Archives for 2015

Aikido of Charlotte Announces New Dojo Space

I would like to introduce you to the future of Aikido of Charlotte! We are almost done with construction of this 4,300 sq. ft. building (a little less than half will be a production studio) The Dojo will include changing rooms, shower, kitchen area, LED lighting, ceiling Fans & a 1,600 sq. ft. sprung floor mat system with 72 Zebra Mats, which will be the largest martial arts mat system of this kind in NC & SC. Stay tuned on more announcements regarding our Grand Opening / Open HouseInaugural Seminar with Andy Demko, 7th Dan, Shihan, USAF Technical Committee & our 2016 Q1 Community Self Defense Class!

Thank you to our students for being so dedicated to this cause and for giving me a place to share this wonderful martial art with our Chief Instructor, Dennis Main, 6th Dan, Shidoin.

…Jonathan Weiner, 4th Dan, Fukushidoin | Dojo Cho



The United States Aikido Federation: Looking Forward

First, I’d like you all to know that I am healthy and well, and have an excellent report from my doctors.  While I still have a way to go before I can be as active as I’d like, each day I am improving and feeling stronger and more eager to get back on the mat.

Over the summer I thought a lot about my position in the USAF and in my mind compared it to my dojo, New York Aikikai. A few years ago, I resigned from the Board and as the President of NYA. My job title now is simply Chief Instructor.  It is the position I am most happy in.  I realized that my title at my dojo would also work very well for the USAF and helps create a good plan for our future.

As of January 1st, 2016 I will no longer be the President of the USAF and will no longer be a board member.  Instead, I am excited for my new title, Chief Instructor and Technical Advisor of the USAF.

The positions of President, President Elect and Vice President of the USAF will be eliminated.  The officer positions will be Chairperson, Treasurer and Secretary, and there will also be a Chairperson of the Technical Committee. When I can no longer serve as Chief Instructor or Technical Advisor, the Technical Committee will assume my responsibilities. The Board and Technical Committee, along with Laura Pavlick as Director of Operations, have very different roles and qualifications, and will work together to serve our members and support our federation.

I am very pleased with these changes because I think they solve concerns about the future in the most positive way.  I plan on being around for a long time, enjoying my new title and providing my oversight and guidance just as I have always done.

I wish you all a happy and healthy New Year and look forward to seeing you on the mat soon.


The Mirrors of Circumstance

There goes a story of O’Sensei where at a late age he had to be carried onto the mat to teach class, but once he was on the mat he moved with the amazing speed of a whirlwind, tossing ukes like they were ragdolls.  Like O’Sensei many of us can act differently on the mat as opposed to off the mat, although to a much lesser degree.  There can be people who are timid off the mat, but can show a great amount of assertion while training.  There are also those who can be relatively calm in daily life, but once on the mat and under attack they can get pretty wild and aggressive.  The opposite of course can also be true; the flow and fluidity of Aikido can have a calming effect too.  Different people can respond to the same circumstances differently.  Whether it is the circumstance of Aikido training or something else entirely, when we enter a different circumstance we look into a specific mirror, one that may reveal characteristics that we previously were not conscious about.

Imagine life as a hall of mirrors, and each mirror is a different circumstance of life.  Some of the mirrors show who we believe ourselves to be, but other mirrors, like fun house mirrors, distort that image.  We may deny the authenticity of those distorted images, but nevertheless they contain elements of who we are.  Our actions adapt to circumstances.  Our response to a shomenuchi attack may vary from our response to a yokomenuchi attack.  In randori, our responses become reflexive as attacks come one after another, and sometimes we may surprise ourselves at just how much we are capable of.  There are sides of us that remain hidden until the right situations bring them out to the surface.  An unexpected hardship can bring out resiliency that we never knew we had.  Tragedy on a mass scale can also bring out kindness on a mass scale, as people rush to help their fellow human beings in need.  A cutthroat competition may bring out ugliness that we never knew existed in us.  We each reflect a different face depending on the current circumstances around us.

