Thursday, December 15, 2011
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
by Ea Murphy
In the south, where I grew up, there was an understated mythology perpetrated about New York City. People talked about this foreign metropolis in hushed whispers of disdain or longing. It loomed larger than life, and was reputed to be meaner, faster, scarier, and louder than anything a southern girl could handle.
I don’t know why these rumors existed. Since I’ve been in Brooklyn, I’ve found nothing but kindness in the caress of iriminage and stillness in the mornings of zazen. Brooklyn is also incredibly clean – people zokin the floors many times a day. Of course, I haven’t really yet left the dojo. Within the walls of Brooklyn Aikikai, there is a vast world to explore and discover.
In the weeks I’ve been here, I feel myself being kneaded, shaped, and molded into something different. I am used to working hard – that is nothing new. I have been a student; I have trained in aikido. The thread that weaves this all together, though, when living in the dojo, brings new meaning to all these pursuits. From the morning offerings to the kami, to the ringing of the han in the evening, there is a motivation other than my own interests. And, in and of an instant, I suddenly disappear and simply trust the rhythm of the dojo.
Recently, I have been struggling with how to make aikido work in my everyday life. I have jostled, prodded, pushed, and wedged the pieces of family, career, recreation, finances to make room for aikido. I have refused to budge or give up any part of my training. I drive miles and miles and squeeze minutes out of hours and days to satisfy this insatiable thirst.
During class, sensei scolded us, “You can’t expect to just come on the mat and do aikido”. You have to take care of your body, your life…you have to be attentive throughout your day. Oh…it hit me like a kokyunage…aikido and everyday life. I thought I had heard that before. But, in a flash, I actually felt it. There is no separation on and off the mat. Living in the dojo, this is the constant practice, reinforced by a weariness and exhaustion that puts the ego to sleep. Going home, this is the glowing ember I must carefully tend and feed.
I am incredibly grateful to the fire that burns in Brooklyn Aikikai, and the incredible community of people who give so much of themselves to keep it bright and hot. It is touching and inspiring to witness it for a moment. Who knew that in the mythical New York City I had heard about growing up, I would find such kindness, open-heartedness, and connection. Gassho.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
Thursday, June 30, 2011
I believe people often have a skewed view of what this kind of commitment actually means. They may imagine that I live in a small room, sleeping on a hard wood floor, eating nothing but hot gruel for my meals. And of course let us not forget the intense training under the strict tutelage of some omnipotent sensei as well. Even though this may sound like some uchideshi programs, some people think this is what it means to be a committed martial artist in any dojo, anywhere.
Throughout the years of my training I have seen many people pass through the door of Brooklyn Aikikai. Till this day I can never figure out who will stay or who will leave. There have been people who have trained intensely at the dojo for many years and then one day quit, never to be heard from again. And then there are people who only come once or twice a week, but have been there since the beginning of the dojo. So who is to say which one is committed? So now I find myself more confused than ever; how should I define being a committed martial artist? Would I even consider myself one?
The more I think about this question, the clearer the similarities between my study of theatre arts and aikido become. When I first started training in aikido I was a professional actor. I felt passionately about theatre and still do. Even though I have been studying theatre arts for over 20 years, there still remains a fire, a hunger to learn more, to refine my craft and explore other related areas as well. Every art form, whether it is dance, music, painting, or of course, martial arts, is learned by doing. If one wants to become proficient in their art form they must practice for endless hours. One must possess a desire to keep going even when feeling frustrated, defeated, even when people tell you that you have no natural ability. I have experienced this intensely, especially with aikido.
My relationship with aikido has not been an easy one. It has been an arduous journey from the beginning. It took me many months to learn to roll and sometimes I still stumble with basic footwork. There are times when I do not want to go to the dojo, I feel tired or I am in bad mood. I constantly struggle with my own resistance. Sometimes I leave the dojo feeling as if I do not know anything about aikido. But of course there is a balance, within the struggle there also exists a deep joy, times when I feel exhilarated, present and alive. Regardless of what I am feeling there still remains the passion, the desire to explore deeper into this practice. I believe this is what it means to be a committed artist of any kind. To be able to ride the ups and downs of your practice and to sometimes take a step back in order to move two steps forward.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
The steaming tea was poured and we bowed. He took a sip. But as the water touched my own lips, I had to pull back. It was too hot! The first thought that flew into my head was How could he have drunk that? It simply wasn't possible that it was an acceptable temperature for him. In that moment there was no "opinion", no "you take the high road, and I'll take the low road," no "different strokes for different folks." To my mind (and my mouth) in that moment, I was right and he was wrong.
Now, I am a person who prides herself on being able to see things from another's perspective. I teach first grade and I work all day long to get six-year-olds to have some consideration for each other and to stop acting like the entire world exists for their benefit. I want them to be able to take care of each other and in order to do that they have to try to put themselves in another's shoes and realize that other people have different thoughts, feelings, needs, and abilities than they do.
Maybe I need to go back to first grade myself, because I keep catching myself in these moments. Not that I think these kinds of thoughts more frequently –– just that I notice them more; how automatic they are. Do we really believe that other people are different from ourselves? Or are we all pretty much under the same illusion that I am the center of the universe... the only one who is really real. That those other people out there would all do and believe exactly as I do if only they could see clearly! Of course I want to believe that I am an empathetic, open-minded person. And I would venture to say that most of the time I come across that way. But what I am interested in, and what the practice here at the dojo reveals to me again and again, is that shadow inside - that person who believes that she is the only one who can really be "right."
