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

Thursday, December 9, 2010


by James Yaegashi

I wish I had something insightful to say about my training in aikido. The truth is, I don’t. I practice simply because I made a commitment to learn. In the process, I’m finding that training is informing my life beyond the walls of the dojo. So, here follows my attempt to articulate one of the ways a beginner’s life is affected by training in aikido.

I am made aware of a multitude of things in practice. One such realization is that I have a tendency toward rikimi (forcing or tensing). For example, in kokyunage (or in any other technique, for that matter), I often find myself pulling or pushing using my arm or shoulder strength, rather than moving my center through irimi, tenkan or kaiten and receiving and redirecting the energy coming from my partner. I see in my mind what I need to do, but I am far from being able to execute it — which, of course, is why one practices, repeating over and over in hopes of eventually executing the technique as Sensei demonstrates, and making it a part of one’s being.

During practice at the dojo, I am focused on the specific details of a given technique that I am working on — how far do I need to step in to absorb my partner's energy at my center rather than pulling him/her to me? Did I step in too far? What is the positional relationship between my line and my partner's line when I do tenkan? Am I staying connected (or, "sticky," as Sensei says) with my partner? Why has "sticky" become "pushing" or “pulling”? How do I correct that? When taking ushiro ukemi, at what point does balance transform into being thrown? As if working through these details on the tatami isn’t enough of a challenge, I must simultaneously be mindful not to fall into rikimi.

Interestingly, these very specific points I work on in the dojo act as a sort of stimulant to my mind — they pique my curiosity outside the dojo about how I relate to other people. How do I meet the energy of my whining 4-year old and redirect it, rather than merely insisting that she stop? Where does my metaphoric center need to be vis-à-vis my wife's in order to harmonize when we are both exhausted from a day's work and have to put the kids in the shower and ready them for bed? What is my spiritual ukemi when a meter maid has just written me a ticket for double-parking while I dropped my son off at school? And as an overarching question, at what instances in life does rikimi seem to be my way of responding, rather than receiving and harmonizing?

The more I train at the dojo, the more I become aware of my deficient attention to all the details of technique. As a beginner, that is to be expected — or, rather, it is exactly where I should be. One might even say this, “naturally,” will lead to rikimi. But, I hope continued practice will eventually bring me out from rikimi to shizentai (natural being), where meeting and harmonizing becomes a part of my being, both in and outside the dojo.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What Is The Purpose of Practice?

by Ryugan

What is the meaning of our practice? Why are we here and what is possible for us here? And how may we approach this practice?

The training paths of Aikido (with weapons), Iaido, Zen and Misogi all point toward a deeper unity of self. It could be said that as we are now, we are incomplete but have the possibility to move toward completion. Whether one views this as a Fall from being united with the Higher, living in delusion regarding the self, or unable to see Reality correctly, is not too important. What is essential is to uncover our path towards who we really are. For this, in relation to what we are practicing here, there are three threads woven together, inseparable, and at the same time unique. These threads are the three aspects of our practice.

The first thread is that of self study, which propels one to join the dojo in the first place. How do we understand our bodies in this martial context, in this movement with others — giving, receiving, harmonizing with force(s)? Do we understand our emotions? Specifically, how they attempt to take us away from the present moment, or contrarily, how they can add to us being more present? And finally, how can our minds soften — the inner dialogue being dropped — the mind instead grasping angles, possibilities? With regard to these questions, we have the potential to see how we are on the mat and to see what is lacking as well. This can inspire us to stay after class working on movements, thinking about why each technique works or does not work efficiently. It can inspire us to question how we are in the midst of our day. The understanding of not being a certain way on the mat, or outside of the dojo, is a kind of food for our further study.

At one point we see that the tendency to be overly concerned with ourselves in practice is limiting. The second thread, therefore, is practicing with others — essentially what is done in each and every class. However, do we really notice our partner’s body and what is going on with them during the encounter — her or his limitations physically, emotionally and mentally? Do we see how either our force given is being harmonized with (or not); do we see how the force they are giving us is received (or not)? How do we see ourselves in relation to our partner? Do we even take her/him into account, or are we just practicing for ourselves? Even though we are both sweating, exerting ourselves, does our partner really even exist for us? This practice extends beyond the mat, when working together in samu, and interacting with others in our daily life. We have a tendency to think that working with others is naturally easy, and often do not take into account the different natures of personalities and egos. All this is material for each person to work with — grinding, like two stones against one another, to produce some energy that could help transform each person.