Sometimes people like to engage in hypothetical scenarios.  What would you do if today was your last day to live?  What if a bear chases after you when you go camping?  What will you do if your iriminage doesn’t work!?  What if someone comes at you with a kick!?!  We may answer with what we think would likely be our response, but we would never know our true response until the situation does occur.  Our reflexive response and our intellectual response can often contrast with each other.  Sometimes the intensity of a situation may lead us to take illogical or irrational decisions.  And sometimes doing something illogical may bring unexpectedly positive results.  Each new circumstance is filled with an array of possibilities, chances to capitalize on opportunities as well as to see what we lack.  My favorite quote, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, states, “For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else.”  You can see what you lack, but learn from it, or see some greed come out as you capitalize on an opportunity.

Circumstances can bring out both the best and the worst in people.  It can lead to self-discovery, or to actions resulting in self-defeat.  Whenever people learn new things and improve themselves, they change the foundation that their reflexive responses are based on.  Adjusting a detail in your Aikido technique can improve your reflexive response the next time that attack comes unexpectedly.  Reflexive responses are also based on our characteristics and traits that form the basis of our personalities.  Personalities of certain types may interact better, in certain circumstances, than others.  Other people may also act as different mirrors of circumstance.  I interact with my family in a different way than I interact with strangers, or acquaintances.  My family interactions reflect one side of who I am, while my interactions with people I don’t know well reflect another.  Even within my family my interactions with different individuals show differentiated reflections.  I interact with my mom differently than I interact with my sister.  If I interact with 16 different people, I will reflect 16 different sides of myself.  Many of those sides will be similar since they are unified by my core personality, but there are significant differences, even if they are subtle and slight.

Every partner we have in our Aikido training is a different mirror of circumstance.  How we respond to each of them, along with the other circumstances that come our way, adds up to the parts that make us who we are.  We may see similarities of how we act on the mat occur in our daily lives too since all our reflections are connected to our core sense of self.  Circumstances bring more of who we are to the light; it illuminates our inner selves.  Our responses to the various circumstances lead to various results, both good and bad, but we learn more about ourselves either way.  We can mold our reflections through learning and improvement, but many reflections are also stable and based on our personalities.  Each day brings new circumstances, and with that new chances for better reflections.  We are all artists striving to paint ourselves in the best way we can using the brush strokes of each day we live.

by Andrew Lee

New York Aikikai

Message from Yamada Sensei

Dear Aikido Community,

It has been four weeks since my operation and I am finally back in my office at the New York Aikikai. Once again I surprised my doctors with how fast I have recovered. They have given me a clean bill of health and have told me I can even travel by plane now.

Thanks to everyone for your support and good wishes. All of that has given me a lot of positive energy toward my recovery.

However, since even Superman gets old and doesn’t recover from kryptonite so fast, I will still need about another month before I can be back teaching.

I am anxious to get back and see all of you on the mat again.

Y. Yamada

Albany Aikido Celebrates 30th Anniversary

Shihan Irvin Faust of Albany Aikido would like to sincerely thank all those who supported his 30th anniversary celebration seminar. Much gratitude goes out to those who were able to come, those who sent cards, made calls, and those who sent Internet messages.

Shihan Irvin Faust was very pleased with the turn out and says that it was a joyous and very spirited seminar. He especially thanks Dave Halprin, Joel Poslum, Larry Levit and Brian Mizerak who taught excellent classes.

The after party was held at Highway bowling alley and it was fantastic. The bowling, socializing and fun exemplified his t-shirt logo – Nage + Uke= Harmony.




August 28th, 2015 from Yamada Sensei

Dear members,

As you already know, this past year has been a very difficult year, starting last September with personal health problems and following over the months with many losses and challenging events.  Last September, I wrote a story about a homeless guy who was found living in the dojo basement, and it turned out that we called him Cancer.  I explained how I was lucky to have a friend named Robot, who did an excellent job removing the cancer and how he helped me get strong and back on the mat in a very short amount of time.

Well, the superintendent has found someone else living in the basement, and though we don’t know if his name is also cancer, I will be having my friend Robot cleaning it out and removing all signs of him on September 29th.   I have been told this will be a much easier guy to chase out than the last one.  From now on, I will keep my basement uncomfortable with no air conditioning in the summer time and no heater in winter. I will get a stronger key and put up a sign that says “Smoke detector!”.

I’m sorry to have to give you this report and to make you worried again, but I will be back on the mat much faster than the last time.

Thank you in advance for your concern, I am doing very well and will keep you updated as we go.

