Seminars – by Ric Rivera

This past weekend, March 6, 7, 8, 2015, I had a great trip. It was not to any far location overseas, or my usual scuba trips– but yes my scuba diving trips are all great. The trip was far enough that it required being on some of America’s most travelled roads, yet close enough that it was travelled by auto in a 5-6 hour drive.

The trip was to see a direct student of Morihiro SaitoShihan. Saito Shihan was the most loyal, direct student of Morihei Ueshiba (O’Sensei), the founder of Aikido, the martial art that I have been studying for the past 10 years.

In the years of my studying, I have been truly blessed with opportunities to attend many seminars and receive instruction from direct students of O’Sensei, or their students. I have also been blessed to have a Sensei who encourages his students to go to seminars and other dojos, which was not allowed in some of the other styles of martial arts that I have studied.

This past weekend I had the distinct honor to participate in a Seminar hosted by Brian Hill Sensei, the Dojo-Cho of River City Aikido in Richmond, Virginia USA. The visiting Sensei was Mark Larson Sensei, direct student of Morihiro Saito Shihan. I attended the seminar with my Aikido Sensei Steve Kanney, Dojo-Cho of Aikido Westchester NY (formerly Scarsdale Aikido), my Sempai Gregory T., and my Kohais Joseph D., Jason C., Ozzie P., Marco S,, Milton F, and Cristian C.

There were two things that made this seminar very memorable. The first was that it was the first time a large group from our dojo attended a seminar– a total of 9 of us. The second was the fact that a direct student of Morihiro Saito Shihan was teaching.

I have had the opportunity to attend many seminars in my 10 years of studying Aikido. This seminar, I was amazed at a few things. Some members of our dojo that were present for this seminar have only been studying Aikido for as little as 3 months , 6 months, and one about 1 year. The others ranged from 1 year and over. When I first started Aikido, I wish I had the courage to go to a seminar when I had only 3 months of training, let alone a seminar of this quality.

I waited about 1 year and 4 months before I had the honor of going to my first seminar in Woodstock Aikido to receive teaching by the late Seiichi Sugano Shihan, who was a direct student of O’Sensei. I remember that I felt so intimidated, because the seminar was filled with so many participants wearing Hakamas, which meant they were black belts, but there I was. I handed my book in before the start of the first session, changed alongside of those black belts, feeling many things. Once on the mat after the stretching, the first technique was demonstrated by Sugano Shihan. It was about 1 turn to the left and 8 seconds when one of those black belts bowed towards me (indicating he wanted to practice with me) when I realized that I should have gone to seminars long before. So thank you to my Kohais who came to this seminar, I wish I had the courage to do that in my early practice of Aikido–you picked a great one to start with.

As for the seminar with Mark Larson Sensei, before the seminar started I had some feelings similar to my first seminar. Now, 10 years later, I was going to a seminar as a Shodan to receive instruction from a direct student of the late Saito Shihan. Yes, I was nervous up until Larson Sensei started to talk. The very first thing he said that he wanted to preserve what he was entrusted with from Saito Shihan: the sharing of Iwama Aikido. Once I heard that, all my feelings subsided. I had a great time meeting Larson Sensei and other Aikidokas from around the United States. But the most interesting thing for me was how Larson Sensei is so humble as a person and so generous as Sensei.

This is Aikido, as O’Sensei wished it to be. I have been humbled by this experience, and look forward to my continued study of Aikido. I am slowly understanding more, the many thanks to my Sensei Steve Kanney for his encouragement to always go to quality seminars. Because of him, I have been exposed to many quality Senseis, and now Larson Sensei. Thank You.

Just Some Ways That Studying Aikido Informs My Living by Dmitry Dinces

In thinking about applying principle of Aikido away from the mat, I am reminded of how some of the basic tenants of my daily practice have become a part of my world view. It is perhaps not so surprising after all, considering that Aikido is in a sense a very organic, natural application of simple physical and logical principles – blending with opponent, extending the opponent past his center, keeping yourself grounded and balanced, remaining calm and introspective, being respectful and honoring your teachers and their teachers. The list can go on and on. I will mention here connecting two basic principles that transcend their physical application but nevertheless are an integral part of Aikido worldview – centering oneself and self examination.

