When What You Love Kills You

By Nathalie Daux, Fox Valley Aikikai

It started almost one year ago with an injury from an idiot who never apologized. That was the beginning of everything.

The injury and everything afterward brought me to my knees physically and mentally. And I am lucky to have been forced to my knees. I’m lucky to have been so broken and so hurt. I’m lucky because I was forced into asking myself the question: what do you do when what you love kills you, breaks you apart?


And I found the answer.

You don’t keep going.

I’m a busybody. Meaning that I really don’t like to stop moving. At all. Ever. I write, I make yoga videos, I workout, I train in my Aikido (a martial art), I do homework, etc. You name it and I do it. I don’t like to sit still and do nothing even if it is for relaxing. Or at least I didn’t use to.

There isn’t too much a problem with this. Not by itself at least. The problem comes when you look at my perfectionist habits and my mental health problems. Because I tied my eating disorder, my depression, and any measure of self-worth to my Aikido, my physical activities, and the amount of words I wrote in a day I was setting myself up to crash and burn. I was setting myself up to be injured.

Now, I’m not saying the injury I sustained was my fault because it wasn’t. I am saying that if it hadn’t been this person, it would have still happened somewhere. I was pushing my body too hard on too little. And this is not sustainable. But I was acting like it was as so many of us do because it is one of my passions. I wasn’t going to stop, not for a day not for a week. Taking time off from it was the same as burning down the White House, traitorous and worthy of punishment. The same went for my running. And my writing. No days off. No rest from it. No space. Just keep pushing through.

Until I received my elbow injury, all wrapped up in a nice little bow of KT tape, braces, and red warning tape. And then, not a week later, while angrily trying to run for some crazy consecutive day in a row on a weak knee I sustained my knee injury. I sat at my desk frustrated that I could not do anything physical that wouldn’t hurt me. So I started writing. Admittedly, I forced it too hard. Within another week I had begun to burn out.


Boy, everything sure was awful when I couldn’t work out and couldn’t write.

Of course, I didn’t stop. Having encountered injuries before, I kept pushing. And pushing. And pushing assuming that one day I would push through. Except things kept getting worse. Two months after my injury, I started doing Aikido again, running, and writing full tilt. And it tore me apart. My body and mind were in a terrible state.

One night, after a fit of frustrated tears, I asked the aforementioned question: what do you do when what you love kills you, breaks you apart?

You stop.


Yep, you heard me. You stop and you acknowledge that you have hit a red light in your life and if you don’t stop, something will stop you (injury, mental breakdown, etc).

Then what?

Well, then you do the hard part (as if stopping isn’t hard enough). You prioritize.

And there is A LOT to prioritize.

Let’s take a look.

1. Injury

The very first thing you prioritize is your injury or injuries. In this case, I had to go to the doctor, hear all about my ligament damage, and then head on over to physical therapy. It also meant that I had to slow down and take time off. My physical therapist hammered it into that no, I could not jump right back in and yes, I would have setbacks for probably another year.

2. Rebuilding myself

I had to rebuild everything about myself. My knee issue required a lot of different cross-training, wonky stretches, and patience. Because of previous diet issues, I had to focus on proper nutrition, higher levels of protein, and again, a lot of patience. Before I headed back full time to my writing, my Aikido, and my passion I had to build myself up first so that my passions could be sustainable. And that meant putting in a lot of work physically and mentally.

3. Myself

This is not selfish. It is not selfish to put your health first. There’s a stigma around taking time off for yourself whether it is for mental health or physical health. People expect that no matter what your dilemma is, you will be around to continue doing what you’re doing. It is OKAY to take time off to heal yourself.

Stepping away from something you love hurts. It’s not comfortable, it makes you feel like you aren’t being true to yourself, and it’s scary. It does put a lot of responsibility on you. Suddenly, your health is all in your hands and that’s daunting.

