Summer’s Last Stand – A Weekend of “Firsts”

By Jan Arkless North County Aikikai


On August 26, Summit Aikikai hosted their inaugural Late Summer Seminar with guest instructors Ed Hernandez, 3rd dan, and Todd Fessenden, 3rd dan. Keeping with a weekend of firsts, it was Ed and Todd’s first seminar. The president of Birankai North America, Alex Peterson, 6th dan, Chief Instructor of Summit Aikikai, lead the charge of the directive sent from the teacher’s council, to get more young teachers out into the larger community, sharing their wealth of knowledge. Answering the call to Park City were aikidoka from Utah, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, California, Wyoming and Oregon. With a mix of out-the-box beginners to a Shihan, it seemed everyone checked their ego at the door and donned the cloak of sincerity.
The event kicked off Friday with Hernadez Sensei humbly proclaiming that this was his “first gig,” then joyfully shook off our travel weariness by leading us through a number of high energy techniques. Spirit was high, smiles were abundant, sweat was profuse. A number of us sea-level folk wilted minutes into the class due to the altitude, but determiningly persevered. Is there no oxygen in Park City?

Ed Hernandea and Scott Swank , Ed and Michael Cevasco, Ed and David Friend
Ed Hernandea and Scott Swank , Ed and Michael Cevasco, Ed and David Friend
Friday evening, Peterson Sensei, along with ever-smiling Elizabeth Goward from Eugene Aikiakai, had arranged a rambling walk through the heart of Party City (not a typo) to a pub called the Wasatch Brewery. We all got to know each other with libations such as “Polygamy Porter,” and “Last One In Lager.” 
Saturday morning brought Fessenden Sensei into the mix with his precision-sharp weapons. Using the 8-count suburi in partner practice, he drew us into his personal exploration of the hip turn ending and the extension which necessitates it.
Todd Fessenden, Todd and Jan Arkless, Todd illustrating hip turn
Todd Fessenden, Todd and Jan Arkless, Todd illustrating hip turn

The afternoon practice started off with an introduction to the Russian martial art, Systema, by Mark Zamarin. With a focus on breathing, relaxation, and development of intuition/sixth-sense, and using the opponent’s energy against him, it was easy to see Systema’s relationship to the deeper levels of aikido. 
After all that relaxation, Hernandez Sensei, used yokomen attacks to keep us responsive and connected. Fessenden Sensei followed up with the 12 kesa jyo basics, again with an emphasis on hip turn and getting off the line. 
The perfect ending to such a day was a picnic and frigid dip in Rockport Reservoir Lake. We perched like mountain goats on the side of a rocky bluff watching the watersports and our friends swimming. As the sun went down and we bundled up, Elizabeth entertained us with guitar and folk songs. 
Enjoying the evening BBQ, Elizabeth Goward about to take the plunge, Alex Peterson and Suzanne-Gonzales-Webb, Cindy Moore Paddleboarding
Enjoying the evening BBQ, Elizabeth Goward about to take the plunge, Alex Peterson and Suzanne-Gonzales-Webb, Cindy Moore Paddleboarding

After Sunday’s classes, Dennis Belt Shihan presented Alex Sensei with the Biran Bowl, the “gift from heaven” that inspired Chiba Sensei to name our organization Birankai. It was a humbling moment to see this exchange. I know this symbol is in good hands, in a dojo with a Chief Instructor who keeps the legacy of Chiba Sensei’s aikido protected and alive.
Pat and Dennis belt presenting the Biran Bowl to Alex Peterson
Pat and Dennis belt presenting the Biran Bowl to Alex Peterson

Biran Bowl
Biran Bowl
After the seminar, our generous host, Alex Sensei took us to one of his favorite rock climbing places where he introduced us to top-roping. It was my first experience rock climbing and to say I was filled with trepidation is an understatement. However, safe in my harness and with Alex’s brother-in-law, David Friend, on belay, I felt secure and made it as high as my weary muscles would allow. Much higher than the climbing gym! As my experienced climber fiancé says, “Be scared…. and do it anyway.” Cindy Moore also took on the challenge, calmly climbing until called down so that we could catch our flight.
I feel honored to have experienced Todd and Ed’s first seminar. Their commitment and sincerity left me inspired and determined to forge on.   Alex Peterson is a thoughtful and generous host. Walking into his dojo is a cross between walking into a church and your own living room, equally deferential and welcoming. With a dojo named “Summit,” you are expected to reach great heights. Under his guidance it is certainly attainable. I would encourage all to give his next seminar a try. You never know what adventure he will entice you into. 

