This month Aikido Olympia is working to get our Zazen training back onto a more regular schedule. Over the Summer, several of our students were training to attend a Zen intensive. At one point, I think they may have been training several days a week. Since they returned, we’ve had an opportunity to re-set the schedule. To accomplish this, we are seeking input on what days and times work best for those interested in this aspect of our training. If you would like to add your input, please stop by the dojo and put in your vote.
Aikido Olympia instructors have recently reviewed the existing testing criteria and begun updating those requirements. With a round of promotional demonstrations recently completed, and the next opportunity coming in December, the timing for making adjustments seems right for our dojo. Overall, the new testing criteria will not look significantly different for our adult students and will better align with the broader Aikido Yuishinkai testing criteria. Our youth testing criteria will be perhaps more of an adjustment.
With our younger students, we want to create a bit more opportunity to work on things like focus, working with others, mindfulness, and awareness. With more emphasis on these practices, our youth instructors are working to align some of the testing criteria to the focus of these classes. There will still be a set of techniques we expect students to learn, but we’ll also ask that they demonstrate exercises and katas, as well as comfort working with others.
We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives…
School is back in session around the Olympia area and many of our aikidoka are back in the classroom as either teachers or students. And, as they are going back, many habits that developed over the short summer are not in harmony with the school-year rhythm. Through our practice we develop a number of strategies and skills for finding the rhythm in our lives and flowing back into them. One such strategy is changing our mind 180 degrees. From possibly our first class at Aikido Olympia we learn ways to get our body, our mind, and our intention to change quickly from one direction to another. in kata, we practice zengo kata, or two directions kata, then we evolve this into more sophisticated techniques, then into the uke/nage relationship, and hopefully into more complex experiences.
For some of us, the beginning of a new school year is an amazing opportunity to take a look at the habits developed over the summer months, to take what still works from that experience, and look for new opportunities and new ways of being in the world that allow us to grow and develop even further. For others of us who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in a while, we can also take this opportunity to find the rhythms around us and take stock of the habits we’ve developed over the past few months and consider what is and isn’t working for us to be in the smoothest flow we can achieve.
This month Aikido Olympia will be hosting promotional examinations. These will be held on September 27th, and is our custom, we will begin with a short class at 5:30, hold space for those testing to demonstrate their development, and finish with a snack-luck (a pot-luck with slightly lighter fare). Those who are testing all know what the testing criteria will be and have been training hard to develop a great set of techniques.
As we all advance and inevitably have more opportunities to test/learn along the path, we find that testing occurs every day. That is to say that this practice continually tests us and puts us in a position to test ourselves. And, when we arrive for a “Test” we are really demonstrating that we are progressively comfortable stepping into ambiguity and risk with the confidence of someone who has already been tested.
For those testing, good luck on the 27th and we’re all looking forward to what comes out!
At the end of last month, I had an amazing opportunity to spend 12 hours physically exhausted and pretty much miserable…
For background, my dad is a 74-year-old and decided that he was going to do an endurance event called a GORUCK Tough challenge. These events are developed by military special operations veterans who provide a 12-hour long event that’s patterned after military special operations training. So naturally, if he’s going to do something that crazy, I figured I’d better do it with him.
The whole thing began at 10:00 at night in Spokane, Washington. It started with a lot of jumping jacks, push-ups, sit ups, and other such things. After some of that, everyone donned 30-40-pound packs and spent the night walking long distances with that weight and doing more physical training, at regular intervals.
These events are designed to break people down physically and force them to do two things, push beyond physical limits and work as a team. In fact, this was the type of thing that Aikido training prepares one for. Those situations where a practitioner must access the energy of the universe and allow it to flow through them in order to be successful. These are the times when the ego must simply be overcome and pushed to the side and being in harmony with the team is essential for success.
As we practice at Aikido Olympia, we need not think about testing ourselves in this way but we should acknowledge that there may be times in our lives when we need to call upon our ability to breath, relax, and find our center when we have little physical strength left to contribute. As the Aikido Yuishinkai motto says “…even if my body suffers physically, my mind remains optimistic. Even if I encounter obstacles, my mind is never defeated…”
The rest of the story, all of the participants had to face failure, all of them had to acknowledge that they no longer had the physical ability to keep going, and all of them embraced and supported each other until 10:00 the next morning when everyone (even the 74 year old guy) finished the event in harmony with each other.
