Introduction to a Collection of Essays by T.K. Chiba

By Darrell Bluhm, Founder and Chief Instructor, Siskiyou Aikikai and BNA Senior Council Representative to Hombu Dojo

Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a future book presenting Chiba Sensei’s extensive writings on aikido, some of which will be republished in Biran Online over the coming year.

In traditional Japanese artistic disciplines such as Budo, it is understood that the teacher/student relationship is the means through which the transmission of the art (or Way) occurs:  the art is transmitted directly from the body/mind of the teacher to that of the student.  The articles in this collection of writings by Aikido master Kazuo Chiba must be understood in this context.  The wisdom expressed here emerges from the effort to transmit the art of Aikido — not in the abstract, but as a living breathing force from one person to another.  The commitment and passion that characterizes Chiba Sensei’s  teaching can be found in part in these writings, but the reader unfamiliar with the master himself should try to appreciate the intensely physical and personal nature of his life’s work.  Those of us fortunate enough to have studied directly with Chiba Sensei knew that he taught by example and through his ability to recognize each of us as a unique being.

The word sensei, Japanese for teacher, literally means “one who walks on the path before me”.  Chiba Sensei embodies this.  When I first began training with Chiba Sensei upon his arrival in San Diego in 1981, we practiced in a yoga studio that required us to put down and pick up the tatami mats before and after each class and clean the hardwood floors with damp rags. The latter was accomplished by holding the rag to the floor with both hands and then running across the floor, pushing the rag from behind, back and forth until the surface was clean. This was a strenuous enterprise, following an always exhausting training. Chiba Sensei would join us and when one of us would ask to relieve him of his rag he would refuse, stating, “It is my privilege to clean the dojo”.  Once the routine for cleaning the dojo was established, Sensei eventually left the task to us, as there were many other demands on his time. 

In his everyday teaching, Chiba Sensei never asked his students to submit to any rigor that he himself had not undergone. This offered little solace to us as students because Sensei’s arduous physical training was legendary (one mile of bunny hops, 3,000 continuous sword cuts, extended and intense periods of meditation and self-purification training).  While his commitment to his own practice was uncompromising, he tailored his expectations of his students, taking into account age, temperament, health and each student’s level of commitment, challenging and inspiring us toward our development but never in a by-rote or mechanical way.

The responsibility of a teacher is to recognize his or her students for who they are and help them awaken to their own potential within a given discipline. This is inherently different from a parental role in which one is responsible for the nourishment and daily care of a child, while the deeper manifestation of who that child is, is by proximity hidden from the parent. The parent is too close to the child and their own emotional attachments and expectations cloud their perception.  A teacher has a more objective and detached perspective to see into a student. In the Japanese martial tradition that Chiba Sensei followed, the teacher does have a responsibility to the spiritual nourishment of the student.  

The requirement for achieving that obligation within this tradition is that the teacher must possess the eyes to see deeply into the student along with “the heart of the Buddha and hands of the devil” with which to awaken him or her. An outsider observing an interaction between teacher and student may only witness  “the hands of the devil” and not appreciate the compassion that underlies the action.  This aspect of Chiba Sensei’s teaching was linked to his commitment to sustaining the roots of Aikido training that lie in its historical and living relationship to Budo.  Aikido, as created by its founder Morihei Ueshiba, is directed towards cultivating the harmonization of  self with others (enabling individuals to act responsibly in a civil society), rather than the capacity to survive by any means in combat, which was the objective of past martial training.

The founder’s son, Kisshomaru Ueshiba, furthered his father’s work promoting Aikido as a highly ethical discipline, cleansed of many of the more vulgar aspects of martial arts, yet true to Aikido’s source, Budo.  On the surface, the martial essence of Aikido can be difficult to recognize,  especially when it is presented in its most flowing form, with large circular movements, graceful and elegant. Seen this way, it appears unrelated to the martial imperative to recognize where, when, and with what technique to kill an opponent.  

Chiba Sensei brought the martial essence of Aikido closer to the fore, clarifying the highly rational and structured elements of his art, yet faithful to the deeper, more instinctual processes at work in each vital martial encounter.  Within the crucible of his own dojo, he created the conditions for transmitting this art to his students, forging their bodies and characters in the fires of daily training.

