Friday, December 30, 2016

January 2017 Winter Intensive Training

January 2017 Winter Intensive Begins!

There is a tradition in the Japanese martial arts of training intensively for a period of time in the coldest part of the winter (winter keiko). 

What’s “intensive” about the January  “Winter Intensive?”

At the dojo, we like to cultivate a sense of training seasons throughout the year. Winter Intensive is a time to focus in on a training theme, experiment with a teaching approach or try out a new class on the schedule. This year we are poised for all three.

The theme this January is proficiency with the 5th and 4th kyu curriculum. This month, teachers will focus classes on the techniques found on the 5th and 4th kyu Birankai test guidelines. We are working together to give you a focused experience of these techniques week by week. One of our goals is to cover all the techniques on the 5th and 4th kyu curriculum over the course of the month. Attend classes consistently in January and you will have the opportunity to build your confidence with performing these techniques well. At the end of the month we will conduct kyu testing.

If you are not yet 5th kyu, we encourage you to bring your mettle to training this month and set a goal to test at the end of the month. If you are 5th kyu and already preparing for 4th kyu, train diligently 3-4 times per week and you will be ready to test at the end of the month. You can do it! We will equip you. Sign up for either Jan 31 or Feb 1 and make the commitment to test on that date.

If you are currently above 4th kyu, then this is your chance to take your art to the next level by infusing familiar forms with a whole new level of centeredness, connectedness, wholeness, liveliness and openness (Chiba Sensei’s five pillars of training). Work the forms, embody the principles.

Bokken and Jo training will be offered on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, respectively. The relationship between body arts and weapons work is germane to our art. In January we will focus on the fundamental weapons forms as outlined on the kyu guidelines.

This January we’re also trying out new, added practice sessions:
  • Wednesdays, 12:30pm, Greg Corbin will host a practice session with a focus on test preparation help.
  • Wednesdays, 7:30pm, Oliva Sensei will lead zazen sitting practice.
  • Saturdays, 11:45am,  Van Amburgh Sensei will host a practice session where you can bring test prep questions, get feedback on your technique and practice your ukemi.

Will the new practices sessions continue past January? It will largely depend upon the level of member support and enthusiasm through January. On reflection, in a previous year we tried out a new monday evening class during winter intensive - it was well received and we’ve continued the class as a regular part of our weekly schedule. Similarly, last January we tried out a new 12:30pm class and it too has continued with enthusiastic support.  Your participation shapes our future class schedule.

This January we have several special events lined up for you.

Special events in January:
Jan. 2, Mon, first class of the new year. Resolve to Train!
Jan. 3, Tue, Overview for the month’s intensive (First Tuesday open to all levels this month, all members encouraged to attend)
Jan. 4, Wed, 4:30pm: Fold a Crane for the New Year (public event for adults and children - concurrent with children’s class)
Jan. 8, Sunday, 1pm-4pm, intensive training session
Jan. 10, Tue, Kagami Biraki
Jan. 31, Tue Kyu tests part 1
Feb 1, Wed, Kyu tests part 2

Dojo party (date to be announced)

Note: Children's program has special practice sessions scheduled on Sundays in January 10:30am- noon.

The new year is an excellent time to renew our commitment to training, look in the mirror (kagami), break our old habits (biraki) and resolve to improve ourselves. We invite you and challenge you to step up your training, focus in on a defined set of techniques and hone them.

Aki Fleshler, Suzane Van Amburgh, Jon Paul Oliva and Sean Sheedy

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Shodan reflections on the questions: “Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing?”

Congratulations to Dan Reid who passed his shodan test over the weekend of December 2-4, 2016; the Northwest Regional Seminar held at Multnomah Aikikai. Part of the requirements for his test included a written essay. This essay is published with his permission below.

Shodan Essay

The warm June air inside the university gym was thick with sweat, so the announcement that Chiba Sensei’s weapons class would be held outside was a welcome treat. We were in the thick of 2007 Summer Camp, and we all filed eagerly into the fresh air with bokken in hand. After a vigorous session of suburi and kirigaeshi among the broadleaf trees, we sat in seiza on the cool grass and Chiba Sensei gave a lecture. During his talk he said that whenever he trains in any form, he asks himself three simple questions that have stayed with me ever since:
“Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing?”

