Part of training aikido, is to give thought to the ideas that you try to put into practice class after class. This page is dedicated to the Southern Maryland Aikido Center Members for their thoughts as they progress in the Martial Art of Aikido
By Rey Robles
August 8, 2013
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~William Arthur Ward
My dojo recently conducted an Aikido and Iaido seminar with one of my favorite instructors, Sensei Blue Spruell, Chief Instructor at PeachTree Aikikai in Atlanta, Georgia. We all look for things that can better ourselves in these guest instructors and Sensei Blue always brings to us an excellent balance of beauty and power to his Aikido. He gives credit to his knowledge and experience to one of his instructors the late Mitsunari Kanai Shihan.
I started my Aikido Studies late to have experienced a class with Kanai Shihan, but his influences are strong in the many dojos and students in the US Aikido Federation. Although, I do understand us as Aikidoka are all unique individuals, as students of Aikido we are shadows of our instructors. That got me thinking of Kanai Shihan and how impactful he has been in the Aikido in the America.
Let me begin by providing you some information about Mitsunari Kanai. Mitsunari Kanai (1938–2004) was an aikido teacher born in Manchuria (which was a Japanese colony at the time), he spent most of his teaching career in the United States. He was an 8th dan teacher with the title Shihan in the Aikikai organization.
Kanai Shihan was one of the last group of uchi-deshis (live-in Student)of the founder of aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. He entered the Hombu Dojo in 1958 as an uchi-deshi. He moved to the United States in 1966 as a 4th dan and subsequently founded the New England Aikikai, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Kanai Shihan was instrumental in the early development of aikido in the United States and Canada, and taught seminars widely throughout the United States and Canada. He was one of the founders and a Technical Director of the United States Aikido Federation (USAF).
Kanai was also skilled in Iaido and subsequently taught this art to his senior students, many of whom hold dan rank in both Iaido and Aikido. He was highly respected for his metalworking skills and deep historical knowledge of the Japanese sword, the katana, serving at times as a specialist advisor to the East Asian Collection at the nearby Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Mitsunari Kanai Shihan died in March 2004 in Toronto, Canada. He was 64.
My personal impressions of Kanai Shihan are through his students, my Sensei’s. His knowledge and approach to teaching and learning Aikido and Iaido have shown me that he was a dedicated, knowledgeable and driven person that acquired a very high level of skill that we all strive for. He worked hard at sharing his knowledge and from that hard work come the rewards that his students are continuing to pass down to the next generations of Aikidoka and Iaidoka. He set the bar high for all of us to succeed and it is up to all of us to strive for and attain that what he taught. Just as Kanai Shihan has inspired his many students, I feel his inspiration through them.
Oct 1, 2012 by Rey Robles
It’s Saturday, September 29, and we are all waiting for our Naginata Sensei’s second visit. She is Leslee Williams, Sandan and president of the Southern Atlantic Naginata Federation, a member of the International Naginata Federation.
Naginata is a favorite Martial Art at the Southern Maryland Aikido Center. As a group, we have been practicing Atarashi Naginata for several years. Naginata is a Japanese martial art form for men, women, and children. The Naginata originated over 1,000 years ago. It was a powerful weapon against horsemen and foot soldiers alike. The naginata's length and weight made it an efficient weapon against the sword, and its circular movements made it one of the most graceful and fluid of classical Japanese combat systems. Naginata today is an art form that teaches etiquette, respect, patience, self-confidence, and self-control. The practice of Naginata teaches us to develop stamina, beauty and grace of movement, and the building of character through discipline and concentration.
This is Leslee Sensei’s second trip to our dojo to teach us. Half the class were returning to take Sensei’s second seminar at SMAC. The other half of the class was new to an organized Naginata Seminar. Sensei instructed us on the Basics of Naginata. She stressed the importance of Tai Sabaki (footwork) and body positioning. She stressed that proper body positioning is very important and had us practice without a weapon in our hands. We learned how to perform proper strikes, blocks, stances and forms.
