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 20, 2012

Essay from Sensei R. Heins, Northwest Michigan Aikikai

An experience during a recent visit to Tokyo got me thinking about the meaning and implications of the sempai–kohai relationship. I had arranged to meet up with a group of old acquaintances from another aikido organization for drinks—people I hadn’t seen in several years. We hadn’t trained together at Hombu yet—I was meeting them after practice that day. When I got to the bar, one of them, a woman I had met only once before, didn’t shake my hand or give me an American-style hug like everyone else had, but instead stood in front of me and bowed and said, “Good to see you, sempai.” For reasons I didn’t understand at the time, I found this intensely irritating and avoided her for the rest of the evening.
I later felt sorry for being so rude, and spent some time trying to figure out what had bothered me so much about this interaction. Part of it was the unnatural formality of her greeting; I felt like snapping at her, “I’m not Japanese, for god’s sake!” It generally strikes me as false when Westerners adopt Japanese manners with each other, especially outside of a dojo context. But after more thought, I realized that my reaction stemmed from the implications of her using the term “sempai” to address me. She and I are not in the same organization, much less the same dojo; we had not trained together. But she addressed me as “sempai,” which to me implies a close relationship with the other person and contains a heavy burden of mutual obligation.
The best way I can describe a sempai’s role in English is the idea of “taking someone under your wing”; there is an implied reciprocal responsibility between sempai and kohai. Personally speaking, there are few people I would consider my sempai in this sense. Robert Savoca is one of them—if I were speaking to him in front of a group of senior Japanese teachers, or talking about him to one of them, I might refer to him as “Savoca sempai.” He has gone out of his way to support my training and my development as an aikidoist, and he has always been willing to offer counsel about technical matters or some problem or roadblock in my training. Reciprocally, to the best of my ability I try to take care of him if there is anything that I can do that his own students cannot. There is a deep friendship between us as well, of course, so our actions toward each other are not mere rote based on rank; they have developed naturally over time. That said, under normal circumstances I use his given name; I don’t address him as “Savoca sempai.” If I called him that, it would put a kind of barrier of formality between us. When I talk about him with his own students, I generally refer to him as “Savoca sensei.”
The Japanese terms “sempai,” “kohai,” and “dohai” may be misunderstood in Western dojos, if they are used at all; likewise, cultural concepts of seniority can be misinterpreted. Literally speaking, “sempai” means “earlier/previous member [of a group]”; “kohai” means “later member”; and “dohai”—used far less often—means “equal member,” and refers to someone who joined the dojo at the same time as oneself. Based on my experiences in Japan, I would say it’s not terribly common outside the university milieu to address a person as “sempai” directly. But both in and out of martial-arts situations, sempai/kohai/dohai are generally used to describe one’s relationship with another person to a third party, e.g. “Charlie is my sempai; he was third kyu when I joined the dojo.” Or “Alice is my kohai; she started working at this company three years after I did.” “James and I are dohai; we entered university at the same time.” In a martial-arts context, the use of these terms depends heavily on circumstances and the culture of the dojo itself. But it’s important to understand that they relate to relationships within a given group, and that certain expectations and obligations are attached to them.
When I first came to Hombu in 2004, I was yondan in rank, and was a certified shidoin within Birankai. When I began practicing at the dojo, however, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was junior (kohai, if you like) to everyone in the dojo who had joined before me, regardless of their rank. It didn’t take much time for me to understand why this made sense. I didn’t know the routines at the dojo—how the cleaning was done, how one lined up for class, how this instructor or that expected people to do shomenuchi ikkyo—so it made sense that I was supposed look to more experienced people to help me learn these things. If there was no one around but a fifth-kyu white belt, I would ask that person for guidance.