Mountain Weapons Seminar: Training in Nature’s Elements to Become Annual Event

By Cecilia Ramos Sensei, Grass Valley Aikikai

Our Grass Valley Aikikai Mountain Weapons Seminar with Elmer Tancinco Sensei, on July 23rd has come and gone. Resting afterwards and reflecting back on the experience, my mind is flooded with images and emotions. As the host I should show humble modesty, but it was a grand seminar!

Jyo training with my student Kirk at our dojo in Grass Valley, Ca
Jyo training with my student Kirk at our dojo in Grass Valley, Ca

I bought my home on 10 acres in the Sierra Nevadas in 2004, and from that time until now I have dreamed of having an outdoor weapons seminar. At long last the stars have aligned and it has come to pass! It was an experiment, I didn’t know if it would work out. I worried people would find it too hot, too dirty, too buggy, or too far to drive. I was prepared to have it be just a handful of my own students and Tancinco Sensei. Instead we had 36 people training, plus 9 more friends and family joined us for dinner. Judging by everyone’s faces and comments as they trained and then partied, and by all the Facebook posts afterward, the experiment was a success! Obviously, we will have to do it again! In retrospect we will have to rename this seminar the First Annual Mountain Weapons Seminar!
Kamiza in the woods
Kamiza in the woods

We had students come from Alameda Aikikai, Hayward Aikikai, Eastshore Aikikai, Aikido Institute of San Francisco, Davis Aikikai, plus Daniel Acosta Sensei from Mexico and Brian Batchley, formerly from Ventura Aikikai and now at-large in Paradise, California. Lizzy Lynn Shihan, my dear friend, came too and lent her support. I was dumbfounded when sneaky Alex Peterson Sensei and his sidekick Karen Kalliel Sensei showed up unannounced to surprise me, having conspired with my students at summer camp. What a wonderful surprise it was!
A nice smile from Tancico Sensei
A nice smile from Tancico Sensei

There was an element of stress for our family in preparing because we had decided to repair our pond. The pond was there when I bought the house. Originally it was a spring fed creek. A former owner dug it into a pond but didn’t do it right. It was pretty from a distance, but up close it was a mess, and it leaked. The project originally had nothing to do with the seminar, but the seminar date had already been set when we realized that we were in a position to finally rebuild the pond. Fred (my sweetheart and the cook) determined that it could get done before the seminar, rather than waiting until after. Naturally the project expanded and we kept adding things, like the Fred Flintstone outdoor kitchen, the terrace, the beach, and the wood chips! As the seminar date approached, we stayed calm, on course, and yet I am amazed that it came together in time. Many thanks to Fred’s son Forest (also the cook) and to my student, Kyle Comte, who labored like convicts in the hot sun moving rocks, and of course to Fred himself who was the chief architect and laborer! We have learned some lessons and it will continue to evolve. Obviously there will have to be an outdoor foot shower, after everyone was gone the house was full of sand!

The aspect of the seminar that had to do with the training itself was Tancinco Sensei’s department. Of course, I knew he would do a great job, that’s why I invited him, but in my opinion, he seemed to rise to a new level. His teaching was so clear, so martial, funny at times, and kind. I could see every student pulled forward in their practice. With first the bokken and later the jyo, he started with basics, then took everyone into deeper forms. JD Sandoval Sensei graciously served on the uke side, and between the two of them, it was something to witness. Here in Northern California we are very lucky to have instructors of such caliber.

