Archives for 2011

New Years Promotions

Dear USAF Community:

I hope this finds you all well and looking forward to the quickly approaching change of seasons. It is hard to believe that it is already time to consider promotions for the New Year.

Yamada Sensei has reviewed the list of instructors and we have contacted those who he is suggesting for promotion this coming New Year. I would like to remind the instructors that, if you have students in your dojo or any who may have their own dojo or club, it is your responsibility to submit their names if you feel they are qualified for a New Year’s promotion. Please keep in mind that in addition to the time requirement, we will also be reviewing the seminar attendance portion of all paperwork. The paperwork and fee for all promotions by recommendation for 5th dan and higher are due in the USAF office no later than November 1st. Promotions by recommendation for 4th dan and below can be submitted by December 15th for New Year’s consideration. Please remember that 5th dan and higher can only be submitted at this time of year, but 4th dan and below can be submitted throughout the year. All instructors should have access through their password and login to the USAF website to access the necessary forms.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Sincerely your,
Laura Pavlick
Director of Operations

Aikido Blues

I didn’t see it coming. I extended my arm to take a roll and my ankle started firing pain bullets at my petrified brain in the intensity of the Kalashnikov latest model. I felt a crack in my neck as it hit the mat, and gasped for air. My chest responded with an unnerving spasm. As the lungs expanded, I felt a sharp tingle in my back. Damn, it hurt!
A little disoriented, I quickly gathered my aching body and looked at my partner. “Oh my God! You tripped over my hakama,” she whispered covering her mouth with her small, freckled palm. “Are you okay?” she asked. I stood up. “Yeah, I’m fine,” I smiled to make the lie more convincing. I felt a wave of pain spreading throughout my body, but I was able to move. I could even finish the class. I wanted to believe everything was in perfect order. It took several hours to realize otherwise.

A sharp pain woke me at 3 a.m. As four green capsules of Advil were reassuringly dissolving in my stomach, I “googled” upper back muscles. The trouble was coming from my trapezius, a large muscle connecting my spine, shoulder and head. “Maybe it will go away by the time I have to get up,” I thought as I was finally falling back to sleep. But it didn’t. Big beads of sweat covered my forehead when I tried to practice the next day. I couldn’t lift my right arm for any of the techniques. Suddenly, it dawned on me. Perhaps, it was time to take a break… Wait a minute… How could a thought that ridiculous pop in my head?

I recalled a beautiful sunny day in May of 2007. I was going to the Columbia University Dodge Fitness Center for my daily swim, when I saw dozens of white paper sheets with the word “aikido” written on them in thick, black ink. The pages covered all nearby trees and buildings. Intrigued, I stopped at the gym. “Excuse me,” I said to a guy in a Hawaiian shirt who was watching strangely dressed people making counterintuitive moves. “Do you know what this is all about?” He explained aikido in one sentence, and I found myself twisted in what I later learned was shihonage. “I’m thinking of doing karate,” I said when he released me from his iron grip. “There is a major difference between aikido and karate,” the guy in the Hawaiian shirt looked intensively into my eyes. “Basically, in karate I could kill you right now. In aikido, why would I bother? By the way, my name is Rick, Rick Stickles.” He explained the event I was witnessing was a seminar by a famous teacher named Chiba Sensei. “Remember that,” Rick said. “You will think about it later, once you get settled into your practice.” He wrote something down on a piece of paper and handed it to me. “Here,” he said, “this is the address of the New York Aikikai. You will love it.”

I really did. For the first few months, I had goose bumps every time I walked into the dojo. The idea of learning something as foreign as martial arts excited and overwhelmed me. My inability to get any of the moves right, left me hungry for more. Some things appeared funny, like bowing to paper portraits of dead people or kneeling for a teacher seemed a little overboard. But I slowly began to embrace the beautiful, circular movement and understand its power and culture. I realized I was incredibly lucky to start my training at the New York Aikikai, with its accommodating training schedule and variety of excellent teachers. I wondered whether it would appear freakish if I came to practice every day. Then I just did it, anyway.

One day, I found myself explaining a technique to my partner, and, surprised, I realized I actually knew what I was doing. Some other day, a person asked me to start a group exercise, because I was the most senior around. “How did this happen?” I scratched my head.