Y. Yamada

The Wave of Presence

Whenever we experience a particularly effective technique we notice nage’s presence immediately.  Like a tidal wave that suddenly appears out of nowhere, it can sweep us off our feet while we look on in awe.  Presence can be powerful yet subtle, and become the center of attention without being obnoxious.  Many people can be present but lack presence, and it is the difference between practicing Aikido with a limp arm and practicing with an arm full of energy yet still relaxed.  When we relax in Aikido it is not the same type of relaxing where you plop down into bed after a long and tiring day.  We need to keep relaxed during practice but with an energy and presence that lets whoever we train with know that we are there and in the moment, ready to be engaged.  Good presence lets our practice remain in motion like the ebb and flow of the tide, instead of feeling overly static like water trapped in a bottle.

With a diverse array of people come diverse types of presence.  People can differ stylistically in their presence, and people may also derive their presence from different sources.  Some people have a natural presence, and when they’re in a room everyone notices, while others cultivate it internally to bring out an energy, voice, and authority that had previously been eluding them.  One day, several years ago, I saw a person wearing a trench coat stride into the dojo with such a great deal of presence that I was convinced he was a yudansha.  Later on, to my surprise, I found out he was 5th kyu.  A powerful presence doesn’t always come with rank or skill, but with the ability to project your energy so that the people around you can’t help but notice it.  A lot of energy flows in Aikido, and these lines of energy can move in so many different directions, that it can sometimes seem unwieldy.  A strong presence can bring order to these paths of energy that can result in freer and uninhibited movement.  Our presence places us in charge of guiding the movement instead of letting it drift aimlessly away.

In contrast to the presence emanating from within, are some forms of externally derived presence that have less to do with projecting energy and more to do with something to be avoided.  Just like not all types of attention are desirable, there are types of presence that we are better off without.  One time I was training with someone who had an extremely sweaty and stinky gi (reminder to all aikidoka: please keep your gis well washed and clean!!), and we were practicing iriminage.  As I was taking the ukemi and he was bringing my head towards his shoulder I couldn’t help but notice the dark sweat stains on his gi under his arms, and to avoid having my face squished into that abyss of sweat I took the fall before he technically completed his technique.  That type of stinky presence certainly made his iriminage effective; I was made to go down instantly after all.  This, however, is not the type of presence that would help us in our training.  A presence that repels people is very different than a positive presence that accepts and guides them.

Presence isn’t something strictly technical.  It’s more about attitude and how you use it to deal with the energy around you.  For those of us with pets, we know they can see it when we assert ourselves and demand their attention and respect.  Being energetically assertive doesn’t mean to be arrogant or obnoxious.  We can assert authority over a situation while retaining a sense of humility and a respectful demeanor towards others.  If nage is doing a technique properly he or she should feel in control.  An attack can create a potentially chaotic situation, and neutralizing that attack takes, in addition to the technique itself, an inner sense of stillness and presence that makes you and the attacker feel you are in control of the situation.  At more advanced levels of training it is the nage that initiates the technique.  Nage becomes perceptive enough to take the lead in resolving the movement by breaking the maai before uke moves in for the attack.  By initiating with a strong presence nage is then able to shape uke’s attack in a way that is more efficient to manage.  A good attitude doesn’t just make for a more pleasant practice, but also a vibrant presence in performing the techniques.

Both the giant tsunami and the relatively small wave that merely makes us stumble have significant presence.  One is more obvious while the other is more subtle, but in the end we acknowledge both of them, since they have entered our perception in a way we cannot ignore.  The inner presence derived from overt charisma or a more subtle inner cultivation can make others notice in a definitive way, the same way an assertive hand to the face would make uke definitively notice.  Some external types of presence like a strong odor can make people double take, but are not beneficial for a good practice as most people would rather that stay hidden.  Good presence calls for an assertive, but not overly aggressive, attitude that can initiate and control the situation at hand.  There are moments when we may feel knocked around by the tide as we drift; those are the times where we need to find stable footing, ground and center ourselves, and spark a presence that makes us truly present in life and on the mat.

