The River of Aikido

by Dan Reid Multnomah Aikikai

Aikido is many things to many people. For me it is like a broad and deep river flowing through time. It springs from its source in the mountains with O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, runs down and spreads across the plains and valleys with his students, and carries us forward through the decades as we continue to train. And like any river, the deeper we venture into the water, the more powerful the current becomes.

I first discovered Aikido in May 2000 at Tom Read Sensei’s dojo in Arcata, California when I was an undergraduate at Humboldt State University. I had always had a fascination with martial arts and Eastern philosophies, but up to that point I had only dabbled my toes in the water. My training at Northcoast Aikido gave me a chance to wade in and start to feel the current. My body began to learn these strange new ways to move, resulting in sore muscles that I never knew I had. As I continued to train, the movements and techniques gradually began to feel more natural, and I began to understand the first layers of their underlying martial logic. At the same time, the humbling knowledge that the more senior students and sempai had been training for years or decades reminded me how little I yet understood. I began to sense the depth of the channel that stretched out before me.

River of Light, by Denise Wey.  denisewey.com

River of Light, by Denise Wey.
denisewey.com

I moved to the Bay Area after college in 2002 and reconnected with my training at Aikido Institute of San Francisco under Gloria Nomura Sensei. After wading tentatively into the water from this new bend in the river, I gathered my courage and plunged in headfirst. As one of Chiba Sensei’s disciples, Nomura Sensei and her students carried forward his unique interpretations of Aikido in a vigorous and challenging style of practice. The training seemed dauntingly martial and even severe at first, but as I began to accept my fear and give myself to the swiftness of the current, I found that it supported me even as it swept me downstream. My body began to change, my instincts and reactions began to align with the practice, and I grew more confident even as I struggled through my own limitations. At the same time, my membership through the dojo in Birankai International connected me with a worldwide community of Aikidoists. I had the opportunity to train with many new people through seminars and Summer Camps, and I realized that the river of Aikido has many streams, channels, and tributaries, all flowing toward the same sea.

The deep and serene waters of Aikido have also been an enormous source of stability and community during periods of transition and difficulty in my life. I moved to Minneapolis in 2007 when my wife started her doctoral program there, and I had the opportunity to train at the Twin Cities Aikido Center for the next three years. The members of TCAC became like a wonderfully boisterous extended family, and the training and friendship I found there carried me through many trials in my professional life. We then moved to Oregon in 2010 when I began graduate study at UO, and I was lucky to train briefly with Steve Thoms Sensei at Eugene Aikikai before the combined demands of children and architecture school forced a hiatus. Even when I was unable to train, however, I always considered myself an Aikidoist, and the pull of the river’s current was never far from my mind and heart. We then spent my wife’s internship year from 2013-14 in southern Illinois, and I was able to rejoin the stream with an Aikido community there to continue my training through another difficult period.

Finally, my family and I moved back to Oregon in 2014, where I had the opportunity to join Multnomah Aikikai. This return to the Birankai community was a long-awaited homecoming. I feel fortunate to be able to continue my development in Aikido with Suzane Van Amburgh Sensei and Aki Fleshler Sensei, who also trained with Chiba Sensei. A sense of continuity in the lineage of my training stretches upstream through Van Amburgh Sensei, to Fleshler Sensei and Nomura Sensei, to Chiba Sensei, and finally to O’Sensei at the wellspring of Aikido. However, to paraphrase an old saying, one never swims in the same river twice. The flow and swirl of its currents and eddies are constantly carving new channels, silting in old ones, eroding old banks, and depositing new ones. Aikido is a living river that evolves with the dedicated training and stewardship of its practitioners around the world, and it is my honor to be considered a fellow Aikidoist. I can’t wait to see where the flowing water takes me.

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