The use of story, song, poem and philosophical discourse as a means to further the understanding and accomplishment of students has a long tradition in Japanese martial arts.  Chiba Sensei’s writing draws from a deep well of literature from his own cultural tradition as well as sources outside.  Having lived in Europe and the United States for over 35 years, he was also familiar with much of western philosophy and literature, such as the writings of Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman and others.  He always encouraged those of us who were his students to express ourselves in writing, exposing us to Japanese literary resources and prompting us to look within our own cultural traditions for inspiration. Within the first months of my training with him he requested that I read “The Swordsman and the Cat” from the appendices of D.T. Suzuki’s Zen and Japanese Culture  and submit to him an essay based on my reactions to the story.  

Every time one was tested for advancement in rank under Chiba Sensei’s direction, an essay on some aspect of training was required. While he encouraged students to draw from cultural literature as an influence for thinking and writing about Aikido practice, he was most pleased when the writing reflected an understanding of self and circumstance that had emerged directly from training.  The writing presented in this volume represents knowledge distilled from a lifetime of training, a knowledge not limited to the intellect but one deeply connected to the body and the deeper and richer recesses of being.

For those readers who are not practitioners of Aikido or who have never had the opportunity to experience Chiba Sensei’s teaching directly, the essays offered in this volume can serve as an opening into a master’s world.  The photographs and reproductions of Chiba Sensei’s brushwork that accompany the writing can widen that aperture and deepen your appreciation.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then to feel the touch of a master is worth a million pictures.  For those of us who practice Aikido, these writings are a source for deep reflection and an encouragement to continue moving on our own path towards a deeper appreciation of Aikido and the unique miracle of our own lives.

“Takemusu” calligraphy by Chiba Sensei

Conscious Training

T.K. Chiba Shihan, Birankai Founder

Chiba Sensei in Poland, 2007

Editor’s note: this article was previously published in Sansho, April, 1987

Anyone who thinks that putting more hours into training will necessarily result in greater achievement in the art is thinking like a child. Fundamentally, it is a materialistic attitude and doesn’t lead anywhere but to an unsolvable problem. We can’t avoid moving, day by day, closer to the grave.

Many people think that through training they can make their bodies responsive and controllable; that they’ll be able to move them as they wish. I don’t deny that this is an important part of learning. However, it is only part of it. A part that is only relative to a greater factor which one should be more aware of. This, I think, is more important: to develop an introspective attitude in training, with a more serious eye to self-examination. This is a matter of the quality within one’s training.

To recognize the imbalance, disharmony, or disorder within one’s system, sensed within the body, as well as between the body and consciousness, is a starting point for one’s growth. This is where a conversation or dialog begins to happen between the body and consciousness. As the dialog develops, awareness becomes more clear, and one begins to recognize a natural power or potential ability which has, until then, been hidden.

Instead of adding an external element to the body, one needs to see what is already within. More importantly, consciousness itself (the way one perceives things), begins to change along with the discovery of the true body (as opposed to the body that one changes according to will.)

The important and unique thing that makes Aikido what it is, is that progress moves in proportion to the discovery of a natural power which is already within each individual, together with an organic, dynamic core, which helps the body function in harmony and as a whole.

It is the kind of path where one progressively encounters the true self with wonder and joy. The “estranged self,” hidden with its inexhaustible potential, lies undiscovered by many people who die without knowing that it even exists.

In many ways, rightly or wrongly, our bodies are the product of our consciousness. In order to discover what that is requires close self-examination within our training. It isn’t a path where one adds more and more information, details, power, etc., externally and endlessly, to the “too much” that is already there.

Touching upon this subject in a profound way, according to Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen: “Buddhist practice through the body is more difficult than practice through the mind. Intellectual comprehension in learning through the mind must be united to practice through our body. This unity is called SHINJITSUNINTAI, the real body of man. It is the perception of everyday mind, through the phenomenal world. If we harmonize the practice of enlightenment with our body, the entire world will be seen in its true form.”

Finally, the discovery of the true body of man, with its value and beauty, is beyond comparison with competitive values, but rather stands on its own within each individual. Thus, the only conclusion is for Aikido to be non-competitive.  I’d like to add another Zen master’s words in this regard — a master from Vietnam whose lecture (given at Smith College in New Hampshire, Massachusetts) I was fortunate enough to attend. During a question and answer period, a woman stood up and asked him what he thought of the meditation system practiced by the Quakers. He answered, “How can you compare the beauty of a cherry flower with that of a rose?”

