Dojo Etiquette and Selecting your Training Partner in Class by Steve Kanney

Aikido is a very social practice. The reasons for this fact may be clearer than one might imagine. Humans are essentially social animals. Without society, clearly we would not survive. A violent situation is entirely social – it is between two or more parties. So if Aikido is going to be relevant to our lives as well as martial interaction, it is of necessity a social martial art.

However, being social in nature does not mean the rules of engagement mirror that of a social club. For a martial art to be effective, it must enter a social domain and promote rules of engagement that follow a very strict martial discipline designed to meet the goals of training.

The simple decision process of whom you select as a partner takes place in every class, and must fit these rules of engagement in order for Aikido training to produce positive results. It can make the determination whether a dojo is a martial arts training center or merely a social club. We will look at this question from two angles – the martial aspects and the sempai-kohai relationship.

The martial aspect of this decision is straightforward. To the extent anyone has been in some sort of altercation, one notices the simple fact that the person attacking you is not normally someone you like. If you had to pick someone you wanted to attack you, chances are that would not be the person you get. Their body type might not fit your preference and their general aggression and wish to do you harm may be offensive and disconcerting. The point of training in class is to move towards mimicking the environment of such an altercation. So if you insert your own preferences into your training by selecting your partner based upon your personal likes and dislikes, that strategy in no way prepares you for a martial situation.

The better approach is to remain open to everyone and see what lessons will be coming your way during that training session. When you get a partner who is difficult, you should rejoice. It is a good opportunity to test your knowledge and see where your practice needs work. Should you find a partner that smells bad, again you should rejoice. Can you be guaranteed someone who attacks you on the street will be freshly showered and wearing the perfume or cologne of your choosing? Can you get past the odor without distraction in class? Were you hoping to get a certain type of athletic workout in class? Is that what you would be thinking during a real attack? Generally, if your partner is someone offensive to you, learning patience is critical to martial arts training. Chances are a real attacker will also be offensive to you. That’s usually what makes them an attacker. Patience can transition your feelings to compassion and turn the attack into a friendly discussion. As we can see, some of the reasons we might have for preferring one partner over another can be very destructive to the underlying purpose of training.

Letting go of your personal preferences and learning patience are critical aspects of practice. But before we conclude, let’s look at the sempai-kohai relationship, which systematizes the social interaction in practice.

On the plaque on our dojo’s wall, Sugano Sensei explains that one should take care of their juniors and respect their seniors. This is the martial tradition. Sempai does everything for the benefit of their kohai, and kohai listens carefully without questioning under the assumption that sempai knows more. The broad system of ranking people within a dojo has the benefit of giving people a systematized approach on how to interact constructively. With no system on who is senior, everyone in the dojo could feel a need to fight for the superior position in every class. This increase in aggression is precisely the opposite of why we are training.

However, the ranking process itself does not have any absolutes in terms of how each rank compares with another. People advance in rank by learning certain lessons for their own practice. Each lesson is not specified by the rank, but by the individual’s training. Two people with the same rank can have a broadly different understanding and level of skill. Since there is no absolute level of understanding or skill associated with a given rank, it actually does not make sense for the system of sempai-kohai relationships in the dojo to absolute either. Rather, they form a starting point for relations.

There are a number of reasons to cross the boundaries of this system of relationships. However, the decision to cross this line comes with significant practice and is not an appropriate decision for beginners in general. Here are a couple of simple examples. If your senior tells you to do something you know with absolute certainty is wrong – perhaps it is dangerous or violates the principles of practice – the correct action is not to follow the suggestion. One should be respectful to their sempai, but gently guide them towards your best understanding of what is wrong with their approach. In order to engage in this sort of action with your senior, your knowledge that they are wrong must cross the most stringent threshold. The reason is that you begin with the assumption that your sempai tells you something for your benefit alone and they know more than you do. A simple gut feeling that “that doesn’t seem right to me” is not sufficient. You need to have a clear understanding of the principles of the practice and know precisely why the instruction you received violates those principles directly. Otherwise, refrain from the temptation to instruct your sempai, listen to their direction and you may find out why they gave you the suggestion.

Another example is when you tell your sempai of a significant injury you have and why you must adjust your training for your safety. If your sempai repeatedly ignores your concerns due to lack of self control and places your safety at risk, you should go so far as to respectfully refuse to train with that person. Even if they turn to you to bow and practice a technique, you should deflect the overture and select another partner. This example is a legitimate reason to choose your training partner in class judiciously.

From the discussion above, we should be able to see that every decision we make in class, even the decision of who to train with, affects the quality of our practice. If you select a training partner based upon your personal likes or interests, you give up the actual training to accept others and develop patience. You also give up the ability to learn from the types of situations you may actually be faced with in a violent encounter. Your practice becomes stale and your experience of the dojo is more of a social club than martial training. If you violate the sempai-kohai system by failing to respect your sempai without proper reason, your experience of the dojo will act to reinforce your own ignorance of correct practice rather than learning from your interactions with others. It is a form of arrogance which will increase your chances of getting into a violent situation and reduce your chances of getting out of it. You should note that even when your sempai is doing something that is clearly incorrect, respecting them as human beings is still an essential part of the practice as taught by Koichi Tohei. Respecting the humanity of an assailant is actually the best way to diffuse the violence.

