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, July 17, 2009

My First Day

by Andrés Cruciani

When I opened the plastic bag, I couldn’t help but think my canvas gi was made of cardboard. This was not the same as the ones I had seen others practicing in the day before: Mine bent rather than swayed, folded rather than fluttered.

I put on my cardboard suit and followed an advanced student’s directions on how to tie my belt. As I walked onto the mat, I marveled at my gi’s size, at the amount of space between my skin and the canvas. I felt like a small puppeteer commanding this cardboard frame – this stiff, canvas exoskeleton – to move at precise angles. I wanted to jump out of my uniform: I was sure the gi would stay in place, standing rigid and alert.

I tried to mimic Sensei’s stretching, but I kept moving left when he moved right, right when he moved left: my feet were wrong, my arms weren’t in the same rhythm, my pants were falling.

He told us to roll. I tripped my way across the mat. Instead of a circle, I was a tumbling brick. I did not roll. “Backfalls!” he said next. Now this would be easy! I thought. But for 27 years I had been perfecting my ability to not-fall. I had so long ago grown out of falling that the floor repelled me. Through a succession of labored manipulations I worked my way to the floor. “Now try falling,” I was told.

For the rest of that class, we practiced a series of movements that I recognized as Aikido but that my suit and I turned into a mishmash of awkward gestures – a Japanese-inspired performance art of flailing limbs and bows. I finished the class like I had jumped into the shower without removing my gi; even the tips of my belt were soaked through with sweat.

Almost a year later, I look back on that first day. I felt alien, and so my canvas space suit was appropriate. But I also remember a spirit of adventure, a sense of determination, and an expression of will over fear. That first day Sensei had shown us a submission move. “Do you want to try it?” I had been asked. “Ok,” I had shrugged apprehensively. But it is that same ok that I have carried with me over the past year. That same ok that is helping me to slowly alter my gi from cardboard to silk, or at least cotton. Whenever I forget the newness of that first day – that exertion of will power to just let myself fall – I just look at Sensei’s outstretched arm, grab tightly, and “Ok,” I say, “Ok!”

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My Own Personal Testing

by Barry Blumenfeld

When Sensei mentioned that there was testing coming up, I was excited to learn that some of those folks would be people who started around the same time that I started. In some ways, it feels to me like we’re a “class,” and I was (am) very proud of them. That being said, I noticed some interesting feelings well up within me, as I am not testing. It’s not a surprise, since I have not put in even the minimum hours, but, nonetheless, my ego took a hit. I know that rank is not what this practice is about. The de-emphasis on belts and ranking is one of the reasons I was drawn to Brooklyn Aikikai.

For me, the greatest challenge this first year has not been the physical aspect of Aikido (this is not to say it isn’t challenging- it’s exhausting!), but it has been my relationship to the practice. When I decide to take on a new interest or skill, I expect to dive in and give myself over to it. I want quickly to become proficient at whatever it is so that I can express myself through it. Aikido is no exception.

But, now I am a “householder” - the single-income earner for a family that just became four. My time is honestly not my own. I see the young, single people having the time to take multiple classes, meditate, practice weapons and they improve quickly. Frankly, I’m envious. My ego is screaming, “I could be just as good at this! I want to be good at this! I want people to know I’m good at this!” But, my life just won’t allow me the time to do that.

Then, I come into the dojo. The first thing we do in the doorway is to bow - an immediate act of humbleness. We practice with an intense focus, honoring Sensei, our class, and the teachers of the past by coming to our knees in gratitude and with respect throughout the practice. As exhausted as we may be, we take care of the dojo first before even taking a sip of water. The intention the community holds - this is an act of service - is so pure. I see that in many ways we are not here for ourselves, but we are surrendering our own personal will to that of something older, deeper and greater. It is like the old story of the brazen student who does not listen to his teacher. When the teacher begins to fill a cup for the student to drink, he does not stop at the top, but lets the water flow over. The student asks why the teacher did this, and the teacher responds that the student is like the cup. He is already full so there is no room for the teacher to give him anything.

I’ve mistaken the purpose of this practice. At home, I have given up my needs and wants for those of my family. I thought I was going to Aikido to do something for me. But, in actuality, Aikido is a continuance of this selfless service, and it is through this surrender of the individual that one becomes part of something far greater and so much more fulfilling.

I get it now. My inflated sense of self - with the strength of Sensei - is choking me. What am I going to do? I know that I cannot beat it with pure strength. Instead, I have to allow it in, move with it, and drop down. Humbly come down to my knees.

MY Aikido training is a practice in humility. I AM being tested. Everyday.