Boyet Interview: ‘So much fire’

Didier Boyet and Malory Graham, 1998.

Didier Boyet Shihan started studying with Chiba Sensei in 1977, spending an extensive amount of time with him in Japan, Europe, England and San Diego. Boyet lived in Tokyo and trained at Hombu Dojo from 1977 to 2016 – he currently lives in Paris and travels the world teaching Aikido seminars. The following is an edited transcript of several conversations between Boyet Shihan and Liese Klein in Tokyo in March of 2016. Some of Boyet Sensei’s experiences are also related in the upcoming biography The Life-Giving Sword: Kazuo Chiba’s Life in Aikido. Boyet Sensei will be the featured guest instructor at 2018 Birankai Aikido Summer Camp, July 20-25 in Tacoma, Wash.

Tell me about your arrival in Tokyo in 1977.
I arrived on Oct. 4, a Tuesday, and on the 7th, I joined Chiba Sensei’s class. I came a little bit early: He signed me up at the dojo then he took me to Kisshomaru Sensei’s house. Then he took me to his class, I changed and sat down in the dojo. There were very few people, maybe 12. When everyone bowed in, the only one left to train with was this Japanese guy. We started training and I thought, ‘This guy’s trying to kill me!’ I’m thinking that I can’t take it, I’m going to die! That was Shibata Sensei. I had very long hair at that time – for iriminage he grabbed me by the hair. After class everyone was laughing. I was a very weak shodan. Then I started going to Shibata Sensei’s class and he sort of liked me. We were eight people in this class at 3 pm. The class was very wonderful, it was very dynamic but basic, basic.

How did you first meet Chiba Sensei?
I first met Chiba Sensei during the Tamura Sensei Summer Camp of 1973 or ’74 in Villefranche-de-Rouergue, France. I believe that this was Chiba Sensei’s first visit to France although he had been living in England since 1966.
When I saw Chiba Sensei practice for the first time, I said ‘Oh my god.’ It was raw. There was violence but I never saw it as violence, I saw it as something raw, mainly, He hadn’t polished anything yet. I was totally subdued by that.  After this Summer Camp I tried to attend as many seminars and classes that he conducted as far as I could.
He returned to Japan from England in 1976; I met him September of 1977, in San Sebastian (Spain), where he was conducting a seminar with [Nobuyoshi] Tamura.
Chiba Sensei was 36. He had so much fire. He would go to class to practice, not to play around. I practiced with him as a partner at that seminar in San Sebastian. I remember doing nikkyo with him, suwariwaza for maybe 30 minutes. I couldn’t eat for a whole week; I couldn’t use my hands anymore. Just like two pieces of wood. He’d take you all around the mat, drag you.
I told Tamura I wanted to spend a couple of years in Japan. Tamura said I had better talk to Chiba and he would introduce me at Hombu. We had a special lunch in San Sebastian. Chiba said, ‘No, there are already so many French people who give me trouble every day, I don’t want another one.’ I said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I already brought my ticket!’

How did you start Aikido?
I was living south of Paris, in a city called Tours where I landed a job in 1971. I had just moved to the city and did not know anyone there. I went to see a movie but unfortunately that day was the movie theaters’ day off. So, here I am, in front of a closed movie theater and I noticed that there was another guy who, like me, did not know that movie theaters had holidays. We joked about it and sat in the next café for a drink. In that place, there was a small TV hanging on the wall and showing, you won’t believe it, an episode of a documentary about Japanese martial arts dedicated to Aikido. I had never heard of Aikido and I was not interested in Japan or the Far East for that matter. But it struck me and the next day I called the city hall to find out if the small city of Tours had an Aikido dojo. And it did and the clerk knew about it. I immediately started to train.
My first teacher soon took me to Tamura Sensei. I really liked Tamura Sensei’s Aikido, he was extremely dynamic. Tamura Sensei didn’t have a dojo in Paris, he never did. He was working for the French Aikido federation, going one place to another every weekend. I got my shodan in 1976. Around that time, Chiba urged Tamura to invite Mitsuzuka Sensei to

Didier Boyet at a seminar led by Nobuyoshi Tamura, early 1970s.