The third thread is that of working for the larger community, helping to preserve the practice and spread the teaching. At this level each person seeks to perpetuate the Way (the Tao, or Do). In this stage, one sees that the practice cannot be maintained only with the efforts of a few individuals. One has a sense of gratitude for what one has received and helps to give back to her/his teacher(s) and community. This practice is sometimes called karmic yoga — essentially one is doing something without receiving benefit for oneself. This may take the practical forms of: helping to support seminars and visiting teachers wherein a new level of practice is being brought, doing work for the dojo that ensures our community lasts and helps to attract new practitioners to support the Way, and making donations that help to spur students in additional training.

Each thread is woven together: the need for one to go further in one’s development leads one to a teacher, which leads one to practice with others, thereby resulting in a community following a Do (a Way) that must be cared for and protected. Each thread could be likened to the Buddhist model of Buddha, Sangha, and Dharma. The thread of self study is the Buddha, who strove to penetrate the truth and dispel his illusions. The second thread of working with others is the Sangha, the sacred community which must be preserved and cared for and is made up of fellow seekers on the Way. The last thread is Dharma, or the Tao, Do, Way. The Way is preserved by establishing a place for it, both internally and externally. If guarded and followed it will flourish.

These three threads form one. Intertwined, they are all necessary to form the strength for one rope. Without practice in each area, something is fundamentally missing in our training. Of course, each area overlaps and interpenetrates the other: it is not simply a logical progression from one level or thread to the next. And yet, it is usual that we begin seeking something just for ourselves, and then if we train long enough we begin to see the necessity of giving back to the community and beyond. Training one, three or even seven years is not enough — it is really only a beginning. As the famous maxim goes in Japan: after thirty years of training, train thirty more. What is disheartening is that most people do not stay with the art long enough to see the necessity and importance of working with others, and working to preserve the wonderful arts passed down to us.

A friend related to me two types of monasteries on Mt. Athos, in Greece: the first, where everything is given, dictated, and followed precisely; the second, where there is a bare schedule, and freedom is given for each individual to pursue what may help him transform himself at a precise moment. My ideal for the dojo is the latter model, which presents a certain problem. Each person must have a certain inner level so as not to need to be told what is necessary. The monastery/dojo in the latter model runs well precisely because the inhabitants do not need to be spurred. It’s a concept that works only when each person demands the very best from themselves. At this point the teacher is really only a brother on the path, albeit one who has been on the path longer, but still a brother. In this ideal, all three threads are present: an urgency for self study and development, concern and interest in others, and an understanding of the need to preserve a form which may hold the essence of awakening. It is my sincere hope the dojo can move toward this…

Saturday, September 11, 2010

E. Horii Shihan Seminar

Just Roll

by Anne T.

Seems like it would be simple, doesn’t it? You start on your knees – you can’t possibly get any closer to the ground unless you were lying flat on your face – and then, slowly at first, you slide your arm to the side and the back, butt lifts in the air, legs kick over, and then, Whoosh! You roll. Not exactly death-defying. Yet somehow, kneeling in this position, contemplating the gray horizon of the mat in front of me, I would see my life flash before my eyes. What part of my life that would be, I’m really not sure… Sometimes it seemed like all blurs and shapes from infancy, when someone might have dropped me on my head and never owned up to it, thereby instilling in me forever a fear of going upside down. Or maybe it happened later, at the playground, on the monkey bars. Or perhaps it was even in my adulthood, and the fear of going upside down was more of a metaphor for early adulthood angst – We held hands for the last time, and as I watched him walk out the door, I felt as if my entire world was turning upside down….

Whatever the reason, I just couldn’t do it. Couldn’t get my head to turn under, my arm to support my weight, my legs to kick over. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. And why did everybody keep insisting that I try? Couldn’t I just stick with the back falls for now until I could work it out with my therapist what terrible thing had befallen me who knows how many years ago that was turning a shoulder roll into the mental equivalent of jumping off a building with a bunch of plastic bags taped to my arms for wings?