By Andrew Lee, New York Aikikai

Types of Contact in Aikido

Mapping Aikido Training on a Continuum from Assault to Intimacy:

How Intention and Connection make Aikido a Spiritual Experience

I ask myself, what differentiates aikido from other martial arts?  Paradoxically, it is that the goal of aikido is to learn how NOT to hurt people.  This practice of non-harm, is the process by which we learn to become spiritual.

What does it mean to you to be a spiritual person?  Is it to be caring?  Or, to transcend one’s ego? To be “one” with everything?  Think about this, as you read.

Connection,  as Essential to Intimacy

How do we experience quality of contact with our partners?  It is something that is felt the moment uke grabs nage.  The quality of uke’s contact can be soft, rigid, engaged, limp, firm, present or absent.  Nage also connects, or not, with uke.  It is a two-way experience of engagement, or not.  In this sense, the quality of contact between uke and nage determines how each of them experiences the other.  If both partners are hard, then there is no feeling between them.   In aikido we do not:  “attack – defend”.  We “attack”, “connect,” (or blend), and “redirect”.

Mechanical Practice can Feel like “Assault”

In this version of practice there is an attack and a response.  It is characterized by no mutuality and no feeling, as the connect piece is missing.  Ask yourself:    do I see the “other” as an object, a thing that is just there for me to “do something to?”   Am I “grabbing an arm,”  “striking a head?”  Do I notice my partner as a WHOLE person?  Or, am I just thinking about the technique that I am doing TO my partner. Martin Buber, a religious philosopher used the term I-it, to describe this type of relationship.  That is a nice way of saying that the most objectified type of relationship can be described as completely lacking in intimacy.  It is tantamount to feeling assaulted by another person.   This type of relational contact is characterized as a lack of awareness of the other person.  There is no caring for the other.   As aikidoka, we all know those types of practitioners.  They are the ones, who after practicing, you say to yourself: : “avoid this person.” This type of practice is based in fear, and in an insensitivity to the other.

Connected, Purely Physical Practice Feels like “Sex”

I call this type of aikido practice energetic, fun, and mutually engaged.  Many aikidoka practice at this level – it is connected in an intensely physical way.  What is doesn’t have is subtle intimacy.

At this level of practice we are both still doing techniques to each other and it feels great.   There may be a sense of “orgasm in motion,” but not transcendence.   This is undoubtedly a stage in the practice of aikido that we all necessarily go through on our journey with aikido as a relational art.

Love: Transcending the Physical

The breath

I breathe in, you are coming.  We barely touch.  I breathe out.   You fly through the air.  I forgot where I begin and you end.  Am I nake?  Am I uke?  I do not know?  I am on the inside, with you.  We are together.  In losing myself, I find myself.  I am joy.  I have no doubt. No fear.  I see clearly why I practice.

Why I love this art is revealed to me in the practice.  I am harmony.    Moving together, we are joy.  I cannot reach the bottom of knowing you.

I call this the inside of aikido.  This place is the heart of aikido:  where we are open to everything, ready for nothing. It is relaxed, open, and receptive. It is not something that we experience, per se, it is something that we can be.  This.  A spirit, in motion.

by Kali Hewitt-Blackie, 4th Dan


A Message From Yamada Sensei Regarding Sansuikai

I recently announced that Sansuikai International is now affiliated with the USAF.  Some questions have been asked, so I  wanted to explain what this affiliation means.  As you know, I created Sansuikai so the dojo in South America and Europe can join and I can help these dojo by submitting Sansuikai dan applications to Aikikai.  When I am no longer able to do this, the USAF, as a recognized Aikikai organization, will take my place and forward these applications directly to Aikikai.  This is all that will be needed to make sure everyone can still have their dan ranks registered at hombu.  We have so many friendly relationships all over the world, between Sansuikai and the USAF, and this allows me to rest assured that all the years of work I have put in to both organizations will continue, as well as your friendships on and off the mat .


Y. Yamada

The Evolution of What Aikido Means

The meaning of Aikido varies among the unique and different people who practice it.  The meaning changes even for the same person.  The reason we start something is often different from the reason we maintain it years later.  Our initial purpose evolves and adapts to all that we have learned, our interactions with other people, and the gradual change of our overall environment and circumstances over time.  Aikido’s beauty lies in its process of change more than any goal we may desire through it.  We may start with goals such as learning self-defense or getting in shape, which can still stay with us over time, but eventually they turn into secondary reasons and something deeper moves into the forefront.  We learn how to do individual techniques through repetitively performing them, but once we understand the basic concepts we are able to play more with freestyle and adapting to the situation at hand by spontaneously making changes where necessary to complete the flow of the movement.