Everyone makes their own decisions with regard to how to train – properly or not. But everyone also receives the results of their decisions – substantial benefits or not. The systems are there for guidance, but as in any endeavor, one gets out of it what they put into it…

A Dojo by Ricardo Rivera

I feel that our dojo is very unique and traditional in many ways.  We recently had a seminar on Iwama weapons with Steve Kanney Sensei, Dojo Cho of Scarsdale Aikido (Aikido White Plains). While there are many martial arts styles and dojos throughout the world, I feel that our is very unique.  As some of you may know, I have practiced many other martial arts, yet while I was a member of those particular arts and attended those places of practice, none offered such an open mind towards others like our dojo.

For one, we share our dojo with a very traditional Chinese martial art (Kung Fu) Master Kwong who Sensei Steve has shared his teachings with us who practice Aikido. This is something that I was not used to.  When I practiced certain arts the Sifu or Sensei  (in TKD the instructor is Sir or Master) would not allow you to attend any other instructors’ seminars or events unless they themselves would be going as a group.  If it was known that you did attend without his or her approval (or say blessing) this would be a cause for you to be punished (by means of extra work while at class , or you would be the sole person cleaning the dojo, or sometimes even just not being accepted anymore to practice at that dojo).

In our dojo our instructor not only oks it, but he also invites other practitioners of different martial arts to give seminars. This for me is very good. I feel that all true martial arts are good, and there are some that teach well but show different things. Tolerance is a very important quality to have in oneself. It is part of practicing any martial art. The notion that one is better than another is a bad quality to have, instead of just looking at it as being different yet still a martial art.

I know that most members haven’t seen me for some time, and that my attendance at the dojo is sporadic. This is due to work schedule and being in the military, but never because I don’t want to be there.  I have been practicing Aikido since 2005, and have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy the dojo and its members because I feel as part of a family of a unique dojo that promotes harmony. It has been shown to me every time Master Kwong does a seminar and invites us to attend or even to watch, and am reminded every time Kanney Sensei does a seminar or invites other martial arts styles to our dojo for us to practice or observe. Our daily practice grows with this type of instruction.

I also want to thank Kanney Sensei, and all that attended the seminar (thank you for supporting the dojo event) I want to Thank Sensei Suryama, Kevin and Muuhito for coming to our dojo and showing us Kendo.  I’m ready for the next surprise.  To those that were unable to attend am sure there will be other times and we look forward to seeing you there.  We as a dojo need to support it and each other, It is good Aikido practice.

Breathing by Ric Rivera

On March 3, 2013, Joe DeJesus and I attended an Iron Palm Seminar at the Westchester Shaolin Kung Fu, Tai Chi and Qi-Gong Center in White Plains, NY. I have studied Jeet Kun Do, Shotokan Karate, Krav Maga,Taekwondo, and currently Iwama Aikido.

While at the seminar, I spoke to Master Kwong and his disciple John Rivera, (we are not sure yet if we are related, that will be another blog). As Joe and I spoke to Master Kwong, the conversation developed into breathing. Master Kwong explained something that I have learned from the different martial arts I have studied and every Aikido class I have taken from Sensei Steve: “Breathe.” Breathing is life! No matter what we do, we have to breathe.

When we practice, we need to practice breathing. It is an important part of training. It trains your body and mind to be calm. When we are calm, we are focused, alert, and at the ready for anything. Our vision sees more. Our hearing hears more. Our reaction deals with things more efficiently, and we are able to come out of situations without stress.

When we hold our breath, or breathe rapidly, our mind and body become unfocused and erratic. John Rivera explained to the seminar attendees how he developed his Iron Palm, and all that is involved in training. He stated that if you do not develop your breathing, your training will not flow. He is right.

In Aikido, when we do randori (translated as “ceasing the chaos”), I have noticed that because of not breathing our mind and body become chaotic. But when we control our breathing, we become more alert, our body reacts quicker, our vision can see the opening, and we become less distracted and less tired.

I walked away from the seminar with that in mind, and will train harder to develop breathing into my training. I would like to thank Master Kwong for conversing with Joe and me. I would like to thank John Rivera for his demonstration of Iron Palm, and showing me the importance of breathing.

The Making of a Daityo-ryu Seminar – An interview with Cliff Muniz

What gave you the idea to have a seminar with Roy Goldberg ?

Actually it wasn’t my idea for the seminar, it was  my Aikido instructor, Kanney Sensei who set that up. I met Goldberg Sensei at one of my physical therapy sessions for a tendonitis injury I sustained during my Aikido practice. I remember sitting down getting ready for my session and I begin to start stretching my wrists (Nikkyo) and he saw me and yelled out saying “Hey, I know that exercise, you must know the arts” and at that point we just started chatting it up.

During some of my other therapy sessions Goldberg Sensei was treating me and would start to talk about our training and that he was an instructor in Daito Ryu, which I really didn’t know much about it, other that reading some info about it online ,etc. Goldberg Sensei then showed me some of his photos and videos that he had saved in his camera, and I can say I was amazed at some of the techniques that seemed unreal.

