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.

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.

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!

More Miyamoto Sensei


Editor’s Note: Thanks to John Brinsley of Aikido Daiwa for this writeup from Miyamoto Sensei’s visit earlier this month to North America. I’ve just posted some new video of Miyamoto Sensei from the event and 2013 Camp on the BiranOnline YouTube channel. Don’t forget that the deadline for early registration for 2015 Summer Camp is approaching!

Power Aikido in the Great White North

Miyamoto Sensei provided a rigorous and thoughtful weekend of instruction in Vancouver March 6-8 that left the practitioners tired and yet somehow energized.

East Van Aikikai and Tony Hind Sensei, a long-time Hombu dojo student who lived at Hombu in the early 1990s, did a masterful job in hosting the event. The seminar brought together people from as far away as Hawaii and proved once again that having different organizations are no barrier to a committed group who wish to experience first-rate keiko. I would like to thank Hind Sensei again for putting on such a successful seminar.

Regardless of the technique, Miyamoto Sensei returned again and again to the importance of timing, connection and proper spacing. Even for those of us familiar with his ability to create dynamic technique while adapting to the uke’s movement, there was always a need to pay close attention to how he managed to unbalance his partner while retaining complete control. For me, anyway, it also served as a reminder of how vital the concept of “stealing” the teacher’s technique is, rather than having it spoon-fed.

For Birankai members and attendees, along with valued USAF friends Malory Graham Sensei and Seattle Aikikai students, it provided an excellent chance to spend time with Miyamoto Sensei ahead of Birankai Summer Camp. Which, if the weekend is any indication, should be epic.

– John Brinsley, Aikido Daiwa

Boyet in Brooklyn

Didier Boyet Sensei of Tokyo gave a great seminar this weekend at Brooklyn Aikikai focusing on kihon waza (basics) and the interplay between sword arts like Iaido and Aikido. Boyet Sensei will be a featured instructor at 2015 Birankai North America Summer Camp — register now at the Summer Camp Registration site.

Check out more videos from Boyet Sensei’s seminar at the BiranOnline channel on Youtube.

BTW, we’re getting near 1 million views for our videos — pass the link around and let’s hit seven figures! Better yet, send me more clips of events at Birankai dojos so we make sure to keep the site fresh and interesting. Share via Dropbox or another site — we can also highlight videos posted on your own channel on BiranOnline playlists like “Women of Birankai” and “Summer Camp 2014.”

See you on the mat and bring your video camera!

L.Klein

 

East Coast Regional rocks

100_0602Birankai members gathered at Bucks County Aikido this weekend for a regional seminar that brought together teachers and students from across the Northeast and as far away as Michigan, Illinois, Florida and Washington. More than 76 people practiced and took part in testing and a truly epic potluck party.

Darrell Bluhm Shihan of Siskiyou Aikikai explored the concept of positive movement by nage in techniques to take the center.

George Lyons Shihan of Bucks County Aikido urged us to “trust the principles” of Aikido and put ourselves at risk as nage to draw a committed attack.

Visit BiranOnline on YouTube to see more videos by Bluhm Sensei, George Lyons Sensei, Patti Lyons Sensei and Robert Savoca Sensei of Brooklyn Aikikai.

Often invoked were memories of Mark Murashige Sensei and Jack Arnold Sensei, treasured Birankai teachers who both passed away in recent weeks. Their legacy of selfless teaching and joy in practice was alive on the mat in Bucks County this weekend.

In Print: An uchideshi’s tale

Edward Burke

The following first appeared in the Summer 2012 print edition of Biran, the Aikido Journal of Birankai North America.

Most uchideshi, or live-in Aikido students, leave San Diego Aikikai with only lots of memories, sore joints and worn-out hakamas. But Edward Burke of South Africa left with notes for a memoir, The Sword Master’s Apprentice: Or How a Broken Nose, a Shaman, and a Little Light Dusting May Point the Way to Enlightenment.

Burke’s book was published in 2012 and stirred lots of interest in the Birankai community. Burke lived at San Diego Aikikai for three months as a direct student of T.K. Chiba Shihan.

Starting with a vivid description of getting your butt kicked in class, the book relates Continue reading

Mind, energy and strength

Dharma talk given by Meido Moore Roshi at Brooklyn Aikikai, Dec. 15, 2012. Moore Roshi is chief instructor at Shinjinkai in Chicago.

Since most of you are martial artists, I thought that I would say a word about Zen from that perspective.

You’re doing Japanese Budo – the “Martial Way” – and many of you are also doing Zen. In both disciplines, which are “Ways” of developing the human character, we work with three things. These are the mind, the energy or energetics and the physical strength: Shin, Ki, Ryoku.

We say that these things should function as one. That is, Continue reading

Let’s ‘like’ Birankai dojos

Facebook is more than cute cat photos and status updates — you can help support your local Birankai dojo as well. Facebook activity helps promote small businesses like Aikido dojos and helps our worldwide community stay in touch.

If you have a dojo and haven’t taken the plunge yet, here are Facebook’s guidelines on to get your page started.

If you’re already on Facebook, take the time to “like” our dojos if you haven’t already (just click on the ‘like button). Also don’t be shy about leaving notes of support or thanks after seminars and other events — some of us don’t update our pages as much as we should!

Here are some Facebook pages to get you started:

Birankai International

San Diego Aikikai

Aikido Institute of San Francisco

Alameda Aikikai

Siskiyou Aikikai

Brooklyn Aikikai

Bucks County Aikido

New Tampa Aikido

Huron Valley Aikikai

See you on Facebook!