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.)

Closing Time


It’s that bittersweet moment at every Birankai Aikido Summer Camp when we roll up the mats, pack up most of our stuff and get ready for the farewell party. One more class tomorrow then we fly, drive, ride the subway or otherwise make our way home.

It’s been a very positive event, with record numbers on the mat for an East Coast Birankai summer camp, positive financials and strong training with no serious injuries so far. We were joined by Birankai members from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and welcomed visitors from countries including Switzerland, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and Canada.

Special guest and excellent Birankai friend Yoshimitsu Yamada Shihan of New York Aikikai led a dynamic and enjoyable class on Saturday. Our Birankai shihan and shidoin collaborated to create a thematic curriculum for the rest of camp with a focus on connection and centeredness. Now for the raffle, our ultimate test of stamina and concentration. See you all at the party!

Liese Klein


Summer has arrived, with 90-degree temperatures and steam-bath humidity. We of Birankai North America are not holding back!

*Mushiatsui is Japanese for “hot and humid.” Uttered approximately 10,000 times per summer season in Tokyo!

Kings of Queens

Birankai North America Summer Camp is here! Amazing weather, a beautiful campus and dynamic training here at St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y. Day One got camp off to a great start with Patti Lyons Sensei of Bucks County Aikido leading an action-packed class. Good thing the dojo is air-conditioned…

Make sure to check the BiranOnline channel on Youtube for new videos as camp continues.

A reminder to Birankai members at camp to pick up their new copies of Biran, our organization’s print newsletter. This summer’s issue features, among other great articles:

  • Archie Champion Sensei on ukemi
  • George Lyons Sensei on testing
  • Yoko Okamoto Sensei on the three teachers who shaped her Aikido
  • Liese Klein Sensei on our connection to Hombu Dojo in Tokyo
  • Sarah Kaylor on the meaning behind the indigo-blue color of our hakamas
  • An update on the Chiba Sensei biography project
  • Info on the upcoming Instructors’ Intensive in the Midwest
  • A report on the Paul Sylvain Sensei 20th Anniversary memorial seminar

Pick up your dojo’s copies here at camp and appreciate anew the writing skill and thoughtfulness of our Birankai community. We can throw down and write poetry, too!

Going Forward

Katherine Heins Sensei practices tea ceremony at Fire Horse Aikido on June 5, 2016.
Katherine Heins Sensei practices tea ceremony at Fire Horse Aikido on June 5, 2016.

Looking ahead to summer camp after a year of mourning, there’s a lot to be hopeful about in Birankai North America. What makes me particularly optimistic is the impressive crop of junior instructors coming into their own, both leading dojos, supporting senior teachers and giving seminars.

Philip and Bernadette Vargas Sensei of Aikido of Albuquerque are great examples of Birankai teachers who show leadership on the mat, off the mat and in their community. The Vargases took center stage at the first-ever Birankai Aikido Southwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Seminar in April – the group photo at the top of the page is from that event.

Fire Horse Aikido hosted another impressive junior instructor, Kate Savoca of Brooklyn Aikikai, earlier this year. She knocked our socks off with her crisp technique, clear instruction and dynamic energy. Check out the videos at the BiranOnline channel on Youtube.

Just this past weekend here in New Haven, we hosted Katherine Heins Sensei for three days of special training before summer camp. With her background as both Chiba Sensei’s kenshusei and a seven-year resident of Japan, Heins Sensei brings invaluable experience and true talent to Birankai. Heins Sensei’s intensive training in Japanese tea ceremony — closely linked to Zen and martial arts — comes through in her direct, uncluttered approach to technique and practice. She has also been doing some serious thinking about how to transmit Chiba Sensei’s Aikido; she focused her classes this weekend on drills to bring out difficult concepts in ukemi and weapons that benefited students and teachers of all ranks.

(To follow Heins Sensei on her upcoming tour of Asia, Russia, Europe and the U.K., check out her blog at — and invite her to teach at your dojo!)

Below are some clips of Heins Sensei’s teaching on back falls this past weekend, breaking down the movements and recalibrating posture to prevent injury.  Below that is a clip she prepared of front-roll exercises.

Heins Sensei is on the core team of instructors at Birankai North America Summer Camp starting on Thursday –  don’t miss it!

Liese Klein

A Year Later

Mrs. Chiba and visitors at a memorial lunch at Chogenji temple in Japan.
Mrs. Chiba and visitors at a memorial lunch at Chogenji temple in Japan.

Dojos around the world held memorial events for Chiba Sensei this weekend as Mrs. Chiba, family members and students marked the date of his passing at Chogenji temple.

North County Aikikai’s message said it all:
“Today we held a brief memorial for Chiba Sensei. We chanted the Heart Sutra and burned incense in his memory. To this, we added our sweat and honest practice.”

Below are a few photos posted from events worldwide.

Memorial practice at Athens Aikido in Greece with Jenny Flower and Diane Deskin.
Memorial practice at Athens Aikido in Greece with Jenny Flower and Diane Deskin.
Outdoor training at Aikido Takayama in Mission, B.C.
Outdoor training at Aikido Takayama in Mission, B.C.
Memorial kamiza at North County Aikikai in Solana Beach, California.
Memorial kamiza at North County Aikikai in Solana Beach, California.
Chiba Sensei's grave in Kannami, Japan.
Chiba Sensei’s grave in Kannami, Japan.