In my seven years at Hombu dojo, no one ever called me “sempai,” and I never addressed anyone else that way, either. The term is used a lot in the context of university sports clubs, where there is a keen awareness of seniority; perhaps this is where some Westerners picked it up. Students in clubs are expected to address their seniors as “sempai” and look to them for guidance and direction. This is to some extent a way of training them for the Japanese corporate world, which is far more hierarchical than the Western business milieu. It is also a way to keep the dynamics of a university club, whose members naturally turn over at a rapid rate, at a consistent level. Outside the university context, however, the use of “sempai” and “kohai” are far more varied. Some dojos may encourage their students to address seniors as “sempai”; others will not. (One never addresses a junior as “kohai”; to point so directly to their inferior status would be rude.)
To describe the sempai–kohai relationship in more general terms, I would say that a sempai—that is, a senior dojo member—is expected to show leadership, demonstrate proper form and correct etiquette, and help newer members understand how things go around the dojo, from what the expected stance is for striking shomen to how to clean the toilets. Some people assume that when they reach “sempai” status, they no longer need to do mundane tasks like dusting, or even folding their own hakama. This is not what I experienced in Japan. Regardless of rank, everyone was expected to shoulder their responsibilities; if someone was not cleaning, it was assumed that they had other duties to attend to, not that they were exempt from it. And everyone at Hombu folds their own hakama. Kohai, for their part, generally sought out sempai for practice, watched them for clues about how to behave, and tried to be the first to take care of “easy” dojo responsibilities like cleaning the mat and other shared areas.
In America, I have seen some things that I consider odd or even harmful regarding seniority in a dojo in general, often under the rubric of “sempai/kohai.” The anecdote at the beginning of this essay shows how these terms, if applied thoughtlessly, can create barriers. Or a dan-ranked student may join a new dojo and expect to be given teaching responsibility simply because their rank is higher than other members’. Or an instructor hands over teaching responsibility without taking the time to confirm that the dan-ranked new member executes techniques in a way that is consistent with the practice at that dojo. The entire dynamic of a dojo can be affected by these kinds of decisions. Naturally, it is always up to a chief instructor to assign teaching responsibility, and her decision must be unequivocally respected. In general, though, my feeling is that the person who has been training at the dojo longest should be deferred to by everyone. If you are a guest in a dojo, it is likewise a good idea to take ukemi first when you are training, so you can feel how a technique is done in that dojo.
Obviously, this is not a black-and-white matter, and the idea of “senior” vs. “junior” is heavily context-dependent. A student who joined in 2002 and has trained once a week since then will naturally have a poorer understanding of their teacher’s aikido than one who joined in 2003 but practices five days a week. In such cases, seniority in rank becomes an appropriate yardstick. And at regional seminars and other events where all participants are more or less equal in “membership,” rank would be a much more relevant determinant of the senior/junior role. Complicating matters further is the fact that rank is sometimes conferred for reasons other than technical ability.
In the final analysis, it seems to me that the best policy to adopt is one of flexibility, based on the understanding that your role as senior (or junior) is always relative, and will shift according to context. Regardless of rank, you should take care to fulfill your responsibilities as they present themselves, and treat everyone in the dojo—not only your instructor and seniors, but also your juniors and yourself—with sincere respect. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A day of Aikido and Zazen with Meido Roshi

