Changing of Seasons

It seems lately that our seasons are changing in the flash of an instant! I never know , when I travel to teach seminars, whether or not to pack jeans, shorts or a snow suit! But it’s always changing, so to try to control it would be futile. Our training seems to be the same. Actually, our life and training are not separate. It’s just life. Just this moment, happening right now.

When we first begin training, we do so with so much energy and enthusiasm that we are at the dojo every day. We fall in love with aikido and tell ourselves that this is going to make our life less stressful, less hectic and more fulfilling. In six months or less, life takes over. Demands at work seem to require more hours away from aikido and the little time we have, we feel guilty if we do not give it to our families or significant other. We miss more aikido classes. Sensei calls or emails and we are embarrassed to return. What’s the use, right? We have just fallen back into the cycle of life and death. Want to break out of it? Do you want to not be subject to life and death? Ok. Here’s the secret. Wait for it….quit fighting yourself. Stop seeing yourself as separate and special. To transcend this cycle, you must realize that you are the cycle.

This reminds me of a wonderful poem by the Layman P’ang.

In my daily life there are no other chores than
Those that happen to fall into my hands.
Nothing I choose, nothing reject.
Nowhere is there ado, nowhere a slip.
I have no other emblems of my glory than
The mountains and hills without a spot of dust.
My magical power and spiritual exercise consists in
Carrying water and gathering firewood.

We are frequently subject to life circumstances that require us to miss training. But isn’t our life training, as well? Our life is training and training is our life. Once we complete our latest project at work, take care of our sick child or visit our parents on their birthday, we return to our training at the dojo. In reality we have never left our life.
Enjoy your training and your life. Don’t be too hard on yourself and know that your teacher wants the very best for you in your training-life.

Train every day, every month and every year because your life could depend on it.

The Universe

One of the things I find fascinating about O’ Sensei’s quotes is the consistent theme of the universe. What was O’Sensei’s preoccupation with the universe? How does this impact the philosophy of Aikido? Below are a few of O’Sensei’s quotes for consideration:

“The secret of aikido is to make yourself become one with the universe and to go along with its natural movements. One who has attained this secret holds the universe in him/herself and can say, ‘I am the universe'”

“Aikido is a manifestation of a way to reorder the world of humanity as though everyone were of one family. It’s purpose is to build a paradise right here on earth.”

“You should realize what the universe is and what you are yourself. To know yourself is to know the universe.”

“If anyone tries to fight me, it means that she/he is going to break harmony with the universe, because I am the universe.”

What exactly is O’Sensei referring to as the “Universe”? For arguments sake, let’s say that the universe represents all that there is that we know and everything we don’t know.

Let’s look at the word “Aikido”. The kanji used for “Aikido” seems to assistant us in this understanding. The Kanji “Ai” is translated as joining or merger. Two distinct things merging to become one. The Kanji “Ki” is translated as energy. The kanji is a composite character that join the character for raw rice with other strokes that represent steam rising off the grain as it cooks. The final kanji “Do” is translated as a road or path. Specifically, a way to develop the self or the true self. Toyoda sensei used to refer to this as the original mind.

In the universe, everything is changing. Everything is moving, changing and pure. We have an opportunity merge with this universe not only on the mat but in our daily life. However, as long as we spend more than half our time worrying about our(self), we will find it difficult to merge with someone or something else. To truly experience this vast and limitless universe we must continuingly set aside ourselves and train. To be fully committed to anything in todays society is a rarity. But to BE FULLY committed means to be present to what’s happening now. What’s happening on the mat. What’s happening with your partner and what’s happening inside of ourselves. This is not an easy task by any means. But if you’re serious about Aikido and you’re serious about the philosophy of Aikido beyond the books that stack your nightstand that show that there is more than meets the eye, then be fully present and committed. Do zazen fully. Do your techniques fully. Do seminars fully. Do everything fully and you will experience this merger.

2nd Annual Youth AikidoPalooza in Norwalk, CT

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It was a full day. A fun day. A day of laughter, training and friendship. Supported by six dojo from four states, Aikido of Norwalk’s second annual Youth AikidoPalooza brought together 30 kids and a dozen adults for a full day of Aikido.

Classes were led by G. Matsuda Sensei, J. Paul Sensei, R. Testa Sensei, D. Gravens Sensei, A. Bel Sensei and B. Lasher Sensei. The day’s curriculum varied from posture training to kihon waza to practical applications against the sort of playground stuff kids can run into.

Throughout the day, kids trained with other kids, from other dojo enjoying the commonality of Aikido between them. Broken up over five one-hour classes, each with a game in between, the seminar also included a pizza lunch and an hour-long origami class conducted by Miki Lasher.