But it’s not just about martial arts and running and writing. It’s about life. If you’re broken, in one way or another, take time away from the thing that is hurting you. Ultimately you may find you can never return but more likely than not, you’ll return to what you love with a deeper passion for it. It won’t be the same as it used to. That doesn’t mean that it will be worse. It will be better.

So please, if you have something that is broken about you, don’t push through for your passions, for something you love. Step away. Heal. Unpopular opinion: if something hurts you, stop. Figure it out. And return healthy.

Nathalie Daux, 23 has trained at Fox Valley Aikikai for 15 years. Throughout her years of training, Aikido has earned a very special place in her heart. She intends to train for as long as she is alive and breathing. 

The Challenges of Aikido – Aikidosphere Interview with Chiba Sensei

T.K. Chiba

8th Dan, Shihan

Chairman – Teaching Committee of Birankai International

The Challenges of Aikido – Interview with Chiba Sensei

by Arthur C. Lockyear


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 challenge. So we went outside. He gave me a bokken (wooden sword) and took a Kendo shinai (bamboo practice sword) for himself. Once we stared I was unable to touch him … not even once! He beat me soundly and I was black and blue with bruises! After this I thought deeply about the meaning of Budo.

I wanted a Martial Art that would be effective in any situation, whether an opponent had a weapon or not. So I eventually decided that I would become a student of Master Ueshiba – the Founder of Aikido. I went straight to the Hombu (Headquarters Dojo) but I had no letter of introduction, which was a necessary requirement then. I arrived at the Hombu and asked for an audience with O-Sensei (Master Ueshiba). They told me that he was not there, and that I should go away. I was so intent to be O-Sensei’s student that I determined to wait for his return. So I sat down in the garden of the dojo and waited. At the end of the third day O-Sensei returned, and was told that there was some crazy boy outside who wanted to see him. Well, O-Sensei told them to bring me in. I was taken to just outside his room and told to wait. When the screen was opened, there was Master Ueshiba. Our eyes met for the first time: it is a moment I shall never forget! I didn’t know what to do, so I just bowed as deeply as I could. O-Sensei said to me: “Martial arts are very hard, can you take it?” I just said, “Yes Sensei”. So that is how I came to be accepted as an uchi deshi (“inside student”, or special apprentice) to Master Ueshiba.

Did you commence Aikido training at once?

No, I was not allowed to practice straight away. I had to clean the dojo and all the other rooms at Hombu, plus wash, do shopping, administration and look after the Master’s family. Also I had to work in the fields. Eventually I was allowed to first watch the classes and then, after some time, to train. No one taught me at first, I had to learn for myself. Fortunately I could already make ukemi (break falls) so I was alright. I decided to make my best endeavors to be a good uchi deshi to O-Sensei, and learn all that I could from him. It was the greatest time of my life! I remember that O-Sensei always had a strong presence…there was a very special atmosphere when he was around. This came from his physical posture – the way he sat, the way he walked, the way he moved around was so beautiful. Never could I see any opening in O-Sensei’s posture, not ever. His eyes were almost golden, not black as is usual with Japanese people.

Your time as an uchi deshi must have been rigorous.

In one sense it was like a battlefield. We rose every day very early to both work and train, and many nights I had to stay up late to wait for Waka Sensei (O-Sensei’s son, Kisshomaru – the present Doshu, or leader of Aikido) to return from his off ice work. It was so hard and intensive that many times I came close to a nervous breakdown. I used to see strange things: every night a ghost used to come to me. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be a man or a woman. At that time I did not realize how close I was to a breakdown but now I realize of course. Just before I fell asleep each night it would come to me, it was really frightening. I could sense its presence. Then all of a sudden it would become like a ton weight on top of me and I would not be able to move. Eventually I found a solution to this. I took my bokken to bed with me and as soon as I felt its presence I held my bokken strongly … and then it was OK. This was due to exhaustion I think.

Many years ago you told me about your first meeting with Tamura Sensei. Could you repeat it please for the readers of “Fighting Arts”?