At the same time, somewhere deep in the blue caves of my brain (don’t ask me why they’re blue), a voice resonated, passing on the not-very-helpful wisdom of, Just Roll. Other equally non-helpful advice went along the lines of – Stop Thinking So Much, What Are You Afraid Of, and my favorite of all, echoed by Sensei one day in so many words, The Only Thing To Fear Is Fear Itself.

Yeah, I know. They were all right. And one day after many days of kneeling on the mat and feeling as if I was experiencing something close to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, I just let myself tune into that voice from the blue, and I closed my eyes and held my breath (not recommended, by the way, but you have to start somewhere) and I rolled. I rolled and then I looked over to the other side of the mat, where I had just been kneeling, and realized that I was still in one piece and that I hadn’t snapped my collarbone or dislocated my shoulder or fallen into a horrifying flashback of monkey bars or tearful goodbyes . Que milagro. So I rolled again. And again. And slowly I progressed from a kneeling position to a standing one, and then to be able to be thrown as Uke without putting my other arm down as a crutch.

Now, if you’ve read this far, you have probably realized that this is not the world’s most exciting or inspirational story. Girl Can’t Roll, Girl Can Roll will not make next summer’s blockbuster hits, no matter how many intense flashback scenes can be dredged up from those deep blue caves. Although, it might not make a bad Zen poem:

Mind says can’t do it.
Mind says can do it.
No thinking, no fear.
Just roll.

Ok, so that was terrible.

Anyway, the point of this blog was not to write bad Zen poetry but to somehow explain why learning to roll over my shoulder was probably the single most empowering thing I have done in the past decade – and to give this statement some credit, throughout most of my twenties I have been traveling on my own around the world, getting lost in rainforests at night and dodging bullets at sketchy third-world nightclubs (tiny bit of exaggeration here). But for someone who thinks as much as I do and who tries to find meaning in absolutely everything (I swear, I can find meaning in a wad of gum stuck on the bottom of my shoe), just for once in my life to roll instead of thinking all of the reasons for not rolling, for waiting to roll, for writing up a pro and con list about the virtues and dangers of rolling, this was huge. I just rolled. And I was fine. And I didn’t think about it.

Since that first successful roll a couple of months ago, I’ve found that I can apply this Just Roll concept to other areas of my life. Finishing my novel, for example (though I’m not quite there yet – but I will be! Just Write, says the voice). Putting an end to unhealthy relationships. Or even just shutting all those other voices up that tell me all the reasons why I’m not good enough to do this or be that. Just Roll, it says. It’ll be fine.

I don’t really know what blogging protocol is, especially for an Aikido blog, but I have the feeling that I should be offering some words of wisdom or inspiration, and I’m not quite sure that the above comments really fit the bill. So I’ll say this. You know that inner voice? No, I’m not talking about the one that berates you for drinking too much last night or eating that entire box of cookies, or even the one that likes to discuss how incredibly (and I mean really incredibly) good-looking and talented you are, and how someday there will be a movie made about your incredibleness. I’m talking about that very calm, level voice that says simple things like, It’s okay, or I’m here. I think that if you listen to this voice more, and the other voices less, whether or not you have a problem rolling or with any other aspect of Aikido, things will just sort themselves out. Just close your eyes, picture those deep blue caves (or orange, or green) of your mind, and imagine yourself in twenty years time – a wiser, happier version of your current self. She (or he) will be there, and even if all she has to say is Just Roll, just knowing that she is there at all, looking out for you, you might just learn what I’ve recently come to learn, that there is only one voice that really needs listening to.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tamura Sensei - a Remembrance

by John Brinsley

Tamura Nobuyoshi sensei died July 10 at the age of 77. He entered Hombu dojo as an uchideshi in 1953 and move to France in 1964, spending the rest of his life teaching aikido there and throughout Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere. He was a giant in the post-Osensei world of aikido and anyone who came into contact with him could not fail to be impressed with his technique, timing and kokyu, which was overwhelming.