The concept of centering yourself physically and mentally in order to enhance one’s perception or to generate strength in movement or in mental fortitude is not unique to Aikido. Many philosophers and artist independently came to understand the value of this viewpoint — Henry Miller for example wrote a series of essays titled “Stand Still Like The Hummingbird”. The application of this tenet is reinforced day in and day out in our practice – do not focus on controlling the hand but focus on controlling the whole body; look toward other possible attackers; think of yourself as a center of calm in the whirlwind. I often think of this concept when faced with challenges that have a potential to overwhelm or to unbalance one’s life – personal relationships, challenges of parenting, work. Finding a foundation — an idea or a concept — that allows you to remain grounded in facing potentially unsettling circumstances is often absolutely necessary for a balanced life. Being presented with a daunting task of caring for aging parents, for example, can be unsettling. The difficult aspect is not providing the actual physical assistance – that is the easy part of the task. It is the demoralizing anguish of seeing once strong and independent loved ones slowly becoming physically and mentally infirm that can make one feel helpless and self-centered. There is a strong desire to avoid seeing the inevitable, to escape reality by preserving the memory of how things were. How do you find that inner anchor –what center do you hold on to remain strong for yourself and for them? See the forest for the trees then, the important and sacred instead of daily disappointments. So instead of feeling threatened or overwhelmed by the unsettling circumstances, find your strength in thinking of your obligation as a privilege, an honor to be there for your parents in the time of need, being their center as well as yours. Find your grounding in focusing outward, in being selfless and compassionate in facing the challenges with a clear mind, in understanding that your position is a blessing – both of your lives will be enriched in the process.

Studying of Aikido teaches one to continuously examine the strength of one’s practice – what makes a particular technique effective, where lies the strength or weakness of a particular defense or counter? One quickly learns that success is rooted not simply in doing something harder, or faster, but in breaking down the movement and understanding the dynamics, understanding the balance, the source of strength and also of weakness of a particular technique. This daily introspection becomes a part of one’s outlook on life and leads to finding opportunities to examine merits and weaknesses in other undertakings. I find no better place to apply these lessons that in the everyday challenges of parenting. How do you get through to your kids in the most effective way, how do you teach them life’s lessons, how do you teach them to teach themselves – to impart to them the practice of recognizing valuable lessons embedded in their own daily experiences? And so begins the application of practices the value of which I’ve recognized because of the daily lesson taught to me by my Aikido teachers. Daily life lessons after all are never seizing. Your kid and a friend get in trouble in school—you can punish them or it might be a time for a conversation about learning how to recognize when a friend’s influence can be damaging or a conversation about teaching a child to assert their sense of moral comfort in their relationships or a talk on how to recognize the signs of losing their independence in a relationship that they value. Your kid makes silly mistakes on a test – you can tell them to be more careful next time, or it might be a good learning moment to teach them the value of examining their work, of looking back and checking their own conclusions with a critical eye of an independent observer. A kid feels put upon in school or feels having their trust betrayed by a classmate – it might be an opportunity for a discussion about learning how to deal with adversity, about holding their ground or walking away. Rightly or wrongly, I found in Aikido not just a series of self defense techniques, but a rich and life affirming outlook on dealing with many complex issues. Many more lessons are waiting to be discovered by a diligent student. The learning never stops.

Aikido and Entrepreneurship by Gregory Temkin

I am an entrepreneur. As scholars define it, an entrepreneur is a person who is constantly on the look for opportunities, identifies them promptly, becomes the drive for the business idea and the team, and uses these opportunities to create a positive result. If an opportunity does not present itself, he is to lay ground for it, help the opportunity to shape up and then exploit it to the benefit of the participants.

 

It is amazingly similar to what I have been learning in Aikido: be aware at all times, recognize the intent at a very early stage, establish a connection with the opponent and then use the momentum to perform a technique resolving the situation with maximum positivity. If the opponent is not making his move, initiate the attack, gain the center and still achieve the desired result.

 

A very essential similarity in both Aikido and entrepreneurship is lack of ill intent. A business idea is best implemented when all participants win: the product meets the needs of the consumers, the investors get their return on the investment, and the work team makes profit enjoying the process and the positive energy along the way. In Aikido, you do not cultivate hate to your opponent, or fight him with an intent to kill or maim. On the contrary, you blend with the opponent, connect with him so closely that you almost become one, and then guide him with care to the best available solution.

 

While my business experience has considerably facilitated my learning and assimilating the Aikido principles, my Aikido training has greatly enhanced my entrepreneurial skills. At most times I am calm, aware of what is going on around me; I try to navigate situations to the best outcome for all those concerned and stay connected to the market’s needs and challenges.

