The Latest from Birankai Aikido

Birankai Aikido News May 15

Celebration in Albuquerque

Mateo’s 1st Kyu test.

Congratulations to Aikido of Albuquerque, which celebrated its 10th anniversary with an intensive seminar April 20-22. Chief instructors Philip and Bernadette Vargas were joined by Birankai teachers from across the Southwest in 16 hours of training that focused on the four pillars of Aikido laid out by Chiba Sensei: Aikido, weapons, Zazen and Iaido. (The new header image above is of the Aikido of Albuquerque shomen.)

Capping off the seminar were kyu tests that included Summer Camp veteran Mateo Vargas earning promotion to 1st kyu. Congratulations to all! See more photos of the event at the Aikido of Albuquerque Facebook page.

Aikido of Albuquerque is an outstanding dojo with offerings including Continue reading “Celebration in Albuquerque”

BNA Youth Programs Growing

By Norine Longmire, Aikido Takayama

Does your dojo have a children’s or youth class? What keeps your kids coming back? What kind of successes or challenges are you having within your classes?

These are some of the questions and concerns that the leadership of the BNA Youth Program Team is endeavoring to help all BNA dojos with. We all know that the youth are our future. Starting a youth program (we say YOUTH across the board from the youngest to 20 years) and keeping it going and growing is a unique challenge for all dojos. Over the last three years we have been creating opportunities for our Birankai community to become more involved and cohesive in the integration of successful youth programs for every dojo.

Have you joined the BNA Youth Program Facebook Page? This is a closed group that supports chief instructors and teachers of youth programs. Longtime youth program teachers like Kate Savoca of Brooklyn Aikikai, Cecilia Continue reading “BNA Youth Programs Growing”

New Dojo: Santa Fe Budokan

Damon Apodaca Sensei

A warm welcome to Santa Fe Budokan, a dojo that recently joined Birankai North America, and welcome back to Damon Apodaca Sensei, a student of Chiba Sensei’s starting in 1981.

Santa Fe Budokan opened in November of 2008 but recently moved into a newly built structure on Apodaca Sensei’s property at 190A Nine Mile Road, in the southern part of Santa Fe. The dojo offers classes five days a week in Aikido, Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu Iaido and Zazen and features the instruction of Birankai veterans Kristina Varjan Shihan and Rikko Varjan Sensei.

Apodaca Sensei’s Aikido journey started in 1974, when he interviewed to join M. Nakazono Sensei’s Santa Fe dojo. Upon joining the Navy, he joined Chiba Sensei’s Fourth Avenue “Pressure Cooker” dojo and trained in San Diego until 1987; he also spent three months in Iwama as an uchideshi of M. Saito Sensei. He opened his first solo dojo in Santa Fe then moved to Newport, R.I., where he maintained a dojo until 2009. He also co-authored the book Aikido Ground Fighting.

Santa Fe Budokan welcomes visitors and guests. People wishing to train there regularly must apply directly to D. Apodaca Sensei, and must either have a recommendation or be subject to an interview.

“I hope to be a good contributing member to BNA, especially in memory of Chiba Sensei who I credit as being the teacher which contributed most to my training,” D. Apodaca Sensei said. “I am grateful daily to be able to still train regularly in all these arts.”

Interior of Santa Fe Budokan

Calling All Teachers

Birankai Aikido Instructors Intensive in California, 2012. This year’s intensive is in Upstate New York May 18-20; the theme is “Kihon,” or the building blocks of our training.

How do I attract new members? What is the best platform to fundraise for new mats? How can I get more from my dues-payment system? What is a good strategy for teaching Sansho?  We have a lot of experience in our organization – and we have a lot of know-how to share.

“Grow Your Dojo” is the focus of our new Birankai Aikido Teachers news blast, a monthly rundown of tips and real-world experience from instructors across the continent (and beyond, we hope). We’ve also started a closed Facebook group to encourage discussion and sharing of videos, news items and other media with the goal of supporting and encouraging each other in trying to transmit Chiba Sensei’s Aikido.

All Birankai Aikido teachers in North America, Europe and beyond are welcome to take part and join the discussion: Email liese.klein@gmail.com if Continue reading “Calling All Teachers”

Seminar Report: Breath Power

Event: Darrell Bluhm Shihan of Siskyou Aikikai at Green River Aikido, May 5-6, 2018. With additional instruction from Cindy Eggers Shidoin.

Instructor’s Statement: “Coming here I’ve been really interested in thinking about ukemi and kokyu ryoku (breath power from the center) as sort of the yin and yang of our practice, the inhalation-exhalation. For me ukemi is the art of receiving and neutralizing power with our whole body – as Chiba Sensei would say without resisting, without escaping, without flying away, or without collapsing. Ukemi is a vital aspect, it’s a preparation for the unexpected, and the way that we take ukemi in Birankai is really lively.

