Those Days…

How was your day? It’s almost as generic a question as “How are you?” but it’s nonetheless an important question. It can be answered with “good,” “okay,” or “bad” (or with other more detailed answers). The same is true for “How was your (Aikido) class?” The answers to these questions differ day-to-day, and class-to-class. These differences are important since a lot can be learned from the varying experiences of your different days and classes. A truly good day feels significantly better right after a horridly bad day. A day of novelty brings new excitement after a long series of routine days. We may go through several days with little memory of them because they are just so ordinary, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important. They add up and one day we may look back on them with a feeling of nostalgia. Something that may not seem important today may be exponentially more important a year from now. Something that is urgent now may seem so irrelevant in the future. The contrasting days of our lives give us a series of mental tableaus to enrich our experience of this world.

You wake up full of energy and find that you have time to make (or buy) a hearty breakfast for yourself. After a tasty and filling breakfast you decide to commute to the dojo for practice. As you walk down the street all of the traffic lights seem to turn green for you as you get to the crosswalks, and just as you get to the subway station your train pulls in right away. You make two subway transfers and those trains just happen to arrive right away for you as well. When you get to the dojo and start your practice you wind up training with an amazing partner who is soft, flowing, and a wonderful uke. It’s a day where everything goes right for you and you are singing on the inside (and for some people the outside too). Later as you walk down the street the wind blows a twenty dollar bill right in front of you (this actually happened to me once). A romantic interest also starts to show some interest in you. Of course a great day is different for each individual and also depends on the stage of life each person is in. These are the days where you feel like you can do anything. They may not happen that often, and sometimes may even be just part of a day, but they just feel so rewarding and rejuvenating, especially after experiencing their polar opposite.

You barely got any sleep last night and your obnoxious alarm is already telling you to get up. You hit the snooze button and before you know it an hour has passed and you realize you’ve overslept. You leave your home in a rush with no time for breakfast. As you walk down the street you see red lights all the way and wait out each one. The train leaves just as you get to the subway station. You tried to rush for it but the doors closed right in front of you before you can make it in. You manage to take the next train, but midway through your trip that train stalls and is delayed for half an hour. While waiting for your train to move a disheveled person spouting nonsense walks into your train car. This apparently crazy person singles you out and bombards you with obscene words. When you eventually finish your train rides, just as you get out of the station, a downpour starts and you didn’t bring an umbrella. You get soaked. You arrive at the dojo half an hour late for class (the instructor was gracious enough to let you on the mat after your harrowing commute). You partner up with the spare person on the mat, but your nose notices that he seems to have neglected to wash his gi. Your partner stiffens up and tries to resist you at every turn, and when it’s his turn to throw he uses all the might he can muster. After that horribly draining practice, as you head home, you check your pockets and notice that your keys are missing. It’s like you are the embodiment of Murphy’s Law. Despite all you went through you survived and know that at least some of the days to come will be better. Just making it through a day like that is something you can be proud of. Anyone can breeze through a good day, but if you manage to slog through a terrible day and keep you head held up high (maybe not on the same day), your character may just have that much more depth to it. To stay centered while everything is falling apart around you; that is a true test of Aikido.

You wake up at the usual time with an okay amount of energy. You have your usual quick and simple breakfast. As you walk down the street, some lights are red and some are green as you get to the crosswalks. You wait a reasonable time for your train to arrive. Your Aikido practice was okay, but things are starting to feel monotonous. You feel like you’ve hit a plateau. The structure of routine keeps you going as you maintain your practice, but you feel like you need some new energy and inspiration in it. We’ve all had that feeling of just going through the motions. Maybe we need a major change in our lives, or maybe just a spark of novelty to reignite the flame of the great things we already have. It’s different for each individual. But deep down you know what you need to do even if the specifics are blurry. Sometimes we do an Aikido technique and feel like we’re doing something wrong. We can’t seem to pinpoint exactly what it is, but something just feels off. Eventually we may figure out that needed adjustment, but until we do it’s important to keep moving. Keep the practice moving and the adjustments will come with time. If we stop and over-analyze we get stuck. Feel it out in the motion. We may take several wrong turns before even having a glimpse of the right path for us, but it’s important to have those mistakes. I remember taking an exam in college where I got most of the answers right, but there was this one question I just couldn’t get. I thought about it for a long time before finally submitting the wrong answer. Later on when I looked up the right answer it stuck with me. I’ve forgotten all the answers I got right on that test, but I still remember the correct answer to the question I got wrong even after several years.