It is always nice seeing Sensei Leslee return for another seminar. As students of Naginata, we want to show her we have worked hard. It’s even better that we all get corrections to our posture and forms from her. Her visits are so encouraging that it fuels us to work harder and learn more until her next visit or her next seminar.
The students of the Southern Maryland Aikido Center would like to formally thank you Sensei for sharing her time and love for the Art of Naginata.
“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back.”
As many of you might know, compared to many I train with, I am new to Aikido training. I do not have the years of continuous training and my skills show that. As I continue my Aikido training, I have come to realize that while there are ranks and tests, the true determining elements in learning, training and developing my Aikido skills is a “Test of Time”.
This is not a new idea and I’m sure I’m not the only one to experience this. Time is finite. It has bounders and limits. Our existence is time boxed. How we choose to use time is crucial. For all of us who has chosen to make Aikido a part of our lives, we are told of the commitments that it asks. We are told that Aikido is not simply a recreational activity to be performed on weekends.
Take a look at your Aikido idols. If you look at them and admire the skills they possess, ask your-self what has gotten them to that status. They have one major thing in common; they all have dedicated themselves to Aikido. They made Aikido a part of their lives and we are witnessing the results. I don’t know about you but I want to emulate these results. I admire the Aikido Sensei’s and want to one day attain what they have attained.
As stated earlier, our time is limited. In accepting the challenges of commitment and dedication that Aikido asks of us, we will face the true “Test of Time”.
Continue to train hard, sincerely and passionately, my Aikido cohorts.
June 16, 2011
“Mindfulness is the practice of becoming more aware of the present moment, rather than dwelling in the past or projecting into the future.”
Aikido has always been described to me as being either an internal art. It is a martial art that requires the practitioner to focus internally into themselves with awareness of his/her surroundings. This is an interesting concept that everyone that practices Aikido on a regular basis becomes familiar with.
I was talking to one of my Sempai’s the other day, and he brought up something interesting. He talked about noticing how a beginning Aikido Student transformed to a more serious Aikido Student. He described it as a switch that turns-on in the student. What I added was that from my own experience it was like a thirst for Aikido experience and knowledge that, to this day, consumes me. That thirst draws me to the people and location of all things Aikido, the Sensei’s, and the Dojo. The more I learn about Aikido the more I want to learn even more.
Mindfulness is a term borrowed from modern day meditation. It illustrates this self-awareness that Aikido practitioners encounter when progressing through the art.
What is Mindfulness?
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Jon Kabat-Zinn, University of Massachusetts Medical Center
Mindfulness involves paying attention “on purpose”. Mindfulness involves a conscious direction of our awareness. We sometimes talk about “mindfulness” and “awareness” as if they were interchangeable terms, but that’s not a good habit to get into. I may be aware I’m irritable, but that wouldn’t mean I was being mindful of my irritability. In order to be mindful I have to be purposefully aware of myself, not just vaguely and habitually aware. Being mindful of my irritability then makes it easier to correct my feelings.
Now you might think that the concept of mindfulness is in contradiction to the thoughts of Zanshin. This does not; in fact the two terms compliment one another. Zanshin is a term used to refer to a state of awareness – of relaxed alertness. The literal translation of zanshin is "remaining mind". Both terms describe the ability to be clearly in the moment and aware and conscience of the moment.
As we train, we must stay always focused and mindfully aware of our selves and our surroundings. The next time you are in the dojo sitting in class reflect on the concept of mindfulness.
January 3, 2011
I feel like it is a lot sometimes. Working full time, running a dojo part time, teaching martial arts classes
five days a week, managing a house, walking the dog.....so why would we add another class, another martial art into our already busy lives?
