Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy New Year

It is almost the end of 2009. Aikido of San Jose is taking a one week rest, with a special New Year’s Day training at 11 am on Friday. So it is a little funny having no classes at the dojo. I am often in the office trying to tie loose ends together. This blog is one of those.

So what have I learned in 40 years? I guess the main thing is that it is a journey, a path. There are what one might consider high points at the time. But the major thing is to continue and endure. One class at a time. I guess it adds up. At first the classes were all training classes. Undergoing the standard frustrations at learning and failing. Later some teaching was combined with the training. Now the classes are basically all teaching, but the person you ultimately teach is yourself.

For the last period of time the major focus of mine has been the San Jose dojo. Initially it was the UC Santa Cruz club. Then the UC Davis club. Then the Shingu dojo in the ‘70’s. Since ’76 it has been San Jose. Even during my stay in Japan in 1977 it was with the sense that I might take over the San Jose dojo someday. In fact February 1st of next year(soon) it will be 30 years since I became chief instructor of Aikido of San Jose. I was living in the dojo at the time and teaching some classes. But it was a whole different matter actually being the dojo-cho. I was living upstairs with Jenny and her mom. Some of my best memories are of helping to raise my daughter in those days. And it was fun being a part of the Japan town culture at that time.

In terms of beginning to understand Osensei’s message, it has been a brisk year. Much of this is experiential and does not lend itself to discussion in words and ideas. The mind’s ability to translate experience into words and concepts makes discussion difficult. But hopefully the New Year will see in all of us a greater depth of understanding regarding the Founder’s message.

I am including a video of my class for the 40th anniversary celebration. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Not a Sport

One thing Hikitsuchi sensei stressed constantly at the Shingu dojo was that aikido was not a sport."Aikido wa supotsu de wa arimasen!" he would say. This was something that Osensei was also said to be very much behind. So what is aikido if it is not a sport?
What is the difference between a martial art and a sport?

Sports tend to be about competing. About winning and losing. Aikido is unique in its emphasis on being non-competitive. About its emphasis on personal growth and transormation as opposed to the strengthening of the ego around the concept of winning.
Sports tend to inflate the ego around victory. After all, what is the fun in losing?
When told that there is no "I" in the word team, Michael Jordan once replied, "but there is in win". A very telling concept for this culture. I used to really be into sports. Especially following the greats such as Bonds and Jordan. Then it occured to me that, though these people have access to unbelievable levels through the body, that they were not very developped people. There were dimensions in them that were immature and even incomplete.

The mind tends to be the ultimate drug. And the mind can become obsessed with winning and push the body in certain cases to unbelievable levels. And a very mind based culture creates icons out of this mix. The whole Tiger Woods situation is a reflection of this. Because he has come to represent winning to many people he has become very marketable, the first billionannaire athlete. Wealth, fame, victory tend to be very attractive to the mind and the "I". And it is not surprising that with the recent turn of events and disclosures of what is going on beyond his corporate image, people have turned against him. Both he and the people who now criticize him are both equally part of a very mind-based culture. It is ironic that it is largely out of things like defeat and set-backs like this that people actually grow and develop. And in some cases transform.

Aikido to me is not a sport, but it shares with sports the empasis on body and being through the body. However, its emphasis is on true victory being a victory over the "I" makes it very different indeed. Masaka(true victory) is Agatsu(self-victory, victory over the "I") and leads to Katsu Hayahi(speed which transcends time and space, or the aikido that can't be seen with the human eye). Aikido may offer quickly some very important insights, but it is something that must be experienced through time to be truly meaningful. And it is about the harmony of mind and body. I think of it as being more a vitamin, ie natural, than a steroid(ie mind/drug).

Aikido's main challenge is to remain a viable transformational art through the body. Much of it's philosophy and con-competitive nature makes it very appealing to a certain level of mind. The two places where aikido has become very successful is as a model for conflict resolution on a mental level and as a positive vehicle for people to come together socially. For it to continue to move forward, however, the key concept is its transformational potential through the body.

After saying that aikido is not a sport, Hikitsuchi sensei would then state that it was True Budo, therefore not a sport. I think it would be pointless to try to describe True Budo. But I will relate a story about a visit I made to see Tojima sensei at his house. This was sometime late 1974 or early 1975. For some reason the conversation turned to Anno sensei. Tojima sensei said that the reason he really respected Anno sensei was that Anno sensei was the only person through aikido that he had seen really change, ie transform. He had seen others develop and some grow strong. But Anno sensei was unique in that he had truly changed through his training. Anno sensei had to deal with many difficulties and even misfortunes. He was semi-paralyzed for some years and unable to get on the mat. Then upon returning to training he had to deal with the loss of strength in his arms and upper body. To see him now you would never know what he had been through. So making of oneself a living trophy of this victory over the self is more important than impressive technique or even professional success.

Now I don't believe overcoming that level of hardship is necessary to transform. But it is also a sobering thought that there is transformation and also depth of transformation. Quite a lot, hopefully, to mull on..........

Monday, December 07, 2009

Still More 40th Anniversary

A couple of more thoughts on the 40th anniversary celebration. I'd like to thank Sasha Kolbasov for recording the event in photos and video. And I can't forget to thank Maurice Gregoire for the wonderful cake. Unfortunately, being diabetic, I couldn't partake of it. But its sheer beauty was certainly absorbed by me at the soul level.

It has been a very busy period of time. We had a video shoot, followed by the 40th anniversary, which was followed by the Oakland Raiders half-time demo. And of course now we are starting the holiday season. I am planning on doing our now annual New Years Day training 11am to 12:30 pm. We usually take the period from Christmas Eve to New Years Eve off at the dojo. Some times are best spent with family and friends. I assume classes at Aikido of Santa Cruz will on some basis be held and those wanting to train can certainly go there. I'll check in with Nadeau sensei about Aikido of Mt View's holiday schedule. So there will be updates by e-mail. Those wanting to be informed of dojo stuff, please go to the title page of our dojo website(www.aikidosj.com) and sign up for e-mail list.

I remember in New Years of 1975 I was in Shingu. There the dojo was closed for the first 7 days of the New Year. It seemed like an endless orgy of visiting friends(or in my case friends of friends), eating, drinking...... Still can recall it. Fresh raw fish tended to be much less fresh as the week off progressed. And the sake kept coming. I think by the end of the 7 days it was basically served cold. Which in my case was harder to drink. Cold sake is much different then chilled, which is very good in hot weather. But cold sake in cold weather.........

I just posted a video on Youtube of "My Funny Valentine" as performed by me at the dinner after the training. It is Chet Baker's signature song. I want to thank Dennis Kyne for accompanying me on it. If you were there, hope you enjoyed it. We get a fire engine siren right in the middle of it. But on watching it, I don't think it detracted from the song at all. Doing anything live is always risky, and the world will always send you things to blend with......