France to teach Iaido. Tamura Sensei would always do a couple hours of Iaido at seminars, and I knew shoden [basic forms]. I got to drive Mitsuzuka Sensei around in the summer of 1977, all over Europe. Mitsuzuka Sensei was very Japanese, he behaved abroad like he did in Japan –Tamura and Chiba behaved differently. Mitsuzuka Sensei would come to a seminar, people would practice for a couple of weeks, and he’d give them third dan or fourth dan! The other Japanese teachers would go bananas. ‘These guys are going to go open a dojo!’ In Japan, fourth dan is nothing.

Did many Europeans appreciate Chiba Sensei?
Some people, not a lot. It was completely new.

Tell me about the private classes with Chiba Sensei at Hombu Dojo.
Chiba Sensei was back in Japan after 10 years in England, and he had already a clear view of what he wanted to do. To do it, he needed people to work on. The private classes had started a few months before I arrived. They were on Tuesday and Thursday at 1 pm. We used the small tatami room on the fourth floor; the door was closed for total privacy. We started at 1 clock, but most of the time it went on for at least two or three hours. The foreigners were Paul Sylvain, Lorraine DiAnne, Meik Skoss, Dee Chen, Bruce Bookman, Jay Dunkelman and two Scottish guys. Shibata Sensei would usually join in. Sometimes the door would crack open and a head would come out and say ‘Dame, dame dame!’ [Wrong, wrong, wrong!] that was Yamaguchi Sensei. He’s in his suit, he was teaching in the morning, suit and necktie. He would take over and show us what to do. Chiba Sensei loved it.
Chiba Sensei was enthusiastic in the private classes. He was not the same as he was in Europe. He was very approachable, he liked jokes. He loved these private classes.
It was rough because everybody was scared, even though in four years there were no accidents, no serious injuries in the private lessons. It was really tense. There was tension on each side. We were so eager to learn and he was so eager to teach.

Didier Boyet, 2nd from right, and Seigo Yamaguchi Sensei, 1980.

What kinds of things was Sensei focusing on in those classes?
He would bring in Budo, a thick book written by O-Sensei before the war. We went through the whole book, one page or a couple of pages a day. He would put the book on the kamiza; he’d turn to it and look at it again. It was really like a laboratory. For us it was a great way to learn things. Then bokken, weapons work. Lots of it.

When did you start training in Iaido with Takeshi Mitsuzuka Sensei?
As soon as I arrived in Japan. I went through Chiba Sensei, he said OK, come to the dojo. We went to the Iaido dojo in Yotsuya Sanchome, the old one. Chiba Sensei officially asked Mitsuzuka if I could join, he introduced me and asked him if he would agree to take me on as a student. Everything was under Chiba Sensei’s tutelage. Chiba Sensei always practiced Iaido. At one point Chiba Sensei told us he got hurt during a trip with O-Sensei and O-Sensei left him in an Iaido dojo somewhere in the south of Honshu. He had to practice Iaido to get his back better. He also collected swords; he had many in Japan.
I went three times a week to Yotsuya police station to train in Iaido with Mitsuzuka Sensei. You could do it at Hombu but it had to be secret, you had to hide yourself. Chiba Sensei was practicing Iaido on his own at Hombu – he couldn’t come to Mitsuzuka Sensei’s except on the weekends because he was so busy. He cut himself once so bad, all by himself upstairs. We were changing in the locker room, he came down he had his hakama around his arm, blood was dripping from the hakama. He said, ‘Go clean!’ He disappeared, went to the clinic for stitches. He had cut a vein, it was pissing blood. We go up there and there is blood all over the stairs going to the fourth floor. We open the door and go, ‘Oh shit.’ The white mat was covered with blood. We spent about two hours with cold water and rags until it disappeared.
We knew that if [Kisabura] Osawa Sensei, the dojo-cho, saw the mess he was going to be so pissed. He was very against doing any weapons in the dojo: When doing bokken, we had to close the windows so nobody could hear the noise of the weapons.