To understand, I think you first have to start with Aikido. It is so easy to say that Aikido doesn't take any strength - and yet, when things go wrong, the first thing I see - in myself and others - is a wrestling match....pulling, dragging...and wishing and hoping the person will give up and fall down. And yet, if my body was just in the right place: turned a little more, or knees a little more bent, or just relaxed, the technique would happen like magic! I know this. And yet, it is easy, in the moment, to forget.
Body Awareness is so important in properly executing Aikido techniques. Controlling your movements, posture, position is more important than doing something to your attacker's body. But how do you learn to 'feel' where your body is with no mirrors (and with an attack eminent?) I know! Where better to place focus on your body, in a controlled environment, then with weapons work.
Several years ago Southern Maryland Aikido Center started an Iaido practice group. In Iaido, sword work is practiced alone and gives one a chance to solely focus on body movement and breathing. Focus is on control and balance, and since your attacker is 'pretend', you attention is not diverted from your own movement. There is not a direct translation between iaido movement and aikido techniques, but there is a relationship - and more importantly, one can start to build the fundamentals of 'seeing' one's body without the aid of a mirror. I call this 'doing a bodyscan'....you have time when training iaido, during each step of the kata, to think "are my feet straight, are my knees bent, is the placement of my arm correct, is my head over my shoulders, over my hips, over my knees and feet...am I breathing?" With practice, you can quickly scan the state of your being...and then, over time, the body scan becomes so automatic that you don't even realize you are doing it.
And that brings me back to Naginata. Atarashii Naginata, to be exact. Here is a weapon, almost 8 feet long. For competition, we've removed the blade but added very specific strike points. Some may think this lessens the experience - but remember, our goal is Body Awareness. We don't plan on walking around the mall with a Naginata as a self defense weapon. The purpose of learning this 'new' weapon is to once again retrain our minds to move our body the way we want - not just in the way we are used to.
Just like iaido, the movements in the study of Naginata do not directly translate into Aikido movements, but there is a relationship. The idea that to move the Naginata one must move more than the arms - that the movement is tied to the core body is exactly what we strive for in Aikido. One doesn't bend forward or backward - posture is important in Naginata (sounds like the same comment I used to get over and over from Takeguchi Sensei....yet he was talking about Aikido). The competitive aspects of the Naginata teach focus without 'looking'. Eyes forward, hit the head, hit the wrist, hit the shin, don't give away the strike, don't give away your posture to achieve the strike.....hmmm...to me that thought process is not so different from what we strive to achieve in Aikido.
Last night, I took my 'real' Naginata off the wall. The one with the sharp blade that cuts like butter. I started running through the kamai, as we practice it with the lighter competiton Naginata. I found that my movements had to be spot on to control the blade and to stay balanced. The precision that we practice during class became 'uber' important to keep from losing control of the blade. I had to be really aware - my mind performing body scan after body scan - as I changed positions. Body Awareness Practice.
All in all, it is always about Aikido - and improving my Aikido. Southern Maryland Aikido Center added Naginata - and our relationship to South Atlantic Naginata Federation - to complement our aikido training. To provide a different mechanism to learn - and strengthen - the same basic concepts.
And what is the Aikido all about? Improving my life!
September 1, 2010
In 1999, we moved into our house in Waldorf.. Almost everyday since moving in, I get up and take a journey through my neighborhood. In the beginning, I walked with my old dog. Then, when she died, I walked alone, and now, I have a great walking partner in my lovely dog, Kitsu.
Everyday is the same, and everyday is different. Sometimes, during my journey, I solve the problems of the world, and other times, just my own problems of the day. But most of the time, I just breath the fresh air of winter, summer, fall, spring and think of nothing. I know my neighbors by the trash they put out on the street, by the cars parked in their driveway, by the bicycle and toys left in their yard, and by their dogs, that bark greetings at us as we pass. I know the other walkers by their wave, and the tail-less squirrel that always makes me smile and sets Kitsu into a frenzy. I even know the rabbits by their size and hops. I know the days of the week by the trash trucks, and the seasons by the school busses. I've seen kids on their very first day of kindergarten - and on their last day as a High School Senior. Every day, 11 years, same path. And yet everyday, a new journey.