“Ukemi isn’t just the falling down, it really is a whole relation, the ability to absorb and neutralize power. Thinking about power, I think that how we generate power is misunderstood because we tend to think about it in terms of muscular force. The first thing we have to do is to align our skeleton because the skeleton is the primary organ for support of the body. When we align our skeleton with gravity, we’re able to capture the ground reaction forces that our relationship with gravity gives us. It allows us to generate force through the body, so skeletal alignment is critical. Really important to that is spinal extension, something that was so apparent in Sensei’s Aikido, his throwing as well as how he taught and how he demonstrated ukemi.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about something Chiba Sensei said in a letter to Lizzy Lynn: ‘To practice Aikido is to study the body; to study the body is to study the Continue reading “Seminar Report: Breath Power”

Training in San Diego

By Elodie Honegger

I spent almost thee months as an uchideshi in San Diego Aikikai, starting November 15th, 2017. My French teacher, Sadek Khettab Sensei, had sent me to train with Juba Nour Sensei for a while, and Juba Nour Sensei then sent me to train with Deena Drake Sensei. I’ve trusted each one of these great teachers with my life, and I’m happy I did.

Deena Sensei welcomed me and my partner on a training evening when she was just coming back from Japan. Even with jet lag, she wanted to meet the two new uchideshi at the very moment of our arrival. That night was representative of the way I felt welcome in her dojo, every single day and for every single class.

I’d like to share the way Deena Sensei trains on New Year’s Eve, because it Continue reading “Training in San Diego”

Raffle Prizes and Devil Eyes

By Cecilia Ramos, Grass Valley Aikikai  

Every year at Summer Camp we have a fabulous raffle to raise money for Birankai North America’s Scholarship Program. Prizes range from small to large. Many are handmade by our members and the grand prize is Summer Camp for the following year. I would like to encourage everyone to buy raffle tickets and donate prizes.

A few years back I won a set of three porcelain “whiskey” cups. They were lovely, but I couldn’t figure out why they were called whiskey cups. I packed them carefully to survive traveling home in my suitcase and was relieved that they arrived undamaged. Putting them on the shelf I noticed they weren’t straight and looked again for damage. That was when I realized they had been made crooked on purpose, like they were drunk! Hence the name! Whiskey Cups! I treasure them and love their crookedness.

Last year Neal Dunnigan Sensei, chief instructor of Wheatbelt Aikikai, won a piece of calligraphy brushed by Chiba Sensei. It was donated by Lizzy Lynn Sensei, who herself had won it as a raffle prize years before at a camp in San Diego. She rolled it into a tube to get it back to her dojo in Northern California, and then had it framed. It was quite large, perhaps five feet tall, but narrow. When she decided to donate it back, the size became a problem, as it seemed a pity to take it out of the frame. The solution was to ask Carole Gifford to drive it three hours to Grass Valley, as she was coming to our Mountain Weapons Seminar. Then my student Iris Vandevorst’s family drove it up to Seattle. In between the seminar and camp, the beautiful calligraphy leaned against the back wall in my dojo and I Continue reading “Raffle Prizes and Devil Eyes”

Teaching in Brazil

By Roger Park, Huron Valley Aikikai

I was invited to teach in Brazil by a gentleman by the name of Mauricio Nascimento, who trained with us here in Ann Arbor while he was at the University of Michigan for graduate studies. He is now a professor in the city of Maringa in southern Brazil, and runs an Aikido club there. He’s associated with Aikido Parana Brasil, an organization whose lineage is through Kawai Shihan. Kawai Shihan is credited with introducing Aikido to Brazil in the early 1960s and lived in Sao Paolo until his death in 2010. Aikido Parana Brasil is now Continue reading “Teaching in Brazil”

Why I Practice Aikido

By Haryo Shridhar, Brooklyn Aikikai

I practice Aikido because it is my path. This is not what I would have said five and a half years ago when I started.

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When I started Aikido, I had no idea what it was. I had just moved to New York City from living in India and London, and was starting life over on my own. After about 22 years of dancing, I had decided to stop. I had studied one year of Indian martial arts while in Bangalore and knew that I wanted to train in a martial practice. I did not know why. It was like I was in a pitch black room and was following a simpler, more basic sense than sight. My friend said, “You should check out aikido, I think you would like it.” Watching class, I knew within a few seconds that I would like Savoca Sensei to be my teacher. In a way, as much as I found Aikido, I think it also found me.