Each life is made up of days. Each day is made up of moments. Those moments of elation would not be possible without the moments of frustration. We need the bad moments to truly appreciate the good moments. Without that contrast everything would just be neutral. We need the routine days to make the eventful days that much more special. It’s the same with our Aikido practice. By dealing with a good variety of different people, we learn to adjust ourselves in different ways. We feel out the motions that are most efficient for our personal styles of movement. What may work well with one uke may be totally inefficient with another uke. As we figure out our techniques with movements, we figure out our lives with moments.

 

By Andrew Lee, New York Aikikai

Just A Little More

There’s a point in the technique where you can feel uke’s weight or resistance. You think you can’t go any further and feel as though uke has stopped you there in the middle of your movement. However it just so happens you are training with a sempai who directs you to move a little further to make the technique more effective. Sometimes just a little extra extension is all it takes. You were trying to be relaxed while doing the technique, but in fact made some parts of your body dead weight instead. There is a big difference between being relaxed and being limp. You can still be relaxed while having energy extend throughout your movements. That added energy is just the bit you need to extend upward for that Kokyuho or create a sharper cut down for that Ikkyo. When you’re at a point where you feel like you’ve hit a dead end, give it a little more energy and see where that takes you.

How far is your reach? There’s a $100 dollar bill hanging just a centimeter beyond your answer. Now, how far is your reach? We can often do more than we believe we are capable of (unless you’re one of those people with exceedingly high levels of confidence). Under the right circumstances and pressures we may see capabilities come out that we never knew we had. With the right motivation we find that extra bit of energy within ourselves to tip the scales in our favor. This doesn’t mean that we over-exert ourselves though. I often see people putting too much “effort” into their techniques. They put all their might into a throw and they get exhausted quickly. Meanwhile, the uke at the receiving end of their brutal efforts grimaces and would most likely avoid training with them in the future. Putting more energy into your movements is more subtle and precise than the brute force maximum “effort” approach. It’s adding some energy and extension while cutting with the edge of your hand, instead of using all your muscles to push through someone.

On my commute to the dojo delays on the subway happen every so often. Sometimes a train is delayed at a station indefinitely leaving passengers with no idea of when it will start moving again. It could be 5 minutes; it could be half an hour. When my train is delayed at a station where a transfer is available I think to myself of whether to wait out the delay, or to transfer to another train that may take slightly longer to get to my destination. There are those times where a minute after I exit the train to transfer, the train closes its doors and starts moving again. If I had just waited an extra minute I would have gotten to my destination sooner. The reverse can also happen where I stay on the delayed train too long, and transferring would have gotten me where I needed to go on time. Do I move a bit sooner, or wait a little longer? Timing is important in Aikido, and luckily it is easier to feel that out than how how long a train will be delayed for. As we train more we get a better sense of when to move to create the right distance between us and our partners. And as we learn to feel out better timing we start to understand where subtle changes need to be implemented to improve our technique and movement. Stepping out just a second (or less) sooner can make a significant difference. But if you step out too soon uke can track you with their attack. Sometimes an extra second of patience can be the key instead.