I was not his student, and cannot claim much of a relationship with him, but he came to Hombu frequently in the dozen or so years I have trained here, and would like to recount a couple of memories. My first encounter with Tamura sensei was in 1996, during an International Aikido Federation seminar outside of Tokyo. At least a couple hundred people lined up in seiza before his class started, many of them from Europe and the U.S., and I was in the front row. One of the young Hombu instructors came up to me and asked me to translate for his class and, in something of a panic, I said (in Japanese) 'But I don't speak French.'

'No, Japanese to English,' the instructor said, with some exasperation.

'Oh, right, okay.'

An American friend sitting next me turned his head and said, 'I don't speak French?'

'Shut up,' was my witty reply.

Tamura sensei bowed in and began one of his long warm-ups, which included, among other things, using fingers and thumbs to massage various parts of the body, explaining how it improved circulation elsewhere. I was in front facing the crowd, with Tamura sensei behind me, doing my best to keep up with his explanations. I think we were sitting down at some point, and he explained something that I thought involved the stomach. `No, the liver,' Sensei said behind me in perfectly understandable English. So much for my interpretation skills.

The other memory I have sort of blends together. Tamura sensei would often attend Doshu's morning class, sometimes dropping in midway through and wandering around the class practicing with various people. `Practice' usually meant his grasping your wrist and inviting you to throw him, which was completely impossible. He was perhaps 5 foot 4 and weighed maybe 130 pounds. Moving him was futile; his kokyu and position was such that no matter what you did, nothing worked. There's a video somewhere from the New York Aikikai's 30th anniversary with Shibata sensei trying to move Tamura sensei - nope. After struggling for a while, he'd take pity on you and then start throwing you around, and that was fantastic. He was so fast, and his technique so precise, that you could learn a lot as long as you kept up. People would do their best to attract his attention so they could take ukemi for him.

He sometimes forgot his keiko gi and hakama and would wear a brand-new gi and Miyamoto sensei or Osawa sensei's hakama. He came into one of Miyamoto sensei's classes once and took it over so completely that Miyamoto sensei gave up and asked Tamura sensei to teach. Which he did, finishing with a few minutes of throwing around Miyamoto sensei, whose ukemi was impeccable as always. Watching that is a memory I will always treasure.

Miyamoto sensei made it a point to ask Tamura sensei to dinner on Friday nights with some of us after class. He would talk about Osensei and taking ukemi for him, never lecturing while we plied him with questions. Sometimes his wife Rumiko would accompany him, and share her perspective of Hombu in the 1950's.

My last contact with Tamura sensei was through Mrs. Tamura. She came to Hombu sometime last year - apparently to visit relatives, without her husband. I practiced with her in Kobayashi sensei's class, who hovered around her. At some point, Osawa sensei poked his head in, saw me practicing with Mrs. Tamura, and nodded his head, smiling. I understood: he wanted to make sure she was being taken care of. After class, I asked her how Sensei was, and she said fine, if getting a bit old. I asked her to pass along my respects; I am sorry I didn't get one more chance to take ukemi for this amazing martial artist.

May he rest in peace.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Kaiten Nage

photograph by Sean MacNintch

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Maintaining Balance

by David Laufer

I was not looking for a long-term commitment when I first came to the dojo over three years ago. I also was not looking for a community of which to become a member. I’m a believer in Groucho’s dictum: “I’d never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” Not being a “joiner”, most of my athletic pursuits run to the individual, not team: tennis, skiing, hiking . . . Really, I was just looking for something I could do together with my son, then twelve. The dojo was nearby and practice seemed like fun and good exercise.

My son stopped after about nine months, but I stayed on. And, as with any deep(ening) commitment, I have found that the relationship is fraught with tensions. Maybe that is ironic for the “Way of Harmony”. But, more likely it is the whole point. There has been the tension between wanting to improve and avoiding the grasping that comes with trying to excel. After all, this was not something else at which I needed to drive myself. I have plenty of that already. I wanted to practice for the enjoyment of it, not to become a master at it. And according to one social critic, “mastery” takes at least 10,000 hours to achieve. At my rough average of 100 hours a year, I felt mastery was pretty much out of the question. I think that is why I avoided testing for so long: I do not want to be motivated by moving up the kyus. But, I eventually came to realize that by not testing I was inhibiting my own understanding of the language (literally and figuratively) that I was trying to learn.