At one my sessions with  Goldberg Sensei I invited him to our Dojo and he accepted, gave me his card and in turn  I handed it to my Aikido instructor Kanney Sensei and told him about my conversations with Goldberg Sensei and that maybe it might be good to meet him, and rest was history.


Did Sensei Goldberg explain what Daito-ryu is?

Goldberg Sensei began to give me some of the history of Daito-ryu , but you can talk for hours about that, and we had only a limited time to do this during my physical therapy sessions. I also visited his website and read his background and I was impressed, especially knowing that he has trained many in the law enforcement community, so that caught my eye as myself being a retired officer and that he also trained certain units of my department.


How was Daito-ryu different from Aikido?  

There were differences in some of the techniques that we practiced during the seminar, where many of the techniques were very close to the body and bringing the attacker straight down in front of you.


Were there similarities? 

I would say there were some similarities, just different in the way the technique was applied.


Did you enjoy the seminar?

I would have to admit, I actually enjoyed the Daito-ryu seminar. It was my first time in actually seeing/participating in this martial art and look forward to attending again in the future.


Was it difficult to make the transition to Daito-ryu techniques, or did your Aikido training make it easier?  

I would have to believe that my Aikido training definitely helped while participating in the Daito-ryu seminar, but of course Goldberg Sensei was also very helpful in asking the student that he was working with if they were ok in doing certain techniques so that no injuries would occur.


Thanks, Clifford, for your time and for your efforts in bringing this seminar to our dojo!

Training and Etiquette by Gregory Temkin

What is the right way to purport oneself in an Aikido dojo? Every one joining the Aikido community wants to learn about the etiquette. This information is scarce, while etiquette rules may vary considerably from dojo to dojo, even within Takemusu schools. Certain etiquette stipulations, observed strictly in other schools, may not be emphasized at our dojo, yet it is helpful to be aware of them.

Respect and sincerity constitute the core of requirements universal for all Aikido practitioners.

Etiquette hones the mind and helps putting it in the mode that would be optimal for learning the Art.  Hopefully fellow Aikidokas will find reading this synopsis of the Takemusu (Iwama) Aikido etiquette as useful as I did when researching it.  



Etiquette is not simply a dead tradition or custom: it is a living method of training in itself. Observe it mindfully.


  1. SENSEI – The Teacher


Your sensei, your teacher, is someone with whom you have entered into a relationship of mutual trust. You trust your sensei to teach you the art of Aikido to the best of his or her ability. In turn, your sensei is trusting you to practice safely and diligently, to learn wholeheartedly, and to conduct yourself in a manner that reflects favorably on Aikido.

“Sensei” literally means “one who is born before.” This does not refer to age; your sensei may in fact be younger than you. “Born before” means that your sensei entered the path of Aikido training before you, and has already passed where you are going. Your sensei is a guide. You do not owe blind allegiance to him or her, but you do owe respect, patience and commitment.  Your sensei is someone who with his or her own body, possibly at the risk of life and limb, has learned this art and committed to sharing it with others. You sensei is your connection to the lineage of teachers stretching back to O-Sensei and beyond.  Treasure that connection as the valuable thing it is.

When your sensei talks, listen intently. Watch intently. Not everything in Aikido training will be explained verbally to you; it is an unskilled teacher who feels the need to explain every detail of the instruction with words alone. Be patient, and train diligently. As your training progresses, you will gain the satisfaction of discovering for yourself aspects of our art. Once gained, that knowledge is yours. This is the transmission of knowledge isshin den shin, from mind to mind.

Instructors at the dojo and students with the rank of 4th dan and above must be addressed as Sensei. Other students senior to you are traditionally addressed as Sempei (Senior) – this is optional.


  1. AIKIDOKA – Students of the Way


Treat your sempai (senior students) with respect, and support their efforts to help your sensei. Learn from them, for they also have been where you are headed. Each of them has learned from your sensei according to individual capability, and each may have unique knowledge or variations that others have missed.

Treat your kohai (Junior students) with encouragement and support. They are under your care. They depend on you to learn, and they look up to you, often blindly. Be careful to be worthy of the respect they give you, and do everything in your power to help them in their training. Above all, do not be overbearing, and be wary of their praise: remember your place, and cultivate humility.


  1. THE DOJO – A Place of Training


The word “dojo” can be translated as “place of the Way” or “place of enlightenment. It is obvious from this that something more than a mere gymnasium or training hall is denoted by the word “dojo”.

A favorite saying of O-Sensei’s was “Masakatsu agatsu” – true victory is self-victory. The dojo is the special place where we train for this victory over self.