There are many different types of effort. There’s inefficient effort that just exhausts you without really getting you anywhere. There’s efficient effort that helps you steadily move towards your goals. Then there’s effort of intention that shows other people you care. Things like simply being present in someone else’s life can convey a lot of intention of care. Different people approach this kind of effort of intention in different ways. For the more gregarious types it may be enthusiastic conversation; for others it may be more subtle. It’s kind of ironic that I’m writing about this since I’ve never been good at showing effort of intention. I often come across as cold to others and don’t talk much to most people. But I see the effort of intention other people show me, even if it doesn’t look like I acknowledge it. Some people take a while to warm up.

You bring someone a cup of hot tea on a cold day, but that person doesn’t want it so it gets cold. For the next few days you try again, but the same thing happens; the tea gets cold. You keep trying though since it doesn’t really inconvenience you and you’re getting drinks for other people too. After thirty days of seeing that cold cup of tea each day, you think maybe tomorrow I’ll order one less cup of tea, but you decide to give it one more try. On the thirty-first day you find an empty cup, a smile, and a thank you. (Disclaimer: This story is for metaphor purposes only. I am in no way suggesting to buy tea for someone who doesn’t want it for thirty-one days straight). Some people may never warm up to you, because certain people just don’t connect well due to incompatibilities in personalities or worldviews (or other reasons), but sometimes chipping away with bits of effort of intention over an extended period of time can go a long way.

Whether it’s reaching or cutting that extra inch, moving a second sooner, waiting a second longer, or just adding that bit of extra effort that shows you care; a little extra energy along with some subtle changes can make a big difference. A strong intention doesn’t always guarantee results, but sometimes it’s the tipping point. For every grounded and heavy uke there is a weak spot. Find that spot, put some energy and intention towards it, and uke’s balance will come tumbling down. That extra bit of initiative or patience can bring surprising results. People don’t expect a lot from a little, but many little things add up and the simplest changes can open up a whole new world of possibilities.

By Andrew Lee, New York Aikikai

Aikido Is Frustrating. It’s Supposed To Be.

You’re sitting there. Your legs hurt after a bunch of suwari-waza. The instructor demonstrates a technique, and you can tell there’s some subtlety to it. He shows it 3 times, pronounces its name, and says “Ok, partners”… and there you are, left mainly to your own devices.

You feel like you follow along well enough as uke, but then as nage, you don’t get it. You maybe don’t even GET what you don’t get. You receive some correction, but it doesn’t make the technique fully clear or resolve all of your questions… And what do we do with questions? We ASK them…

Except, not in aikido. NOT during practice.

In our culture, we are brought up to ask questions. We are encouraged to ask, and in most aspects of life, we are rewarded for them with explanations leading to a more acute understanding. “Ask and ye shall receive.” Even our government was once revolutionary in its dependence upon questioning policy and authority; dissent and discussion.

Aikido is different. It HAS to be experienced. You HAVE to fail. It will resist every attempt to convey it orally. That’s not to say you can’t talk about it or read about it – that absolutely enriches your practice. But don’t expect giving voice to your concerns to improve your technique where “the rubber meets the road” (or where “the face meets the mat”, for that matter). Ridiculous though it may sound, “he who questions training only trains himself at asking questions”.

It is particularly inappropriate to ask for specifics in the middle of class for a couple of reasons. For one, it is not in line with the traditional way in which budo is communicated – namely through demonstration and repetition. For another, an art like aikido can’t be put in a box or learned from diagrams, any more than you can learn to swim by clicking through a powerpoint slideshow – you have to get in the water! Moreover, these questions take the instructor out of the pedagogical flow he or she is seeking to establish. If you’ve got to follow up on the “what” and “how” of a technique, wait until after class. Avoid “why” altogether – unless you appreciated your mom’s response when you asked “why” you had to take out the garbage, you won’t like the answer. Maybe she said “because I said so”. I’ll say “Trust the path.”

On a certain level, this can seem a challenge at best and infuriating at worst. But when you realize that you are subscribing to a centuries-old philosophy of learning and preserving an art which has been evolving for generations, you find that it’s not a liability at all. It’s exactly what you signed up for. By feeling your way through this art with the guidance of your teacher, you will develop your own connections, conscious and otherwise. You will come to appreciate the fluidity of the movements, the symmetry of the positions, and the adaptability of the techniques. You will internalize those elusive, conceptual points which you initially took for granted. In short, you will find the way to make aikido your OWN… which dissolves a question too colossal to voice, let alone answer.