We had a wonderful day of training with Meido Roshi-- about 25 members for a dynamic Aikido class and 13 of us for four and a half hours of zazen.  Roshi emphasized putting forth positive ki and not pulling one's energy.  Let us bring this spirit into the New Year!  

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Verse 276 from the Dhammapada

You yourselves should make the effort; the Tathagatas (Buddhas) only can show the way. Those who practise the Tranquillity and Insight Meditation are freed from the bond of Mara.

-Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A.

(entire translation here:

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Autobiography in Five Chapters, by Portia Nelson

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Office Petals

          “What’s the matter with you!” Sensei boomed at a student stretching before class—silencing what little noise there’d been.
            Shocked, the hakama-wearing student jumped from his pose and asked what he’d done wrong.
            “You should know!”
            Years later, I’d still not figured out just what the student’s mistake had been.  Perhaps he’d had his back to the kamiza.  Or to Sensei.  Or maybe he’d left his shoes at the door facing in the wrong direction.  Whatever it was, for me, the incident came to represent the dojo’s atmosphere: one of an almost palpable tenseness, a heightened reality in which constant awareness was demanded.  And tested. 
And then one day, “I’d like you to clean my office for a while,” said Sensei.  “I’d be honored,” I said, but, Oh fiddlesticks, I thought.
            That winter night, lying in my bed unable to sleep, aching from a particularly brutal Aikido class (a pre-emptive “thank you” for my services?), my ego outlined for me just what my new commitment was to require: more subservience; unpaid work; a boss whose eye for detail was unparalleled; and, of course, responsibility over his personal stuff! What if I broke something?  Was this actually—like the rest of the dojo—just one big test?  Excuses for backing out of my new job rolled from my tired brain faster than—forgive me—anticipating ukemi.  I’d write him that very second!  Tell him I was too busy, too overburdened already, concerned with wage laws, needed some time, money, vacation days, respect… I fell asleep.
            My first time cleaning the office, I was assisted by the student whose role I was assuming.  She seemed giddy. 
            “Are you excited?” she asked.
            “Not really,” I said.
            And then that voice again, roaring from somewhere down the hall: “What are you guys doing in there?  Cleaning or having a coffee?”
            This won’t do, I thought.
            We finished soon afterwards.  And the next week, cleaning by myself this time, my companion’s parting words lingered: “Wow—this goes by so much faster when you have two people!”  How true!  Alone in that room—an elegant office kept so pristine it looked as though it had been sanitized that very morning—a polished, hand-crafted desk made of a single piece of wood, a collection of antique swords, a rock garden, stunning pictures of picture-perfect Aikido—I was suddenly overwhelmed by just how many objects there were to clean.  Books, kamiza, desk, computer, floor, many knives, many swords, teapot and cups, windows, an array of precarious glass picture-frames, calligraphy materials, more books, carpet, incense holders, medical supplies, curiously positioned stones, a whicker, undustable basket, decorative boxes, functional boxes, yes, more books, briefcases, zafu and zabuton, whiskey bottles, and objects so foreign I couldn’t even guess their purpose.  An hour passed and I was only half way done.  I missed my partner. 
“You can take a break,” said Sensei, and I finished after class.
            I went home both happy to be done and frustrated I’d have to do it again.  For the next six months.  Or maybe a year.  Or maybe forever: I hadn’t been given an end date.  And waiting for me in my email, a note from Sensei’s wife, whose eye was apparently just as keen, just as fiendish: “The office looks pretty good, but here’s a tip from an old pro: Use one book to line up the spines of the rest of the books.”  Line up the spines?  I didn’t even know that was a thing.  I looked at my own overcrowded bookshelf.  This was either a test or some cruel joke.  
            The following weeks, I was determined to do better—to be more efficient!  Attempting to banish thoughts of free labor, I decided I was being tested.  Every speck of dust, every misplaced object had been left or moved on purpose to see just how aware I was.  When a month into my weekly cleaning routine I realized I’d never taken a match box out of its wooden container to look underneath, I did just that to discover a miniscule ball of lint—Aha!  I thought.  This must be the test!  I passed!  But more weeks went by.  No mention of the lint or the little white fleck I’d found underneath an extension cord.
            Months.  A new season.  One week I was told not to over clean.  Another week to clean areas within the span of a single breath.  Another, after asking whether to return a relocated marker to its original place—the place I’d been carefully laying it since I’d started—I was told:  Use your brain.  On another occasion, after Sensei had been abroad and I’d been cleaning in his absence, he asked whether I’d cleaned the office that week.  Cleaned it?  I’d done more than clean it: I’d loved it!  I’d treated each item with a delicate, nurturing respect.  Had cleaned nooks accessible only to the smallest of children’s fingers.  But it was true:  The office was so consistently clean, that some days, it was hard to tell whether I’d been in there at all.  What kind of test was this?
            Summer.  Some weeks I tried to work quickly.  Others more thoroughly.  Sometimes I focused on my breathing, others on my sense of hearing, touch, or that most important of all body parts in Aikido: my gut.  And still others my mind wandered: to my own chores, my own responsibilities, to anywhere but where I was.  And as the weeks passed—as I came to know that meticulously organized office better than my own home—I grew more confident.  My goal became speed.  Then one day, with a confidence bordering on cockiness (perhaps already tipped over that line), I’d just finished wiping the picture frames when timed with a loud yell from Sensei’s misogi down the hall, a framed quote fell and shattered across his office floor.  I cleaned, vacuumed, and brought the remains to Sensei.
            “I broke this,” I said, handing him the now glassless Arabic quote.
            WHOOSH!  He stopped a punch a half inch from my face.  “This is the most important thing in the dojo,” he said.  “It says: In the name of God.  Fix it.”
            I trembled.  But of course, it was not the most important thing.  It was no more or less important than any of the objects that, through their grouping and individualized care, comprised that rarified space we call dojo.  Had I broken a picture of his sensei, that too would have been the most important.  A sword?  The same.  No, I thought, this is finally the test.  I fixed the frame, replaced it so that it looked like nothing had happened, like I’d never set foot in his office—left it, in fact, better secured than it had been—but I was no longer sure if my job was a trial.  Maybe I was just cleaning for the sake of cleaning, training for the sake of training.  When a month later he said he’d be assigning the task to someone else, I was surprisingly disappointed.  I had grown accustomed to my chore, had developed a liking for it even. 
            My last week, he told me to see him when I was finished.  I had to meet him before class started, and so I cleaned faster and yet more thoroughly—with greater efficiency and awareness—than any of the days before.  If it was a sort of test, I didn’t know, but I don’t know that I really cared either.  I would miss the four-stoned rock garden, the finely sharpened swords, the philosophers’ quotes and books that every week reminded me of how much there was to know, to ponder.  On my way upstairs to meet with him, I noticed a single flower petal on one of the steps.  I picked it up and went to sit with him.
            “Ah good,” he said, “you got the flower.”

