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

Friday, December 6, 2013

want what you have

            In college, my voice teacher once told me a story.  There was a famous music professor who toured the country giving lectures to huge audiences several times a year.  Those who knew the man on a more personal level knew that he was rather reserved and timid, always preferring to stand outside of the spotlight, but when he was on stage, he gave the most impassioned speeches.  A colleague of his approached him once after one of these lectures and asked him how he did it: How was he able to transform himself into this other powerful, confident being. The man turned to him shyly and pulled out two small pieces of paper from his left and right jacket pockets.  In his left hand the paper said, “I am a speck of dust in the Universe.”  In his right, “I am the Master of the Universe.”  He went on to explain that he reads the paper in his right pocket before going out on stage, and he reads the other as soon as he’s off stage.  One to inspire, one to humble himself.
            It must have been August when I went to train one day because I was already sweating as I walked into the dojo.  I remember having a sense of dread about that day’s class, too.  Work was stressful that week, family stuff, I hadn’t been able to come to class that much that week, blah, blah, blah…and now a class in the middle of a heat wave, at noon, with only a handful of other people training.  I was about to be crushed.
            And, I was right.  I feel Sensei thrives under these conditions.  He must because we began that class with a slew of rapidly changing conditioning exercises that led straight into the techniques.  It was all a blur.  We switched so quickly from technique to technique, from pins to throws, all while the dojo magically transformed into a sauna.  We all struggled that day forcing ourselves just to stand after each throw.  Through sheer necessity, we pushed each other to dig a little deeper, to find that extra kernel of strength until that final clap from Sensei came.  Class ended, and I was drenched in sweat (mostly my own), breathing heavily, and feeling pretty awesome.  I survived.  All the baggage I brought into the dojo with me had somehow melted away. 
            While cleaning upstairs, Sensei made a comment about the weather.  I responded that the heat did not bother me so much as the humidity did especially during training.  Sensei looked at me and countered by saying that you have to believe that this is the only way you want to train, whether it is a hundred degrees or below freezing in the dojo.  “Then you’ll always have what you want,” he said.  I had to take a moment to let that extremely true and beautifully simple statement sink in.  Perhaps it is societal but it is very easy to see the negative in everything and very easy to carry that around with us.  We sabotage ourselves by creating an environment where everything that happens, happens to us thereby diminishing our own power.  It becomes a cycle of victimizing oneself, a cycle of which I am very guilty.  The answer to change this all around seems so simple, but I have been learning every day since that the application is the hardest part.

            How can we all just “Be Here!” as the posters in the dojo say?  How do we let go of everything to focus solely on the task at hand?  Perspective is a powerful ability.  There will be times when we have to give that speech or take fall after fall, and from what I understand of Sensei’s statement, we have to learn that the situation will stay the same.  How we respond and the attitude in which we confront that situation is key.  It has been a couple months since that moment, and translating that idea on and off the mat is a constant battle.  A battle that seems less daunting the more I am on the mat.  Funny how that works out, isn’t it?

-A. Fukui

Sunday, October 6, 2013

From One Thing Know Ten Thousand Things by J. Shannon

Miyamoto Musashi captured in his writing, 'The Book of Five Rings' (written 1643 A.D.), a key difference in the oriental and occidental mindset.  In western culture we are often encouraged to do everything well, and to focus on those things that we do not naturally do well to improve upon them.  This with the idea that we will become more well-rounded.  Just think of what students go through with college applications in the western world as an example.  Regardless of how good you are at math or science, writing or art, you have to show that you were involved in clubs, sports, and school politics to get placed in some of the best schools.

In the eastern culture the practiced study of one thing is more often prized over general knowledge.  Each person has their role in society and each person is expected to perform that role with the highest of skill, regardless of how exalted or menial the task might be.  In 'The Book of Five Rings,' Musashi says in reference to the study of the art of the sword... "This is something that requires thorough examination, with a thousand days of practice for training and ten thousand days of practice for refinement."  Ten thousand days is roughly thirty years of deliberate practice and devotion, which leaves little other time for alternate study.

The idea of this concentrated study is that through this one art, you will know all others.  The implication is that the mastery of one art allows the practitioner to understand the interconnectedness of events and objects and similarities in all things and that truth is easier to find this way than in dabbling and being distracted with ten thousand different arts.