I began to think of all the reasons I practiced aikido. Coming from the European country of Poland, I had nothing in common with Japanese culture, and no connection to the martial arts world, except for one time when I was six years old and a friend tried his Bruce Lee moves on me and broke my left arm. To gather some answers, I went to train for two weeks at the source, the Hombu dojo in Japan.

On my first day of training, after class, I was watching one of the Hombu dojo teachers, Yoshiaki Yokota, testing white belts. Suddenly, he jumped from seiza position, hitched his dark blue hakama and trotted across the bright canvas mat. The main training room was spacious, but it took Yokota Sensei just a blink of an eye to get from one end to the other, and reach me. He came so close that I could see every wrinkle on his weary face. My heart sank. Yokota Sensei opened his purple and otherwise quite beautiful lips, and started screaming his lungs out. I watched his round face turning bright red as he yelled in Japanese pointing his right index finger directly at me. Still screaming, he turned around to make sure other people in the room heard, and then he pointed at me one again. After a cavalcade of sounds I didn’t understand, Yokota sensei turned around and trotted back to his spot. He sat and continued examining kyu grade students as if nothing happened, as if my heart wasn’t shattered. One of Yokota Sensei’s assistants, Suzuki, turned towards me and whispered in imperfect English. “No sitting cross-legged. Sit in seiza. Now!”

I blinked in disbelief realizing my big offense, but I was grateful Suzuki spoke a language I could understand. Not many Japanese at the dojo shared this ability. It turned out to be a blessing. The only way for me to communicate with the majority of the Hombu dojo students was through the language of ikkyo, nikkyo and ukemi. Two weeks later, after many more classes and much nicer encounters, I went back to New York relieved. The Hombu dojo experience was extraordinary, but New York Aikikai was home. There was room for everyone, for every individual style and it didn’t matter where I kept my feet off the mat, as long as I put effort into everything I was doing on the mat. I realized I practiced aikido simply because it felt good. I liked the space between me and my partner, the touch, connection, and the flow. I enjoyed the energy. I noticed how aikido made me more compassionate, empowered and assertive. It sharpened my senses, intuition, and enhanced empathy. I liked how it allowed me to express myself to people who didn’t speak the same language.

But I was getting bored. Endless repetition of movements, meeting the same people at the same place every day, and talking about one thing predominantly, suddenly seemed very monotonous. It didn’t help that I hovered at the back of the training hall, away from the bad kids, who used to fascinate me. I didn’t allow myself to be challenged.

One day, I snapped at someone who threw me harder and didn’t seem to care. Another day, I resented a teacher whose techniques I thought wouldn’t work in reality. I fussed about smelly gi’s and dirty feet. I didn’t like how beginner male students were telling me what to do just because I was a girl with a white belt. I enjoyed training, but didn’t have as much fun as I used to when I first had started. I was still coming to the dojo every day, out of habit, but my initial excitement puffed into thin air. I wondered how this could have happened. Aikido felt like an old lover whom I was taking for granted… Then I hurt my back.

“From down dog, extend and lift your right leg and flip your belly towards the ceiling… yeah… that’s right,” a yoga teacher at the New York Sports Club was cruising between colorful mats adjusting stretched bodies. “Bravo,” she said reassuringly. “Now flip back.” All I could think about was “shut up!” I was two weeks into my one month break from aikido, and I just couldn’t take it anymore. I swam, jogged and took yoga classes, but all of this just wasn’t doing it for me. In a cumulative effort to emerge myself in things different than aikido, I went to all the exhibits, plays and parties I could think of in the hours I would normally spend on the mat, and… nothing. My mind wandered to the silent training hall, the circular, repetitious movement, my friends and our endless discussions about one thing, predominantly. I counted days until I could step back on the mat. Once my feet hit it, I understood I just came through a natural learning cycle. I was curious about aikido again because I gave myself time and space to miss it. There was so much more to learn, and I was determined to be the best student I can.

