The sempai–kohai relationship

R. Heins taking ukemi for Miyamota Sensei at 2009 Birankai Summer Camp.

By R. Heins, Northwest Michigan Aikikai
(From the Brooklyn Aikikai blog)

Excerpt from the essay:
The Japanese terms “sempai,” “kohai,” and “dohai” may be misunderstood in Western dojos, if they are used at all; likewise, cultural concepts of seniority can be misinterpreted. Literally speaking, “sempai” means “earlier/previous member [of a group]”; “kohai” means “later member”; and “dohai”—used far less often—means “equal member,” and refers to someone who joined the dojo at the same time as oneself.
In a martial-arts context, the use of these terms depends heavily on circumstances and the culture of the dojo itself. But it’s important to understand that they relate to relationships within a given group, and that certain expectations and obligations are attached to them.
Read the full essay here.

Register for Summer Camp now

From the Aikido Institute of San Francisco: We are pleased to announce that online registration for Birankai North America Summer Camp 2013 is now open. For more information and online registration, please click this link: Birankai North America Summer Camp 2013

The Fourteenth Annual Birankai North America Summer Camp will be held from July 5th to July 10th, 2013 at San Francisco State University in San Francisco, California.

Please note that online payments will be processed through PayPal (credit cards and debit cards are accepted). To secure a place at camp, all registrants (except International registrants) are requested to include a 50 percent deposit upon submission of their registration. Those who choose to send payments by check or money order, rather than PayPal, should ensure that their deposit is received within two weeks of registering. All checks or money orders should be made payable to Birankai North America.

See you at Camp!

Please share your thoughts

I apologize for the delay on this but we’ve finally adjusted the settings for BiranOnline to allow for reader comments. All comments are moderated, but approved comments will be posted in a timely fashion. Please include links and identifying information where appropriate. Comment are especially appreciated on postings like the recent obituary for Genki Roshi: I’d love to read some Birankai members’ memories of Sesshin and Rohatsu with Genki Roshi. Comment away!

— L. Klein, Biran Editor

In Memorium: Genki Roshi

Genki Takabayashi Roshi, who played a major role in Birankai’s Zen training, died on Feb. 24, 2013. Our sincere condolences to Genki Roshi’s family and friends and the members of the Chobo-ji Zen Temple in Seattle.

The following is a remembrance by Genjo Osho from the Chobo-Ji website:

Genki Takabayashi Roshi, Chobo-Ji’s founding abbot, dropped his body five hours after returning home late last night to be with his wife and cat in the town of Victor, Montana.

I was with him the weekend before last when he was in a rehab hospital in Missoula. At that time Continue reading “In Memorium: Genki Roshi”

Welcoming adversity

By Jon-Paul Oliva, Multnomah Aikikai

On Friday afternoon, May 25, 2012, we discovered a water leak in the women’s bathroom at Multnomah Aikikai that had gone undetected for over 12 hours. Despite member’s best efforts to shut off the water and clean up the affected area, the leak had overrun the bathroom, spilling out into the women’s dressing room and a portion of the dojo foyer.

To make matters worse, the water had permeated behind the bathroom vanity and much of the drywall was a total loss. In the days that followed, members helped to triage the affected areas, removing carpet Continue reading “Welcoming adversity”

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 “In Print: An uchideshi’s tale”

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 “Mind, energy and strength”

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!

New Year’s Promotions

Chiba Sensei and the members of the Birankai North America Senior Council offer their congratulations to the following members on their promotions.

Maureen Browne, Fox Valley Aikikai
Jobe  Groot, Mountain Coast Aikikai

Liese Klein, Fire Horse Aikido
Kathy Stier, Green River Aikido
Toma Rosenzweig, Aikido Daiwa
Tom Grimaldi, Copper Mountain Aikikai

Rich Ciriello, Boca Aikikai
Eric Karalius, Connecticut Aikikai
Daniel Pantaleo, Connecticut  Aikikai
Lynne Ballew, North County Aikikai
Neal Dunnigan, Wheatbelt Aikido
Joseph Canon, Corvallis Aikikai
Robert Petterson, Westside Aikido
Erik Fredricksen, Huron Valley Aikikai

Edward Hernandez, New Tampa Aikido

Susanna Estrada, Alameda Aikikai
John Gange, Central Coast Aikikai

Congratulations to all!