What the modern western students of martial arts can take away from this way of thinking is to focus their attention on a few things, to be deliberate with their study of those things, patient with the learning curve that follows, and to understand that through thorough examination of their art they may one day understand the truth of all art.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

From John Cage, Regarding Teachers and Students

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student - pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher - pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: be self-disciplined - this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything - it might come in handy later. 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

aikido poetry from the kids' class

Aikido Techniques

Two people facing each other.
The people are standing like this:
They put one leg in front
The other in back.
Looking to the side,
one person grabs other.
So the person who’s being grabbed
slides behind the person.
The person leans back.
The person lets go.
The other person grabs the person,
puts down the other.

Slaps the floor.

-S. Presser, Age 6

Shikko Walk

Put one leg down the other facing the Kamiza.
Slide the leg that’s down toward the leg that’s up.
Then keep on doing it.

-S. Presser, Age 6

Friday, June 28, 2013

Difficulties on the way

The difficulty in practicing Aikido lies in the fact that each of us brings the entire sum of who we are onto the mat.  Nothing truly is left behind.  The idea to leave behind your day and your struggles as you take off your shoes is a nice one, but is it possible, truly?  Every action we have taken, every internal and external event is carried within us, perhaps even on a cellular level.  We are the sum of an entirety of causes up until this moment-- and we bring all of them to practice Aikido, or for that matter, anything.  A tension in the shoulder, a fear of this or that, an inability to perceive a movement or, on the contrary, an ease in movement, a certain degree of relaxation-- all these are the result of karma.  I use the word karma here to mean the entirety of who I am up until now, which includes genetics, upbringing, external events, and the possibility of past lives (who knows?).

Another way to put it: I bring all my resistance as well as my desire to learn Aikido.  How can it be otherwise?  And if this is true, what hope is there for me to learn anything?  For ultimately, I will always superimpose anything given to me with my own views, biases and limitations.

For myself, the only hope lies in seeing my resistance, seeing my prejudices.  If I can see these often enough, perhaps I can avoid falling into the same habits.  There is no easy way.  There is no "I've got it."  There are moments of real encounters, real letting go.  And then...my resistance, my prejudice, my ego is there.  It always comes back.  Perhaps, in time, it will be less and less- it will soften and not be so overbearing.

But for now, if I really want to practice, to learn, I have to understand my resistance, my biases.  I have to see accurately the sides of me that don't want to practice, don't want to learn, and that don't want to go along with what is shown.  Looking for these sides is difficult, because they don't often want to be seen, and "I" really don't want to change, do I?

So let's try and take a look at this more in our practice.

New York, 2013

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

From the Magazine Parabola, Volume XIII, No. 1, February 1988.  An interview with painter Paul Reynard:

Question: Is struggle an element that helps bring force to a work?  There needs to be a state of very alert and active receptivity in order to work as an artist, and at the same time it seems that there is an opposite movement needed in order to express that.  Is there a contradiction here?  Is it in the change from one to the other that the struggle comes in?

Reynard: It seems to me that, on the contrary, it is very close.  It is only at the moment that you are open that something is expressed.  It is a rather mysterious process, because you can work and work for a long time and not find what you want.  You come to a point where you seem to have exhausted all the possible means for this work, all the thoughts you have, all the emotion, in other words, you are finished.  There's no more to say-- you are like a fruit that has been squeezed.  And this moment is very important.  It's the moment when you may open.  All the necessary elements are present without any order.  You are even at the point where you are ready to destroy what you have done.  It is nevertheless a very precious moment, because it is then when something new may emerge, something which was in you but which you didn't know, you didn't see.  And that is the real moment of expression.

When I'm no longer trying to do something, I begin to feel I am led, as if my brush was just following a definite path.  I am just following something which I merely initiated.  At that point I am open to something which I was unable to express before when I wanted to direct it.  And strangely enough the best moment, and the best result, is when I am here in front of the painting, and the hand is so to speak free.  I am not imposing.  At the same time it is me who paints.  But it is as if I were following a kind of secret indication.  I am no longer fighting.  The struggle has taken place before this moment, when I was at the point of giving up.  And if at that point I'm open enough, then something occurs, something completely new, something which seems to be true, something true in relation to what was within myself at that very moment.