  1. REIHOBasic Takemusu Aikido Etiquette and rules.


  • TALKING during training does not substitute for practice. Unnecessary conversation distracts to the class no matter the intent.
  • RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO INSTRUCT OTHERS. If either yourself or your partner require assistance call the instructor , even if you have to wait a bit, this will ensure the continuity of instruction.
  • LISTEN CAREFULLY TO INSTRUCTION and earnestly practice the forms shown. An instructor not only teaches by verbal and physical demonstration but also through on-going class interaction and feedback. This is heightened by the earnest efforts of all students. 
  • OBSERVE SENIOR STUDENT BEHAVIOR as a functional guide to dojo etiquette.
  • Always stop training and LISTEN WITH UNDIVIDED ATTENTION to the instructor when personally addressed. The instructor will know that he or she has your full attention when you respond appropriately with “Hai“(yes) or “Arigato“(thank you) to the instruction given. 


  1. BOWING:


  • BOWING WHEN ENTERING OR DEPARTING the dojo is a measure of the value you place on this training.
  • BOWING “ON” AND “OFF” the mat or training area, in a respectful manner, is usual in aikido. 
  • The bow may be standing, kneeling or more traditionally, kneeling with a ritual clapping of hands. These bows are performed facing towards the shomen (designated area or “front” of the mat).
  • A training session in aikido also COMMENCES AND FINISHES WITH A BOW TOWARDS THE SHOMEN or a likeness of the Founder with ritual hand clapping , called a “Shinto bow” – two bows whilst kneeling with the hands palmed together and followed by two sharp claps and a further bow. These rituals are not for religious reasons but as a show of respect and tradition. An exchange of “onegaeshimus” at the beginning and “domo arigato gozaimashita” at the end of a training session takes place when the instructor turns to acknowledge the students. (ONEGAESHIMUS in this instance is Japanese for “please teach” and “please practice” when uttered by the students and instructor respectively. DOMO ARIGATO GOZAIMASHITA is thank you for “teaching” and “practicing” when uttered by the students and instructor respectively. When students say it, they precede it with the word “sensei”, e.g. “sensei domo arigato gozaimashita”). 
  • Don’t sit with your back close to and facing the shomen. Side-on is fine.
  • Enter and leave the matt DURING A TRAINING SESSION with the customary bows and permission of the instructor. Students late to class should “warm-up” with exercises before commencing training.


  • COMMANDS “ONE LINE” or “SUGI WA” (next) call may be used by the instructor for students to form a line along the edge of the mat, facing the Shomen, in readiness for instruction. A prompt response to these commands improves the efficiency of the class. For similar reasons a student should quickly move to the instructor when called up to be an Uke (attacker) during this instruction. 
  • A student without the guidance or permission of the instructor SHOULD NOT CONTEMPLATE ATTENDING OTHER SCHOOLS FOR “EXTRA TRAINING”. Self-regulation of your training in this way is a psychological dismissal of your instructor and time to go elsewhere.
  • FIGHTING, TRAINING DANGEROUSLY, DISRESPECT TOWARDS THE INSTRUCTOR AND OTHER STUDENTS, OR DISREGARD FOR TEACHING DIRECTIVES AND SAFETY cannot be tolerated. Offending persons who do not change their attitude when requested shall have no place at the dojo.
  • BE A SINCERE UKE. In Japanese there is an expression: shinken shobu. It literally means a fight with live steel swords. It implies a true, serious situation. Your attitude in training must be “shinken shobu”. When your partner attacks you with a wooden knife in practice, you must believe it is a real knife. When you attack your partner in practice, attack truly. In this manner, you both will receive real benefit from the training.
    • When you train, remember always the potential for injury that lies within your movements.

    • Be conscious of your openings and gaps in your awareness, and those of your partner.

    • Walk and move with purpose, ready at any time to respond to whatever arises in your daily life and on the mats.

    • Understand deeply that in this life we may die at any moment, and train with this awareness.

    • When throwing be sure your partner doesn’t clash with someone 

    • Train slowly with focus and never beyond the level of your partner 

    • When undertaking jo (staff) or bokken (wooden sword) group training, wait away from the activity line. Keep an adequate distance between yourself and your partner in more rapid weapons partner exercises and always be aware of others who are training nearby. 

    • Treat others as you wish to be treated. Practice always with sensitivity toward your partner’s capabilities and limitations, as well as your own.




  • DUES: It is wrong to think of the dojo as some sort of health club where you pay for your instruction and expect to get as much as you can. You do not pay for your instruction at a dojo: the teachings you will receive, which your sensei has learned with great effort and exertion over many years, are beyond any price. Your dojo fees simply insure that the facility itself can continue to exist viably. Pay your dues on time, without being asked. Do not put your instructor in the uncomfortable position of having to ask you for money. You do not hesitate to pay a doctor or other professional who provides services to you; treat your sensei with the same consideration. Late or negligent payment is a sign of disrespect not only to your teacher, but to the dojo and your fellow students.

  • PREPARING THE DOJO prior to class is also a measure of self-preparation for the coming session. Sweeping the hall and mat and taking other measures to prevent dust and grit getting onto the training surface is mandatory. 

  • PROPER ATTIRE is required for training, however, this may be relaxed where newcomers are involved. A judo or karate gi and a white belt is the usual attire worn at kyu level. The hakama (Traditional Japanese pant) and black belt are worn by Dan ranks. 

