Sunday, November 27, 2016

Six weeks after the flood

Dear Northwest aikidoka, Yes, we’re hosting a seminar this weekend, Dec 2-4, 2016. It has been quite a journey to bring us to this point.

Usually when we start preparing for a seminar, we begin with a set of “givens” in the basic infrastructure and then plan hosting activities on top of those fundamental components. For example we usually have a floor, a mat to train on, a roof overhead, a place to take off your shoes, a registration desk, dressing rooms, working restrooms. All of these basic accommodations were disrupted by our flood of October 14th.  At this writing, six weeks after the flood, one week before seminar begins, this basic infrastructure has been restored and we are just now putting the dojo back together.

Here’s what happened.

Friday night Oct. 14, 2016 a storm hit the Portland area. Tremendous wind and rain beat down upon our dojo and overwhelmed the drainage system. The gutter overflowed. The downspout could not drain effectively. The water came flowing down the wall to meet a ground already saturated. The water flowed in. Like an uninvited guest, the water came in and took over the place, demanding our attention. It took out the floor from under us. About 70% of our floor was impacted.

The morning after the big storm I came into the dojo and discovered the damage. I contacted senior members and asked them to come in if they could. Class that day was just the fourth session of a new beginners series. I had to ask participants to help move wet items before we started class. Everyone pitched in. I am grateful to all our students and teachers for their efforts.

How did we respond to this flood?

First order of business was to move stuff out of harms way.
As in many disaster situations, a certain practicality kicks in. Emotional response is set aside to deal with later. We set right to work and moved stuff off the wet floor. We separated wet items from dry ones to minimize further damage. Members and the new beginners pitched in to help. We got wet vacuums in and fans set up to start drying the place out. These tasks helped us assess the damage.

Next step was to consider our options.
We communicated with the landlady, we reached out to professionals and we gathered information. From there we generated options and decided what our best outcome might be. From there we defined actions to take and set into motion steps to take us in the right direction.

We decided a concrete floor would be the best solution for our dojo interior. This solution required significant preparation. We would need to move everything off of the floor in order to remove all the carpet and laminate flooring and make space for the concrete professional to come in and install the new floor. With 70% of the floor affected, that left only 30% to receive and store all the items. Most of that area is our mat space!

We stacked up part of the mats to make more floor space. We trained in a smaller area and trained with the visual distraction of all our stuff piled up just adjacent to the mat. Our habitual ways were disrupted and our training changed.

photo provided by J.P. Oliva
We had to check our habits at the door and keep our shoes on. We had moved the shoe racks and the flooring was ripped up to expose the old, uneven concrete underneath. It felt strange to walk around the dojo with shoes on, but in extreme times safety is a higher priority than observing our customs. The edge of the mat was jagged and unsecured. We had to be attentive to that and adjust our training to take care of each other during class. It served as a metaphor and reminder of a martial principle; we’ve got to adapt and be present to what is actually happening.

In the fourth week after the flood came, our new concrete floor was installed. For three days we had to close the dojo. These three days corresponded with the days following the presidential election. Personally, in those three days I observed myself fluctuating through the various stages of grief. I was grateful for the space of time to be at home and absorb the impact of the election results.

By the fourth day, I needed to come back to the dojo, teach class and be with people again. I found a certain comfort and meaning in our concrete floor. There it was, pristine, fresh, cool and not yet ready to support weight. We entered the dojo from the back door instead of the usual front entrance. We trained on the mats next to the floor but did not walk on it. The old floor is gone and the dojo will never quite be the same again. We have a new floor now. That was Saturday November 12th.

Our new floor needed a few days to dry completely before it could be sealed and finished. During this time it was essential to keep the floor clean. Any speck of dirt, even oils from walking barefoot would compromise the finish. It was during this period that the city worked on the sewer system just down the street for the dojo and, on November 14, disaster struck again.

I was locking up the dojo for the night when I noticed the toilet didn’t look right. The bowl was so full it looked like it might overflow. A plunger did no good. I noticed the shower pan was full of water too – dirty water. Then I noticed a sound from the other room. The other toilet was overflowing and the water was rushing out from under the base and flowing all over our new floor. At the rate it was flowing the whole dojo would be flooded with dirty water in a matter of minutes.

