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

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Different Way of Knowing

by Jenny Coletti 
I spent much of my first year training Aikido with my mind something like this:  “Don’t pull, stay centered, bend my knees, keep my back straight, stretch my back more, keep my hands in front of me, keep my hands open, keep my mouth closed, step forward, no- step backward, tenkan, wait-what is tenkan?, toes down, toes flexed, relax my shoulders, bend my elbow, keep the grip, roll, fall, move my hips, let go, don’t let go, remember to breathe!”  I thought that if I could just remember all these things all the time, I would begin to learn Aikido.  I thought I was paying such close attention to all the details, but I was allowing myself to become lost in them.  My attention was far from clear or focused, it was scattered and distracted.  
And then I found out that I was to be tested for 5th kyu.  I wondered how I could remember all these things for all the techniques I would be tested for and it seemed overwhelming.  Somewhere in the process of preparing for my test, my mind couldn’t take in any more details.  I felt overloaded.  I found that I couldn’t appreciate each moment and movement in a technique with my mind always anticipating, yelling, and demanding.  My mind had distracted me away from the techniques, not toward a better understanding of them.  I needed to begin to feel the techniques and to allow my body to move unobstructed by my overactive mind.  It was a revelation for me and I felt a shift in my practice.
 Preparing for my 5th kyu test gave me an opportunity to stop thinking and let go of my disquiet mind.  I was practicing each technique over and over again until I finally allowed myself to feel the energy and movement through my body.  It was freeing.  I felt unencumbered when I finally let go of the never-ending dialogue and checklists my mind had been reciting.  I realized that my intention and spirit had been hindered by my distracted mind and that I was always hesitating and wavering.  
As I continue my Aikido practice after the test, I struggle to remember to keep my mind still and my awareness more focused.  It’s easy to fall back into that mental dialogue, but I am getting better about quieting it.  I try to approach each class with a clear intention to concentrate on one detail that I really want to work on and not get bogged down by all of them.  It is a different way of knowing and of being, but I am trying to learn more with my body and less with my mind, to rely on awareness and attention and not memorization and details. Instead of thinking my way through Aikido, I am slowly trying to find my own way by experiencing it.

Monday, April 13, 2009

No Body, No Face

by Annie Hsu

After ichimando a few weeks ago, Sensei asked the women who practiced that day what we thought of misogi, given that he's heard people criticize it as being “overly masculine”. Sensei's question took me by surprise because I had never thought about it in such terms.

While contemplating the question, instead of reaching any answers about misogi, thoughts about my job invaded. I find that one of most frustrating aspects of being a lawyer is convincing people that I actually am one. Once, after helping someone through their legal issues, I gave him one of my business cards. He looked at it, laughed, and said, “You're a lawyer?” Attorneys more often refer to me as “the young lady” on the record rather than how I refer to them, as opposing counsel (although I am tempted to use “old man”). In my office, the younger female attorneys are routinely the subject of letters written to our Director from older male attorneys complaining how we refuse to bend to their will. The younger male attorneys are never the subjects of these letters. These instances often throw me into a seething frustration, leaving me wondering if it's my age, gender, or ethnicity (or the entire magical trio) that engender such reactions.

Given the reign this magical trio has over other people’s perceptions of me and the amount of energy I’ve spent attempting to neutralize these perceptions, Sensei's question brought to light that I've never had to think about my identity at the dojo. All members of the dojo, regardless of age, gender, size or ethnicity, are expected to clean, cook, train with each other, sit in seiza until our feet are purple, bow to each other, and chant with all of our might. Women aren't expected to practice with less intensity or strength (and certainly won't be spared from getting smashed and choked), and men are expected to cook and clean. Sensei's standards for us, and, consequently, our standards for each other, are the same for each member. Because Sensei expects all from everyone, I've never thought to define our practice in terms of femininity or masculinity.

What I find so intriguing (and difficult) about practicing aikido and misogi is that we must be strong, but also relaxed, soft and aware. We must be what is stereotypically described as “masculine” and “feminine” simultaneously and without thought. When both the “feminine” and the “masculine” blend into one movement, one technique, where does the feminine end and the masculine begin? One day, while practicing sitting kokyuho with Brent, he mused that although he was trying to be as soft as possible and I was using as much muscle as possible, he was able to push me over repeatedly while I was attempting to apply the technique. The soft strength for which we strive is beyond masculinity and femininity, but, rather, is the result of the constant work of learning our bodies and polishing our technique.

Sensei teaches us to lose something every time we practice. Often I've wished I could go through life without a body, without a face. Aikido has given me exactly that – while on the mat, it has allowed me to shed the reactions to my identity and practice free from the limits that attempt to bind me in too many other aspects of my life.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Training Outside the Dojo

by Kodjo Pleune

The word aikido can be roughly translated as "the way of harmonious spirit." In aikido you learn how to take your opponent's force and use it against him. You don't fight force with force. The most basic situation I can think of is if someone is trying to push you to the floor, and instead of pushing back you move out of the way and let them fall. In essence, you let your opponent do most of the work for you. This doesn't apply only to physical situations, though. I have come to realize that aikido is not just about physical training but mental training as well. You can use the same principles to deal with any situation.

One of the core teachings of aikido is to stay relaxed, both mentally and physically. When something is really not going well, our natural reaction is to get angry and fight it. I find that getting angry doesn’t help me find a solution to a problem. What I try to do is take a few deep breaths and let the anger subside then approach the situation with a clear mind and more often then not I'll find a solution to the problem in itself. Once I started to keep that in the forefront of my mind, I was able to apply the principles of aikido to anything, from twisting my hips when throwing or hitting a ball, to diffusing a tense situation between friends and even strangers. That's not to say I'm relaxed all the time, but certainly more than I use to be.

If you can stay relaxed and focused you can deal with anything. This is something for me to strive for in my day-to-day life. And hopefully one day I'll truly be centered.