  • SMOKING, BEING UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF DRUGS OR ALCOHOL isn’t permitted at the dojo for safety and hygiene reasons. Concerns regarding blood should be taken seriously, and measures adopted to minimise any danger to H.I.V. and Hepatitis strains. An immediate response, careful clean up and disposal of any blood spilt is essential.
  • GOOD PERSONNAL HYGENE in all activities shows appropriate care towards oneself and others. Nails on your fingers and toes must be clipped.

  • JEWELRY may cause injury to yourself or others if worn during training and should be removed and secured before going onto the mat.

  • The dojo is solely for the study of aikido. It is NOT AN OPPORTUNITY for selling, networking, socializing, developing cliques, politicking or for unloading one’s personnel problems




A typical dojo will have several features you should be aware of. In particular, certain areas of the dojo have meanings that you should know. The following diagram and definitions will be helpful:

1. Kamiza: Literally “god-seat”, the kamiza is the “front” of the dojo, and the direction towards which you will sit and bow at the beginning and end of class. The kamiza in an Aikido dojo will usually have a hanging calligraphic scroll and a photograph of Ueshiba O-Sensei. It may also have a small shrine or kamidana (“god-shelf”) in the Shinto tradition, floral arrangements, or other objects depending on the orientation of the dojo. The kamiza may also be called the “shomen” – the head or center.

2. Shimoza: The shimoza is the “low” wall, opposite the kamiza.

3. Joseki: The joseki is the “high” seat, the right hand side of the dojo as you face the kamiza. When students are lined up formally, they will sit in order of rank or seniority, with higher-ranked students on the Joseki side.

4. Shimoseki: The “low” seat, the shimoseki is the left hand side of the dojo as you face the kamiza. Lower ranked students and beginners will be seated on this side.

5. Tatami: Tatami technically are woven straw mats, the traditional floor covering in Japanese dojo as well as homes. Modem dojo usually use some sort of foam mats, which are easier to maintain and last longer.


Compiled and adapted by Gregory Temkin from:


Web site of Aikido Takemusu Teachers and Dojos in Melbourne, Australia;


AAA Student Manual; “Aikido Dojo Etiquette (Reiho) 10 Points” by Hiroshi Isoyama Shihan, 8th dan


Geese, and The Art of Peace by Kim Gold

Aikido is a martial art known as “the art of peace.” It is both a form of self-defense and a philosophy of world peace. Many of us will train for years and never “use” our Aikido skills in a physical altercation. However, what will happen, inevitably, is that we will find ourselves with a heightened awareness of conflict in non-physical areas. That is where the training really applies. The times when this has happened to me personally are too numerous to count (it can be daily), but the most recent one is what I will write about here.

As many who know me have discovered, I have become a local “goose champion” as I have tried to convince my town to abandon their plan to exterminate a flock of nine geese that reside at the Scarsdale Library pond, plus about 100 other geese, for a $5,000 contract with the USDA.


I never gave much specific thought to geese before this issue. I have always loved nature in general, but not geese more than anything else.  However, when the extermination plan crossed my path, I became concerned. My first reaction was “there must be another way besides killing them.”

I investigated and found that the main reason people objected to this flock of geese was because they poop on the grass. They also were scared that absent any predators, this flock would multiply beyond control. However, it is those same people who were concerned that coyotes made the neighborhood unsafe for children and pets. I saw a disturbing trend of directing fear and anger toward anything in the natural world that interfered with suburban life.  In this case, we were not talking about people “living off the land” with a deep reverence for nature, and killing animals to survive. We were talking about affluent suburbanites who wanted to handle their irritation with the tool of violence.

I learned that there were simple and cheap solutions to the issue of feces and population management, but I won’t get into them here. What I am interested in is how my Aikido training played out in all aspects of this issue. I believe it was my Aikido training that made me react so strongly, first with the objection to a violent solution, but then to the way I handled the conflict.

I strove to look for the commonalities with my opponents when trying to make my case against the killing. In Aikido, this is akin to “blending” with your opponent. As I spoke before the Mayor and Board of Trustees, I appealed to the town’s values, which we all shared: education, progressive leadership, intelligence, compassion, and wise use of our tax money. I also was certainly able to empathize with my opponent’s dislike for goose poop, because, well, it’s poop, and who likes that. And I was even able to entertain people’s desire (which I personally find totally irrational) to not have any geese at all on the library pond. I was willing to offer my assistance landscaping the area to deter geese, simply as an act of peace-building. As another gesture of peace-building, I reached out to the very people who initiated the complaint and offered any help I could in finding ways to clean the grounds.

Another important Aikido principle was re-directing of energy, particularly negative energy. I discovered that geese are a hot button issue in suburbia. Who knew? There are people who hate them, with a capital H (direct quote).  There were people who spoke as if the entire species should be eliminated from the planet. Comments like “no one wants them,” “kill them all,” and “off with their heads” were disturbing. Training in an energy-focused art like Aikido, I have become attuned to energetic “vibes.” These were some negative vibes that were flying around and I was energetically affected in a negative way while in their presence. I found that it was best to get out of the way and to discipline my mind not to dwell on them. Of course, whenever possible, I would try to blend. However, sometimes people are entrenched in anger and irritation, and the best thing you can do is move out of the way and let them run themselves into a wall (which they eventually will).