I called the landlady who called Rotorooter and I waited for them to show up. “Thank the gods” the flooding slowed down on its own and the water receded from the toilets. At the time I did not know that the city was working on the sewer system, which caused the sewer back up. I called the concrete vendor to let him know our new floor had been compromised with dirty water.  He agreed to come in, clean the floor and put down another thin layer of concrete. After more drying time, the sealant was applied.

Monday November 21 was the first day we could start putting furniture back on the floor. Attendance was thin in the days before Thanksgiving but on Saturday November 26th we put in a robust workday. By end of day all heavy pieces were put back in place and the mat perimeter was set back in place. Now we are attending to an issue with the mat frame; a result of another concurrent floor repair project.

This week, the final days before the seminar begins, our focus in “seminar hosting” is to make a supreme effort just to provide a reasonable space to train. Our dojo teachers and members have met the challenge and put in the time and sweat to restore the dojo to basic minimum functionality.  We’ve had to make that our priority. The usual set of seminar hosting activities you have come to expect from Multnomah Aikikai will not be prepared. I hope we can enjoy coming together and find gratitude in our opportunity to train. For us, your presence will be a welcome reward for all our efforts. We are looking forward to training with you.

Seminar schedule and information on our "Seminars" page of this site:

-Suzane Van Amburgh

Monday, October 31, 2016

Children say aikido is awesome!

aikido is awesome
Our Children's Program Director, Rudy Puente, asked students what they like about aikido.

Here are a few of the responses...

I like Sensei, the animal exercises and the aikido moves.

It's fun.
It's discipline.
It teaches you respect.

Aikido. I don't even know how to start. This program has changed my life from the very beginning! Before I started doing this martial art, I would randomly have these weird anxiety attacks at night, when it just started to get dark. It didn't happen just once a week; it would happen every single night. One day my Dad found aikido online. He said it sounded perfect for what I was dealing with. When I went to go watch what it was like, I instantly knew that I wanted to participate in this program. After a few sessions, my anxiety was almost gone evey time I got to bed. I couldn't believe that this program was helping me get through my life without anxiety! I totally recommend this dojo to anyone at all, especially if you are going through the same thing I was.
~Ali (age 12)

Multnomah Aikikai's children's classes are held Wednesdays and Fridays 5pm to 6pm. We're located at 6415 SW Macadam Ave, Portland OR 97239. You are welcome to drop by and observe a class without prior appointment.

Learn more about the children's program:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

First Course in Aikido begins October 5

Do you have the appetite for aikido practice?
Indulge in your First Course in Aikido.

Aikido First Course October 5 - 29

This 4-week beginner series allows new students to explore the practice of Aikido. Emphasis is placed on the fundamentals. Movements and techniques are broken down to instill a healthy relationship with one’s own physical structure and movement abilities to ensure a fun and safe practice for you and your fellow students. 

Schedule and registration details:

If you know others who might be interested in checking us out and taking some classes, please invite them to join us! Share this post or share the postings on our Multnomah Aikikai Facebook page

See you in the Dojo!
Aikido Multnomah Aikikai 6415 SW Macadam Ave Portland OR

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Aikido practice "magic" for an aching back

Aikido in my Life
by Moshe Rachmuth 2016
You are reading the thoughts of someone who had about fifty “dojo-hours” in the last ten months. It means that all that I am about to write can teach you very little about Aikido as a martial art or as a way of thinking. It can only open a window—for what it is worth—into the experience of a forty-something Israeli, living in Portland, at the Multnomah Aikikai.
About a year ago I discovered that I have a back. I work as a college professor so—other than the ten hours a week of teaching—I spend most of my day sitting in front of the computer. Sitting, I prepare classes, I write, I watch chess broadcasts and in the weekends I play chess tournaments at the Portland Chess Club. This is what I do today and this is what I was doing a year ago—living an intellectual life. I needed my head to think, my fingers to type (or move pieces on the board) and my legs to carry me from my chair to the car. But about a year ago I discovered I had a back—it ached.