There is the tension created by trying to break down old patterns (of body and mind) by substituting new patterns. How do I know that the new one is any better, or will be any less obstructed? Is the path to liberation really to be found by fixating on this nage, that ukemi, perfecting the 8-step kata or doing 1000 suburi? It’s all so choreographed that it seems easy to just become the next obsession, taking up all my time and focus just to “get it right” on the mat. So, I try to adhere to Sensei’s repeated admonishments: get out of your brain, into your body; find your center; breathe; and remain connected. I try to relax and just go with what turns up.

There is also the tension inherent in trying to bring a thousands-of-years-old Eastern philosophy to the West (and the Gowanus, in particular). I worry that, like an organ-transplant, or a skin graft, it will be rejected because it does not come from the same body, have the same roots. Growing up a New York Jew, I will never be a Japanese-Zen Buddhist, or a Tibetan Buddhist. I constantly feel the press of so many dojo practices and events, and the resulting tension of “how much of this is for me?” For now, aikido, zazen and weapons suffice. I need to take what I need, whatever that may be, and make it my own, whatever that may become. After all, that is what the Japanese and the Tibetans did over thousands of years as Buddhism migrated out of India. What will Gowanus Buddhism be?

So, where does that leave me? Constantly trying to find and adjust the point of balance, the personal equilibrium among all these tensions. So, I suppose that is the Way of Harmony. When I look at the essence of the practice as: be aware of my energy and those around me, remain connected, find and maintain my center, breathe, and relax (and don’t take “old man” ukemi!). And when I realize that the practice is not confined to the mats – well then, I might just be able to do 10,000 hours after all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fresh Blood

by Monica Rose

I got blood on my gi the second class I took at Brooklyn Aikikai. Bruises on my shoulders came next. I was proud of these and showed them off to my friends. I was finally doing Aikido. I was excited. I felt the same charge as in any new relationship, and I was in the honeymoon stage. Aikido was all I talked about. I was impressed by how challenging it was, and I could not stop thinking about it. What I love the most about Aikido is that it woke me up.

I was in a dark place last autumn, spending weekends in Staten Island with a friend in the ICU, who was not waking up and not waking up, week after week after week, for two and a half months. What started as a brain hemorrhage, led to pneumonia, stroke and cerebral infection. When a calamity goes on for that long, it becomes impossible (or insane) to maintain the heightened intensity that accompanies panic. The crisis had become the norm, and I became numb. I needed to be shaken.

I remember the first class, kneeling in seiza in my stiff white gi, wondering what it would be like, hoping I was up for it. It was more rigorous than I had anticipated, but I welcomed the insistence towards being aware of what is happening in the immediate moment. I appreciated this encouraging way of being pushed and pushed and pushed, because there is no time to think. I learned quickly that, with Aikido, there is only — get back up and try again. And at Brooklyn Aikikai, there is also camaraderie, meaningful pats on the back, and incredible support. There’s a lovely openness around the presence of children. There’s respect and equal treatment towards women. There’s humor. There is kindness. And there is absolute relentlessness.

The second class had me panting with such exhaustion, I literally could not see straight. I did not know my right from my left. At the end of class, when we were told to lie down on our backs at the end of the mat and move ourselves to the other end via some strange choreography that I was unable to comprehend, I felt like some kind of inebriated inchworm slithering my way blindly while everybody watched. Then, there were those first forearm drags. Though they were excruciating and sweat came out of my eyes, I thought I was good at them . . . until the next time. And then it was — what do you mean I can’t use my toes? But I was not to be outdone. I hung a chin-up bar in my kitchen doorway. I’m getting stronger every day.

In the meantime, my friend finally woke up and was moved into a rehabilitation center. Life goes on and I keep coming back to the dojo. The initial rush of excitement has begun to wear off. I’ve stopped showing off my bruises because I realize they are from rolling incorrectly. Sometimes, I’m nervous to come to class, and often the techniques intimidate me. I still love Aikido and continue to think about it all the time, though my approach is shifting from obsession to something more grounded.