This month, Jennifer Sensei will be moving to Portland, Oregon. We’re going to miss her leadership in our Dojo and the interesting techniques she shares when she’s teaching. And, to see her off, we are going to have a short class at 5:30, on Friday August 16th. This will give Jennifer a chance to throw all of us one more time. Following the class we will have a potluck so that we can all have some social time.
While traveling this spring, Chuck Pailthorp visited Weidenaudojo in Siegen Germany, today one of the few Yuishinkai dojos in Europe. The chief instructor, Stefan Leiendecker, treated me like a visiting family member. He and his partner, Gunda Hoier, were welcoming, generous and delighted that our dojos now have direct contact. Chuck practiced at their dojo one evening, and found the similarities and differences instructive. Among other kindnesses, Stefan and Gunda showed him a few books they currently enjoy, ones they thought other Aikidoka might value. Dance with Heaven & Earth: Life Lessons from Zen & Aikido by Anna Sanner is one he would like to share with you. Ms. Sanner offers beautiful, practical reflections about what it is to practice Aikido well. Her book is written so that one can read a page or several, set the book aside, and bring her suggestions to one’s time on the mat and to everyday life. Chuck has added a copy of her volume to our dojo library.
We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.
As our practice in Aikido deepens and we begin to embody the principles more easily, our attention is free to move from what our bodies, minds, and spirits are doing and begin to observe the whole of the situation more fully. In practice, this might allow us to better sense the other partners working near us, better sense our instructor watching us (always an opportunity to lose mind-body coordination for a second as we get stuck there), or better sense the kiai of the dojo as we practice. This represents some progress in our training. It also illuminates the model that we want to apply in other parts of our lives outside the dojo.
Whether we’re road-tripping with the family, going for a walk around Capitol Lake, riding a bicycle through Olympia traffic, grocery shopping, or taking out the garbage, we want to practice moving and being present in those movements. As we become better skilled at experiencing mind-body coordination in our daily lives, we free our attention to absorb more of the whole experience around us. This allows us to live more fully, and it forms the foundation for the most important aspect of self-defense – situational awareness. So as we leave the dojo after practice, we should commit to applying what we learned to the things we do each day.
I’ve been reading a rather fun martial arts book for the past couple of months. It’s called The Ultimate Samurai Guide: An Insider Looks at Japanese Martial Arts and Surviving in the Land of Bushido and Zen. It’s written by Alexander Bennett, a Kendoka who has been living, working, and training in Japan for close to 25 years. In this book, he describes the “requirement” for western martial artists to have a passing understanding of three significant leaders in Japanese history. Recently, West Sensei, summarized the three leaders and the importance with the following:
Here is a short Japanese saying that is important to know as a practitioner of a Japanese martial art. It is based on the history of Japan with the end of the Sengoku period (戦国時代 Sengoku Jidai, “Age of Warring States”; c. 1467 – c. 1600, and the initiation of the Tokugawa Shogunate that resulted in 240 years of peace. The lines go in order from earliest to the last Shogun:
“If you don’t sing, I will kill you.” Nobunaga Oda
“If you don’t sing, I will make you sing.” Hideyoshi Toyotomi
“If you don’t sing, I will wait until you sing.” Tokugawa Ieyasu
The meaning of the last is – never give up! Very important in Japanese culture.
If you’ve been to the Dojo lately, you’ve probably seen the mural that’s going up beside our building. This mural is being created to commemorate the significant role that Olympia’s Chinese community played in creating our diverse and wonderful city. The artist, Mymy Nguyen, describes the dragon as a “silhouette” representing “a ghost of the past strength, intention and motion of Chinese immigrants who left their homes, crossed the widest ocean, and came to this place for a better life.” The location for this mural is significant because the building was, at one time, a local Chinese grocery that was a center for the community. For additional history, here is a link: http://olympiawa.gov/community/about-olympia/history-of-olympia-washington/olympia-s-chinese-community.aspx
Although Aikido comes from a Japanese lineage that’s different from the Chinese experience, we share a connection to the broader Asian and Pacific Island community. We value our community and, as an organization, are supporting the mural and what it means to our community. Additionally, we believe that our commitment to the art of peace and living in harmony with the energy of the universe aligns nicely with this artistic work. Of note, the characters incorporated into the mural read, “peace, harmony, community.”
The mural’s dedication is scheduled for 12:00pm (noon) on Saturday, August 24, 2019 at the corner of 5th Avenue SW and Columbia Street SE in downtown Olympia. This event will provide a space for the Chinese tradition of “dotting the eye,” or the final brush strokes of painting the eye to bring the dragon to life and to complete the mural.