At the beginning of every class, we go through a series of movements. It’s common for many of us to start taking these movements for granted or to start thinking of these movements as exercises to prepare our bodies for practice. In fact, these movements are intended to help us find some insights into the techniques of Aikido. They are the “forms” or kata of Aikido.
In many Japanese martial arts, kata are a series of movements that students practice many times over. Kata provide an opportunity to explore mind and body integration and one might go so far as to say that they are ultimately a way to practice integrity. Aikido kata are rather simple in their form, funikogi kata, ushirodori kata, etc. However, these kata all contain the core movements of Aikido arts. Additionally, they are often done as a group, giving Aikidoka the opportunity to further practice the movements of our art, in harmony with one another. This exploration of mind and body integration, combined with the intentional focus on maintaining 360 degree vision and being in harmony with our training partners, is a powerful training technique. Finally, kata are most instructive when we can effectively visualize a training partner challenging our movements and helping us commit to our movements.
As we practice our kata at the beginning of each class, we should work to be present and focused on what we’re doing. As a group, this activity will help us all develop our Aikido and enhance the kiai of our dojo.
Across the martial arts world, discussions abound about the concept of rank, what it means, the level of rigor that should be required, and so on. In most respects the standard for promotions are not completely transparent. At Aikido Olympia, we have criteria for the number of classes everyone must complete to be eligible to participate in an examination, we also have a list of techniques that students are expected to demonstrate during promotional examinations. Finally, we have some expectations- “That you will become increasingly positive in your daily life.” We also observe the martial tradition of maintaining some level of mystery around promotions.
At Aikido Olympia, our practice focuses on the ongoing personal development and individual commitment to our practice. As each person’s journey is different, so is the manifestation of their Aikido.
While many of our training partners are preparing for the upcoming promotional examinations, some of us are asking ourselves, are we ready? This is a question that promotional examinations are intended to bring out. And there is an appropriate response: decide to do it, set your hara, train hard, and proceed with confidence that things will work out well (one way or another).
In the same way that Aikido students grow and develop, Aikido Olympia as an organization is continuing to evolve and develop. In the past month, our dojo has made some exciting progress in expanding access to training in our community.
First, Aikido Olympia has worked with the City of Olympia to include our Monthly Introduction to Aikido classes, in the summer edition of the Olympia Parks and Recreation “Experience It” catalog. https://apm.activecommunities.com/olyparksartsrec/?# . If you have friends or family who want to learn more about Aikido, these classes are a great way to start. These classes are on the third Saturday of each month from 10:00 to 12:00.
Second, our instructors have been working with Senior Service for the South Sound to start an Aikido for Elders class. One of the leading causes of injuries as we age is falling. The intention of this class is to focus on improving balance, reducing stress, and handling physical and mental conflicts. These classes will be taught on Thursdays evenings through May 31st, from 4:30 – 6:15 pm at the Olympia Senior Center (just down the street).
Third, Community Resources, a group that supports adults with developmental disabilities has asked Aikido Olympia for a workshop for this organization’s staff. These are professionals in a complicated situation where they may be faced with physical aggression from the people they are committed to supporting and keeping safe.
These community opportunities are intended to add to the existing classes we teach at Aikido Olympia. And, we hope these outreach efforts will increase the number of people practicing the fundamentals of our art and making our community more resilient. We also expect that as more people are exposed to the practices of Aikido, our dojo will see some new members.
In Aikido, the way of living in harmony with the universal energy, students are sometimes a little surprised that there is a curriculum of weapons instruction. The weapons we learn to use include the bokken (a wooden sword), the jyo (a short staff), the tanto (a wooden training knife), and I’m going to include the suzu bell (I’ll get back to that one). The surprise about weapons practice seems to involve the idea that weapons and peace are mutually exclusive. In our current culture, this is understandable but if we consider the concept of Budo (traditional Japanese martial ways), weapons and peace are much more intertwined.
At Aikido Olympia, our practice uses weapons for several purposes. First, training with weapons helps us develop our centers (nothing like trying to move around with a heavy bokken counterweighting each movement). Second, weapons training builds adaptability as we adjust our ma’ai (spacing and timing), our techniques, and our ukemi. Finally, weapons increase the kiai of our practice. It’s one thing to get hit by your partner’s hand, but it’s a bit more concerning when it’s a jyo instead.