Tancico and Sandoval Sensei demonstrating ni no tach
Tancico and Sandoval Sensei demonstrating ni no tach

After the last class people swam in the pond, and dined outside. Later, those who could stay late sat up by a campfire. Tancico Sensei slept in a tent by the pond and Acosta Sensei slept under the stars. The next day he told me he had been a little cold, but said he had adjusted the blankets and was OK. That was when I realized I had forgotten to give him a sleeping bag! The two (very thin) blankets that he used, were to have protected the bottom of the tent (that he didn’t use). He is a pretty tough guy to sleep out like that. Sandoval Sensei, Bernadette, their two girls, and little dog took the attic. Lizzy Lynn Shihan was in the living room. Antonio and Joshua were outside in their RV. So it was a darn full house! Just what I like – having a lot of aikido people all together. It was like summer camp for 24 hours at my home – heavenly.

Peterson Sensei and Carol enjoying the pond!
Peterson Sensei and Carol enjoying the pond!

A wholehearted thank you to everyone who came. You made a dream come true for me, and now I can look forward to sharing the mountains with all of you for the rest of my life. Next year I hope even more Birankai students can come and continue our martial development, exploring our weapons curriculum, fighting the mountain. Work like this, through each of us, will make Birankai strong.

A great group photo to end the training
A great group photo to end the training

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.

In Remembrance

Chiba Sensei with a steelhead on the Rogue River in Oregon, 2006.
Chiba Sensei with a steelhead on the Rogue River in Oregon, 2007.

By Darrell Bluhm, Siskiyou Aikikai

This June 5th will mark the first anniversary of Chiba Sensei’s death. It is customary in Japan to privately or publicly honor someone’s life on the anniversary of their death. For example, on April 26th Aikidoka all over the world hold memorial practices or other events in memory of O-Sensei, who died on that date in 1969. How we choose to do this in our lives and within our own dojos varies, there being no one correct way. Some Birankai community members have requested guidance on how to appropriately observe the anniversary of our teacher’s passing for this first year and in the years to come. What follows is my effort to answer that request and is purely my personal approach and in no way represents any official organizational recommendations to others.

A day or two after Sensei’s death a friend asked me how I was, and I replied that I was mourning the death of my teacher. He offered his condolences and told me that in his family they believed that each of us dies three deaths: the first death being when our heart stops, the second when we are buried and the third when our name is spoken for the last time. I think the purpose of cultural forms of remembrance are to keep alive in our hearts and minds our family members, teachers and friends and to give voice to their names and celebrate their lives. For us, the community of Birankai, every time we practice, bowing to the shomen and training sincerely, we honor our teacher and his teachers. Whatever choices we make to remember Chiba Sensei on June 5th this year and beyond, the most important thing is that we do them in an honest and heartfelt way.

Chiba Sensei emphasized the importance of the teacher-student relationship as the vehicle for transmitting Aikido from person to person, generation to generation. He often used the Japanese expression I Shin Den Shin, which is commonly translated as “Heart to Heart Transmission.” Sensei also spoke of it as the development of a “tacit understanding” between two individuals, an understanding that transcends language. Whether we choose to simply have a special class, light a candle and offer incense, sit zazen, chant the Heart Sutra, offer prayers in the manner of our personal spiritual tradition, all of or none of these, what will be most important is that we do so from the heart.

Amongst other things, I plan to go fishing.

Camp Countdown

Less than a month left!

Birankai Aikido Summer Camp is only a few weeks away and you’ve only got until May 15 to sign up and get a discounted price. Click here to find out more and register for this special event. (

To get everyone pumped for camp, we’re going to be posting a new video (or two or three) every day until the mats are rolled out at St. John’s University in Queens. The clips will go up on the BiranOnline channel on Youtube – subscribe so you don’t miss any.

Today I’m saluting our long-suffering camp director, Robert Savoca of Brooklyn Aikikai. In addition to running a thriving dojo and taking care of his family, Savoca Sensei is dealing with the swarm of details that drive camp directors crazy. These newly posted video clips highlight Savoca Sensei’s commitment to teaching uke as well as nage.