Amazingly, despite a lot of training, the kids’ energy levels remained at peak heights right up to the end. They day wound down with some free time to run around, some treats and just a little tending to the dojo.

On behalf of Aikido of Norwalk, we would like to thank the instructors, students and parents who made the day such a success. It was wonderful to see so many people – friends and strangers alike – training together and enjoying Aikido. We are already very excited to do it again next year.

For more pictures, visit Aikido of Norwalk’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/aikidonorwalk

Mitori geiko 見取り稽古

A number of years back I had hernia repair surgery, which as you can imagine, put me out of teaching for several weeks. It was quite painful to walk from one place to another, not to mention I couldn’t lift anything above a few pounds! While it would have been easier for me to enjoy my “time off” and catch up on my channel surfing, I chose to hobble to class and participate in Mitori geiko. Mitori geiko translates as observation practice and is commonly used when one is unable to take part in the physical aspect of aikido class. Being able to observe your teacher conducting class without any of the distractions that you would encounter while being a participant is a unique view unlike any other. The ability to see from the outside, take notes and really ponder what is being presented is an invaluable aid to our progression. Much like watching a dvd, you could not advance in skill without the physical practice of the art simply by observing. But Mitori geiko born out of “life happens” is a useful tool to continue our practice beyond the physical.

A strong student-teacher relationship, where the student seeks to learn as much from the teacher as possible, naturally brings about this urge to utilize Mitori geiko. Assisting the teacher after class with various cleaning duties, administrative functions and simply offering yourself to the dojo goes a long way in forging that necessary bond of a student-teacher relationship.

While Mitori geiko was born out of necessity due to training injuries, life circumstances, etc., we should constantly be in a state of Mitori geiko. Our whole practice is about observation not only through our eyes but our spirits as well. This can only come to fruition through the strong personal commitment of a mutual bonding of a student-teacher relationship. Our entire life is about this practice. This awareness, where segments of time are sewn together giving the appearance of an infinite amount of time available, is paramount to our fully realized practice of the art of aikido.

A Fresh Start

By Greg Noble, Chief Instructor, ZAA

            It’s been a year since the Zeshinkai Aikido Association has been in existence and lately I’ve been reflecting on all the wonderful things we’ve accomplished along the way. It would not have been possible without the countless support of the members, whose dedication to the art of Aikido and strong kiai, carried us through the rocky periods.

It’s snowing outside now and the air is brisk with a sense of cool freshness, as if to announce the new year. The traditional American new year’s parties will take place with plenty of food, alcohol and games for everyone to enjoy as we pass over into a fresh start. There will be resolutions in hope we will lose weight, work harder,  make more money and perhaps be a better person somewhere along the way.

Traditionally, in some dojo, preparation for the new year begins early with susuharai, or an intense cleaning of the dojo. Tatami mats are scrubbed, the shomen is cleaned and every piece of lint and dust bunny is an enemy of the aikido student! We clean the dojo to clear away the past year, in order to purify and make a fresh start for the new year.

In Zen there is a tradition of ringing the temple bell 108 times at the stroke of midnight to symbolize the 108 mortal desires, which cause us suffering, and to get rid of those desires to start fresh and new. Most of us are guilty of these desires as they are human nature but we seek take responsibility for our actions and continue to practice on our self. We become absorbed in the sound of the bell, following it and allowing it to cast aside thoughts of the past.

Hatsugeiko is the first training of the year and this will usually be held during the first week of the new year. A fine tradition is to conduct suburi to open the class, usually in the sum of a thousand or more cuts. Becoming one with our breath and body with each swing, we use our hara to cut completely through our small self to emerge as something different.

The joy of that first training of the year is invigorating and purifying as we rededicate our self to our way of training. In this manner we seek to continue this mind set during all of our training during the year.

Friendship Seminar, Norwalk, CT

Autumn got underway with a Friendship Seminar held at Yanagi Aikido, Norwalk, CT. Jointly taught by ZAA Chief Instructor Greg Noble Sensei and Toyoda Center Chief Instructor Blaine Feyen Sensei, the weekend’s training is probably best described as “high energy”. Training consisted of a mixture of open hand technique and weapons practice. Noble Sensei focused on projection throws while Feyen Sensei worked through numerous variation on jo nage with an emphasis on ‘one-and…’ timing which added to the intensity of the training. In between sessions, members from Yanagi Aikido, Jikishinkan Dojo, Zenshinkan Dojo, River Valley Aikikai, Shojo Dojo and Northwest Arkansas Aikido enjoyed an opportunity to rekindle old friendships and strike up new ones.