My Year at Summer Camp

By Charles Aarons, Aikido Takayama

This was the best summer camp in years for me. All summer camps are good but this one had some breakthroughs for me personally. I feel excited about it because it’s like an old dog learning new tricks.

I have been in Aikido since 1971 in Toronto and while I won’t say that a great deal of that time has been wasted, it has not been utilized to its maximum potential. Back in the day our senior teachers were Yamada Sensei and Kanai Sensei, both 5th dan then. It didn’t matter because to us they were (and still are) amazing in their dynamic execution of Aikido.

Back then the teaching was old school. They would show something a few times and then we would go for it. There was a lot of early talk about “extending your ki” and “holding your tanden,” and although we all would devoutly repeat these phrases I myself (and I suspect many others as well) didn’t have a clue as to what we were talking about…but it sounded cool!

Over the last 20 years in Aikido under our late founder Chiba Shihan, Aikido became codified and the method of teaching, of transmitting the knowledge, became much more conceptual to me. I say this because without having someone who really “knows and can teach,” a student (like me) can be doing something entirely wrong for decades. Or if not wrong, then empty perhaps is a better word.

For me at least, this change began when I started Iaido ten years ago in Birankai. From the get-go we were all (those of us who were newbies) told to not only study the forms, but to strive to use visualization when performing these forms. All of my Iaido teachers are wonderful. Each one stresses different aspects when they teach, but visualization is central with all of them.

Getting back to this year’s (2018) summer camp, I began to be able to (for short intervals of time), hold on to the visualization during the form. Wowee, what a thrill. An entirely new feeling that made the forms come wonderfully alive.

Now here’s the best part — it began spilling over into my body arts and weapons. I have to say that (for me at least) I try very hard (and have for many years) to concentrate all the way through a technique. I can think about the form and monitor it as I do it, but at the end I always realize that I blanked out during the middle. I remember the attack and the end but the middle? ”It’s all a blur,” as they say in the movies.

This camp has been the first time this old guy had several moments (yeah..not a lot) of being alive throughout an entire technique…watching my movement…my partner’s movement..his or her eyes…everything right to the end. It was an astonishing revelation for me and a true watershed moment.

Remember the first Spiderman movie? Peter Parker wakes up as spiderman and goes to his high school.  At his locker some steroid juice monkey throws a punch at him. He watches the punch slip by him in slow motion due to his new spider sense. As crazy as it may sound…that’s what my visualizations felt like to me.

As I wind up this commentary I again won’t say that I’ve wasted most of my years…there have been many good points. But it wasn’t until this last camp the for me that I began to integrate what my teachers have been hammering into me for years.

Old dog, new tricks…woof woof!

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 Continue reading “Why I Practice Aikido”

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. Continue reading “Building a Bridge”

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 Continue reading “Am I Too Old For This?”

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.

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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 Continue reading “Living and Training through Heartache”

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.