I’m also reposting this compilation video I put together recently of one of Chiba Sensei’s classes from our last East Coast Birankai Summer Camp, 2012 in Bronxville, N.Y. First you see Chiba Sensei demonstrating techniques, then various Birankai instructors demonstrating. Many of those teachers will be at this year’s camp — don’t miss it!




Rocky Mountain High

By Michelle Rudeau, Aikido of Albuquerque

“Cut all the way through!” says Philip Vargas Sensei of Aikido of Albuquerque. And down comes his bokken.

Just move. Crack. Just a glancing blow that time. Eh, well that was…better, goes my internal dialog.

“Ok, try that.” Vargas Sensei sends everyone back to practice and I rush back to my partner.


And so went Friday night’s classes, which started the Birankai Aikido Southwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Seminar last weekend in beautiful Boulder City, Nev. Fifteen students from New Mexico made the trip to support the regional seminar, and I was excited to see so many others from within the region and outside (California) come together to train.

IMG_7194Saturday was ushered in by Bernadette Vargas Sensei’s conditioning routine. Jumping-jacks, squats, push-ups, flutter kicks, leg lifts, crunches (abs, abs, and more abs). Then shihonage and iriminage (up and down, up and down). Lizzy Lynn Shihan of Eastshore Aikikai and Archie Champion Shihan of Central Coast Aikikai not only offered their knowledge and experience to those in attendance, but offered encouragement and inspiration as well.

The range of people there was humbling: participants as young as 11 years old and others that barely in their third month of training.

It was a challenge working with so many different body types and skill levels, but it reminded me of the potential of Aikido. The confidence it inspires in the 11-year-old, throwing someone twice his size. The responsibility it instills in the senior students to make sure the new students are taken care of; falling safely, guiding them through unfamiliar techniques.

By Saturday evening, the soreness and fatigue was setting in for everyone. But it was nothing a little pizza and beer (for the appropriate crowd) couldn’t cure! After good food and a good night’s rest, we were ready to tackle Sunday’s classes: body arts and bokken. And in a blink of an eye, the weekend’s over. After classes, it’s a flurry of moving mats and saying goodbye to friends, promising that we’ll train together soon. I leave the seminar in high spirits; happy at how big the turnout was, grateful for the support of those who came and for those who organized the event.

A special thanks to the Las Vegas Aikikai and Boulder City Aikido dojos for their hospitality and hard work organizing the seminar, and also to the T. K. Chiba and Mitsuko Chiba Seminar Endowment for supporting our training.

Thank you to the shihan, senior teachers, and to the California contingent that came to support our region.

Editor’s note: View more video of this event at the BiranOnline channel on Youtube.

Joyful Melancholy

Didier Boyet Shihan; his partner, Agnès Disson, and Miyamoto Shihan at the 7th dan celebration.
Didier Boyet Shihan; his partner, Agnès Disson, and Miyamoto Shihan at the 7th dan celebration.

By A. G. Peterson, Summit Aikikai

Birankai North America President

TOKYO – A group of Birankai North America teachers arrived in Japan last week for a visit with a two-fold purpose.

First, we planned to attend the celebration of the promotion of Didier Boyet Shihan to 7th dan. This joyful event, which took place on Sunday, honored the training and achievements of a longtime student of Chiba Sensei, a wonderful teacher and a very close friend of Birankai.

Hosted by Miyamoto Sensei of Hombu Dojo, the celebration was held in a large ballroom with many students, teachers and friends from around the world. We shared in the memories of Boyet Sensei’s many years of adventurous training with Chiba Sensei and many of the other legends of Aikido. Representing Birankai North America, our group also had the opportunity to publicly honor Boyet Sensei’s generosity and success.

As I mentioned in my remarks, just as France was the first friend of the United States

Birankai President Alex Peterson and Boyet Shihan.
Birankai President Alex Peterson and Boyet Shihan.

when our nation was born, Boyet Sensei has been the first friend of Birankai North America. His acerbic wit and Gallic pride have always been balanced by his incredible generosity and shared knowledge. Whenever Birankai N. A. teachers or students have needed assistance, advice or support, whether in their training or travels to Japan, Boyet Shihan has unselfishly responded. The evening was a joyful celebration of a committed martial artist. We anticipate many future years of mutual connection and support with this beloved teacher.