Summer Camp DVDs on sale

DVDs with complete footage of Birankai summer camps – including the 2008 anniversary event with Doshu Moriteru Ueshiba – are on sale at a special holiday price.DVDs are now $15 per disc or $60 for a set of five. Buy online here. All DVDs features classes with Chiba Sensei, Miyamoto Sensei and other Hombu dojo guests and Birankai shihan.

Purchases can be shipped within the US or to Birankai Canada dojos for a minimum order of 5 DVDs.

All proceeds benefit Birankai North America, future Summer Camp scholarships and seminar grants. Orders received after Dec. 15 will be shipped in the New Year.

From the Archives: ‘Art of Recovery’ by Chiba Sensei

The Art of Recovery

By T.K. Chiba

The important question of injury prevention must be addressed within the precise study of ukemi in everyday training. The art of ukemi is in a broad sense the art of recovery from crisis, or, more specifically, the development of power and skill to recover from situations of disequilibrium by mastering right action in conflict.

To respond correctly in situations of conflict, a practitioner must embody the basic Aikido principles of sensitivity, openness, centeredness, liveliness, connectedness and wholeness. More succinctly, one must learn how to meet oncoming force slowly, gathering all of the aforementioned elements in a progressive fashion to ultimately blend with the force. It is a mistake for the practitioner to perceive the elements to be independent of each other, as they are all interrelated and inseparable. In the end, no matter which element one chooses to begin focused individualized study, all of the other elements will interact simultaneously.

Mastery of the art of ukemi requires slow, gradual, consistent and progressive training. One must learn how to respond correctly with the energy of an oncoming force – harmonizing with the energy as if it was heavy, fast, strong or executed at maximum velocity even if it is in reality light, slow and gentle. Consistent practice of this right action will gradually enable one to face increasingly greater force without being victimized.

Proper awareness of right action is very much lacking amongst the general membership, who tend to literally interpret “lightness” as “light,” “slowness” as “slow” and “gentleness” as “gentle.” I believe this misperception is largely due to an overall lack of sensitivity and imagination combined with a deeply rooted, unconscious laziness – all of which constitute what is called in the martial sense, “blindness.”

Physical danger is omnipresent in martial training – this is a negative aspect of the practice, however, it is also its greatest strength, for it is that very danger which keeps the art alive and forces us to remain awake. We cannot ever forget that danger is always present, and blindness will lead to victimization.

Throughout my half-century-long career as a professional martial artist, I have suffered nearly every conceivable physical injury, yet I have survived, and those injuries have given me great insights into the art of ukemi. The knowledge I have gained from my experiences has been crystallized in my teachings for the benefit of my students. The wisdom found in the art of ukemi is not limited to physical practice in the dojo – it expands beyond the mat into everyday life as the art of recovery.

San Diego

Oct. 18, 2005

New Camp videos posted

Chiba Sensei, Yamada Sensei Miyamoto Sensei and Birankai senior instructors are featured in new videos posted today from Birankai Summer Camp 2012.

Visit the BiranOnline channel on Youtube to view the entire set, plus new video of recent East Coast seminars like Juba Nour at Fire Horse Aikido and this month’s United States Aikido Federation Winter Seminar in Fort Lauderdale.

If your dojo has some exciting video to share of Birankai or related instructors from any time period, let us know! Email

Load and Unload

Mike Flynn Shihan at Bucks County Aikido, September 2012.

By John McDevitt, Bucks County Aikido

“Nice tooch with the thistle.” – Flynn Shihan

The art of drawing the sword and striking a killing blow is offered, by Flynn Shihan, at Thistle Aikikai in Chryston, Scotland. For a few days in September, it was offered in Bucks County, Penn. In Iaido, students learn to use the sword not merely as a tool for cutting down one’s enemy, but as a method of allowing the mind and body to become more harmonious with nature. When instructed by Flynn Shihan, you also learn a bit about cutting down the Anglish!

While it was evident that Flynn Shihan was a master with the sword, I felt that he did not Continue reading “Load and Unload”

Welcome to our new Biran Online blog format!

Greetings to all Birankai North America members and visitors and welcome to our new Biran Online blog site.This site is designed to reflect the dynamic and diverse activities of Birankai North America dojos and Aikido practitioners with continuously updated essays, videos and links to other Birankai NA sites. Continue reading “Welcome to our new Biran Online blog format!”