When I speak to new students about the meaning of the word "Aikido" - I often speak of the "Ai" - Harmony, Blending - and the "Ki" - or Energy (my favorite quote from Terry Dobson, "...if you don't start 'aiki' then you are not doing Aikido. You might be doing something, but not Aikido!").....but somehow, I unintentionally play down the idea of "Do" - the path of Aikido.
And yet, the path, just like my daily walk, is a critical ingredient of Aikido. Every class is the same whether it be at my dojo, or at another dojo, at Hombu Dojo, at a seminar, or at Summer Camp. The same stretches, the same nikkyo, the same ukemi, over and over. I know my training partners by smiles, or frowns, by the condition of their gi, by the slight grimace when they have to bend their knees. Tatami, Canvas, Wrestling Mats - or even a beach. Days, Seasons, Years, always the same - and yet always different. That is satisfying and peaceful.
"How long will it take?" a new student asks, and I smile and give him the standard answer: add up the classes, show him the testing requirements, give him an estimate in years. But inside, I know this Journey never ends.
"Maybe I should be a Deshi, maybe I should go to Tokyo, maybe I should train Karate, too?" Yes, of course. Travel, train, add to your experiences. But in the end, the path all comes back to you. What you do each day, your commitment to the sameness, to the path, is what will matter. You have the power within you whether you go to Tokyo or you never leave home.
"How will I know if it works?" You might never know. I think a better question is "Does it matter?" In the end - at your end - if all that comes out of this is that you learned to fall down with a bunch of friends. Is that bad? And really, do you really think that you can spend years, day after day, getting grabbed and punched and not learn anything at all?
All the answers are there in the Journey - even if you never leave home. For myself, my daily walk and my aikido are almost the same: Walking, breathing, sometimes solving the world's problems but always smiling at the tail-less squirrel.
May 31, 2010
Okay, Okay! I know that 9am was an early start time. But you have to admit that we had a lot to learn over a short period of time!
I have to start with thanking Blue Spruell Sensei for teaching all 12 of the Shoden, Muso Shinden Ryu series. In three separate sessions, divided into two groups for safety sake, we practiced each kata - first in unison, and then separately so that we could each focus on our own issues. I keep saying that if you practice iaido, you won't need to pay to go to a gym to do leg presses or squats! I don't mind saying that my legs were more than a little sore on Sunday morning....but the good kind of sore that lets you know that you worked some muscles that maybe have been sitting back, lounging on the couch and drinking beer!
On Friday night's Aikido class, Spruell Sensei taught projection throws. Tell me, really...who doesn't love flying through the air? Or the power that you feel when you remember to move you hips and whole body through the throw? From my first year of aikido, in Florida, I would attend seminars with Kanai Sensei, and these throws were a tribute to him. They put a big smile on my face!
Saturday morning's class, I have to admit, I asked Spruell Sensei to help us with our koshinages, and he delivered! His instruction included some much needed advice on taking ukemi with a fascinating variety of koshi's and ogoshi's. I'm still making notes on the variations he taught....hopefully we'll be able to work through some of these in the coming weeks in our class.
The afternoon aikido class covered tanto (knife) takeaways. Now that was fun! My own repertoire of knife techniques is somewhat basic, so these techniques gave me a lot to think about and practice. And to my squirmy ukes (you know who you are!)....never underestimate the power of nikkyo!
Spruell Sensei talked at the close of class about aikido bringing us together - and it is true. We had friends from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia visit us. We all have different personalities, desires, interests and backgrounds - but together on the mat we have a single purpose: to learn aikido. (And yes, we started at 9am!)
Many, many thanks to everyone that attended! I hope we will see each other again very soon!