discussion: Email liese.klein@gmail.com if Continue reading “Calling All Teachers”

A New Path in the Wood

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  • You are not alone.
  • With hard work and study, you can practice Chiba Sensei’s Aikido at the highest level.
  • As part of a strong and supportive community, you can pass on the essence of Chiba Sensei’s Aikido to the next generation.

That was part of the powerful message of this past weekend’s Birankai Instructors’ Intensive in Wisconsin. It was an incredible experience, full of collaboration, intense study and real progress in our collective goal of keeping Birankai Aikido vital and true to the essence of Chiba Sensei’s project.IMG_5901

(More reports will be posted soon on the event in this blog and in the print issue of Biran, along with a quick-cut video I’m putting together set to “Eye of the Tiger”…)

Personally, I didn’t have a clear idea of what to expect going into the Instructor’s Intensive and I harbored plenty of skepticism, if not dread. Much more of my mindspace as the weekend approached was occupied by concerns about wolverines, a dry campus and three days of healthy food than martial spirit, curriculum or pedagogy.

Cheese foodLuckily, Wisconsin “cheese food” was soon on hand to supplement my diet and I turned my focus to the radical paradigm shift occurring in front of me on the mats and lawns at the House in the Wood.

With full acknowledgment of and respect for teachers who chose to focus on their own dojos and methods, the Intensive offered a new model in which a coalition of the willing apply their energy and humility to the needs of the larger body of Birankai instructors.

We took on the most basic of the basics – suburi, strikes, fundamental movements in weapons training – and worked together as senior and junior teachers to first clarify the martial objectives of each movement, then explore the many approaches used by Chiba Sensei over the years to embody these martial intentions. Finally, we put our heads together to form strategies to bring everyone’s level up and practiced, practiced, practiced.

Roo Heins, Rodger Park, Neilu Naini, Deena Drake, Alex Peterson and I acted as group IMG_5909facilitators more than ultimate authorities passing judgment from on high, keeping the focus on improving our training as an inclusive group and keeping the energy up. Shihans Lizzy Lynn and Maureen Brown kept us honest and on task.

Chiba Sensei was there in our hearts at every moment.

Seeing the passion, perseverance IMG_5891and grit of our fellow instructors – most of whom I hadn’t gotten to know much at all before this weekend – I fully expect the next exemplar of Chiba Sensei’s Aikido to come from Muskogee, Lansing or Providence.

As I yearned for cheese food overnight in the deserted Philly airport on the way home, thoughts of the Intensive kept running through my mind:

  • As part of a strong and supportive community, you can pass on Chiba Sensei’s Aikido to the next generation.
  • With hard work and study, you can practice Chiba Sensei’s Aikido at the highest level.
  • You are not alone.

L. Klein

Editor’s note: Thanks to R.C. Miles for the great panorama photo at the top of the page. If anyone has more good photos or video, let me know!

Weapons in the Park

Archie Champion Shihan of Central Coast Aikikai and Dennis Belt Shihan of Ventura Aikikai got together this weekend once again to teach what has become a semi-annual “Weapons in the Park” class in Ventura, Calif.
Much emphasis was placed by both instructors on NOT being mechanical in our weapons work. Students were reminded  to “know what you are doing and why you are doing it” and to “be able to respond to whatever comes.”
Much thanks to both shihan for donating their time.  And speaking of being able to respond to whatever comes, we actually got a little bit of rain (hallelujah!) while in the park.  It wasn’t nearly enough to end our drought here in California, but it felt good all the same.
(More videos at the BiranOnline channel on Youtube.)
– Pat Belt, Ventura Aikikai
Editor’s note: Also check out the video below of Pat Belt Sensei of Ventura Aikikai, the latest in our “Women of Birankai” video series. Keep those videos coming!

Chiba Sensei on weapons

One of Chiba Sensei’s many gifts to the Aikido community has been his weapons system, and we teachers vowed to further polish and emphasize our bokken and jo work at this year’s Birankai Summer Camp.

Below is the full text of an essay by Chiba Sensei first published in a 1999 issue of our Birankai newsletter. Also posted here for the first time are videos from Chiba Sensei’s advanced weapons class at the 2011 Birankai Regional Seminar at Long Mountain Aikido in Granby, Mass. (The second video is at the bottom of the text.)

Also be sure to check out the great videos from a personal collection being posted in recent weeks on the Facebook page of Sonoran Aikikai.

Then get out there and pick up your weapons!

L. Klein

The Position of Weapons Training In Aikido

A Consideration of the Unity of Body and Sword

By T.K. Chiba

Many people have asked me about the relationship between body arts and weapons training in Aikido. Most of those questions were influenced by the opinion (either positive or negative) towards weapons training by professional Aikido teachers, both those who positively incorporate weapons training in their Aikido practice and those who do not. These opposing practices inevitably create confusion among Aikido practitioners Continue reading “Chiba Sensei on weapons”