-A. Cruciani

Thursday, September 6, 2012

On Strength by Diana Lee

Strength is having an identity that is centered in something other than your accomplishments. Then, when you fail (which all of us inevitably will), your foundation will not be shaken. Rather than questioning your worth and subsequently acting out of fear and defensiveness, you can remain confident and look for how you can become better from the experience. It is this strength that allows you to work towards the improvement of those around you instead of pushing others down so you can get one step ahead. It permits you to put your ego aside and be willing to make mistakes in front of others in order to learn something new without feeling ashamed. It motivates you to persevere at those tasks that challenge and stretch you the most and to ask for help when you need guidance.

I want to find this strength in my practice of aikido as well as in every other aspect of my life. In aikido, I am not strong because I can perform advanced moves and take ukemi well or because I’ve reached a certain level of training. I am not weak because I am still fumbling with basic moves and figuring out what it means to move from my center. I may not always remember this truth, especially in those moments when I’ve failed in one way or another, but I hope that I will return to it so that I can be someone who grows from her failures, is gracious to others, and is humble yet always striving to improve. 

-D. Lee

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"What does it mean to be strong in Aikido?" - Dojo essay topic given July 2012

In my first several years of training I worked to be “stronger” - pushing harder into my partner, doing more bunny hops, sweating through suburi, trying not to be last in the arm drag.  I also had to build up a kind of “armor” to protect me from Sensei’s demands and reprimands.   I grew stronger physically - my body changed noticeably.  And I could (usually) present a stoic face when being yelled at.  

As time goes on I see that this was a very limited way to look at things… though I think it is a necessary stage.  Now I tend to think of strength more in terms of a spirit that can meet whatever comes without flinching or backing away.  I often think of Lyons Sensei saying, “Present yourself!”  On the mat you can see and feel when someone grabs or strikes or invites an attack with his or her whole self… well, I won’t say “whole,” but more of his or her self.

I’ve been feeling a lot of the men in the dojo getting “stronger” - they can grab so hard it hurts.  And slowly I see the other strength growing in them as well - getting up again with fire to grab Sensei after they’ve just been thrashed.  But what I notice particularly in those that I would call “strong” is a steady center - physically and spiritually.  Attacking or throwing from one’s center, standing solid and rooted to the earth, one’s whole body working as a unity to do what needs to be done. 

Along with developing that physical center, that core of rooted strength, comes the development of an inner strength to face one’s fears and one’s self and not flinch.  It seems to me that those two things grow together and feed each other.  I have told beginners to “fake it ‘til you make it” because in my experience it seems that by presenting a steady posture and perhaps silently “daring” uke to attack, one can slowly build up the true confidence that is really needed.  Eventually you can move away from the flimsy competitiveness of false bravado and dares.  Then maybe you can grow closer to something like O Sensei’s instructions to: “Fill yourself with ki and invite your opponent to strike” (my italics). 

In aikido we are asked to give and receive techniques equally and therefore must develop a center that can deliver power and flow with it too.  Our strength on the mat lies in this center and also in our ability to meet each situation with as much of ourselves as we can call to attention in the moment.

-K. Savoca

Monday, August 20, 2012

from U.G. Krishnamurti

" 'I don't know what to do, I am helpless, totally helpless'-- as long as you think you are totally helpless, you will depend on some outside agency."