I remember the class when the honeymoon ended. I was feeling a little bit more vulnerable that day, was pushed that much too hard, and left in tears. Nothing too dramatic, just the knowing that this is the real deal. This is about commitment and perseverance. There is no easy way through or around learning techniques and finding where my center is. The only way is to keep coming back and trying my hardest; falling wrong, getting back up and trying to understand how to fall right.

The second time I got blood on my gi, it was somebody else’s blood. That’s how it goes, right? We’re all in this together. I’m very thankful to Sensei and the people at Brooklyn Aikikai, who make this dojo the special community it is, where we can all be driven to our limits and help one another discover that we can go beyond these limits.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Spencer made chocolate croissants at the dojo a few weeks ago. The process extended over the course of three days but they were well worth the wait!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

No Turning Back

by Terri Rzeznik

Initially when asked to write something for the dojo blog, my immediate response was that of resistance. In truth, that has been my feeling ever since. For months, I racked my brain trying to come up with some exciting topic that would inspire my fellow aikidoka. But, unfortunately, I was not successful. I did not come to this training because I dreamed about being Bruce Lee or because I was struggling with some deep existentialist question. I had been through enough bad acting classes that the thought of any practice that required self-reflection made my head explode. The reason I came to this practice was simply because a good friend recommended it to me.

I had recently moved back from Los Angeles where I was pursuing a career as an actor. That experience left me feeling jaded, cynical and with no sense of direction. I clearly remember the day when my friend Jeff said, “Hey, you should check out aikido.”

He had been practicing for about 8 months and told me that it had changed his life. Really, I thought, changed your life? I was skeptical. What was this aikido of which he spoke? I’d never heard of it, but I figured I would watch a class anyway. Of course, this simple action would put me on a path that, in fact, did change my life. But, I digress. What could I write about that would be interesting to read? Then, two weeks ago, Sensei called me into his office. “Oh no,” I thought, “he is going to ask me about the blog.”

I sat down on the floor and he told me he had the inspiration for my article. He handed me a piece of paper and on it was written, “'From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached.' - Kafka.” As I sat there looking at the piece of paper, I began to think about my years of training. Before our beautiful dojo was built, we used to practice out of the Albee School of Dance on Carroll Street. We would tape together some gymnastic mats and place a picture of O Sensei on a small table, transforming a children’s dance studio into a serious place to train. Anyone who watched a class there knew this to be true. It did not matter that there were posters of ballet slippers on the walls; when you walked into the space, you could sense that something was different. There were many mornings when it would just be Sensei and me for practice. I cannot tell you how many times I wished the subway kami would swallow up the G train so I would not have to go. And even though I was full of anxiety, I would arrive at the dance studio, put on my gi, and get ready for class.

The more I trained, the more I realized aikido was not about getting something. Sure, I could feel my body getting stronger, but this training was about letting go. It was about letting go of my fears, letting go of that voice that said, “I can’t do it”, letting go of my perceived limitations not just in the dojo but in all aspects of my life. There are times I still struggle with this, when I think I cannot do one more bunny hop and yet there is something that pushes me to continue. What is this desire to keep going? Of course, the answer to this question is different for everyone, but for me it is about breaking those old patterns that keep my life stagnated. There were times that I became so frustrated and angry that I wanted to quit aikido altogether, but now I cannot think of a life without this practice.

Reaching that point of no return did not come as some huge revelation. There were many moments I would consider milestones in my training: my first aikido summer camp, my shodan test, rohatsu, and of course, shogaku. These were intense experiences that solidified my commitment to this training. But, reaching the point where there was no turning back came in small successes - a time when I let my shoulders drop during iaido, focusing only on my breath during zazen, or feeling relaxed while taking ukemi. These were the moments I remembered. These were the moments that kept me coming back to the dojo. I realized that it is important to put myself in extreme training situations, but that I shouldn't disregard the smaller achievements. I know that everyday is different. Some days, I step on the mat and my body feels great, and on other days my knee hurts and I’m pissed off. No matter what the situation, I tell myself to be present and breathe.