So yeah. Aikido is frustrating. It’s supposed to be.

 

Ed Haponik

Aikido of Charlotte

 

 

Aikido Portraits

It’s been said that, if you want to find a place where people of all ethnicities, religions, social classes, and political beliefs come together for a common goal, look on the mat.  I am deeply grateful to be a part of this diverse community, which comes together with the common goal of refining and nourishing our minds, bodies, and spirits.

Click here to view Aikido Portraits – Part 1

 

Jaime Kahn

New York Aikikai

Yamada Sensei in Russia – And Around the World

We all are keenly aware of the heated political climate – nationally and globally – in the news these days.  There might be less conflict in the world if everyone aspired to remove cultural barriers instead of building them.

I count myself fortunate to have joined Yamada Sensei on his trip to St. Petersburg, Russia last year.  It was the highlight of my travels in 2016.  As I reflect on the trip I am reminded most of the last day of the seminar.  Our host Valery Skryliov had arranged for Sensei to fire one of the cannons mounted on the walls of the Peter and Paul Fortress.  This has been an honor generally reserved for Russian dignitaries so I can only imagine that its approval was not easily obtained.

As a student of history, too, I could not help but note how much has changed since the Russo-Japanese war when Sensei fired that cannon.  Born in Japan, immigrated to the U.S., and traveled all over the world as the preeminent emissary of his generation dedicated to the Art of Peace, Sensei has truly crossed countless cultural barriers with his unfailing devotion to Aikido and his students far and wide.  

The nation and the world could learn a lot from Sensei’s example.
Blue Spruell

Peachtree Aikikai Atlanta

Seminar Sounds

Penny Bernath, 6th Dan/Shihan, a Chief Instructor at Florida Aikikai speaks about her seminar experiences, the level when someone should attend a seminar, the reason for attending a seminar, and the attitude to have when participating in a seminar. Filmed at the 2016 Florida Winter Camp by Jonathan Weiner. 

Training in Aikido with Type 1 Diabetes

Please click here to proceed to article

by Jack Freund

Aikido of Charlotte

Aiki-Happens

We are here to practice Aikido, or as I’ll call it here: Aiki-do (pronounced aiki-doo).  Our practice may become what appears to be a repetitive routine.  It’s important to remember that repetition is a means to an end, not an end in itself.  So we practice technique repeatedly.  The end is Aiki-waza.

An unschooled observer may think: “over and over, ad infinitum, this is so boring.”  We know, of course, that this isn’t so at all.  Each instance of the practice, each repetition, is unique.  Our minds build ever broadening neuro-behavioral models of the parameters of shiho-nage, and all the other techniques, until we are able to improvise and execute seamlessly.  I like to advise students to try it a few  thousand  times.  I whisper the word “thousand” in a barely audible tone that draws giggles from the class.  Do they think I’m joking?  I repeat: “ Try it a few  thousand  times.”

As time passes we’ve had the opportunity to practice a myriad of techniques from numerous openings, with various endings.  We have also been training our minds to remain in the present, to allow our bodies to execute without critical intervention.  Then we begin to see that Aiki-waza is not something we do.  We’re amazed to learn that Aiki-waza is something that happens.

This is due to our ability to finally remove our “selves” from the process.  When we remove our selves from the process it is the “Self” that is happening.  That is, if you believe that the Universe is a single entity, and that we have only an illusion that we are a discreet part of it.

It is the “ego,” our perception of a unique self, which is a product of the brain.  This brain is also an extension of the Universe, which creates this illusion of separateness.  It is as if the Universe has set up a mirror, a self-monitoring system by which it can look back upon and admire itself.1  But I do not believe the Universe is egotistical.  Only its creation, the ego is.