What was it like to practice with Kisaburo Osawa Sensei?
Osawa Sensei had a class on Friday at 5:30, and he gave that class to Chiba Sensei. I would go to his Wednesday morning class and he used me for ukemi every time, but he never addressed me. In his class, Osawa Sensei did everything slow, he would show things very, very slowly. He would slow down like slow motion. It was very beautiful. There were mostly Japanese in class; he never talked to foreigners and I don’t think he liked them. He was an old-style Japanese nationalist. Right after the war, he had a bar in Shinjuku. When the dojo started to grow again in the 1950s, Doshu went to pick him up.

Why were foreigners so drawn to Chiba Sensei at Hombu?
We understood what he was doing. We were just there to train. We were not supported by our own federations but we asked for it. We had no money – nobody wanted any money, we didn’t care about it. All that we wanted was to train, train, train, train.
We often went out with Chiba Sensei. He talked a lot; he liked to practice his English. He liked his group. He told us stories of his time with O-Sensei. When O-Sensei would come down from Iwama, he would arrive at Hombu and he never said anything. He would show up at Hombu and pick up somebody to go with him as kaban-mochi (bag-carrier). I remember Chiba Sensei saying that he knew O-Sensei was coming when he saw [Yoshimitsu] Yamada running and closing himself up in a closet so O-Sensei would not see him and take him on a trip!
Being a kaban-mochi was very hard. After O-Sensei arrived, he would say, ‘You!’ and he would leave. You have to pack your stuff and then grab his stuff and run after him and he’s gone to the station and he doesn’t have tickets! They would take the cable car from Nuke Benten [transit stop near Hombu Dojo] to Shinjuku Station. Chiba Sensei used to say you had to go into the train cars and find a place next to or in front of a beautiful girl. O-Sensei loved to talk to beautiful girls, and you had to go from one car to the other and find somebody alone. Otherwise you’d have to persuade who was sitting next to her to move aside.
As kaban-mochi, you never talked to O-Sensei because he’s up there. [Gestures above his head.] You don’t talk up.

End of part 1

Didier Boyet, far left, and Chiba Sensei, 1980s.

News from Europe

Check out this great newsletter put out by Birankai Europe in both English and French.  Our Birankai North America newsletter, Biran, will be available at Summer Camp with great articles on the theme of “The Art and Science of Aikido.” Also find out in detail what the Exam Committee is looking for in tests — make sure someone from your dojo picks up your copies!

BEM May 18 ENG

BEM May 18 FR

Book Profiles a Generation

Instructors at the 1994 USAF Summer Camp, celebrating the 30th anniversary of New York Aikikai.

By Liese Klein, New Haven Aikikai

As we approach the publication date of “The Life-Giving Sword: Kazuo Chiba’s Life in Aikido,” I’d like highlight one important facet of the book – it’s not just about Chiba Sensei. At close to 400 pages, this book attempts to profile an entire generation of Aikido pioneers. These are the young Japanese men who left Hombu Dojo in the 1960s under the direction of Kisshomaru Ueshiba to heed O-Sensei’s call to build “bridges across the ocean” and bring Aikido to the West.

Using Chiba Sensei’s writings, historic materials and in-person interviews where possible, I’ve attempted to profile many of these men and tell their stories of struggle and triumph in Europe, the U.K. and the Americas.

The book also explores the foundational role of several of Chiba Sensei’s most important sempai: Koichi Tohei, Morihiro Saito and Mutsuro Nakazono, along with influential teachers like Tadashi Abe, Kenshiro Abbe, Sadateru Arikawa, Kisaburo Osawa, Seigo Yamaguchi and Hiroshi Tada. These men, along with Kisshomaru Ueshiba, shaped the Aikido and careers of Chiba Sensei’s generation and continue to influence many across the Aikido world.

Chiba Sensei, Kanai Sensei, Yamada Sensei and Tamura Sensei, 1980s.

Life as a direct student of O-Sensei at both Hombu Dojo and Iwama is also explored in-depth in a section on the early careers of the post-war generation. Throughout the narrative, several of Chiba Sensei’s close colleagues, especially Yoshimitsu Yamada, Mitsunari Kanai and Nobuyoshi Tamura, are discussed in detail as they developed their own dojos, organizations and teaching styles. As far as I know, this is the first full-length treatment of this period of Aikido history.

