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, September 30, 2009

All or Nothing

by Talia Lugacy

I came to the Dojo hoping it would pulverize any habit I had to be heady or mental about practicing meditation. I came seeking some kind of experience, akin to meditation, that could tear apart any ability I thought I had to pay exclusive attention to the present moment. Tear apart, so that I might know with certainty what kind of ability this actually was -- what it is made of -- and how to possess it.

There's a tricky thing about living -- I've noticed in my infinitely limited experience -- and it's not new -- what you look for, you find. When you chase an image, you are acting like its shadow. Tricky, because I catch myself assuming that I know what it is I want. I am convinced that I already see and feel the contours and flavor of the thing I yearn to possess. So. That's not a real problem, until you really want to learn something.

In the brief space between being shown a technique and performing it myself, I discover that Attention is a state that cannot coexist with wanting, with searching. Either you are absorbed in the dynamic chase motivated by that thing you want to possess -- believing you understand, following what you see with your mind, giving yourself instructions on how to move; or, your senses are open to what is actually happening. If I really observe that pause, that preparation before an encounter, I see clearly that the two states do not, cannot, go on simultaneously.

This invisible and vague thing I am attempting to describe involves, in my own experience, a choice between taking it casually and taking it seriously. If I can observe myself - when I am being casual, in any aspect of life, it is because I am becoming afraid to be absolutely present. Some hypocrisy within is urging me to give a little less, to not be caught being painfully serious, to only be there 80, 90 percent. The absent percent becomes the happy difference my mind applauds when it stirs me to try again. So much for pulverizing my headiness. Hm. I have a private belief that's been festering for what feels like ever; and it is fed intensely by the atmosphere of the Dojo. There are no casual gestures in life. What you do, is you. Your word is you, your handshake is you, where you put your eyes and what you pay attention to, is all what comprises you. And there doesn't seem to be any part of that which is outside the realm of the absolutely magical and mystifying. With that spirit in my heart, it becomes impossible to approach training in a compromised way. For here is an art that actually creates sense and order out of impulses, a dialogue of bodies becomes their expression beyond thinking, formulating, groping.

I was fortunate enough through an uncanny series of miracles to be allowed and able to train intensely and daily, with no preparation whatsoever. The inspired heart tunes in at a level unrecognized by the casual hum of daily life, and the experience is explosive. I cannot see much into the things I know I don't know about -- it is not my place to comment on just how Aikido is challenging, for now I can only know that it is. What I do see is that to own it, to excel at it deeply, one's heart must be full of devotion, absolutely without compromise. It is from that center of affection that the necessary attention is born.

Monday, September 21, 2009

My Beginnings in Aikido

by Ian Campbell

"Destiny rarely calls upon us at the hour of our choosing."

That's either from the Old Testament, or "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" - probably the latter. It sums up my second encounter with Sensei. The first time I encountered Sensei I had wandered into the Dojo looking for a new martial arts school. I was very impressed, very interested, but very intimidated. I was scared by Sensei because I knew that I couldn't get away with anything with him. I began training at a school that was closer to my home, had cheaper dues (I was rather broke at the time), and was more . . . casual. Martial arts is like relationships; I had been in a very serious one, and wasn't ready for another major commitment.

Flash forward a few months - I was in Barnes and Noble, looking for a book on O'Sensei to learn about his life and philosophy. I saw this man with an elusive demeanor in his early or mid-thirties. I said to him, "Hey, if you find anything by a guy named Morehei Ueshiba, let me know." From his reaction, or lack thereof, I figured he had no idea who I was talking about, but, after a few seconds, he pulled out a book by him.
"Oh, are you interested in aikido?" He asked.
"Yeah," I said, "are you into martial arts, too?"
"A little bit." I figured maybe he had a cousin who was an enthusiast.
"What are you looking for?" I asked.
"A different translation of the Baghavad-Gita." Then it hit me.
"You're an aikido teacher! You teach at that Dojo on Third Avenue! I saw your class - it was very intimidating, but I'm very curious about your school." I bombarded him with questions. He knew the Sensei with whom I was training. Sensei didn't seem to care whether or not I joined the Dojo. I think he even may have preferred I didn't, since I was already with a school.

I visited the Dojo again one afternoon when Sensei and Kate were out of town, and Brent was teaching. I watched the class, and was ready to make this new commitment.
Brent asked me, "Have you told your Sensei that you're going to be training here?"
"Tell him."

So, reluctantly, I did. I bought a bottle of sake, visited my first aikido Sensei, and said, "Sensei, thank you so much for all you've taught me. I am going to begin training at Brooklyn Aikikai, but I want to thank you for introducing me to aikido and giving me so much." Then, I handed him the bottle.
He said, "Yes, I know the school. Thanks for doing this the right way." He smiled warmly, and that was it. I felt a few inches taller. Integrity - that's how you stand tall without excess tension, isn't it?

During my first class, I partnered with Justin. I tried to practice the technique the way I did at my old school, but Justin grabbed my wrists and pushed me into the wall, HARD! I remember thinking, “How am I supposed to be 'soft' right now??” With his wrist and finger tattoos, I felt like I was fighting with a constellation - and not doing well.
"How was class?" Sensei asked.
"I feel like I took five of them at the same time."

As an actor and a student of martial arts, throughout my life and career, I've found myself physically at a loss. I feel as though I'm always negotiating between relaxed/slouchy/naturalistic and stiff/upright/try-hard. Here was something different. It was as if integrity was keeping my spine straight. As fears arise during training and become replaced inch by inch with breath and awareness, this duality begins to wash away. But, indeed, the path is narrow, and life is short. I see people at the Dojo, every one of them, full of courage, and willing to stand up for integrity. That is a very beautiful, and increasingly rare thing.