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 21, 2011

Aikido and Everyday Life

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

Hurricane Irene, August 28, 2011

We were well-prepared and the dojo sustained no damage whatsoever.

Thanks to all who helped us!

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Thursday, June 30, 2011

On Commitment - Sandan Essay by Terri Rzeznik

When co-workers discover that I train in Aikido the first thing they ask is “are you a black belt?” Or another common response is, “wow that’s amazing, can you beat up a bunch of guys if they attacked you all at once?” As many times as I have heard these questions, I always have the same thoughts, “What do they think I am, part of some covert special ops unit?” Or that I was just cast in the sequel to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon?” Even though it would be fantastic to fly over rooftops, unfortunately I did not learn this as part of my training. This made me think about the misconceptions that people, including myself, have of what it means to be a committed martial artist.

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, June 29, 2011

2011 Kids' Summer Camp, Session I

On June 6 - 10th we held our first Kids' Aikido Camp of Summer 2011. Fourteen students (aged 7 - 10) came to the dojo for a full day of Aikido and Japanese cultural activities. Most of the children had never done any martial arts before so we started off with lots of stretching and conditioning exercises as well as learning how to fall safely. Over the course of the week the students learned several Aikido techniques and lots of games (animal dodge ball, shikko freeze tag, etc). Justin Coletti came one afternoon to share his knowledge of shodo with the children and they all got to try their hand at painting kanji and pictures with ink on rice paper. We took field trips to the Japanese Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum. A highlight of the week was our trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the Japanese Arms and Armor exhibit and their impressive collection of samurai swords!

The next week of camp is set for July 18 - 22nd.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Going Back to First Grade

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.

--Kate Savoca

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Seminar with Juba Nour Sensei

Juba Nour Shihan traveled from Mexico to teach at our dojo on Saturday April 16, 2011. The four afternoon classes were full of high energy and intense training. Teachers and students from several east coast dojos joined us including George Lyons Sensei, Patti Lyons Sensei, Liese Klein Sensei, Yuho Carl Baldini Sensei, and Eric Karalius Sensei. Thank you to everyone for coming!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Brooklyn Aikikai's Spring 2011 Fundraiser

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:


Spring Fund Raising Event

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lessons learned in kids' class

by Eli Bacher-Chong, age 13

I remember I first heard about Aikido when Brooklyn Aikikai gave a demonstration at my elementary school. Aikido was explained to us as "taking the energy of the attacker and using it against themselves."

After practicing it for about four years, I have learned much about it and maybe even life. I have learned that you can be physically powerful not by fighting or conquering your energy or the energy of others, but working in harmony with it and using it to your advantage. In a manner of speaking, if you cannot divert a stream to your crops, plant your crops by the stream.

I have also learned that there are times that you must push back when life pushes you around. Though I am still coming to terms with this truth, I believe that it was inspired by Aikido, and that it will greatly improve my life.

I was reminded of this lesson when I moved from the kids' class and entered the adult class in 2010. If the techniques became difficult or rough, I had to figure it out as well as I could, or toughen up and learn to face it.

Before I learned Aikido, I was fearful of the world and sometimes didn't like it because I could not control it; Aikido has taught me how to plow right through life and to work in harmony with it instead of needing to conquer it.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"musubi," or "connection"--a seminar with Horii Shihan

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.

––James Yaegashi

Friday, January 14, 2011

New Years, 2011

On New Year's Eve Day we held our annual winter dojo cleaning and 28 members and friends came to help! We took up the mats, emptied the closets, and scrubbed the dojo from top to bottom. Thank you to everyone who gave so much of their time and energy on that day.

Later that evening, twenty people gathered to train and celebrate the end of 2010 at Brooklyn Aikikai. We started at 10 pm with misogi chanting followed by a half hour of zazen (sitting meditation). At 11:30 pm Savoca Sensei led a vigorous class that took us into 2011. The dojo kansho (large bell) was rung from the rooftop 108 times to mark the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. After the class we broke out the sake and made toasts to honor our teachers past and present, the community of the dojo, and all who could not be with us.

It was probably about 1:30 am by the time we sat down to our formal dinner. Three appetizers (including foie gras pate), homemade pasta with pesto sauce, salad, and the main entree: wild boar accompanied by chard and parmesan. Dessert was homemade gelato - espresso or lemon, and a tarte tatin. It was a real feast! Thank you to all of the chefs - especially Mike Mikos who spent days (really) preparing a significant share of the dishes!

In between courses there was entertainment: we had impromptu skits, several impersonations, and a live band down on the mat before dessert!! After the meal had been cleaned up it was time to bring out the microphones and the projector for the (now) traditional KARAOKE! The details of that shall be known only to those who were there... you'll have to come next year to find out how many great (or at least enthusiastic) singers we have in the dojo.

Cormac Savoca joined the party at about 5:30 am and things were still going strong. The last people to leave didn't go until about 6:45 am (that's more than an hour later than the year before... I'm a bit nervous about what will happen for 2012!).

It was a fantastic night of strong training, terrific food, and great fun. Thank you to everyone for making it so great. Special thanks to Matt Desmond, Liese Klein Sensei, and Rodger Park Sensei for joining us!

Below are just a few of the many wonderful photos Sean MacNintch took of the evening's festivities. Note the clock in the final picture, which reads 6:30 am! View the rest here:


Monday, January 10, 2011

Winter Testing

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.