Sign up now to reserve a first-edition copy of “The Life-Giving Sword: Kazuo Chiba’s Life in Aikido.” You will be notified as soon as copies are ready for sale and directed to an online purchasing page.

(Active Birankai North America members will be notified automatically, but if you want more than one copy, please submit the form below.)

Memorial Seminar in Brooklyn

By Liese Klein, New Haven Aikikai

The mat was packed for all three days of the Chiba Sensei Memorial Seminar at Brooklyn Aikikai June 1-3, 2018. The event featured instructors George Lyons Shihan of Bucks County Aikido, Toko (Jenny) Flower Sensei of Athens Aikido and Ryugan (Robert) Savoca Sensei of Brooklyn Aikikai.

George Lyons and Chiba Sensei, late 1980s.

From Lyons Sensei’s closing remarks on June 3, 2018:

“I’ve been running through my memories of meeting an extraordinary person, Chiba Sensei. What do I remember about those days? Much of it is just in my body now, as best as it can be. I’m working to cultivate that so hopefully it’s alive in me. Chiba Sensei said once: ‘Until you’re a master of it, you’re a slave to it.’ That one kind of stuck with me.

“Discussing the teacher-student relationship, in many ways we struggle to understand it. Right up until Chiba Sensei’s death I was trying to understand it. Even now, I work on it, even though he’s gone. Of course I don’t think he’s gone, in some way.

“It is the problem of authority, giving over to an authority. In my opinion I think it’s not surrender to it but more transcending it, if that makes sense to you. At first it might feel like you’re surrendering to your teacher. But hopefully we’re going past that. You’re not going to be a slave to your teacher, that’s the not the intention. The intention is to let go of something, and to transcend it. Then you’re free to do whatever you want. And you’re probably very grateful, as I am. So you are master of it.

“You are supposed to stand on the shoulders of your teacher. Your teacher is someone you have always put up, so it’s a difficult idea. Somehow maybe we can drop something and you can reach your teacher for the first time, as a full grown human being with full potential.

“Funny, but we somehow put something in the way. It’s human nature. I see it on the mat in just basic things. When I say, ‘Don’t move your feet like that, do this.’ They say ‘Hai, Sensei!’ and they do the same thing they did before. It didn’t change one bit. I’m a human being too so I make the same stupid mistakes. When we do that, I think we just can’t hear it yet. Eventually you can, you can hold more. When you finally hear it, you say, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ [Laughs.] This comes to the point of training over time. In farming you can’t pull the shoots up early to make them grow faster. It takes time. If you pull the shoots up, there’s nothing there.

“In the same way, when you’re practicing it takes some time. It has to mature. It’s just the nature of things. You come to the dojo every day, every day. ‘What’s the point of this? I can’t do ikkyo one more time, I’m out of my mind.’ You keep doing it until something gets out of the way. You make every effort that you can until you realize that all that effort is getting in the way. It’s a paradox you have to solve yourself, everybody does.

“I’m really pleased to be here with you to celebrate the life our teacher. For you guys, be careful because the stories get bigger and bigger as time passes. It was incredible times, but we tell stories…

“This is the time. Now is the time. This is our time. It’s fun to hear stories about the past, but when you’re sitting around with a bunch of people talking about the old days, be careful. This is the day. Today is the day. We’re proud to be here with you, proud to know you, and may we carry on. ”

 

The Challenges of Aikido – Aikidosphere Interview with Chiba Sensei

This article originally appeared (circa 1993) in issue No. 70 of Terry O’Neill’s Fighting Arts International, a magazine published in the United Kingdom. The interviewer was one of Chiba Sensei’s long time students, Arthur C. Lockyear.

Sensei please tell me how you came to study Aikido?

Well, I was very keen on the martial arts from when I was little, and I decided early on to train seriously in at least one of them. I began with Judo and stayed for four years. I then moved to Karate.

You trained at the Shotokan headquarters I believe: what was the training like there?

Oh, I really loved it, it was a very hard spirit in the training, very satisfying, I liked it a lot. Nakayama Sensei was the Chief Instructor but I did see the Master, Funakoshi Gichin on a number of occasions. I joined the Japan Karate Association about a year before Master Funakoshi died I remember that there was a big ceremony to mark his passing.

Where any of the present-day Shotokan Masters there at that time?