Our second purpose, albeit somber, was to visit and honor the resting place of our

Chiba Sensei's family gravesite.
Chiba Sensei’s family gravesite.

founder, T. K. Chiba Sensei. Guided by Boyet Sensei, senior teachers of Birankai N. A. were able to quietly attend to and gently honor the resting place of Sensei. It was a beautiful, cool, sunny spring day with cherry blossoms beginning their bloom. The temple and grounds were slowly awakening to spring with flowers, calling birds and the laughter of children.

Teachers and students together, quietly cleaning and honoring the family gravesite, paying respects at the shrine and then sharing tea and memories together with the attending monk (the son of a long-time dear friend of Sensei). It was a melancholy pilgrimage steeped in compassionate remembrance and renewed devotion to the training we each share. We hope that all of Sensei’s students may have such an opportunity.

While our trip will continue, these moments highlight the community that our training has forged. We hope you enjoy the photos and look forward to training with each of you very soon at Summer Camp in Queens, New York. See you on the mat!

Birankai teachers clean Chiba Sensei's gravesite.
Birankai teachers clean Chiba Sensei’s gravesite.
Darrell Bluhm Shihan pours sake on the memorial stone.
Darrell Bluhm Shihan pours sake on the memorial stone.
Sharing memories at Chogengi Temple, site of Chiba Sensei's grave.
Sharing memories at Chogengi Temple, site of Chiba Sensei’s grave.

Chiba Sensei Biography Project Launched

By Liese Klein, Biran Editor

Who was Chiba Sensei?
What does it mean to practice his Aikido?
What is his significance in the larger history of the art?

Many of us have our own answers to these questions, but with our community spread out across the world, now seems like a good time to bring our stories together.

OSensei and Chiba SenseiToward that goal, we have started a book-length biography project on the subject of Chiba Sensei and his Aikido. Our aim is to gather oral history and documents from as many of his family members, colleagues and students as possible. This book will tell both Chiba Sensei’s personal story and the story of the Japanese, U.K.,U.S. and other dojos and organizations that he inspired. Proceeds from the book will benefit Chiba Sensei’s family. (Our budget is the barest of bare-bones, so help with incidentals like buying your interviewer lunch is greatly appreciated!)

The main building block of the book will be interviews – my list is already hundreds of names long. I am trying to talk at length with everyone I can, inside and outside of Birankai, at summer camp, by phone, by email, at seminars, wherever and whenever. Don’t worry if I haven’t contacted you yet – I’ll get to you soon! I will be traveling to Japan (later this month) and the U.K. in the coming year to visit important locations and conduct interviews.

Mick Holloway and Chiba Sensei in England, 1973.
Mick Holloway and Chiba Sensei in England, 1973.

What you can do right now is send me videos, photos and any other material you might have that might be of interest. Especially early video and photos of Aikido and other events in Japan, the U.K. and San Diego. Also vitally important to this history are letters from Chiba Sensei that contain material that may be of interest to the larger community. For example, the incredible letter from Chiba Sensei that we published in Biran a few years ago on the subject of failing a test. (Names and personal details in letters can be redacted.) Please scan original photos and letters and send them to me with your contact information. My email address is; I can set up or share Dropbox folders for larger files.

Chiba Sensei and Mrs. Chiba in 1981 in San Diego.
Chiba Sensei and Mrs. Chiba in 1981 in San Diego.

A sincere thank-you to the Birankai North America Senior Council and officers who have helped get this project off the ground. My hope is that the book will be an important link from our past to our future, a resource for students of Aikido in the decades and centuries to come.
L. Klein

Welcoming a new generation

Photo by Sean MacNintch
Photo by Sean MacNintch

Kate Savoca Sensei of Brooklyn Aikikai visited Fire Horse Aikido this past weekend for her first solo seminar. The powerful, precise and confident Aikido we saw on the mat Saturday was inspiring to all. The mat was packed and the energy was high.