I tried to solve the problem. At first I asked myself who was it that had designed the weird curve between our heads and our buttocks but as the pains moved to my neck and shoulders I realized that flawed or not, this back and the whole body surrounding it had to be taken care of, and with exercise. So I tried to keep in shape: I ran—it was tough on my knees. I walked—it was too easy. I went to a Tai Chi class—the teacher retired. I went to another Tai-Chi class—I did not feel the teacher was knowledgeable enough. I looked at a couple of Taekwondo classes—it seemed too tough for me. Everything was either too easy or too hard, did not feel safe or did not seem helpful. And the pains continued.
Things changed after I arrived at the Multnomah Aikikai. Google tells me that “Aikikai” is the original school of Aikido, headed by the Doshu. You see, Aikido has many words in Japanese that are defined by other words in Japanese. You can easily sink into the intellectual side of learning the terms and the philosophy but this is not what I came for, I came for the life change and this is why I stayed. I joined the introductory-month program—I was given the uniform and two beginner classes a week for nearly the price of a month's membership. With the other beginners I was taught how to call the uniform (Gi) how to wear it, how to tie it, how to bow at the beginning of the training and how to fall, and fall, and fall. My main memory from the first two weeks is taking a step back, turning around, sitting down, rolling backwards, and standing back up. My back hurt for the whole two weeks, on and off the mat, mainly because I was so afraid to hurt it that I tensed my muscles constantly. Everybody but one (unfairly young) person who started the program with me reported pains. For one it was the thighs, for another a wrist and for a third the elbows but each hurt at their weakest link.
After two weeks the pains passed, and I felt much better than I had felt before I started and have been feeling much better since. You may ask, “What, like that, just like magic?” and my answer would have to be “yes.” In fact, when I go to the Aikido I feel exactly that—I am in a show that is a combination of magic and dance. A black belt student “attacks” the sensei (=teacher), the Sensei’s feet dance away, behind the attacker’s back, while the sensei hands perform their own magic escape. Suddenly, it is the attacker who has his wrist caught. Like a tango master, the sensei gently helps the attacker to the ground, where the latter taps the mats to sign for surrender. It is my turn to practice and I am lucky to practice one-on-one with another sensei that is present. She is a woman and smaller than me. I attack her with confidence, not because I think I will harm her but because I know she will drop me on the ground within the blink of the eye and it will not hurt (we practice a lot of falling). Still, I am surprised, every time and I get up of the mat laughing as if I were the magician’s assistant who was cut in two but is somehow intact.

I have been on the mat for mere fifty hours but Aikido is with me through other parts of my life. I come back from practice exhilarated, even if exhausted (Somehow, the practice is no longer difficult physically but it still is a cognitive challenge.—I get learn so many new moves every time that after forty minutes I cannot remember what is left and what is right, what is up and what is down, what is forward and what is backward). I go to sleep happily and wake up happily. The next day, waiting at the Max stop, I imagine getting away from a wrist-grab. In my head, I perform an Ikkyo. I do not move my body but in my imagination I dance and I do the magic. Recalling the last class makes me more aware of my posture and my breathing. The train whistle awakens me and I look at it as it pulls into the station. Between me and the front car there is a line of people, all on their phones. I could have performed a complete Katate Dori Ikkyo Ura and nobody would have noticed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

The River of Aikido by Dan Reid

The River of Aikido
Dan Reid, August 2016

Aikido is many things to many people. For me it is like a broad and deep river flowing through time. It springs from its source in the mountains with O’Sensei Morihei Ueshiba, runs down and spreads across the plains and valleys with his students, and carries us forward through the decades as we continue to train. And like any river, the deeper we venture into the water, the more powerful the current becomes.

I first discovered Aikido in May 2000 at Tom Read Sensei’s dojo in Arcata, California when I was an undergraduate at Humboldt State University. I had always had a fascination with martial arts and Eastern philosophies, but up to that point I had only dabbled my toes in the water. My training at Northcoast Aikido gave me a chance to wade in and start to feel the current. My body began to learn these strange new ways to move, resulting in sore muscles that I never knew I had. As I continued to train, the movements and techniques gradually began to feel more natural, and I began to understand the first layers of their underlying martial logic. At the same time, the humbling knowledge that the more senior students and sempai had been training for years or decades reminded me how little I yet understood. I began to sense the depth of the channel that stretched out before me.