-U.G. Krishnamurti, as quoted in Goner, by Louis Brawley

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Drumcliff Churchyard, Ireland

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

         -Yeats headstone epitaph, Drumcliff, Ireland

Friday, July 6, 2012

Quote for Reflection

"A warrior cannot complain or regret anything. His life is an endless challenge, and challenges cannot possibly be good or bad. Challenges are simply challenges...the basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge, while an ordinary man takes everything either as a blessing or as a curse."
-Don Juan

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Reflections by John Wang on Training

What I'm about to put into words will probably make me appear petty. But what happened is the genesis of some inner clarity. So here it goes. The dojo hosted Jenny Flower Sensei for a weekend seminar. There were four classes on Saturday. The weather was hot and muggy; the mat was packed. From the first technique, my legs already started to shake and I knew it was going to be a very tough day of training. (For those who get dehydrated easily, it's not a good idea to drink coffee before a long day of training.) I was sure Flower Sensei would call me up a few times for ukemi -- I was excited. That excitement gradually turned into dread as we moved from the first class to the second to the third. The mixture of dread and exhaustion at that point was starting to affect me.  Near the end of the third class, I was called up. What followed was a shameful display of ukemi that made me cringe as I saw it later on video. What I saw was someone whose sole interest was "hey look, I can take ukemi." I went up and did a dance and flapped around like a fish that was dropped by a fisherman onto a wooden deck.

I first started studying Aikido under Yahe Solomon Sensei. One day during practice he looked at me and said, "This is not a performance art. That beginner takes better ukemi than you." I have thought about those words on various occasions. On a superficial level, they meant that my practice lacks the connection necessary to improve. On a deeper level, they meant "stop adding things because you are a superhero in your own mind." They meant that the unnecessary stuff I add to ukemi only detracts from the practice. It has been 10 years since I heard those words. I have found those words apply to me on and off the mat. They certainly applied to me when I took ukemi for Flower Sensei.

As I understand it, a true encounter happens when both the uke and the nage react to each other spontaneously and naturally. The uke attacks strongly but properly with his center. He finishes the attack in good posture ready for a follow up attack if possible. The nage feels the uke encroaching his space and reacts by using his center to affect the incoming uke's center. The ensuing clash or blending of centers creates an energy that results in a technique. The ending remains uncertain until the very end. It just happens. For me, it'll happen when I stop hoping/trying to "look good" while doing it. It'd also help if I can stop jumping around like a dead fish gasping for its dying breath.

-J. Wang

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Quote from Tecumseh, Native American Shawnee leader

Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about his religion. Respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and of service to your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. 
Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, or even a stranger, if in a lonely place. Show respect to all people, but grovel to none. When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself. Touch not the poisonous firewater that makes wise ones turn to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. 
When your time comes to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Getting Krissie out of bed to come join me for a 7 AM Aikido class is akin to pulling the steel hull of a sunken ship from the bottom of the ocean. On the way to a recent Thursday morning class, I think I heard her murmur "putting on a gi right now is a mortal sin." I prefer morning classes. I like to “get it out of the way” before I have a chance to think too much about it.  I am more prone to resist the evening classes. In the summer they are a lot hotter, Sensei is more amped up, and they conflict with that happy hour beer. We all resist training at times. The thing we can control, and what I have been working on, is my relationship to that resistance. 

The training itself is challenging and difficult at times, but sometimes breaking through the resistance to "showing up" is harder. This is strange because I’ve never attended an Aikido class that I haven’t enjoyed or have regretted being a part of.  I’m always happy to have trained and appreciate the benefits the practice brings. These benefits include, but are not limited to: a sense of calm, increased balance, and a fount of positive energy. Aikido brings all these things, but only when you train consistently. We learn to drop our resistance to training or just stop paying attention to it. This gets us on the mat. 

Once on the mat, resistance resurfaces. As uke,we resist moving fast, stretching deeply, and attacking sincerely.  As nage we resist by using strength instead of proper technique in an attempt to overpower our partner.  Sensei speaks about “cutting away” or “dropping” what is non-essential rather than looking to add something. By cutting away our resistance we find it easier to stay connected and absorb the technique nage applies. By dropping resistance, we develop the ability to absorb and use uke’s force instead of coming into conflict with it. Naturally, resistance is dropped through dedicated practice. Cultivating the proper mindset and spirit accelerate this evolution. When there is no longer resistance, acceptance remains.

-N. Landes

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Discipline.

Maybe it's because I'm a product of post-sixties America, born into an anti-authoritarian culture of individual liberty and self-expression. Maybe it's because I'm the rebellious son of a tough, Italian-American mother. But I've always had issues with discipline.