Helping a child in the kids' class or an adult beginner I catch that voice in my head. Don't get me wrong - I truly appreciate everyone that I work with and I am well aware that I learn a great deal in each encounter. I love feeling the way a body can suddenly change as something drops and that maybe I even helped that person to discover something! But I catch that voice sometimes: How can they not get this? Why did they do that? Because that's not the way I would do it… at least not today. But I have many memories of my own days as a beginner (soon the dojo and I will each celebrate our 10th anniversary) and being mystified when Sensei told me "you're leaving your center behind" or "stop resisting" or "don't put your face where my fist is!" and I had not a clue what I was supposed to do instead. But slowly, slowly, slowly my body has come to understand these things better. Sometimes the realization came suddenly, but more often it changed without me even knowing it. Now, even though I still sometimes leave my center behind or resist or put my face where it shouldn't be - at least I know enough to understand what's happening. It comes with time.
So I remember the feelings of frustration and confusion and despair - thinking that Aikido would never be anything other than a painful and clumsy affair. I see them sometimes on the faces of people I work with. We are all trying so hard! And I know that it just takes time. Time and diligent practice. And that allows me to catch that voice in my head, quiet it, and push forward with my partner toward a new understanding for both of us.
So I am learning every day how to look at things anew. I'm faced again and again with my own inner shadow. It's a gift that Aikido gives me, this working with a partner all the time. In the differences between two people there can be friction. I am pulled out of my comfort zone. My partner (knowingly or not) is holding up the mirror - patiently, steadfastly - in which I might see myself. Turning to look directly into it makes this practice all the more difficult and rich.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
On Saturday, May 21st, the dojo community will get together, along with friends and family, for our annual spring fundraiser. The event—a lively, fun-filled evening of food, drinks and music—will be hosted by Halyards, a friendly neighborhood pub that recently opened next door to the dojo.
Proceeds from this year's Spring Fundraiser will go directly to the dojo's scholarship fund, which supports the training of young people in our programs––in some cases through full scholarships––and subsidizes adult members’ attendance at aikido seminars. As anyone familiar with Aikido knows, the benefits of practice extend far beyond the dojo’s walls, allowing the diligent student to approach life in a calm and centered way. Especially for young people at the beginning of their life’s journey, these benefits are incalculable. For this reason, Brooklyn Aikikai is dedicated to supporting our young students in every way possible.
The evening promises to be a fun one in this fantastic venue with good friends, music, and delicious hors d'oeuvres and drinks. Guests will also have the opportunity to support the dojo by purchasing raffle tickets.
We would love to see you at Halyards on May 21st, but if you cannot attend, please consider making a donation or purchasing raffle tickets.
Date: Saturday, May 21, 2011.
Time: 5:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Location: Halyards, 3rd Ave/6th St. in Gowanus, Brooklyn (next door to the dojo)
Admission tickets: $20 each (includes 1 complimentary drink & hors d'oeuvres)
Raffle tickets: $3 for 1; $10 for 4
Raffle prizes to be determined. In the past, we have had restaurant coupons, spa treatments, clothing and other exciting offers.
To purchase admission and/or raffle tickets, please click here:
Monday, April 4, 2011
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Our Tendokan Dojo welcomed Etsuji Horii Shihan from Kobe, Japan for a two-day seminar over the weekend August 21-22. In addition to the seminar, Horii Shihan taught our regular classes on Friday and Monday as well.
One thing Horii Shihan repeated both in the seminar and in the classes was “musubi”—the idea of connection with one’s partner. Staying “connected” with my partner has been difficult for me both in uke and tori. Although I know the whole body must move from the center in accordance to the flow of the technique, I often feel as if there’s some blockage right around where my hand meets my partner, making the area from my hand to my shoulder rather rigid.
For whatever reason, hearing the word in Japanese gave me a new image about staying connected with my partner during a technique. Musubi can be translated as “tying” (as in an obi, or a rope), and is also used for the idea of “union” (it is the first character in the characters for “wedding,” which ties into the idea of “blending” that Sensei often mentions). Whereas my image (due to my insufficient understanding of the concept) of staying connected with my partner was a stiff, stick-meets-stick type of a picture, I now have an image that it is more dynamic and flexible, like a rope, and this has given me a kind of breakthrough in how I stay connected both in uke and tori.This was a concrete reminder that many points of entry exist for absorbing and understanding Aikido. It may be a word, a physical movement, a spatial orientation, or yet, something else. I hope my training will deepen so I can become ever more open to those points of entry into a revelation/discovery.
Friday, January 14, 2011
Monday, January 10, 2011
On Friday, 12/17/2010, the dojo came together for winter testing. Thirteen candidates tested for the ranks of 5th through 3rd Kyu, and Scott Friedman, Yuho Baldini's student, tested for Shodan. It was a rigorous, spirited, event, beginning with a 6 pm, all-dojo warmup and mini-practice that was basically standing-room-only (introducing an extra level of challenge to our ukemi: rolling into a dense crowd of limbs!). The testing ended close to 9pm. Highlights included jyodori, randori, and a surprise choke attack. The tension ran high at times, as Sensei exhorted testers to stay connected and show a higher level of ki. But in the end, everybody passed, and Noah Landes was promoted to 2nd kyu. The dojo celebrated afterwards with a delicious potluck dinner and drinks. All in all, it was an extraordinary evening--one that demonstrated the spirit of friendship, hard work, and commitment that makes Brooklyn Aikikai a unique space in the lives of its members.