Yes. Nishiyama Sensei, Okazaki Sensei and Kanazawa Sensei. Kanazawa Sensei was first Kyu then, or maybe 1st Dan, I’m not sure. Asano Sensei was 3rd Kyu level and Kase Sensei was there also.

Was there anything in particular that converted you to Aikido?

Well, when I was 1st Kyu (the level just below Black Belt) in Judo I entered a competition and happened to be drawn to fight against my senior from the dojo – a second Dan, I think. So I beat him and afterwards he came over to me and said: “You have taken away my Judo, but I still have Kendo.” He issued me a Continue reading “The Challenges of Aikido – Aikidosphere Interview with Chiba Sensei”

Camp Highlights

Most of us are back home – the bruises are fading and the gis have been washed. Time to reflect on Birankai Aikido 2016 Summer Camp, which ended with a lively session of tai no henko led by Dave Stier Shihan of Green River Aikido on Tuesday morning.

Stier Sensei was the topic of some truly moving testimonies at the farewell party the night before, when his students told of his dedication to helping those of all abilities and body types master Aikido.

“I just wanted to be a student,” Stier Sensei said, describing the trajectory of his training after the sudden death of his teacher, Paul Sylvain Shihan. Stier Sensei went on to lead an impressive closing class to 2016 Birankai Summer Camp.

Another longtime student, Frank Apodaca Sensei of Deep River Aikikai in North Carolina, was recognized earlier during camp: Birankai has recommended that he be promoted to shihan rank.

Apodaca Sensei was a long-suffering kenshusei when I arrived in San Diego, a veteran of the legendary “Pressure Cooker” and “Suffering Bastards” eras.  His ukemi was death-defying to this newbie, especially when he would get up seemingly in one piece after Chiba Sensei demonstrated ushiro ryotedori sutemi waza, also known as “the roadkill technique.” (Chiba Sensei would rear back and flatten him like a bug.)

By the time I got there in the mid-1990s, Apodaca Sensei was a stern taskmaster in morning class and an even more stern leader of sesshin and other events at San Diego Aikikai, a link to a harsher past. Time spent as dojo-cho in Portland, Oregon, and Lansing, Michigan, seemed to mellow him out, and by the time Apodaca Sensei established Deep River Aikikai he was a supportive and open-hearted teacher.

For me, the best thing about 2016 Birankai Summer Camp was gaining new appreciation for these two men, working often without recognition in recent years to transmit Chiba Sensei’s (and Sylvain Sensei’s) Aikido.

With teachers like these in our ranks, Birankai is in safe hands.

Liese Klein

(More new video of 2016 Birankai Aikido Summer Camp at the BiranOnline channel on YouTube.)

The Course of Nature

Dear Birankai Colleagues,

At our 2015 Summer Camp, many of you had an opportunity to meet my friend, Amnon Amnon TzechovoyTzechovoy Sensei, Shidoin, of Birankai Israel (Tel Aviv), and to purchase his remarkable new book, Seeking the Unicorn: Philosophical and Psychoanalytical Insights into the Practice and Teaching of Aikido.

The book was completed before Chiba Sensei’s death, but there was no opportunity to present the “finished product” to Sensei, the true subject of the book.  It was my honor to present the book as a gift to Mrs. Chiba at a memorial event.

Later in 2015, Tzechovoy Sensei added a new, final chapter: “Ki No More” — a moving farewell to our founder which, I feel, penetrates to the heart of Sensei’s teachings. After some discussion, we decided to share it with you here on BiranOnline. (Please click on title below for Word document.) The chapter will be included in future editions of the book.

Palm-to-Palm,

Aki Fleshler, Multnomah Aikikai

Portland, Oregon

Ki No More

My First Aikido Camp

Meghan McCoy at 2015 Birankai Summer Camp in Tacoma, Wash.
Meghan McCoy at 2015 Birankai Summer Camp in Tacoma, Wash.

By Meghan McCoy, Oak Park Aikikai

For everyone who has been to at least one Birankai summer camp, what’s the first thing that you remember about your first camp? Perhaps it’s all the people you met, the parties and gatherings in the evening, or, of course, the hours of classes a day that left you feeling either successful, or desperate for an ice pack and some ibuprofen. Everyone has their memories, and the special moments that made summer camp not just a seminar, but also a family reunion that makes the bumps, bruises, and traveling well worth it.