When one has eliminated the illusion of self from the process, one can then join in the harmony between different vectors (Perceived Individuals) of Universal Energy (ki) within the Self (Universe).  It is then that Aiki Happens.

by Ed Schechtman, Shidoin, Center Island Aikido

1 See The Book: On the taboo of knowing who you are, by Alan Watts.

Aikido Film: Compassion, Composure & Culture

A close look at Aikido and the practitioners from Aikido of Charlotte, a United States Aikido Federation Dojo. Directed/Shot/Edited by Brett Mullen, Red Nebula Co. | Written and Produced by Jonathan Weiner, 360 Visuals Productions/Mez Media Films

 

Aikido: Compassion, Composure & Culture. from Aikido of Charlotte on Vimeo.

 

New York Aikikai Endowment

Dear friend of New York Aikikai,We are writing from New York with some good news about the New York Aikikai.

In 2015, the Board of Directors at New York Aikikai decided to create an Endowment Fund. This Endowment Fund will be a permanent source of support for the growth and development of the New York Aikikai and its programs.  There has been a wonderful response to the initial solicitation for this fund.  Thank you to those of you who have become our founding donors.  We are writing to you now in order to ensure that all members and friends from around the world have the opportunity to participate in this important effort. 

Yamada Sensei’s work during the past 50+ years has resulted in an extraordinary institution, the New York Aikikai. Through his love of and dedication to aikido and its study, Sensei has touched and inspired many people at home in New York as well as across the United States and abroad. The New York Aikikai’s dojo, which also serves as the headquarters for the United States Aikido Federation, is a place where aikidoka from around the globe immerse themselves in the study of aikido. It is our hope that through this Fund, we will help the NYA continue realizing Yamada Sensei’s vision and ensure his legacy will be with us for years to come.

The New York Aikikai is a special community that could not exist without the efforts of the many members who contribute in significant ways. In turn, the school provides a meaningful experience by growing and evolving. Whether developing the kids programs, performing community outreach, creating scholarships for inner city children, or special classes for beginners and advance practitioners, our aim is to thrive.

In order to maintain both the high level of training and the spirit of community, it has been important for Sensei that the dojo continues to be open and accessible to as many members and visitors as possible. The school strives to keep the monthly dues and mat fees low, even in the face of mounting costs. As you can imagine, the expenses of maintaining a building and a school in Manhattan are high and only increase over time. 

To ensure our school’s economic sustainability, we humbly request that you consider a donation to the New York Aikikai Endowment Fund. Making a gift today, your contribution will help keep the New York Aikikai the vibrant place we treasure. Any amount counts. (Donate here) Or if you prefer to make a donation by check, please make it out to NY Aikikai (Memo: Endowment) and send it to the address found below.

In order to help with the effort of raising funds for an endowment, the Board of New York Aikikai has formed the Endowment Advisory Group comprised of dojo members. Should you have any questions or concerns about the Endowment, this group or any member of the Board should be able to help you.

The Endowment was established out of love and appreciation for a school and community that continues to enrich and inspire us. To all aikidoka, past and present, friends of the NYA worldwide, if the teachings of Yamada Sensei and the New York Aikikai have had an impact on your life, join us and donate today.

We thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

 

The New York Aikikai Board of Directors

 

 

 

The New York Aikikai is a Nonprofit Organization, (under the 501(c)(3) terms of the Internal Revenue Code) – all contributions to the Fund are 100% tax-deductible.

The New York Aikikai may expend so much of the endowment fund as it deems prudent after considering the factors set forth N-PCL § 553(a)

Perhaps your workplace has a matching program. (Click for information about matching programs).

You can also consider the New York Aikikai Endowment Fund in your estate planning. (Click here for info).

Of course, we will generate a letter for your 2015 tax return.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Aikikai Endowment Fund :: 142 West 18th Street, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10011 +1 212-242-6246 :: donations@NYA-Endowment.org :: www.NYA-Endowment.org

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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