I moved to the Bay Area after college in 2002 and reconnected with my training at Aikido Institute of San Francisco under Gloria Nomura Sensei. After wading tentatively into the water from this new bend in the river, I gathered my courage and plunged in headfirst. As one of Chiba Sensei’s disciples, Nomura Sensei and her students carried forward his unique interpretations of Aikido in a vigorous and challenging style of practice. The training seemed dauntingly martial and even severe at first, but as I began to accept my fear and give myself to the swiftness of the current, I found that it supported me even as it swept me downstream. My body began to change, my instincts and reactions began to align with the practice, and I grew more confident even as I struggled through my own limitations. At the same time, my membership through the dojo in Birankai International connected me with a worldwide community of Aikidoists. I had the opportunity to train with many new people through seminars and Summer Camps, and I realized that the river of Aikido has many streams, channels, and tributaries, all flowing toward the same sea.

The deep and serene waters of Aikido have also been an enormous source of stability and community during periods of transition and difficulty in my life. I moved to Minneapolis in 2007 when my wife started her doctoral program there, and I had the opportunity to train at the Twin Cities Aikido Center for the next three years. The members of TCAC became like a wonderfully boisterous extended family, and the training and friendship I found there carried me through many trials in my professional life. We then moved to Oregon in 2010 when I began graduate study at UO, and I was lucky to train briefly with Steve Thoms Sensei at Eugene Aikikai before the combined demands of children and architecture school forced a hiatus. Even when I was unable to train, however, I always considered myself an Aikidoist, and the pull of the river’s current was never far from my mind and heart. We then spent my wife’s internship year from 2013-14 in southern Illinois, and I was able to rejoin the stream with an Aikido community there to continue my training through another difficult period.

Finally, my family and I moved back to Oregon in 2014, where I had the opportunity to join Multnomah Aikikai. This return to the Birankai community was a long-awaited homecoming. I feel fortunate to be able to continue my development in Aikido with Suzane Van Amburgh Sensei and Aki Fleshler Sensei, who also trained with Chiba Sensei. A sense of continuity in the lineage of my training stretches upstream through Van Amburgh Sensei, to Fleshler Sensei and Nomura Sensei, to Chiba Sensei, and finally to O’Sensei at the wellspring of Aikido. However, to paraphrase an old saying, one never swims in the same river twice. The flow and swirl of its currents and eddies are constantly carving new channels, silting in old ones, eroding old banks, and depositing new ones. Aikido is a living river that evolves with the dedicated training and stewardship of its practitioners around the world, and it is my honor to be considered a fellow Aikidoist. I can’t wait to see where the flowing water takes me.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Aikido Appetizer - Free Introductory event Sep 24

Join us for our Free Open House event, Aikido Appetizer 

We invite our South Portland neighbors, our extended dojo community and anyone curious about the art of Aikido.

Aikido Appetizer
Saturday  September 24, 2016

Enjoy a taste of what the practice of Aikido is all about. Get ready for fun! This is an ideal opportunity to experience Aikido firsthand. This free event is open to both adults and children.

You are invited to our Spring Open House - the Aikido Appetizer! Family, friends, neighbors are welcome! This is a great opportunity to try something new. Here's the schedule:

  • 10am: Doors open. Enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and get oriented to the space. 
  • 10:30am: Step onto the mat for a sensory experience and introduction to the art of aikido. Whet your appetite for for martial practice and get your body moving. Everyone can participate at their own pace. 
  • After class: We will have tea and sushi. Socialize and ask questions of members.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Aikido private lessons at a special price

Lucky break! 

Get started with a series of four aikido lessons at a special price. 

When you schedule all four private lessons and make one payment you'll save $40!

Regular price for four lessons: $300
"Lucky Break" price: $260

Private lessons taught by Suzane Van Amburgh, 5th degree black belt, Birankai certified shidoin instructor. Learn more about Suzane Sensei.

Offer limited to new private lesson students. Book before Sep.10, 2016.

Location: Aikido Multnomah Aikikai, 6415 SW Macadam Ave, Portland OR 97239
Schedule: Mon, Wed, Fri, Sat time slots, subject to availability.
Contact Suzane: or use the "Contact us" form on the right-hand sidebar of this web page.

Get started in Aikido practice with private lessons!