My first summer camp, held this past July at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Wash., was nothing short of fabulous, and I promise I’m not saying that just to make my Sensei happy. When I first arrived at camp, I came in with the rookie naiveté that I was in pretty good shape and four hours of class a day wouldn’t be that bad.

Oh no, not the case.

By the third day I would have given anything for a hot tub and a five-hour nap, and let’s not talk about how my bottle of pain meds was quickly dwindling. But what my discomfort taught me, and what I think our teachers are always trying to impart, is how vital it is to relax and use our whole body at all times, and certainly if something is in pain. If my shoulder was hurting, then I had to adjust for it, relaxing my arm and remembering that my hips and legs were really useful things.

When I was throwing someone twice my size, and fatigue and soreness were starting to set in, it wasn’t enough to just muscle my way through and hope my upper body was strong enough to throw my partner. Everything had to come together with grace, speed and power, something Miyamoto Sensei demonstrated every time he stepped onto the mat.

Speaking of Miyamoto Sensei, one thing that I, and many other people I talked to were impressed by was his ability to constantly adapt to whatever his uke gave him. Even if it wasn’t the technique he initially had in mind, Miyamoto showed what mental and physical fluidity looked like when doing, and changing, a technique.

For me, particularly since I’m still very new in Aikido, every class had something new to learn. Familiar techniques, such a katatedori suwariwaza ikkyo, had to be approached differently because I was practicing with someone I’d never met, and so I had to learn how to move in a way that worked with them. The weapons classes were immensely beneficial, especially Frank Apodaca Sensei’s weapons class. He emphasized cultivating “the eyes to see,” which I took as meaning not just watching and stealing the technique, but also seeing and feeling the energy with which someone moves. I once read that proper form is essential, but without technique and heart put into the form it’s all mechanical, and much of what I believe Aikido to be is lost.

In the midst of all of our training, I was so thankful that the 2015 summer camp was to be the first camp I attended, because it allowed me to attend the Celebration of Life memorial for Chiba Sensei. Even though I was never able to meet Chiba Sensei, I could very clearly feel how special a teacher he was, and just how much he mattered to people all over the world. The memorial was lovely, and the reception held after, with all of its singing, dancing and conversation was exactly what I think Chiba Sensei would have wanted us to have in his memory.

Leaving camp, what I didn’t fully realize till a few days after, was when people speak of the Aikido or Birankai family, they aren’t exaggerating in the slightest. Camp allowed me to meet people from dojos across the country and even the world, and knowing that almost wherever I go I can find a dojo where I will be welcome, makes the world feel just a little less daunting. So thank you very much to everyone who helped make my first camp a marvelous experience, and more importantly, officially welcomed me into the Birankai family. I look forward to many more summer camps in the future.

A Cut Above

Birankai Aikido FundraiserOn January 3, 2015, members of Birankai dojo Fearless Heart Aikido in New Hope, Penn., participated in “1,000 Cuts for Charity Suburi-thon.” Participants committed to make 1,000 suburi cuts with the bokken and to find sponsors who would pledge a contribution for each cut.

Prior to the suburi-thon, none of the students had completed more than 100 or 200 cuts; some barely knew how to hold a bokken. For most students, a thousand cuts was pretty daunting. However, they rose to the challenge, practicing their cuts and building their endurance in the weeks leading up to the event.

Fearless Heart Aikido Chief Instructors Helen Tai and John McDevitt organized the fundraiser to celebrate the dojo’s two-year anniversary. The celebration provided an opportunity for the students to push themselves beyond their perceived limits, to improve their cutting technique, to work together toward a common goal, to have some fun, and to raise money for two very worthwhile charities.

Benefiting from the event are Fisherman’s Mark, a non-profit organization in nearby Lambertville, N.J., that offers assistance to low-income individuals and families, and the Birankai North America Seminar Endowment Fund, which supports Aikido events and scholarships.

Congratulations to the members of Fearless Heart Aikido, every one of whom completed all 1,000 cuts, and thank you to their sponsors – who donated a total of $1,820.

Learn more about the suburi-thon and watch a short movie at the Fearless Heart Aikido website.

– Helen Tai, Fearless Heart Aikido

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”