Aleksandra Michalska
New York Aikikai

New Jersey USAF Instructors Hold Benefit For Japan

Many Mahalos (Hawaiian “thank yous”) to the organizers and artists of Kokua for Japan for inspiring a USAF New Jeresy Instructors Benefit Seminar for Japan on June 12, 2011!

Kokua for Japan was a benefit concert held in Honolulu back on April 10 to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross in the wake of Japan’s devastating earthquake, tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis. The event featured such performers as Willie Nelson, Mick Fleetwood, Michael McDonald, Hawaiian born and raised Jack Johnson, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro and many local Hawaiian artists.

While watching the live broadcast of the concert online that lazy Sunday evening, my wife and I discussed what a closely-knit community of Aikido dojo there are throughout New Jersey and wondered whether a successful benefit seminar could be pulled off featuring as many of NJ’s dojo cho as possible.

That week I sent an email out to all NJ chief instructors listed in the USAF dojo directory asking who’d be interested and if so, when available. Amazingly, almost everyone responded and pretty much unanimously settled on the date of June 12. Huge and deep gratitude to Rick Stickles, Skip Chapman, Eran Vardi, Karen DePaola, Jerry Zimmerman, Michael McNally, Alex Vieira, Sergio Cuevas and James Shaffer in joining me to help make the benefit seminar the great triumph it was! All instructors selflessly donated their time and talent to come together through shared practice for the common purpose of aiding in Japan’s recovery and renewal.

The seminar ran beautifully with classes straight through for 10 hours. We wanted to create the feel of a benefit concert or dance marathon and have all participants be responsible for their own breaks as well as feel free to come on and off the mat as needed. And of course food and refreshments were on hand throughout the day.

A big Domo Arigato-gozaimasu to the Aikikai Foundation at Hombu Dojo for extending for us the deadline for receiving donations so that via the USAF we could make our contribution from the seminar’s proceeds.

Also, thanks to Aikido of Red Bank’s Emmy Award-winning dojo cinematographer and photographer Kris Schoenleber for donating his services by taking video and stills all day, producing a great DVD, the proceeds of which we are continuing to send to the Japanese Red Cross as orders continue. To view the photos, please visit our facebook page. If you are interested in ordering a copy, you may do so by contacting Kris through his own website

Omedetou again to all the instructors involved for their efforts in spreading our own Aloha to our extended Japanese Family!

Island Aikido’s Japan Disaster Benefit Update

The Island Art Center held a benefit on May 21st to raise money to support the USAF’s Japan relief fund. The day focused on a seminar involving students and instructors from many visiting Dojo’s, training together for a good cause. Throughout the day, students from the various children’s programs came suited up to do their part, small but mighty. The children had collected sponsors in the weeks leading up to the event. Their sponsors pledged various amounts towards how many rolls the children could accomplish. 18 children (ages 5-11) did a total of 3,175 forward and back rolls adding to the total collected thus far of well over $1,200.00 More donations are still “rolling” in and we will keep the jar out through our annual student art show and demonstration. More updates and pictures from the potluck community event that capped off a wonderful day spent rocking and rolling for a cause will be posted on our site as we get them.

THANKS ONE AND ALL FOR THE SUPPORT AND COMMITMENT TO MAKING THIS EVENT SUCCESSFUL. We will hold other events throughout the year for this cause and keep you updated.

2011 USAF Summer Camp DVD Is Now Available

The 2011 Summer Camp DVD is now available for purchase. This DVD captures the teachings of Yamada Shihan and Osawa Shihan, the Technical Committee members, and the many shidoin who helped provide an average of 8 classes per day. From on the mat in the dojo, to weapons classes outside under the pavilion, the extraordinary flavor of this camp is now available for all to share.

If you ordered your copy during camp, your DVD should arrive shortly. If you missed the opportunity to do so, you can now order it online by visiting Aikido de La Montagne’s website.

A special thanks to the outstanding camerman, Luc Tremblay, and his team, and to Claude Berthiaume Shihan and Aikido de la Montagne who organized, supervised, and assisted on all levels to help make this happen.

A short preview can be viewed here.

Summer Camp Photos Are Now Available

We are pleased to announce that the USAF Summer Camp album is now available for viewing.  We are deeply grateful to Jaime Kahn, whose amazing talent has provided a permanent collection of  images which so beautifully capture the camp experience.  All photos are available for purchase.  Please proceed to the Recent link at to view the beginning of the new USAF archives.