Dojos represented included Fire Horse Aikido, Brooklyn Aikikai, Bucks County Aikido, Rhode Island Aikikai, Copper Mountain Aikido, Valley Aikido, Connecticut Aikikai and Aiki Farms, among others. Continue reading “Welcoming a new generation”

Aikido and the Arc of the Moral Universe

By John Brinsley, Aikido Daiwa

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

The above phrase originates from a Minister Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching at an eventsermon by American transcendentalist and Unitarian minister Theodore Parker (1810-1860) and was made popular by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parker, a fierce abolitionist, saw the end of slavery as inevitable, based on his faith in “a continual and progressive triumph of the right.”* He conceded that it might be hard to ascertain merely from personal experience when and how justice would prevail. Yet instinctually he knew it to be true and saw it as his duty to fight for abolition. Along with organizing resistance to fugitive slave laws, Parker also advocated for other mid-19th century reform movements, including women’s rights and income equality.

Similarly, King viewed the civil rights struggle as ultimately being successful despite the obvious and sometimes crushing presence of evil and despair in the world. He preached that truth could not be suppressed forever; there was something in the human condition Continue reading “Aikido and the Arc of the Moral Universe”

Great news from Tokyo

Excellent news from Japan this week: Miyamoto Sensei has been promoted to 8th dan and Didier Boyet Sensei has been promoted to 7th dan.

Promotions of Birankai North America members announced as part of the Kagami Biraki celebrations at Aikikai Hombu Dojo: Katharine Heins of Northwest Michigan Aikikai to 6th dan and David Stier of Green River Aikido to Shihan. Continue reading “Great news from Tokyo”


As if you needed another reason to donate to our endowment fund, here’s a video I just compiled showing the links between our founder and Birankai generations, as shown in one class from 2012 Summer Camp.
Watch Chiba Sensei demonstrate, then the other Birankai teachers. It’s truly inspiring.
The compilation above was sparked by the nice work of Francisco Del Valle at New York Aikikai holiday seminar last weekend — the third Aikido seminar I attended in as many weeks.
First was at Brooklyn Aikikai, where Jenny Flower Sensei of Athens took my breath away with her focused and powerful energy. Then I took a cheap flight west (thanks, Jet Blue!) to see John Brinsley Sensei at San Diego Aikikai, where he brought together the best of Hombu Dojo and the legacy of Jack Arnold Sensei’s classic Birankai Aikido.
Last, I was lucky to drop in to New York Aikikai and get some great training with our USAF friends. Yamada Sensei reiterated his support for our organization and his strong ties to Chiba Sensei and his family.
Through Birankai seminars and other events, our connection with the foundation of our Aikido is alive and well, but we need more resources to keep Chiba Sensei’s spirit thriving, especially in small and remote dojos.
If you can, please consider donating.

Liese Klein

Aikido, I and Thou: A Seminar Lesson

Darrell Bluhm Shihan of Siskiyou Aikikai in Oklahoma.
Darrell Bluhm Shihan of Siskiyou Aikikai in Oklahoma.

By Neal Dunnigan, Wheatbelt Aikido

When I was much younger I was introduced to the philosophical thinking of existentialism and Martin Buber’s perspective that our personal growth is related to a maturation of our notions of “I” and “Thou.”

Martial arts are paradoxical. In one way they are a singularly solitary pursuit. In other ways, they are entirely about relationships and community.

Many years ago, when I lived in the Northeast, I used to look at Aikido seminars from the perspective of “I.” There were many seminars nearby and I could easily take in one seminar a month to augment my training at the dojo. It was an opportunity to expand my horizons, gain new perspectives on technique, and nudge myself to a higher level of training.

Now I have my own dojo in Kingfisher, a small Oklahoma city, in an area where the travel time to a seminar would significantly exceed the training time at a seminar. My students have now become a community that is as much of my concern as my own personal Aikido development. I cannot easily abandon my teaching to travel. Neither can I automatically expect my students to make the additional heroic commitment of time and money to travel a great distance for a weekend Aikido event. My personal aspirations as a martial artist and my responsibility to my dojo community were not necessarily aligned.