Through the month of April, our Tuesday evening General Aikido Instructors will be focusing on weapons practice. This is open to everyone in our dojo and is intended to support students across a range of abilities.
In my office, I keep an old page from a calendar designed by Olympia artist, Nikki McClure. It says “Prepare” and it contains the image of children playing capture the flag and a fox in some blackberry bushes.
In the martial arts, there is an ethos around preparing. We train to become better prepared to respond to conflict, crisis, amazing opportunities, or whatever comes down our path. Preparing isn’t always what we want to do, but Aikido allows us to approach it with positivity, curiosity, and playfulness. And, like the fox, we use every day and every event to become better able to respond, or some might say- more response- able.
Periodically, we also get the opportunity to demonstrate our preparedness. There can be many ways that we demonstrate our preparedness in our lives but the way we get to demonstrate our preparedness in the dojo is in the form of a promotional demonstration. This month, Aikido Olympia will be hosting promotional demonstrations for those members of our community who feel they are ready to show us that they have expanded their practice and are ready for additional “responsibility.”
Promotional demonstrations or “Testing”, will be on March 15th. We typically begin with a short whole dojo class (kids, adults, beginners, and instructors) at 5:30. After the class, we begin the demonstrations with our young people going first and ascending in rank, followed by adults with the same strategy. We encourage everyone to attend so they can be part of this experience and contribute their energy to the event. Family and friends are also welcome. Typically, we finish the evening with a “snack-luck” so that everyone can spend time together and unwind after they’ve demonstrated how much they’ve prepared.
It’s the time of year when Aikido Olympia practices Kangeiko. Kangeiko literally means “cold training” and each year we try to pick a time when early morning temperatures are about as low as they get in the Olympia area. Last year, there were two weeks where temperatures were in the 20’s, the first week of January and the second week of February. Since we already do water misogi the first week in January, we chose to host Kangeiko in the second week of February with hopes of cold weather.
But what is Kangieiko you ask?
In almost every martial arts tradition, there is an emphasis on austere training to develop grit, spirit, hara, or kokoro (as in the calligraphy we hang on the front wall of the dojo). The goal is pretty simple, to test ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually so that we can become more self-aware, learn where we need to develop further, and to build confidence in our ability to thrive in adversity. For our practice, Kangeiko provides the opportunity to wake up earlier than some of us think is normal, to accept the world around us even if its cold and rainy, to remain undistracted by the feeling of our bare feet on the freezing cold mats, and to intentionally practice vigorously.
From kangeiko, we elevate our own practices, nourish the kiai of our dojo, and hopefully develop greater perspective- “If I can participate in kangeiko and enjoy it, then what else am I capable of doing?”
With Aikido Olympia’s new commitment to greater community partnerships, we are beginning to work with area parks departments and the Olympia Senior Center to explore how we might be able to mutually support one another. One path that is starting to form is an opportunity to offer classes for elders, initially at the Olympia Senior Center, beginning as one of the spring offerings. Since Aikido teaches self-awareness and respect, both for oneself and for others with whom one is privileged to practice, one can begin practice at any age beyond six or seven, and with any range of physical abilities, even if one currently is more comfortable sitting than walking. Tim Sensei and I have been exploring this in our teaching and practice over the past year and are excited to create space for this in our community.
Throughout 2017 (and maybe a little of 2016), several members of our dojo have been working on officially establishing Aikido Olympia as a non-profit organization. Aikido Olympia has operated for many years as a 100% volunteer organization where dues and donations go toward mats, rent, utilities, and the occasional new fan, but we weren’t actually incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Well, we recently received our letter from the State of Washington recognizing our organization in this new status. This change in our organizational status won’t change the fact that we are a member supported, volunteer organization but we hope that it will help open up new relationships and opportunities.
Coming in 2018, we are implementing some changes to our weekly class schedule:
Some of you may recall filling out a survey where you were asked about your preferences for class times. The dojo leadership used that information to create a new schedule for 2018 that should benefit both students and the instructors.
Changed: Youth classes to Tuesday/Thursday beginning at 5:30 instead of 5:00 Added: Adult general class on Tuesday/Thursday following youth class. Class begins at 6:30. Removed: Classes at 5:30 AM on Tuesday/Thursday and no regularly scheduled classes on Friday.
We will begin this new schedule on January 3rd, 2018.