In Memory of Nick Kraus Sensei, Vicksburg Aikikai

We are sorry to announce the passing of Nick Kraus Sensei, Godan. Kraus Sensei touched the lives of many people in his years of aikido and here is one written by Ray Farinato, Aikido of Fairfield County:

Practicing aikido brings us into contact with many wonderful people, some who we may have missed because they did not draw attention to themselves. Recently the aikido community lost one of its ‘good guys’ and a very dear friend to me. I’d like to offer this small remembrance of my sempai Nick Kraus, who at the time of his passing was the former dojo cho and founder of Vicksburg Aikikai in Vicksburg, Mississippi where lived with his dear wife Kinu.

I had the pleasure of coming under Nick’s wing in the late 1970’s while training at Hombu dojo in Shinjuku. He had been living and training in Japan since the mid 1970’s and well understood my plight of making my way through Japanese culture and negotiating the right mix of aikido training, professional development and simply enjoying life. Nick not only introduced me (and Mike Sheahon) to special training with sensei Seijuro Masuda, but he helped me get a job with the engineering firm where he was employed. It turned out that we had several interests in common and he welcomed me with his characteristic enthusiasm into all of those corners of his life.

After a year in Japan I returned to the US, Nick and Kinu remained in Japan for several years, and we had only occasional communication. He had to cease aikido training due to his physical situation, and recast his unflinching effort into weapons training and his professional life as a costal engineer. Twenty years later we reconnected and unsurprisingly Nick had made significant positive contributions in both those facets of his life. He was lauded by his academic colleagues for his contributions in coastal research and engineering, and grew a dedicated group of martial artists in his hometown, where he established Vicksburg Aikikai. Both of those communities benefited greatly from the life he breathed into them.

Nick brought a spirit of budo to everything he did. He was fearless about challenging people to consider whether what they were doing made sense. This guiding principle, which he applied to himself even more so than to others, honed the spirits of those people who were willing to hang on for the ride and rise to the challenge. He always gave me good advice since I knew he had my best interests at heart. I cherish the strength of his committed and kind personality, and will miss him dearly.

New England Aikikai’s Seminar June 2011

Students from New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Canada, of course Massachusetts, and even Florida, were in attendance at the June 11 & 12 weekend seminar at New England Aikikai.  The mat was full of energy and excitement with intensive training and focus on the powerful, dynamic, and beautiful world-class Aikido of Donovan Waite Shihan…instruction delivered with the love, warmth, patience, and kindness as embodied in the spirit of Aikido!

View the album of seminar photos

The Georgia Southern University Aikido Club Seminar April 2011

On Saturday, 16 April 2011 Darrell Tangman, Rokudan, and Lamar Sanders, GoDan, conducted a seminar and a promotional exam for the members of the Georgia Southern University Aikido Club.  Seven students earned promotion.  Two guests from the Aikido Center of Savannah and one guest from the Augusta Aikido Club also attended.

The Georgia Southern University Aikido Club trains on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 5:00 PM and 7:00 PM and on Saturdays from 10:00 AM to Noon.  Any Aikidoka visiting the area are welcome to train with the Georgia Southern University Aikido Club.  Please contact the instructor for arrangements: .

Thank you for attending Summer Camp 2011

Dear Camp Participants,

I have just returned from France and Germany, which finally ends my long summer of traveling and teaching seminars.  One of the highlights of my summer was being at our camp, seeing everyone training hard and then enjoying the hotel pools and hot tub, as well as the relaxing social time around dinner and throughout the evenings.

I would like to thank you for attending our 2011 USAF Summer Camp. Your presence helped to make this year’s camp a wonderful experience for everyone involved. As you know, Osawa Sensei has agreed to be our guest instructor again next year along with our USAF Shihan and featured Shidoin.  We are in the process of planning next year’s camp and as soon as we have all the details, we will announce them so that you will have plenty of time to plan for 2012.  I am looking forward to seeing all of you again next year.

With sincere thanks,

Yamada Sensei

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