These questions may seem innocuous on the surface, but when I begin to parse their
implications they reveal hidden depths of meaning. The effort to internalize them and keep them at the forefront of my mind has been a core element of my Aikido and Zazen practice for nearly a decade.

The first question is the most straightforward and accessible, but the answer to “Where am I?” is not a street address or set of coordinates. Instead, the answer presents itself when I open all my senses completely to my surroundings. I try to widen and soften my field of vision in all directions, open my ears to small and distant sounds, smell and taste the air around me, feel the light breeze drying the damp spots in my gi, feel the smooth oak of my bokken, feel gravity pulling my body downward and pressing my feet into the earth. The sensation of gravity, which is actually a relativistic distortion of space- time, opens the door to perceiving existence in all four spatial dimensions of “where.”

The second question, “Who am I?”, seems to be the most deceptive of the three to Westerners. The answer is not my name; it can perhaps be best understood through other questions. How do I see myself when I’m not looking in a mirror? What does my inner voice sound like? What do I feel like inside my skin? Eventually, I begin to understand that this is not actually separate from the first question. This realization feels similar to the Hindu maxim “that art thou,” which reminds us that the outer universe we perceive is not different from our inner universe. The spatial boundary of my skin is a convenient external reference for my individual identity, but it is permeable and temporary. There is a constant exchange across the boundary of air, food, water, waste, sweat, light, thought, and speech. Continuous streams of cosmic rays and neutrinos from the far corners of our galaxy zip through my body without slowing down or noticing that I’m here. After my consciousness dissipates in death, my body will likewise disperse into the local ecosystem. Ultimately, “I” am a finite occurrence in time; understanding the second question effectively extends the first into the temporal dimension.

Finally, “What am I doing?” can be considered an intersection of the first two questions. When I do something, the “who” of the second question projects agency to affect or alter the “where” of the first. This “doing” includes but is not limited to what we perceive as direct action; it is uke’s committed strike, but it is also nage’s receiving and blending with the energy of that strike. The interaction between partners in Aikido training reveals the fuzziness of the boundary between self and other. When uke and nage both fully commit to a technique, we become like a binary star system, each orbiting a geometric point in space between us that is our common center of gravity. In the martial tension of each encounter, the center of the technique can move anywhere within or

between our bodies depending on our ma’ai, momentum, balance and weight distribution, points of contact, and intentions. When we can perceive the center’s movement, the possibilities for reversals, kaeshiwaza, and freestyle practice begin to present themselves, until the distinction between nage and uke is simply one of convenience.

Of course, I am by no means a master of any sort, and a visceral understanding of these ideas is difficult to maintain in my daily life and practice. Indeed, they often elude me altogether. However, these three simple questions have been enormously valuable to me as I remember and return to them again and again. I will always be grateful to Chiba Sensei for giving us this gift in that lecture on the grass. 

Daniel Reid, November 2016

Dan Reid has contributed an article to Dojo News previously.  Enjoy his September article "The River of Aikido":

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Two new Shodans! Northwest Regional Seminar December 2-4, 2016

Congratulations to Dan Reid and Greg Corbin. They passed their shodan test over the weekend of Dec 2-4, 2016 on the occasion of the Northwest Regional Seminar. More than ten Birankai North America certified instructors were in attendance.

Greg left, Dan right; testing for shodan Dec 3, 2016

Part of their requirements included writing an essay.
Here below is Greg Corbin's essay. The next post will feature Dan Reid's essay.

Greg Corbin, December 2016:


My daughter asked me – why Aikido?  I explained it like this.  I was first exposed to a martial art (Taekwondo) at an early age, around 6 years old, taking lessons with my father.  I liked it but as with so many things at that age it didn’t stick.  Still, the seed had been planted and I kept coming back to martial arts, formally and informally.  

Toward the end of high school and the first years of college I starting training in Taekwondo regularly and was close to taking my black belt test when school and the rest of my life became too much of a distraction.  I loved the training, and was disappointed not to continue and reach black belt, but my priorities were elsewhere at the time.  