Then enter Birankai, another level of community.

“Hey Neal! Why don’t you let us help you hold a seminar? It is what we do!”

I think, “Hmmmm, I still only have a hand full of students and cannot remotely afford a Shihan visit, even with an endowment grant.” So I reach out to Read Omohundro Sensei, my nearest Birankai neighbor. He has a small dojo three hours away in Muskogee, OK. Can we partner up to do this? – another level of community.

“Yes, certainly. Let’s do this. We will share the responsibilities needed to make this happen.” Next step is that we reach out to Darrell Bluhm Shihan. We have kind of known him for years at summer camps. However, Read and I are not his personal students and inviting him to live with us for a weekend is another level of relationship.

Still, Read and I have a big dilemma. Between the both of us we still don’t have enough dojo membership to fund the seminar, even with an endowment grant. The normal seminar solution is to invite other area dojos. Not so easy in Oklahoma. Other Birankai dojos are at least a travel day away. The only remotely local dojos are all non-Birankai and mostly non-Aikikai at that. We are presented with another logistical problem. Wheatbelt Aikido, in Kingfisher, and Three Forks Aikido, in Muskogee, are three hours apart and neither is in a central area that is easy to get to for area dojos.

Read and I decide on a bold move. Step up to another level of community. Our two Birankai dojos will sponsor the seminar, but we will get a centrally located Aikido dojo in Oklahoma City to host the seminar. This should boost non-Birankai attendance. Yet another level of community. Well, the largest dojo in Oklahoma City is not interested (my presentation skills may not have been up to the job – this time), but one of the other independent dojos we had previously met at an Oklahoma City friendship seminar says “YES!”

Naturally, Read and I were keeping Bluhm Sensei appraised on our evolving arrangements and the mixed nature of our seminar attendees.

At the end of the day, it all came together. Read and I managed an event in an environment that we did not control, but still orchestrated to bring it up to Birankai Shihan standards. Our students got to spend some delightful and precious one-on-one time (on and off the mat) with a Birankai Shihan. We all got to work together and know Sensei Darrell better as a person. We built some good bridges to the Oklahoma non-Birankai community. Particularly the ASU and independent dojos and the non-Birankai attendees got to see that we do some really nice Birankai Aikido that was not outside of their ability to grasp and aspire to.

The point of this seminar report is to tell you what happened in the context of my reflection on the fact that Aikido is the realization of the concepts of “I and Thou.”

We could not have had this seminar without a multi-tiered level of support and partnering; both inside and outside of Birankai. Mine and Read’s dojos are small, but we chose to think and act big. I’m a small guy, but if when I step on the mat and I am in harmony with the universe, great things can happen.

O-Sensei’s perspective of Aikido being “love” presupposes a relationship of “I and Thou.” This Oklahoma seminar was the most relationship-intensive one that I have ever participated in.

The Aikido relationship is not just about the uke-nage technique partnering on the mat. The interaction of making the seminar happen and interacting with Sensei Darrell on and off the mat were an essential part of our local growth, both personally and as a community.

My personal recommendations to other dojos are:

  • Do it.
  • Support it.
  • Make a seminar happen at your dojo.

You are not too small or insignificant. If you need more help, then do more work to get the help. Our Birankai president, Alex Peterson, even flew in to attend…now that is real, personalized support!! We all need to support Birankai’s funding of these events. Please always keep the endowment fund and other Birankai fundraising in your hearts, even at times when it is not possible to do so from your pockets.

Editor’s note: There are few days left to donate to our Birankai Endowment Fund for the 2015 tax year — help fund great events like the one described above!

Season of Giving


All of us practicing Birankai Aikido benefit from the T.K. and Mitsuko Chiba Seminar Endowment Fund, which helps support seminars in small dojos. Let’s all include this excellent cause in our holiday giving this year — it’s tax-deductible and no gift is too small or too large.

Help make it happen!

L. Klein