Recently, I have been thinking about my previous dance training and Aikido. I have been asking myself why I decided to stop dancing and why I have made a commitment within myself to Aikido. The initial answer that came up was too easy. “Dance was heavily related to my married life and I wanted to leave that behind.” That wasn’t it. While I loved dancing, I felt boxed in by ideas of how I Continue reading “Why I Practice Aikido”

Building a Bridge

By Sanders Anderson, Multnomah Aikikai

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A lot of things go through your mind when test time rolls into your life. Even more so if you happen to be someone with the misfortune of failing your previous test. Beyond the obvious considerations of assessing one’s skill, is perhaps an even more daunting survey of a student’s determination. For me beyond the technical requirements of passing or not passing, is the question of whether or not the fire is lit. Is my flame a mere flicker or is it sufficiently hot enough to do its job? Can it heat the contents and transfer energy with mind, body, and spirit integrated as one?

I had a lot riding on this test for the rank of 1st kyu (level/grade) in the Japanese martial art of Aikido. I really wanted to show I had spent significantly more time on the foundations of our art: hanmi (stance) and taisabaki (footwork). I also wanted to prove to myself that I had been willing to eat the bitter fruit, spending the requisite time alone outside of class, continuing to forge my will, and bringing those developments to the dojo. My hope was that others would bear witness to my progress.

Three nights of testing sounded like a good idea at the time as a welcome switch up to the usual program of having to prove yourself on a single night. Continue reading “Building a Bridge”

The Importance of the Sole

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Everyone who practices Aikido understands the importance of their feet. We all know the warm-up exercise where the sole of the foot is massaged, slapped, and shaken, and most of us have probably had sore feet at some point or other. Here is a 9 minute video that gave me a deeper understanding of the structures of the sole of the foot. The video focuses on plantar fasciitis, but it is of general interest as well. I once had a case of plantar fasciitis (in both feet) and I know many of you have had it, too. So painful! Mine came about from stepping on rocks while clearing brush. In my case it took a year to heal, and some people’s feet never do. If you have never had it, be thankful, and take care of your feet so you never get it! Even though this video was made for plantar fasciitis, there are other injuries, acute and chronic, that may occur. This video will help you to understand what goes on with the bottom of the feet and hopefully will be useful as you go through your Aikido career.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hauyuX-uCq8

Many thanks to Deb Pastors, Oak Park Aikikai, for bringing it to my attention, and to Jan Arkless, North County Aikikai, for having asked the question.

Cecilia Ramos

Grass Valley Aikikai 

Am I Too Old For This?

By Charles Aarons, Aikido Takayama

70 years old! Where did the time go?

I have had a long Aikido career…longer than many…less than others.

I look back at my Aikido life with an equal measure of regret and hope.

In 1971 (or thereabouts) the newly founded Toronto Aikikai was run by Bruce Stiles, a newly minted Shodan from Kanai Sensei. Our dojo and our sister dojo the Montreal Aikikai began bringing up Sensei’s Yamada and Kanai for seminars. It seems hard to believe but they were 5th dan then. I have a promotional poster somewhere to prove it!

In those early years, I can only describe the teaching as “old school.” Waza were shown a few times and then off we went to practice with as much vigour Continue reading “Am I Too Old For This?”

For Whom the Bell Rings

By Alexander V. Gheorghiu, Ei Mei Kan

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Reader, please stop. Stop thinking about this piece, how strange the story that follows is, or how good or bad this experience may have been. It is not what you think, it couldn’t be, as I will try to make clear.

I went to Sesshin, a five-day boot camp of zazen, and I cannot tell you that story. I resented this platitude when Mooney Sensei gave it to me, but now I understand why he did, and I remain eternally grateful to him. However, I will describe something of my journey. Not so that you may understand what Sesshin is like (I already said that I cannot tell you that story), indeed this article is not even for you, and it is not for me.

At the end of September 2017, I completed a one-month uchi deshi program at Ei Mei Kan, with the final week in an intensive seminar. After a busy, and hard summer, the day I finally left the dojo I had a long conversation with Sensei about everything I had been through in the preceding period – intercontinental travelling, three summer school in one month, being uchi deshi, the intensive seminar etc. At the end I found myself saying that I wanted to go on Sesshin. Sensei barely responded, he took a deep pause and then said simply ‘Look for Genjo.’ What on earth is a Genjo?

From this to boarding the airplane out of Birmingham International Airport, the only other remarks I received was that it would be the hardest thing I ever did… actually, there was one magnificent piece of advice which I now whole heatedly pass on to you: whenever in doubt, just bow.