Monday, March 25, 2013

"A Lesson Learned Living in the Dojo" - M. Croes

       When I was asked to write a blog post for the dojo it immediately sparked a sense of anxiety.  I’m not much of a writer and prefer doing things of a more tactile and physical nature, e.g. cleaning.  So as I started this I began thinking about why I feel a sense of anxiety around this kind of task; what impact does it have on my training ?  This points to a larger question that I’ve been thinking about: how to apply what I learned living in the dojo to my everyday life.
       The specific topic I was asked to write about was the month I spent living at the dojo.  Living there is unlike any experience I’ve had.  You start your day at 6:00 a.m. and the first thing you do, before brushing your teeth or putting away your futon, is to light incense and change the Kamidana (Shinto shrine) offerings. You then train Aikido or weapons for an hour, do zazen or misogi, eat breakfast, clean, train at noon class, clean, prepare dinner, train for two more evening classes, clean, get dinner ready, clean up and then hopefully sleep a few hours.  The simple list of activities can’t do justice to the kind of life it is. It is something that must be experienced firsthand to understand the personal impact. I can tell you what it did for me. It showed me what is possible when you feel worn down and it taught me to begin letting go, to release some of my obsessiveness. It also brought me closer to seeing within myself  how quickly I can give up on something if it becomes difficult or uncomfortable. 
       At the dojo, you train harder than you think you will. No matter what you prepare for, you won't be truly ready for what you are confronted with. The pain, the discomfort of sleeping on futons on the floor, the emotions that begin to surface. Everything that you can hide behind outside the dojo slowly gets stripped away and you are left to embrace your faults and strengths. You begin to learn from them and hopefully make adjustments that improve you in aikido and in life. Learning this is made easier by the warmth of the people at the dojo and it gives me a sense of calm and centeredness in my life… sometimes.  It's a work in progress. 
       While living in the dojo I also had to work in the mornings at my job in New Jersey.  In the beginning there was a sense of relief after such hard training to go to work and get what I perceived as "a break."  But as my time progressed I found that work simply became a distraction from what was really important to me  – training.  And the process began to affect me both physically and emotionally.  
       In a way I came to appreciate the sheer exhaustion of living there because there was no energy left for much of anything.    Every day - on the mat and off - I have anxiety about doing things correctly or accomplishing things.  I get frustrated when I attempt even simple movements: left foot here, right there, and then I go  to do it and find myself with my feet switched or slouching or hunching my shoulders.  That's not to mention being able to do something correctly one day and then not the next.  But in my time living in the dojo the anxiety lessened and I was able to do more of what frightens and frustrates me.  I had to let go of something.  It would have been impossible to function otherwise.  In Aikido and in life one has to let go of attachments and desires in order to move on and to improve.  The letting go of tension, anger, fear all have to happen.   Part of improving - we’ve all heard - is becoming “relaxed with tension"; how to accomplish that has been something I have been asking myself for some time.  When I find the answer I’ll post it. 
       If you told me two years ago that cleaning and training in a martial art could teach me about letting go and becoming more relaxed I wouldn’t have believed you. When I first started to train I would look for excuses to not go to the dojo or to not stay as long because of some fear or anxiety.  Now, I look for excuses to be there longer or to stay for that extra class that I don’t really want to do. I still have ups and downs and there are times when I don’t want to go, when laziness or emotions win out. It is a work in progress.  But I am definitely taking the advice I was given by Sensei when I stopped sleeping at the dojo… “keep going."

-Michael  Croes

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Quote from Master Takeda Mokurai for Reflection

"They say that if you practice Zen, you will be calm.  Some misunderstand these words because they are attached to the literal sense of the word 'calm.'  They think they will be completely unaffected even when struck by a thunderbolt.  But this is not true.  The subtle meaning of Zen lies in spontaneous response.  If thunder peals, we peal, too; if an earthquake comes to shake us, we ourselves shake with it.  It is childish to say that those who practice Zen will never care nor fuss about anything."

-from Zen no Katsatsu