Well, it was one day after class and some of the students were doing Judo randori (practice fighting) on the mat. I was standing in the corridor watching this and one of them invited me to join in, which I did. I was surprised at how weak they were, and I repeatedly threw one man who was Sandan (3rd degree Black Belt) in both Judo and Aikido. So the master, Tamura Sensei called me over and invited me to practice with him. Then “bang”, Tamura Sensei struck me hard in the belly. I learned a lot from that; it was a good lesson in awareness, distance and posture for me. I believe that Tamura Sensei is one of O-Sensei’s greatest students. I learned a great deal from him in the past.

Anyone else that you would like to talk about . . . perhaps Saito Sensei?

Yes, he is a great Master. Every time he visits the United States I invite him to teach at my dojo. Saito Sensei was a special disciple of O-Sensei. He stayed with him after the war to take care of him and manage the farm at Iwate Dojo. I have seen the kind of responsibility that he carried, and nobody could have done it as well as did Saito Sensei. I really appreciate Saito Sensei’s work.

What about Doshu … the successor to O-Sensei?

The teacher directly responsible for my training was Kisshomaru Ueshiba Sensei. O-Sensei had already retired to the mountainside of Iwate, and only came to Hombu Dojo occasionally. The growth and development of modern Aikido since the war has been due to Doshu’s hard work. His Aikido is very beautiful.

What about Master Koichi Tohei of the Ki Society?

Yes, Tohei Sensei is very good. He is small but very powerful. I saw him take a challenge from a wrestler once.

Sumotori or Western style?

Western style. Two brothers – Germans I think from Argentina – and they were enormous! They had to bend over to avoid hitting their heads on the gatepost of the Hombu. This was the only time that O-Sensei accepted a challenge for Hombu. These people were travelling the world with a film crew and were challenging different martial arts masters. They had been to the Kodokan, (Judo HQ), but the Judo men had not been able to handle them. So they challenged the Aikido Hombu. When they arrived I met them and brought them in. Inside the dojo were O-Sensei, Kisshomaru Sensei, and Tohei Sensei, who was then the Chief Instructor to the Aikido Foundation. O-Sensei nominated Tohei to go first, as he was so strong. So the wrestler crouched in a low posture with his hands out stretched in front of him, and just moved in a circle around Tohei Sensei for a long time. Tohei Sensei was very relaxed and just followed his movement, and eventually cornered him. Just as the wrestler began to move Tohei leapt upon him, threw him to the floor, and bounced his head for him. Tohei Sensei then pinned him down with his hand blade extension, which, as you may have heard, is very powerful. This guy could not move, and his brother declined to try Tohei for himself, so that was that. Apparently at the Kodokan the Judo men advised them not to make a grab for an Aikido master. That is why he circled Tohei Sensei for so long.

With friends like that who needs enemies! As we are talking about challenges would you mind telling me about your confrontation with Mr. Wang, the Tai Chi master from China?

Who told you about this, Mr. Cottier perhaps?

Perhaps I’d better not tell…

(Laughter) O.K. then. I was in a big demonstration of martial arts in Tokyo in the early 1960s, and Tai Chi Chuan was being shown by Mr. Wang. He was from Taiwan and he was very big indeed. He became quite famous later in Japan. Well, at the end of his display he had a number of Karateka line up in front of him, and each of them punched him in the belly. It had no effect on him. I was not impressed. I would have done something else (Sensei demonstrated a groin kick and face punch whilst saying this). So, anyway two of my private students were also studying Tai Chi under Mr. Wang, and they were very impressed with him. They invited me to come along and see him. Eventually I accepted and went to watch his class. At the Dojo my students introduced us, and he politely asked me to show some Aikido. Even though his words were warm it was still a challenge! Well, we faced each other, and Master Wang made something like a Sumo posture with his hands outstretched. I stood and waited for an opening. This went on for some minutes until he moved forward to push me. So I met him, made Tai Sabaki (body evasion) and took his wrist with Kote Gaeshi, (wrist crush/reversal) … his wrist made a loud snapping noise as I applied it. Even though I applied Kote Gaeshi strongly and injured him, he did not go down. Master Wang snatched his wrist from me, and challenged me immediately. So this time he pushed me with both hands in the belly, and threw me quite a distance across the room. I landed, but I also did not go down. It was an amazing throw. My students then came between us, and that was that.