My pre-Aikido self would have probably handled this much differently. I would have been more combative. I would have been irritated and focused on our differences, and recognized few similarities. I would have addressed the local government as “them” rather than “us” and most certainly have initiated a spirit of confrontation rather than collaboration. Of course, this WAS a confrontation, but at all moments open to the possibility of resolution. Most likely, however, I would probably not have gotten involved at all. I would have read the news, chalked it up to a cynical worldview that people are horrible and our planet is going to hell in a handbasket, and moved on.  But it was my training that made me react with a positive, optimistic spirit of action and perseverance. And it was the influence of my training in an art that bills itself as a path to world peace that motivated me to go out and take action, rather than sit at home and grumble.

Within a couple of short weeks, I wrote editorials offering alternate solutions; maintained a constant presence on comments sections of related articles; offered education to the public about geese; helped my daughter to organize a petition of her classmates which gathered over 240 students, and personally delivered it to Village Hall; and networked with other like-minded people working for wildlife. Throughout this whole time, I learned so much about Canada geese and have developed quite an affinity for this animal. Did it work? Well, there was a small victory in that the town postponed its original plan and committed to looking at alternatives. As of this time, it is unclear what course they will take. However, one key element in my training is to NOT focus on the outcome. Moment by moment we take the necessary steps toward peace.

This is a consistent theme with many spiritual paths —non-attachment to the goal. That one is a hard one, since I truly do not want to see the geese killed. But just like in training, you keep at it, moment to moment not as concerned with the goal, but the action and the spirit. And Aikido also teaches that you never know how far the ripple effect of positive action will extend. Sometimes, in spite of everything you did, you may end up with a result that you did not want (i.e. if the town ends up killing the geese) but there may be other unforeseen positive outcomes in many areas. I know one is that I am awaiting the materials to become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, in an effort to help wildlife. That would never have happened if I hadn’t practiced the art of peace.


Applying the Principles of Aikido to Combat Terrorismby Steve Kanney

First let us look at the enemy, so to speak. I heard of a story on a Muslim talk show where a 3 year old child was interviewed. The subject was how the child felt about Jews. While you might expect the interviewer to be objective and the child fairly normal, instead the child was clearly brainwashed and the interviewer helped complete the child’s thoughts in the malevolent form expected by the audience. What was truly remarkable was the mundane manner in which a 3 year old child spouted off hateful comments towards the Jews as if self evidently true. In some ways it was reminiscent of the trial of Eichmann, the Nazi torturer who sat calmly by as witnesses testified to his atrocities. When asked if it was true, he remarked in a matter of fact manner that he was just following orders. In fact, after the Holocaust, social scientists engaged in substantial research finding that the majority of average people would harm or even risk accidentally killing innocent people if they were ordered to do so by an authority figure. They did not lose their sense of ethics, but suspended it in favor of a perceived authority figure.

With this underpinning, mischievous individuals within the Islam whose view of the world is distorted  manipulate people to create a narrow view or oversimplification of their conflict with the west by echoing historical conflicts such as the Crusades. These individuals propagate anger which is based upon a distortion of reality. Then when their distortion of reality takes on a life of its own, suddenly it generates more anger. This situation is disastrous. When we look at the broad population of people willing to hate and kill Americans from the Muslim world, we look at their “training” and the traditions of hatred spanning centuries, solving the problem is clearly daunting.

As the source of the problem, we can look to the poverty and exploitation of the Arab world. Certain jealousies are developed and hatred directed to us, as we do have the responsibility for exploitation to acquire oil and have benefitted economically. Further, a certain rigidity in thinking about religion is an additional factor. Perhaps the view that there can only be one Allah, and the existence of a multi-religious society such as America is a threat to this view. This factor really highlights a lack of education on their own religion, as Islam itself is more open to people of other faiths and abhors violence. Ultimately, these factors are combined with enormous hatred, strong willpower and determination leading to suicide bombing.

The problem is clearly long term in nature. So adopting a short term solution will not address the underlying cause. Short term solutions are very important – we need to patrol our borders and try to stop terrorist acts in any manner we can. But without addressing the underlying long run causes, for every Osama bin Laden we kill, we can expect 3 more to pop up.

The long term solution needs to address the education, poverty and oppression of the Arab people. Rather than separating them from us, we need to look at all of humanity as one family. We need to view the world in pluralistic form and help each group to find the peace and happiness we all seek in our lives. Different approaches will certainly apply to different populations, but we all aspire to the same goals. In the Arab world, the common man on the street has been unjustly treated by their governments in many cases. In our relentless drive to acquire material possessions, we traded oil for the well being of our Arab brothers and sisters. Many of these governments were replaced by other oppressive forms, but the man on the street still blames us to some degree. We need to take personal responsibility to improve the lives of these people, both individually and through our government.

We also need to work towards improving their education. While education may include technical knowledge which will enable them to elevate their lifestyle through better jobs, education of the heart is also included. Fortunately many Arabs already have a natural affinity for the Muslim faith, which when properly practiced includes ethics, compassion, nonviolent responses to problems, alleviates hatred and promotes peace.