As the years pass, many things have shifted for me. In the beginning, I was intensely motivated by Sensei. Sensei creates a powerful energy in the dojo and one cannot help but feed off it. But, eventually this must change. The desire to go deeper into the training must come from within. I know now that I must create my own fire in order to keep going. This is not a finite practice. There is no diploma or gold star upon completion. Every time I walk into the dojo, I remind myself why I am here. With every action, technique or breath, I try to drop something, to let go. I am not always successful, but I know if I make the effort I will continue on this path hopefully for the rest of my life.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Deep Cleaning

by Krissie Nagy

When I take a wet rag to the concrete, wood, or tatami floors, class isn't quite over. For me, it's a time to spin my energy back into my body and out through my fingers in quiet and conscientious work.

I joined the dojo nearly two years ago. At the time I didn't understand this part of the training, much less that it was part of the training. It seemed strange and even servile to be asked to clean the same areas three times a day. The way I saw it, the dojo was immaculate and would most likely stay that way whether I was helping out or not. Then one day (a couple months in), I saw dust.

Finding dust gave me real purpose during cleaning, so I began to look for it. I delighted in finding every crumb nestled in dark corners, or rogue strands of hair behind pieces of furniture. Recently, I discovered that a damp rag, when taken to a seemingly pristine area of concrete, will reveal the loveliest array of baby dust bunnies (aww)! The gap between what a beginner cleaner sees and what a seasoned uchideshi, like Baisho, sees must be immense.

American culture makes cleaning out to be a drag. From the Swiffer brushes that put us as far away from the dirt as possible to the unlimited array of toxic “magical sprays” that will do all the scrubbing for us, the only thing we're missing is Merlin
(http://www.youtube.com/watch#v=75BJ2ovo-S0&feature=related). Our dojo is spick-and-span without the help of elaborate cleaning products, and mostly thanks to a few scrapped gi's, two buckets of water, and the members' collective awareness in figuring out what needs to get done. After potlucks, we could give Merlin a run for his money.

I find the after-practice clean a very meditative and calming activity, especially following an intense hour of training. Just as aikido has a way of magnifying aspects of my life, the cleaning practice has also brought a heightened level of awareness. Whether it's keeping my living quarters tidy or noticing the subtleties in a friend's behavior, I'm far less oblivious to details than I used to be. I'm also beginning to understand how cleaning is really an exercise in respect for our environment. If we can leave our surroundings more beautiful than when we first arrived, that is truly a harmonious way of life worth practicing daily.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

I’ve Been Thinking about Bowing

by John Brinsley

(John is currently living in Tokyo, Japan, and is a student at Hombu Dojo.)

New Year’s in Japan is a three- or four-day holiday, ideally spent with family sitting around doing not much of anything before going back to the routine of jobs, school, community activities, etc. Upon returning to work, some of the day is spent greeting your colleagues with, "Happy New Year, I look forward to working again with you this year (Akematshite omedetou gozaimasu. Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu)," and a bow. The hands are draped on the thighs as you make your greeting, and as you straighten up, you smile and give perhaps another nod and make a joke or ask how the holiday went.

Last Saturday, my family and I met at one of the many (many) Starbucks in Tokyo before doing some errands. This particular branch is adjacent to a large department store. We had a good view of one entrance as the doors opened at 10 am. As people made their way in, the clerks at the various concessions all bowed very slowly and deeply. One young woman in particular struck me: back straight, head in line. She kept her hands together at her chest and seemed to be very sincere about her task. The customers paid no attention.

The next day at Hombu was Kagami Biraki. The instructors and many members of the dojo pound mochi outside before and during the two Sunday classes, and the smell and smoke of the wood fires cooking the rice waft through the neighborhood. Everyone greeting each other for the first time of the year bows more formally than they otherwise would, and the changing room is even more crowded than usual.

Doshu, as always, has impeccable posture as he bows in to teach the second class. Then, he makes his way around the room greeting everyone, taking longer with the older members. I get a nod and a smile, “Long time no see, where were you during the holidays?” Waka-sensei and I grumble a bit as we practice on the wood in the back, given the limited space. I have to go ask a foreign guest watching class to sit down, and another time Waka-sensei notices someone peeking through the curtains from the men’s changing room. "What’s the matter with people, don’t they have any manners,” we say during kokyu dosa. Then, we bow to each other as class ends.