How did you come to be sent to England?

Well in 1964 when the Olympic Games were held in Tokyo, the famous Judo Master, Kenshiro Abbe Sensei came to Hombu to pay respects to O-Sensei. He asked O-Sensei to send a young and spirited instructor to England to develop Aikido for the British Judo Council. I was supposed to go to New York to assist Yamada Sensei, but O-Sensei agreed to send me to England.

Why did you choose the North East area first?

My sponsor, Mr. Logan, was a businessman in Newcastle, so I went to that area. However, during my journey from Japan something happened with the BJC and they were not able to work with me. So Mr. Logan had to pay my salary – it was a difficult time. It was in the North East that I promoted my first British Dan grades, Mr. Pat Butler, Mr. Fred Jenkins and Mr. Ron Myers.

Yes, Sensei I trained Under all three of these men for a number of years, particularly Ron Myers. On your voyage from Japan I believe there was an incident…?

Ah yes, we had a party on the ship when we crossed the equator, and I was asked to demonstrate. So I agreed, however there was no-one on board with any Aikido experience to act as my partner.

Or if there was, they were keeping very quiet about it!

(Laughter) Yes maybe. So one of the ship’s crew was asked to assist me, and he attacked me with a knife. At Hombu Dojo, in knife work, we made a positive attack with a Tanto (a dagger). But this guy was crouched low, moving around me, changing the knife from hand to hand. This was difficult, as when he made his attack I would not know which hand had held the weapon. So when he came at me I made Gedan Barai (the low sweeping block) with both arms, and I was able to deflect his attack. The point of his blade actually went through my Obi (belt) and just touched my flesh. From Gedan Barai I moved to a counter technique and broke his arm.

With which technique?

Katakatame, I think.

Blocking techniques such as Gedan Barai are not usual in Aikido. Mainly the hand blade is used as a deflecting move.

Yes, but it is not always possible to move, so I believe that you need to be able to make a strong block when necessary.

Can you recall your last meeting with O-Sensei before you left for England.

My brother and I traveled by taxi to Hombu Dojo before going to my ship. We were badly delayed because of the Tokyo traffic, and I was late arriving at Hombu. This was very bad, as uchi deshi students must always be ready to receive and meet their teacher. Anyway, when I arrived O-Sensei was waiting for me, and said how happy he was that I had come to say goodbye. My teacher gave me tea, and said that I had looked after him well over the years, and wished me good luck. He also said that I should not worry about him, and that he would live to be 126 years old.

Was O-Sensei joking with you?

No, he was very serious. He had given me a Koan (a Zen riddle) and only now do I understand.

Sensei, in 1976 you returned to Japan. Actually, I was the last Shodan you promoted before you left…

Yes, that’s why I went home! (Laughter)

How were things at Hombu on your return?

Well the standard of Aikido was fine of course, but too much in Japan had changed and I didn’t like what had happened. I was given the job of International Secretary at Hombu Dojo, and I was not happy with it. Paperwork all day, and no time to train. This was no good for me. I am a martial artist, not a clerk. So I left Tokyo and went to live in the country. I farmed and practiced Zazen (Seated meditation) for a time. Later I was invited to move to San Diego by the United States Aikido Federation.

May l ask about your Iaido training?

I like Iaido (the art of drawing the sword) very much. I really like to handle the Katana (the longest of the Samurai swords) and I feel an affinity for the Japanese sword. I practice Muso Shinden Ryu, which was founded by Nakayama Hakudo Sensei at the turn of the century. O-Sensei always had a very good relationship with Hakudo. His students used to practice at Kobukan.

That is what Hombu Dojo used to be called . . .