When we consider a large swath of the Arab population as having a distorted and oversimplified view, we might consider that such a long term plan would not work. Many “Soviet citizens” still march to their death in support of Lenin and hating the west. In fact, people who have been brainwashed may never inspect the assumptions underlying their “training.” That said, if we educate the young and as many of the elderly as will accept new information, and then we take away the reasons the Arab world may hate the west by working to eliminate their poverty and oppression, long run results will clearly be improved. We will cut off the new supply of potential suicide bombers, and the current batch is limited. Over time our risk of attack will decline and eventually come to an end.

While it may be difficult to embark of such a program of education and improvement in social conditions in the Arab world, we need to consider the alternative should we wish to end terrorism. The short answer is we really don’t have any. The short term patchwork of preventing attacks cannot work on its own as more suicide bombers are born every day. The Arabs in question suffer from a distorted view of the source of their own misery which is used to promote anger. Only by communicating with them on the level of their perceived misery, that is ending their poverty and oppression, can we challenge at least their determination if not the underlying view itself. Educating the mind to become more open, flexible and ethical further undermines their view. We must prioritize the needs of these people above our own relentless pursuit of material gain or suffer continued risk of violent attacks.

Another question that may arise from this discussion is whether hatred is learned or taught. The answer is actually both. A mind in a peaceful state does not move. There is no greed or hatred. On a fundamental level we can think of the notion we have of ourselves, which is inherent at birth. Greed represents pulling towards oneself things we believe will make us happy. Hatred represents pushing away the opposite. An infant definitely has both. As we learn more about our world we may experiment and find that relinquishing both the pushing and pulling allows a greater sense of peace to emerge. With sufficient quiet on our part, we may inspect our underlying assumptions about who we are and whether the objects we believe will cause happiness or misery actually do what we think. We may enter a world without distortion. Even someone who is brainwashed (i.e. taught to hate) can get tired of the lack of peace and happiness found from hatred and experiment to find greater peace. Eliminating these irrational emotions will result in a more peaceful and happier existence in every human being who ventures into this experiment.

So while we may fear that learned hatred can never be reversed or that hatred is inherent to our existence, we all have the tools to eliminate hatred and find a greater sense of peace within ourselves. The simple fact that all paths to happiness lead away from hatred can inspire some confidence in us that a long term plan such as this can work. By removing the superficial source of hatred through education and improved economic/social environment, even those brainwashed may find themselves freer to inspect whether their “training” leads to happiness or misery. Suicide bombing is quite an extreme event. We do have sociological studies that suggest the majority of people are willing to risk killing someone else if ordered by an authority figure and no penalty is present. How many would be willing to kill themselves when they have a comfortable life and exist in a more pluralistic/educated culture? People born into a culture of hatred spanning centuries can learn and the cycle can end, but it won’t happen overnight.


An Aiki Response to Bullying by Kim Gold

No Bullying

Bullying. It’s on everyone’s radar these days. Whether it is physical, verbal, or cyber, it is a pressing concern for many parents and children. When it comes to martial arts schools, many claim to teach skills to combat bullies. Some, like the Gracie’s have a trademarked program called “Bullyproof” that has been featured on Oprah and other national media outlets.  In reality, the basic process of all martial arts training deals with the issue. However, relevant principles are taught organically as they arise in the training process rather than in an isolated and systematized manner.

Since it is sometimes helpful to present things in a systematized manner, I will liken bully prevention to constructing a building. There is the foundation, the bricks and mortar, and the tools.  Hopefully, this will clarify some of the things we are already doing to address bullying and enhance it through an additional class we will offer.

The Foundation

The foundation of any anti-bullying program starts with a profound sense of peace . The power of self defense comes not from outbursts of violence, but the precise opposite. Power comes from relaxation derived from peace. Developing this sense of ease as the foundation for any action is both the starting point and end goal of martial arts training. It is the very ground upon which it is built.

The Bricks and Mortar

Great architects built structures that naturally blended with their environment. Here the building materials used for martial arts training must reflect and lead the practitioner back to the foundation. In order to minimize the risk of being attacked in the first place, a student is taught how to structure their lives to bring a more peaceful environment.

The bricks and mortar of the Aikido response to bullying are the positive charactar traits that arise from training.  Through continual training, a student develops a long list of positive character traits. Some of them are: charitable attitude, ethical conduct, patience, perseverence, concentation, and an improved sense of perception which enables one to respond with precision to the real issue at hand. This is the “sowing the seeds of good karma” part of the training process. The idea is that when a person is occupied building positive traits within themselves, and sowing positive seeds in their community, their world as a whole improves. It is impossible to specify how this will play out. Perhaps the bully will not be motivated to bother with such a person. Or perhaps, the child will be insulated by his/her circle of friends. Or, alternatively, the child might not be as perturbed by insulting comments, or be goaded into a fight, because they are otherwise occupied with positive things in their lives.  In any case, the development of these positive traits—the bricks and mortar—do, in fact, provide a strong and solid “house” for the Aikido student. This serves to offset or diffuse the effect that a bully has on a martial arts student.