Fast forward a few years and I found myself living alone in Boulder, Colorado.   Looking for something to fill my time, keep in shape, and meet new folks, I gravitated to martial arts again.  This time Shotokan Karate.  I was instantly addicted and knew right away that Karate was an even better fit for me than had been Taekwondo.  I don’t have the impossibly long legs the most successful Taekwondo practitioners all seem to have, I always struggled with the high and flying kicks, and the direct, seemingly simple approach of Karate just made sense to me.  Plus, the style mirrored my personality.  I loved it.  Couldn’t get enough.  Went to the dojo every chance I could and even travelled to the home dojo in Denver for special trainings.  I progressed quickly, but less than a year after I started I was on the move again.

It was more than a few years before I made it back to martial arts.  A couple years floating, a couple years in graduate school, a couple more passing through LA, then law school, a new job, a son, another new job, a daughter, pushing to make partner at my law firm, the years stacked up.  But the seed had been planted.  And as it happened, a good friend and law school classmate had his shodan in Aikido.  He had trained in Japan, but I didn’t know enough, and was too focused on school and being newly married, to learn much about his path.  What I do remember is that one evening during our first year of school he and I went to check out a local Aikido dojo.  He and I had been playing around with basic Aikido techniques at the gym and he seemed interested in getting back to formal training.  So I went along.  I remember visiting Multnomah Aikikai and talking with Suzane Van Amburgh Sensei, and yearning to train.  I just wasn’t in a place to add another obsession to my life.  

A decade passed, my kids were older, I had made partner, my wife’s veterinary clinic was on solid ground, and every day I drove home past Multnomah Aikikai.  I had been doing so for years, but one day, and I have no clue why, I decided it was time to start training again.  That was eight years ago.

So, I told my daughter, I never got my black belt.  When you do, will you be done, she asked?  Now that’s a good question.  Yes, and no.  I will have achieved a goal that’s been stuck in my mind since at least high school.  So I’ll be done with that.  But will I be done with Aikido?  No.  Here is how I explained it to my daughter.

It’s like your soccer.  You know the basics.  You can pass, dribble, trap, shoot, and play different positions.  You are starting to have a feel for the field and anticipate plays.  And now that you have those skills, you can see how much more you have to learn, and that you can be even better.  Learning the basics has opened your eyes to a deeper level of play, and you know that if you keep training you will improve and understand the game in ways you can’t even imagine now.  It’s the same for me with Aikido.

I know many of the techniques, and I’m even reasonably competent with some of them.  I know the things to watch for when Sensei is demonstrating (foot work first!), and I see connections I couldn’t have imagined when I started.  I can’t do everything, and I only do a few things well, but it’s different than when I first started.  Yes, I still need to practice katate dori ikkyo, and all the others, but it isn’t just choreography.  I know I need to use my hips more and my arms less.  I need to relax, and breath.  I need to think about the angles, and I need to be aware of where uke’s foot is.  I need to make a center to center connection, and not lose it.  I need to be light, and heavy, at the right times.  I need to look up.  I need to move, get low, and stay there.  And I know all of that leads to something more complex, more subtle, and more satisfying, and I know I’m just starting to glimpse it.

But is that enough?  It’s hard, I get bruised and sore, I’ve been hurt, and I may never need to use these techniques to defend myself.  Is getting better at a physical skill worth all that?  Maybe.  I do like being good at something, and I love the idea that the more I practice the better I will become.  It feels like the ability to improve is infinite.  It isn’t boring, and it’s nice to move after a full day at the office.  The physicality is exhilarating.  But it’s more than that.

I’m better because of Aikido.  I’m a better husband, father, lawyer, friend, and person.  I work on staying centered.  I try not to let the circumstances around me take my balance.  I recover more quickly.  I let go more easily.  I breath more often.  I used to get stress headaches all the time, but haven’t had one in years.  I think about my connection to others, and I think about how to respond to the energy (positive and negative) sent my way by them.  I try not to react out of emotion, especially anger or a desire to win.  I value community and service to others, and I do my best to accept and respect differences.  I try to be aware of my surroundings.  

I didn’t learn all of these things from Aikido, but the practice brings them to the front of my mind.  I find parallels between on and off the mat all the time, and I think about how to apply the five pillars in my daily life.  I have a long way to go, both in and outside the dojo, but without training I won’t improve as quickly.  

So, why is because I want to be better.  I want to keep exploring, I want to be better at my art, I want to be a better person, and I know Aikido is the way for me to do that.  It isn’t about rank, though the recognition will feel good and put a very old goal to bed.  It’s the path I’m on that I want to continue.

Greg Corbin