Welcome to the Brooklyn Aikikai web log. Our purpose is to provide to our community and beyond an online account of weekly articles, thoughts, and community happenings. The web log is moderated by Ryugan and Kate Savoca. We welcome any submissions in regards to Aikido, Zen, Misogi and Iaido or weapons study. We would also be interested in receiving any thoughts on cultural activities or practices that support a healthy, organic lifestyle with particular emphasis on their relation to the above mentioned arts. Please send only serious submissions – we reserve the right to edit articles for content or length, however, we will work with authors to preserve the integrity of their thoughts. Thanks for visiting and please check back regularly!

-R. Savoca

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Thousand Arms and Eyes

by Giun Kendo

A bit ago, I had a chance to spend a week as a guest at Brooklyn Aikikai. It was my first time to visit the dojo and my first time to do aikido. I was quite impressed by the dojo -- most specifically by the energy and positivity of the community. I am very gratefully to have been so warmly, thoroughly, and immediately welcomed into the midst of such a vibrant and inspiring practice community. Thank you all!

As it happens, while I was staying at the dojo, I received an unsolicited and uncharacteristic e-mail from my brother, in which he asked point-blank: "What do you think the point of your life is now?" In part, I told him that I imagined myself to be engaged in an effort to learn how to live a good human life -- and to put it into practice. And this is one of my strongest impressions about the dojo. I left the City thinking that Brooklyn Aikikai offers a positive and invigorating example of how one might live a good human life, and the value of such an example is not to be lightly dismissed. I tend to think that mainstream American society often does a lousy job of guiding people in the direction of a good human life -- a meaningful life; a dignified life; a beautiful life; a sacred life. Frankly, many, many modern Americans are utterly adrift and have no sound understanding of how to live…and, in the midst of this, the dojo offers an example of how life can be.

To further this stream of thought just slightly, one might say that the ideal of Mahayana Buddhism is the bodhisattva -- a being who vows to be reborn again and again and again in the cycle of suffering until all sentient beings have been liberated. Probably the most well-known bodhisattva in Buddhist mythology is Kanzeon (or Kannon or Quan Yin or Avalokiteshvara). Kanzeon is the bodhisattva of compassion and is often depicted with a thousand eyes and a thousand arms. These symbolize Kanzeon's ability to perceive all the suffering of all the beings in the universe and to respond compassionately to each situation with just what is needed. So, since I received my brother's big question, I have been thinking about what it means to look at the state of the world around us, identify what is most needed, and respond accordingly. And I have been thinking that Brooklyn Aikikai responds to the needs of the present world in a few critical ways.

The dojo offers training in discipline and self-control. Somewhere along the way, our culture seems to have forgotten that discipline need not be a negative term, and that, in fact, well-disciplined people are happier than those with poor self-control.

The dojo offers physical, visceral, concrete training to a world that has become dangerously abstract -- and in which many have largely lost touch with their physical bodies. This physical, concrete practice does wonders to re-unify one's mind and body -- to foster a healthy integrity between one's physical, mental, and spiritual sides.

And, perhaps this is a harder term to pin down, but I feel it is important. The dojo teaches its students to carry themselves and to treat each other with dignity. To behave in accord with a conviction that human life is meaningful and valuable. Indeed, sacred. And that human action matters. This, too, I am afraid is often lacking in our era, but it is of boundless importance.

So, that's my reflection. And it circles around again to end on a note of gratitude. I know that Brooklyn Aikikai in the form that I witnessed it would not be possible without the dedicated effort of many, many people, and I wish to express my thanks and respect to all those of you who have put your energy into building and nurturing this dojo. You've created something truly admirable, and I only hope that you will charge forward…optimistically, intelligently, diligently. And if the situation permits, I hope I will be able to join your Way and your community again.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Three Moments

by Todd Barnes

Two weeks ago three important moments occurred in the life of the dojo. One, we had a test where we saw five of our fellow members rise in rank. Two, we had a meeting where we learned about the plans for the dojo’s physical expansion and our part in raising funds. And three, I moved to a new apartment. All powerful moments in time, they taught me a wonderful lesson about what we are part of here in Brooklyn.