A key part of the “bricks and mortar” phase of training is the development of compassion. Bullies are people too. Hating the bully, or seeking  out revenge, does not help. This brings us back to the perennial test question “Does being angry help you to defend yourself?” The kids conclude that a hateful spirit does not help, but actually weakens a person.  What makes a person stronger is compassionate understanding. Knowing that a bully is acting out of a sense of insecurity …knowing that the bully needs help too…knowing that bullying says more about the bully than the victim…these are all things that an astute Aikido student will pick up on. In Aikido there is an emphasis on defending oneself without doing undue harm to the attacker.  At the core of this is the realization that the attacker is behaving in a violent way because something is wrong with them, and they need help.

The Tools

When you have a job to do, knowing the right tool to use can make all the difference. And even better than knowing which tool you need is HAVING that tool at your toolbox (says the person who can never find the Phillips head screwdriver). Training in Aikido works in both of these areas.

Perhaps one of the most important tools in Aikido is confidence. Confidence is the feeling of entitlement and ownership of one’s personal space, opinions, and rights.  It is projected physically throuth posture, tone of voice (hence the emphasis on kiai), “taking the center,” irimi movement, and the physical movements of weapons training.  Confidence is a complement to any technique, as a technique (or anything) executed without confidence is weak. Confidence should inform every aspect of the self defense effort.

How many of us have told our young children to “use your words” to resolve a conflict? Kids are quick to resort to hitting, yelling, and pushing/shoving to get what they want. One of the first lessons we teach them is to use words rather than physical force. While this is a start, it is really only a fundamental step. The problem is that words can be as hurtful, or cause as much conflict, as physical acts. Words, by themselves, do not diffuse. The art of conflict resolution is complex, and starts far earlier than the actual verbal conflict.

Should something escalate into a verbal or physical confrontation, there are tools available for those purposes as well.  An Aikido student knows that violence is the last choice, and will try to resolve through talking. But a student of Aikido also learns physical techniques that involve evasive movement, throws, and pins. They learn to use their body to generate a powerful and strong base that is not easily pushed over, and that can protect themselves if need be. Although Aikido includes striking, it is not a student’s ”go to” move. The safer, less damaging techniques of getting out of the way and throwing are more appropriate for the situations children encounter.

Iwama style Aikido focuses on a strong, grounded posture and extension of one’s energy. These principles help students to embody a stance that is strong and confident . If somebody is looking for an easy target, who would you think they would choose: the child who walks purposefully into the room and owns the space? Or the one who walks tentatively, slumped over, with their head down?  The inner trait of confidence is reflected in the student’s outer appearance, and the physical movements of Aikido help to increase the student’s inner sense of confidence.

In addition to the physical movements or verbal repsonses, any attempt at self defense must employ strategy. Strategy may be applied at both the verbal and physical level. Some of these strategies involve breaking space, inviting the attack/counterattack, and taking the center. These are touched upon in the children’s classes, and will be elaborated upon in the specific bullying classes.

I am just skimming the surface of the tools that Aikido provides.  As one continues to train, ones’s set of tools and one’s ability to know which tool to use for which situation becomes more developed.


Even though I have constructed a useful metaphor that explains the how Aikido  handles bullying, the philosophy of Aikido is a holistic one. One does not train to achieve a fragmented goal, but rather to improve one’s entire life. The various goals of self-defense, fitness, dealing with bullies, improved attention span, etc. arise naturally over time as by-products of dedicated training. As a stand alone course we will be running a series of monthly “Anti-Bully” classes where we can help the children to see how their training can help them if they have to confront bullies (and any form of conflict) in their day-to-day lives. The classes will include role-playing, question and answer, discussion, strategy, and technique.

Problems that Get Solved by Kim Gold

“It was his fault!” “No, it was HIS fault!”

Such was the conversation at the end of Sunday’s aikido children’s class. We were getting ready for the final bow. The kids were arguing over who sat where in the circle. Sensei asked “Do you want to have problems that get solved? Or would you rather have problems that never go away?” The question distracted the children from their bickering for a few moments. They became quiet and thought about the answer. They agreed on this, at least: they all wanted problems that got solved.

So Sensei began to explain how if we always project blame onto other people, we were creating for ourselves a world in which problems are never solved. Instead, an endless cycle of blaming goes on.  If we begin to take responsibility for our actions, and for doing the right thing, then we are on our way to solving problems. It all begins with taking responsibility for our own actions, rather than looking around placing blame or feeling like we’ve been “wronged.”

Technique can be very abstract. It is not often that a child will need to execute a throw, or a pin. Yet the greater lessons that aikido offers can be applied every day—at home, in school, in sports. We encourage parents to listen to some of these spontaneous discussions, and feel free to weave them into your child’s life throughout the week if the opportunity arises.

Rumble on the Rock by Steve Kanney

Another question on strategy…this time between Anderson Silva & Yushin Okami. First, note the movements Silva used to evade the double leg take downs. Then what strategies were they using. (Note the actual fight starts at time 2:26). Use the strategy articles on the blog from Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings.” Let’s discuss…


The Martial Art of Peace