 

As an example, I closely follow any regulatory changes that may affect exportation to Russia. Recently I became aware of new regulations that would have a very serious impact on international trade (Awareness). I tried convening an international seminar on the subject, but despite the interest, few companies turned out to be prepared to attend. The main reason for the low turnout was the travel cost of going to another city or country for a few days. I changed the strategy and proposed the format of a free webinar, which immediately got me about a hundred participating corporations (Attack initiation). I knew that the companies would expect not only a general overview of the changes, but the details and practical solutions specific to their particular business. As it is impossible to cover that many industries in a 90-minute presentation, I adapted the scenario and suggested that half of the time would be dedicated to questions that may be of interest to most participants, while more specific questions would be answered later in writing or over the phone (Blending). During the webinar I explained the intricacies of new regulations and demonstrated that my company has the knowledge and experience to handle those problems efficiently (Technique execution). Eventually, the participants learned about the pitfalls and best approach solutions, and I gained several valued customers who contracted our services (Best positive resolution). Would my strategy be that clear-cut and effective if I had not been a student of Aikido for the past 10 years? Probably not. Anyway, as I said above, my business experience and Aikido skills definitely work in synergy and enhance each other – a good example of the Heaven and Earth technique.

Earth-planted heaven

Resolving all conflicts:

Tenshinage.

 

Self Defense Training as a Meaningful Practice

As human beings, generally we are pleasure seekers and pain avoiders. As such, it should come as no surprise that most of us do not enjoy being physically beaten, abused or even killed. In fact, avoiding these outcomes are the top priorities in our lives. If you look at various codes of ethical conduct, not killing generally ranks first. Not harming someone physically is a lesser form of killing. Not stealing is often chosen second to killing, primarily for its proximity to supporting life. In particular, one should not steal the resources most essential to supporting the life of its owner.

However, to be happy, simply not being beaten up or killed at the moment is a start…but it is not sufficient. On a more subtle level, we must contend with the possibility that violence could erupt at any moment. To be realistic, there is no way we can have certainty of our safety in the next moment. How can we relax and enjoy our lives when we know the good times are not guaranteed?

Then we need to look at an even more subtle level. If we inspect our minds, we can often see a dualism that separates ourselves from others, particularly when we define ourselves as our own physical bodies. As long as there is an “us and a them,” there is a tendency to think of “mine and theirs.” This line of reasoning leads to separation, with an inherent potential for conflict. For example, “I want what they have” and vice versa, or “they had no right to do that to me.” Conflict is what ultimately leads to violence. The seeds for violence exist in our minds through this dualistic perspective on a moment to moment basis. It is this violence we know that can erupt at any moment and destroy the little peace we have managed to find. So we should know that it is the very lens through which we view the world on a daily basis has built within it the same violence we desperately wish to avoid.

Autism, Friendship and Aikido

We commonly hear people talk about how Autistic children have difficulty making friends. A primary area of concern may be that they cannot look other people in the eye. The child may also somehow seem off, which is easily recognized by other children and forces them into the role of social outcast. A first reaction to intervention may be to condition them to look others in the eye or develop age appropriate humor and other social skills. But from the standpoint of Aikido, the root of friendship is not looking someone in the eye or telling jokes.

To be a good friend as an adult, one must think about the deepest concerns another person faces and help them address these issues in a manner that can lead to genuine peace and happiness. To perform this task, one must learn to be compassionate towards others. Then one must study in depth how a person can become peaceful and happy, so they can help others achieve that goal. One then goes out into the world and takes responsibility to help others achieve these benefits in all of their relationships. When one is a good friend as suggested here, they will be respected and appreciated irrespective of how socially inept they may be. Compassionate action is thus the foundation of genuine friendship.

While all this would obviously be overwhelming to an Autistic child, the key point to help them develop friendships is to lay the groundwork for this process to unfold throughout their life. The process begins with empathy and compassion. It also ends with empathy and compassion. The primary obstacle to development of these skills is the child’s own condition and concern for themselves. The most direct way to work with the condition is to teach the child to relax and become peaceful themselves first. Then they can face more challenging situations with the hope of a better outcome when the foundation of their response emerges out of this more relaxed feeling. With better results, they build more confidence, which leads to the ability to be more relaxed. In this manner a virtuous cycle is begun.

During the practice, children are encouraged to examine how they feel themselves and then look outside themselves to see how others feel. They are taught intellectually to have a concern for others because everyone wants to be happy, just like them. Over time as this idea is addressed in many circumstances, the child begins to internalize the intellectual ideas that lead to empathy and compassion. With a focus on compassion, the child will be better prepared to build out their “social” skills, which are in this case a fuller definition of a good friend as described above.

Parents always want the best for their children. So when looking to help them in certain areas such as social interaction, the critical point is to target the most important benefits over the entire lifetime of the child. With this more complete picture, a parent can align the growth process for their child to one that can lead effectively to a greater sense of peace and happiness over the long run.

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!

The Martial Art of Peace