This sense of courtesy, which used to be innate in Japan, seems less so these days. Maybe it’s a reflection of the frantic pace of life: taking time to bow, taking time while bowing, requires a deliberation that is incongruous with listening to an iPod and text-messaging friends. Aikido is an antidote to that sensibility as long as it preserves an old budo saying: "Everything begins and ends with bowing."

To Robert Savoca-sensei, Kate, Cormac and everyone at Brooklyn Aikikai: Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu. Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


On Friday, January 15th, nine people tested at the dojo. There was a strong showing of support from other members. Barry Blumenfeld, Mario Chavez, and Lisa Steiner tested for 5th kyu. Annie Hsu, Jenny Coletti, Sarah Kaylor, and Micah Jacob tested for 4th kyu (it was a surprise test for Micah!). Noah Landes tested for 3rd kyu and Tom Worsnopp for 2nd kyu. All of the testers showed good spirit and worked hard to prepare. Congratulations to all of you!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

New Year's Eve

Twenty-one people rang in the new year at the Dojo by practicing misogi, zazen and aikido. Then, we celebrated late into the morning drinking, eating a Japanese dinner, performing/watching Jonathan Rinehart's play (directed by Terri) and singing karaoke.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Feast and Famine

by Scott Ashen

Recently, I went through a period where I had to significantly cut back on my training. This was immediately after a four-month window when I had been training very frequently and spending a lot of time at the dojo. The sudden change was a shock to my system. I realized there was a hole in my life that I had not expected. While I knew cutting back on my time at the dojo wasn't what I wanted, I did not know how much it would impact my frame of mind.

The last 6 months has been a period of training feast and famine for me. After I was laid off from my job in April, I started trying to get to the dojo at least once a day. I didn't always succeed, but when I did, it felt great - both physically and spiritually. I was able to attend classes I hadn't in the past, like the noon training. I was also able to finally sit zazen more than once in a blue moon. The energy from the dojo was magnified within me the more time I spent there. The spirit and energy I was receiving from Sensei, my sempai and everyone who trains at Brooklyn Aikikai was overwhelming. I found that the more I experienced this, the more I wanted. In a period of great stress in my life - being unemployed - I found a lot of peace and serenity; even while I was getting thrown across the mat.

And then it pretty much stopped. I found a new job in late August, and due to my new work hours, I was only able to train once, occasionally twice a week. It wasn’t that unusual when I wasn't able to train at all. Suddenly, a significant source of energy and drive in my life was reduced to a trickle. The old adage of you don't know what you have until its gone was true for me. I had not really appreciated what I was receiving from spending so much time at the dojo, until it was barely there. I could feel my stamina going, my energy level was reduced and generally my spirits were not as positive. Despite being busy with work and my family, I still wanted more and could not find a way to get it. I relished what little time I was able to spend at the dojo during this period. When I trained, I felt like I was putting more energy into those classes than I had before. I injured myself a couple of times and it was crushing spiritually. How could I ease up on my training or even skip any classes? With so little time available to me, I just had to persevere. My wife and kids were fantastic during these months. They understand the importance the dojo has in my life and helped me find ways to get to class. Because my son trains in the kids classes, he and I spent some time talking about our training and what it means to us. At one point I was a little jealous of him and his regimented class schedule - he makes most Monday and Saturday kids classes. For me, I just kept looking for ways to stay connected and focused whenever and wherever I could.

So now I’m back to a regular schedule. Yet another new job has allowed me to start training at a more “normal” pace for me; 3 or so classes a week plus weapons and maybe I’ll be able to get to the occasional sit. After those months when I wasn’t, it feels really good to be training regularly again. That energy level is back and getting stronger. I’ve come to realize how much I learned about myself during this up and down period. I don’t want to do it again, but as with any experience, look at it as having provided me with a learning opportunity. And what have I learned? I’ve learned that the dojo gives me more than I realized. I have learned how much my family supports me in my training. Probably most importantly, I have received new clarity on how important training is in my life which has given me new focus in my training. Recently, a friend asked me if it wouldn't have just been easier to stop training since I had to work so hard to get to the dojo at my old job. Without pause, I was able to tell him no - it was much easier to keep going. Quitting would have been the harder choice.