First the testing. Sensei knows where we are in our training and could do away with tests altogether, but there is something about them that still works. More than twenty members sat in seiza to support the four who were testing. Sensei threw us a funky wrinkle and called up several members for surprise practice tests as well. This heightened the intensity and pressed all of us to contribute. The spirit was strong and we needed the energy of every member there to pull through. In the end, after almost two hours, we had the four planned testers rise in rank, one surprise promotion and more than forty feet purple from lack of circulation.

During a test when Sensei yells “uke!”, people rush to aid their fellow students. That is a metaphor for what we do in our training with each other every day. What works about the test is it shows us all something about ourselves and the health of our community.

At our fundraising meeting we had an even greater turnout. This was the second Friday night in a row we were asked to attend and we did so en masse. The evidence suggests we are either painfully unpopular individuals or we are committed to the dojo. I’ve met almost everyone and I’m pretty sure we must be committed (not in the rubber room sense). We discussed the need to raise funds for an expansion of the dojo. This will allow for Sensei to continue the commitment of his life to the dojo, provide rooms for visiting instructors, and allow us to grow our uchideshi program. Could there be a more inspiring project? I have no doubt we will raise the money necessary to complete the expansion and beyond.

Lastly, I needed to bring furniture up and down stairs a bunch of times last weekend. On the way down it took three people almost three hours to load the truck. When I arrived at my new address it took eight people twenty-eight minutes to empty it. That’s because Sensei and Kate came. They were joined by Sensei’s friend and former teacher, Imetai. Later Sarah arrived (the day after her test no less). Sensei and Imetai have trained for more than fifty years combined. If you have ever wondered what physical transformation you might undergo in your training you should see two Sensei move furniture. It is terrifying and awe inspiring.

And if you’ve ever wondered what kind of bond we all have as fellow students, if you’ve ever wondered how committed we are to each other. I have your answers...

- We will rush to take ukemi for each other as long as the test lasts.

- Sensei knows with minute detail when you’ve been to class, if you are injured and what progress you’ve made. He and others live their lives committed to this practice and keep their doors and hands open to us without respite.

- And there is something in this bond, this commitment, which can convince a perfect stranger (Imetai) to race up two flights of stairs, repeatedly, until all of my worldly goods are in place.

These recent events proved to me beyond doubt that we are all part of something very special.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Vase by Ming Yuen-Schat

photograph by Ming Yuen-Schat, see more of Ming's work at http://www.flickr.com/photos/mingyuen-schat/

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Big Yellow Taxi

by David Lee

There’s a well-known song by Joni Mitchell that includes the lines:

“don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone..”

While I’ve always loved the song these lines took on a new significance for me recently when I found myself laid out at home for several weeks, unable even to get out of bed much less train due to a severe hernia. I’m sure, like most aikidoka there have been many times in the past when I’d talked myself out of training. I was too tired, it was too cold out, it was too hot out, my wrists hurt etc etc. During these moments of laziness it was just too easy to make an excuse not to go, “I’ll go tomorrow instead, next week I’ll train twice as hard” and all the time taking for granted the fact that I was able to train at all. That I had my health, that I lived in a city with such a great aikido dojo and teacher, that I could afford the monthly fees – all of these luxuries were easily forgotten. Forgotten until I no longer had them.

During many long hours of lying on my back staring at the ceiling I found myself longing to be able to do the simplest tasks again. I couldn’t stand long enough to make myself something to eat. I couldn’t leave the house to go and buy groceries. And I couldn’t train. I found myself missing Aikido a lot during this time. All those excuses now seemed so wasteful and I was forming a new commitment to my life and to my martial art that I promised myself I would honor once I was fit again.

This was the first lesson being unwell taught me. The second was more subtle but no less valuable. Sensei kindly gave my wife a book of Zen teachings for me to read while I was out of action. At first I thought just how nice this was of him to try to try to keep me entertained and I was honored that he’d thought of me at all while I wasn’t training. I then realized that this wasn’t simply a kindly gesture – perhaps the message was that, even though you can't practice aikido physically, you can still practice aikido mentally and this was his way of teaching me even while I couldn’t even stand up.

Aikido isn’t just something that happens on the mat – it’s a state of mind, its something we take with us every time we leave the dojo and its still with us even when sick and incapacitated. We should treasure every moment we are able to physically practice it and we should continue to train even in those moments when we are not able.