I started Aikido when I was eleven because my mom wanted me to.  She said that she wanted me to learn a means of self-defense because I was so quiet and she didn’t want people to pick on me.  Since the reason I started Aikido was not my own I went into it without any particular goal and my attention geared more towards the processes.  Once I got into training on a regular basis however goals did naturally emerge.  I was in the children’s class and seeing all the different colored belts around me made me aspire to earn those belts for myself, but like the ambitions of many children, and many adults as well, my ambitions for Aikido sometimes suffered from a short attention span.  There were many days that I wanted to stay home and watch TV instead of going to practice but my mom made me go anyway.  She had me train every weekend with the exception of dojo closures and family vacations, though there was this one time she relented and I went to an event at a park.  The event had games and activities for children but I wasn’t really interested in what they had to offer.  I missed Aikido and it felt strange not training.  Though there would be many more days to come where I would not feel like training, remembering that strange feeling of not going to practice for something less worthwhile made me attend much more often than not in the years to come.

My mom joined me in my Aikido journey when I moved on to the adult classes.  She started Aikido for me, so I would have company in my transition to train with the adults.  In my new classes I could sense right away that practice was more serious, and it was a welcome change for me.  I enjoyed the deeper practice with a relative increase in intensity.  I left the children’s class with a good foundation of the basics and a clear understanding of the terminology, which helped me in training at a more advanced level.  I still had my goals to continuously test for higher ranks, and I closely counted my practice days until I had enough to test.  The teenage years often bring with it a plethora of activities including extra curriculars and socializing, but that was not my experience.  My personality is introverted and there is a shyness I carry with me.  Socializing and talking to people are relatively difficult for me.  Aikido gave me a way to interact with others without necessarily talking.  As my proficiency in Aikido grew my confidence grew with it; I felt comfortable talking about Aikido even as I still struggled with small talk.  My focus stuck with Aikido because I was too shy to try other activities.  It seems I had turned a disadvantage into an advantage.

Aikido has become a constant in my life.  It helps me to center myself whenever I feel anxious or nervous.  It has provided me with a great window to interacting with a variety of other people on a regular basis.  I feel a sense of flow along with a sense of confidence when I train, and during practice I feel I can express my style and who I am.  Each Aikido practitioner brings his or her own unique perspective to the art, which enables Aikido itself to unify the amazing diversity that surrounds it.  It has now been over fourteen years since I started Aikido, and with every year that passes I learn to appreciate additional aspects of the Way of unifying energy.  It’s through the Aikido movements where I’ve found a voice to express myself in creative ways.  I also teach classes on a regular basis now which helps me with my confidence, pushes me to interact with people on a deeper level, and allows me to explore and innovate with my personal expression of Aikido.  At this point rank and pride have fallen to secondary roles, and the flow of everyday practice has moved to the forefront.  Aikido has and continues to guide me along a process of developing myself, in opening myself to others in spite of whatever fear I have, and in illuminating the creativity and flow within.

“Why did you start Aikido?” is a very different question from “Why do you practice Aikido?”  People are not static beings and their motives, desires, and sometimes even beliefs can change with the dynamism of practicing iriminage at full speed.  The reason I started Aikido was not my own, but the discipline I gained from enforced regular practice gave me a deeper appreciation for the practice itself, and the moments of contrast where I skipped practice instead showed me that I enjoyed going to practice more often than not.  Finding that enjoyment and the sense that I had the ability to do something of substance well kindled my ambitions in the art, and I was excited to advance through the ranks.  At an age where I could have been easily distracted, I instead deepened my focus due to my nature and a seeming limitation.  When one path is cut off another path broadens, and the path of Aikido has broadened to a point where I can extract even more meaning from the more subtle areas of the path.  Experiencing flow, learning about the minutiae of interacting with others, having a strong core to center myself, creative self-expression, and developing a sense of openness are among the various reasons I continue to train regularly.  For those who stick with it Aikido is a lifelong process that constantly evolves; it changes as you change.

By Andrew Lee, New York Aikikai

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