In the West, the word "discipline" gets a bad rap. We prize individualism and we dislike authority, which we conflate with authoritarianism. Within this framework, discipline smacks too much of conformity and humility, which we associate with fear and weakness, as opposed to bravery, creativity, and self-expression.

I see things a bit differently now. Discipline, it seems to me, is simply the decision to stick with something, in spite of all the internal and external forces that tempt you to escape from it.

For me, personally, and maybe for all acolytes of post-sixties teachings about creativity and freedom (which, if you think about it, are really a revival of the founding revolutionary spirit of the country, minus the "hard work" part), the basic confusion is this - we don't want external authorities telling us what we're supposed to do, or punishing us for failing to do it. In rejecting external authority and committing to spontaneity, inspiration, etc. as guiding stars, we tend to throw out the baby with the bath water - rejecting out of hand anything that feels like restraint. (If you doubt that this impulse is characteristically American, I invite you to watch the classic cowboy movie “Man Without a Star,” in which Kirk Douglas moves ever Westward, pursued by his deadly nemesis “the [barbed] wire!”, which is slowly but surely fencing off the once free and open frontier.)

Understanding this – and the insight hit at the age of 25 in my case – it's tempting to go and join the Marines or something - to repent and submit once and for all to the gods of Discipline, in an attempt to annihilate ego. Those allergic to all things military might find themselves, alternatively, running off to a Zen monastery to meditate 8 hours a day.

For me, at least, all such drastic measures (and I’ve tried them, in various forms) are doomed to failure. What I'm capable of, and what I've managed to do at Brooklyn Aikikai for the past year and a half, is to figure out a schedule that works for me and commit to it internally - something that has only been made possible by many years of learning from life why such a commitment might be valuable.

And even so, there are days when I don't come to practice because I'm tired and I don't feel like coming. And still I sometimes feel the old anger at external authority rising in my throat at the occasional stern reminder from Kate Savoca or Sensei about what commitment to a practice means. “Oh yeah?” says the inner 16 year old... “You wanna tell me what to do? How about I never come back here again?”

But the next week, I’m back. And usually with a renewed, internal commitment to the practice of Aikido. And you know what? I’m getting stronger. Not only at Aikido, but at commitment itself. Last year I attended one seminar. Perhaps this year I’ll find a way to make it to two, or three. In other words, I’m coming to terms – my own terms – with discipline. Because the only way I can understand, accept, and practice commitment is as the decision – over the long haul – not to run away.

– Jason Gots

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"We find very often that what is false about the basis of our expectations is that we imagine that people should be and should be able to be consistent, and that they should act and should be able to act in accordance with certain standards. But the error of this is that we look at people and at ourselves as though we could do, as though we were one, as though we had free will, as though we were conscious. Reflection shows this is not so, either of ourselves or of other people. It makes no sense to expect other people or ourselves to behave as if they had these qualities which they don't have.

One should be careful not to jump to the opposite conclusion and expect nothing at all. This is equally foolish. The trouble about one's expectations is that they may, a lot of the time, be perfectly realistic. What is unrealistic is that we expect them to be consistently met-- in fact, always, and if the facts ever go against our expectations, then we think there is something wrong with the world or with people. There is nothing wrong at all. The only thing that is wrong is our expectation..."

--H. Ripman

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fudo-Myo-O Sculpture

Dojo 10th Anniversary sculpture of Fudo-Myo-O, installed in the Tendokan's kitchen, after Misogi Harai and dharani chanting.

The sculpture was generously created and donated by Mr. Eric Soroker, artist and aikido practitioner in Bucks County, PA. A deep thank you to Eric from all of us at Brooklyn Aikikai!

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Reading for the Year of the Dragon

The Buddha said, "Ananda, what else can you and the sangha expect from me? I have taught the Dharma fully and deeply. Do you think I have concealed anything from the bhikkhus? Ananda, the teaching is the true refuge. Live according to the teaching. Every person should be a lamp unto himself. Ananda, the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha are present in everyone. The capacity for enlightenment is the Buddha, the teaching is the Dharma, the community of support is the Sangha. No one can take away the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha within you. Though heaven and earth may crumble, the Three Gems will remain intact within every person. They are the true refuge. When a bhikkhu dwells in mindfulness and contemplates his body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind, he is like an island unto himself. He possesses the truest refuge of all. No person, not even a great Master, can ever be a more stable refuge than your own island of mindfulness, the Three Gems within you."

— "Old Path White Clouds," Thich Nhat Hanh