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

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.