Yes, that’s right. There was a good interchange of students. Actually Hakudo Sensei’s senior student was married to O-Sensei’s daughter. He was All-Japan Kendo champion at one time.

I always find a good awareness in Iaido training, almost a moving Zen…

Yes, indeed, a good point. It is good for developing Zanshin, I always combine Zazen with Iai at my Dojo. Maybe 20 minutes of sitting meditation and 10 minutes of sword drawing, and then back to Zazen.

I have been told that now you have background music played during Zazen at your Dojo . . . is this true?

Well, not always. My Zen master used to do that with either Bach or Beethoven, and we would sit. Very enjoyable. You can go really deep in your meditation in such sessions, depending on the type of music of course: I don’t think that jazz would go with it, for example. My Dojo faces a main street in San Diego, so the background music helps to cut out the sound from outside.

Over the last twenty years I have had the pleasure of training under a number of O-Sensei’s personal students -yourself of course – also Sekiya, Tamura, Kanai . . . and you are all so different: Would you like to comment?

Well, I think that Aikido is very much wider than other Martial Arts. Aikido allows everyone to train together. The communication that takes place on the mat is only a part of it.

Do you think that each of you expresses a difference facet of O-Sensei’s Aikido in your individual practice?

Yes, I think that is so.

Some people say that O-Sensei was a very gentle and kind old man, yet others refer to his direct and severe martial attitude . . . what is the truth?

I think that it was quite natural for him to be very kind, gentle and peaceful with ordinary students, but with uchi deshi he was harsh and severe at times.

Why do you emphasize weapons training in your Aikido?

Aikido is based on the traditional swordsmanship of Japan. So in Aikido body art we move like a swordsman without having a sword. Weapons are particularly important in place of offensive, or dualistic training such as Randori in Judo, and Jiyu Kumite (free fighting) in Karate. It helps us develop martial spirit and other aspects like timing, distance, centering etc. Also we can relate directly to basic technique from bokken cuts, out-extension of breath power, use of hips etc.

May I ask a little about Aikido history: O-Sensei was once invited to teach at the Kodokan by the founder of Judo, Dr. Jigoro Kano: did he accept?

At the time Kano Sensei was trying to consolidate the traditional martial arts of Japan, to help preserve them. That is why he asked O-Sensei to come to the Kodokan to teach. But O-Sensei refused: he felt that Aikido and Judo were so different that they should not be classed together. So instead Dr. Kano sent three of his senior students to study under O-Sensei – Master Mochizuki and Master Murashige, and one other I can’t recall his name. They studied with O-Sensei but returned every so often to the Kodokan to meet with Dr. Kano.

Was Tomiki Sensei the other master?

No Tomiki Sensei came later. He combined Aikido and Judo: he would use Aikido for open distance in combat, and judo for a closer Maai (critical distance), I don’t altogether agree with this idea, but Tomiki Sensei was a very good martial artist…and a real gentleman.

I read somewhere that there is a cousin of O-Sensei, a martial artist himself, still alive in Japan!

Yes, that is Master Hogen Inoue. His resemblance to O-Sensei is amazing. He is of course very old now, but his Aikido was second only to O-Sensei’s at one time. He calls his Budo form, “Taiwa Shindo” now.

The Shotokai Karate Master, Harada Sensei’s teacher, Master Shigeru Egami was a student under Inoue Sensei … I have heard that there was an interesting encounter between these two great masters when they first met!

You must ask Harada Sensei about this incident. Harada Sensei and I are good friends: he is an intellectual and a great Karate master.

Other than your confrontations on the ship, and against Master Wang have you ever had to use your ability outside of the dojo?

