Aikido in Daily Life: November 2019

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives...

A way of thinking about and growing awareness… 

Anyone who’s practiced regularly at Aikido Olympia has heard that one of the key benefits to our practice is expanding our awareness. For many of us, this comes as we become more relaxed, become more present in our activities, and as we apply our 180 degree vision more often in our daily lives. Some of us find our awareness stretching as we become more empathetic and in tune with other people. And, a few feel their awareness expand as they simply sit and calm their minds. 

All of these strategies help us grow, as we proceed along the path of being in harmony with the energy of the universe, and it’s not necessary to add anything extra. That said, an occasional question to ourselves can sometimes help us get back on track when we’ve been drawn into one of the many situations that constrict our awareness. One such question is “have I considered both the yin and yang of this thing/thought/event?” 

All energies are continuously flowing and we know that the wave forms for these energies have two modes, a yin and a yang. It’s not really necessary to know that yin is the dark, cool, female, absorbing aspect while yang is the bright, warm, male, projecting aspect. What’s more important is to know that the two aspects create wholeness together. Therefore, when our mind and our flow get stuck, asking ourselves if we’ve considered both the yin and the yang aspects of the situation can help us re-engage our awareness. And, the more we learn to re-engage our awareness when we’re stuck, the more that awareness can grow.

By Nate Weed

Aikido Olympia Fees and Finances (Updated)

Last month I wrote that Aikido Olympia will be dividing the annual maintenance fee into a January installment and a July installment. The Board of Directors has had further discussions about this approach and we’ve decided that this is perhaps a bit too complicated to implement easily. So, we’re going back to the previous approach of asking everyone to pay the initial maintenance fee when they join our dojo and every January thereafter ($60 adults and $40 youth & students). 

The board also recognizes that some people who join later in the year (October-December) may feel that they receive little value in this and we want to provide them with a standard lightweight gi when they join to offset the months of the year when they weren’t yet members.

By Nate Weed

Yagyu Munenori – Life-Giving Sword

Recently, West Sensei has mentioned Yagyu Munenori. Some of you are familiar with this 17th century Japanese sword master, but others of you may not be so. For a little background, Yagyu Munenori lived from 1571 to 1646 and served as the sword master and a key leader in the Tokagawa Shogunate (essentially serving as the director of intelligence). Yagyu Munenori was a contemporary of the famed Miyamoto Musashi (though there’s no evidence the two of them ever met). He was also the author of a key book on swordsmanship called the Heiho Kadensho which is one of the most influential martial arts books ever written. 

The question is: how does he relate to our practice of Aikido? There are a number of answers to that question. First, this particular sword art, Yagyu Shinkage-Ryu was one that set the stage for fusing Zen practice with martial arts. Second, perhaps more mechanically, is the subtle use of distance and movement – like moon-shadow steps. The third, is that Munenori established the idea of a “killing sword” and a “life-giving sword.” Using the life-giving sword, a martial artist does not lose but also does not strive to win. 

Yagyu Munenori was a fascinating character in both the history of Japan but also the history of martial arts. One of the strongest principles Yagyu Munenori instilled in his students was the idea that swordsmanship was not a skill learned to kill but rather to fully realize one’s true self. This lineage connects to Aikido directly in that both Morihei Ueshiba (O’ Sensei) studied Yagyu Shinkage-Ryu, as did Muryama Sensei. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: October 2019

We come to our dojo to train so that we’re better able to apply the principles of aikido in our daily lives.

Giving and receiving feedback in a way that promotes learning and growth is an art. Regardless of what part of our lives we consider – Aikido practice, professional, parenting, personal relationships, or other endeavors – the most important thing for helping us improve is feedback from those around us. At the same time, it’s the rare individual who can gracefully and curiously receive feedback and incorporate it into their lives. Moreover, our Aikido practice provides an amazing laboratory for developing this skill. 

Feedback is simply a signal that lets us know if we are meeting our desired goals. With that, feedback seems so innocuous and helpful. So why is taking it a skill that we have to learn in order to do well? For Aikido practitioners, the same question is why do do we invest in learning ukemi and doing it well? Taking ukemi and receiving feedback from others are the same thing. And, the same things that limit us in improving our ukemi also create challenges for receiving feedback effectively. One way to look at this is that both of these are the art of “taking it” and the more gracefully we can do that, the more comfort we have in experiencing life. 

When we’re able to take a step back and look at the limitations we have to overcome to improve our ability to “take it,” there are some common themes. First, many people experience fear. This is reasonable because the unknown often creates anxiety, doubt, and other emotions. Second, our perception of our own efficacy can shape how we approach these learning opportunities. Finally, if these factors don’t emerge, then our egos may intervene to provide some protection from the physical or mental trauma that might result. And, if we can take one more step back these limitations all have something in common – they’re in our mind. All of these things are features of future possibilities and not current realities. 

Our practice is about learning to stay present,  stay grounded, and stay open and curious about the people and energies with which we engage. Even more pertinent to this discussion is that half our practice is about entering into something that we know for sure will be uncomfortable with commitment, focus, and generosity. More than once, Aikido Olympia instructors have emphasized that we often learn more by taking ukemi than we do by throwing people. In the case of receiving feedback from others with centered grace and confidence the dojo is the perfect laboratory to develop this ability further. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido Olympia Fees and Finances

Aikido Olympia is a 100% volunteer, non-profit organization and our board of directors works diligently to minimize the financial impact our dues have on our members. And, we must pay our rent, our insurance, some modest utilities, and ongoing maintenance throughout the year. Monthly dues generally cover our expenses, but for insurance, maintenance, and other expenses, we rely on our annual Dojo Maintenance Fee (currently $60 for adults and $40 for youth and students). Generally, we all pay these fees when we initially join the dojo and then each January thereafter. One overlooked area of dojo maintenance is our uniforms. As we all learn, gis don’t last forever and they are part of our dojo’s overall maintenance. Therefore, Aikido Olympia will be dividing the annual maintenance fee into a January installment and a July installment  (each installment will be $30 for adults and $20 for youth and students) and Aikido Olympia will use some of these fees to pay the cost of basic gis for those who need one in the fall (October – December).

By Nate Weed

Zazen Training Schedule

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.

By Nate Weed

Updating Testing Criteria

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. 

By Nate Weed

Aikido in Daily Life: September 2019

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. 

By Nate Weed

Testing beyond the test…

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!

By Nate Weed

No vacation from shugyo (training the spirit)!

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.

By Nate Weed