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On the 21st of February 2018 I landed in Bonn, Germany, with two names in mind: Monika and Genjo. Out of the airport I took a taxi towards the city, the driver was an active supporter of Golden Dawn, the nationalist fascist party of Greece. He was in his 50s and lived his whole life as an immigrant in Germany, but somehow had the Greek air about him. If not the irony of his immigration status, I found him entertaining in the way he declared everything ‘Unbelievable!’ in that way only southern Europeans can. It was already dark outside.

In the city I found the restaurant Monika had emailed me, a Pizza place called ‘Amigo’ – let me observe here that ‘Amigo’ is Spanish, not Italian, but I digress. I Continue reading “For Whom the Bell Rings”

Living and Training through Heartache

by Norine Longmire, Aikido Takayama

Recently my mother died relatively suddenly. The shock, anger, and sadness that accompanied the news and then the eventual acceptance of the reality of her death was overwhelming. Yet everything seemed to come into focus. Things that I thought mattered, I no longer tolerated; people who I thought would be in my life forever, are gone. When my mom was dying, all things including Aikido were dropped as if they were never a part of my life, nor mattered in the end. The act of swinging a wooden sword seemed pointless when the life of a mother so dear – I felt she was like my right arm – was draining painfully away.

Norine Longmire Sensei

Shutting one’s self away is one way to cope with death. It is what I did. I did not want to see anyone. Hearing the language people use around death was offensive to me. “I’m sorry for your loss.” (I did not lose my mother – she died!) “She’s in a better place.” (How do you know she is in a better place?) When I could not touch her, hug her, speak to her, or hear her voice I could not be around people saying these platitudes. Having others assert their own beliefs and faith on my experience caused even more suffering.

The sadness that remains after the death of a loved one can be like a pit that continues to get deeper and broader. Every day is a struggle to get out of bed, to face a world where we continue to kill each Continue reading “Living and Training through Heartache”

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?

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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 Continue reading “When What You Love Kills You”

The Challenges of Aikido – Aikidosphere Interview with Chiba Sensei

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 Continue reading “The Challenges of Aikido – Aikidosphere Interview with Chiba Sensei”

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.

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.

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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:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B71m_xdJDqYvekVBdnVSR3lBYXM/view?usp=sharing

Polishing the Aikido Spirit

By:  Andy Brastad, Clallam Aikikai 

Aikido Seminar with Frank Apodaca Sensei, November 3-5 2017

“The purpose of training is to tighten up the slack, toughen the body and polish the spirit.”

-Morihei Ueshiba

Recently, I had the great fortune of attending a Clallam Aikikai Aikido seminar taught by Frank Apodaca Sensei in Carlsborg, Washington.  It was my first seminar since I returned to training in Aikido after a six year hiatus.  Six years – it may not seem like a long time.  But time off the mats and aging (I’m 63) act like a slick pick-pocket – taking your valuables from you and you have no clue that they are even gone, that is until you need them.  So with a bit of trepidation I signed up for the 3-day training hoping that my stout-hearted spirit would indeed shield me from the feelings of awkwardness, lack of memory of techniques, and the aches and pains of hard workouts. I also volunteered to host visitors attending the seminar from nearby Victoria, Canada.

The seminar began on a Friday night – suwari waza techniques. I’m thinking that my training is back to square one; just do your best and don’t sweat it if you make lots of mistakes.  Throughout the session Frank Apodaca Sensei stressed the basics of good techniques; stance, posture, movement, position, timing, breath, completeness of techniques, and a martial attitude.

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For the entirety of the seminar the basics would be the mantra of the seminar.  The seminar ended Sunday afternoon with a pot-luck on Saturday night. As it turned out my visitors from Victoria, Maggie and Jody, were a couple that had stayed in my house about 6 years ago.  When we met at the seminar it was as though we had just seen each other yesterday, not like 6 years had gone by. It was truly reconnecting with friends.  Also traveling with them was their son Raven and one of their students, Paul.  We all became really good friends.

This brings me back to the wise words of O’Sensei. As a student with a huge amount of “slack’ in my techniques, this seminar was just what I needed as a retuning new student.  I definitely took in as much as I could and “stole” from black belts what they offered to me.  Yes, my body ached on Monday (and Tuesday too) but I like the feeling of testing my body and learning to adapt to the limitations that I now have.  After all I’m in it for the long haul.  However, for me the words “polish the spirit” really ring true.  The basics really extend not just to techniques and training but also to developing and renewing friendships, camaraderie, and the shared excitement of friends getting promotions.  All of these activities are polishing (and rekindling) the spirit.

I want to thank Frank Apodaca Sensei and Neilu Naini Sensei for bringing this seminar on “the Basics” to Clallam Aikikai.  I could not have enjoyed it more.