Well a gangster attacked me with a knife once in Japan. He lunged for my belly, so I blocked him with Gedan Barai, and broke his arm with Kata Katamae. On another occasion I was in Paris with Noro Sensei, and we visited a night club together. I was having a drink in one room and Noro Sensei was sitting in another room playing cards, or something. Suddenly there was a terrible commotion from where Noro was, so I went in to see what was happening. It was a fight. An old gentleman was lying on the floor and a young man was kicking him. It was terrible there was a lot of blood on the floor. I think he would have killed him, so Noro, Sensei said to me “Chiba, sort that out!” He did not want to get involved. (Laughter). I took hold of this man, and stopping his attack, I asked him what he thought he was doing. He spoke to me in French, so neither of us understood and so I pulled him outside… then something happened. My body reacted and I threw him down with Osoto Gari (major outer sweeping throw) the judo technique. He hit the ground very hard and I heard a clatter of metal. It was then I realized that he had pulled a knife. My awareness had been such that I reacted to the situation from my subconscious. This guy was a gangster from the Pigalle and that was why no one stopped him. He was well known apparently . . . but not to me! It made no difference who he was.

Anything else Sensei?

When I returned to Japan from England, in 1978, a man issued a challenge to us. But Hombu Dojo refused it, despite his persistence.

Was he a Karateka?

Nobody knew what he did. As I said he was persistent, and every few weeks he would return to challenge us. Each time I had to explain that we could not accept. I think that the man was not quite “right” in the head. Anyway, eventually I personally had enough of him and accepted his challenge. We arranged to meet and sort it out. I insisted that we agree not to press charges in the event of serious injury and we exchanged letters to that effect. I told him as a martial arts teacher I was prepared to die if need be. Well we met and I initiated with offence, moving directly to him and I struck him first. This threw him back against the wall and as I came to him he jumped on me: he was like a tiger. I then finished him with Nikkyo (the second immobilization). He had had enough by then. There was much blood and he was on the floor screaming. That was the last challenge he offered us – it seems that he did not expect an Aikidoist to initiate an attack.

To conclude our talk may I ask you about two separate things: Atemi and competition in Aikido?

Well I believe Atemi (the striking of anatomical weak points) is very, very important to Aikido technique. It is not usually taught in class … but I personally train in Atemi, of course. There is no competition in Aikido because it would eliminate a lot of people from the training. The purpose of Aikido is to allow as many different people as possible – men and women, young and old, weak and strong – to develop their potential through practice together.

What would you consider to be the most important quality in a good Aikidoka?


Chiba Sensei may I thank you on behalf of the readers of “Fighting Arts” for taking the time to speak with me.



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.


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.

Rolling Sequence Video

By Suzane Van Amburgh, Multnomah Aikikai

This is a rolling sequence video for aikido practice and teaching.

Beginning Aikido students are often introduced to rolling practice in their first week on the mat. The experience of getting down on the ground and coming up again is fundamental and yet also instinctive. New students have so much going on mentally, emotionally and physically as they begin a new movement practice.

Small rolls, sometimes called “Bucky Ball” rolls or “baby rolls” offer teachers a rich opportunity to orient the new student, practice learning skills, foster attention skills and give them something they can do successfully and improve upon quickly.

For more senior students, the practice serves as a mental and physical warm up, calming the nervous system and relaxing the body.

Bringing attention to what you do and how you do it, matching your breathing to your movement and varying your intention in movement are all excellent ways to prepare yourself for aikido practice.

In this quiet (no-talking) video, Suzane Van Amburgh Sensei demonstrates a rolling practice sequence useful for all levels, from beginner to senior student.  It begins with orientation to the relative position of body parts, rocking left and right. It progresses through use of weight shifts, finding the natural levers and counterbalances of the body, smooth transitions from sitting to side lying and up to sitting again. By the end of the video, the roll has evolved to advanced sequences requiring clear intention, core conditioning, good body control and awareness of the space around you.

Let this post serve as a reference tool and “cliff notes” for aikidoists in your regular rolling practice.

If rolling is new to you, don’t try this alone. Come to the dojo or schedule a private lesson with a certified aikido teacher.


Suzane Van Amburgh, shidoin, Multnomah Aikikai

Rolling sequence 5:37 recorded 2015

Trouble viewing the video? Here’s the link to the video shared on google: