Monday, May 15, 2017

Simple Truths of Weeding

{Weeding my garden this morning, kneeling close to the ground under the Southern California sun, brought about some simple truths— for life, for Aikido. Just like weeding, we are evolving in our Aikido by peeling off, ridding of the extra, and digging deep.}
Peace can be found within the work of weeding.
Every side has another side: Fallen branches were once climbing toys of squirrels.
Use your center to uproot large weeds. We can have a good read on the root's depth once we engage our center as we start pulling. Uprooting must be done with sensitivity, precision, and force—all at the same time.
The hard physical work of weeding has its great rewards of breathing Earth's scent and being caressed by sunlight and sweet breezes.
‘Let go’ practice in weeding work is very useful.
Weeding is usually satisfying, but not always—especially when facing a beautiful yellow dandelion—its only wrongdoing is growing in a wrong spot, or when feeling the pain of thorny weeds, exposing our vulnerability.
Sometimes the best power is found in our "weak side". Let the "strong side" learn from it.
Hidden treasures are everywhere. Keeping eyes and heart open bring about great discoveries.
Cherish weeding days. There will always be enough weeds, but not as many days.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why Do I Keep Visiting My Sensei Every Few Weeks?

 By Lee Lavi Ramirez

Life Is Short
Some of my peers have recently lost their teachers, as many of O’Sensei’s students have passed away in the last few years. Although the legacy and strong memory that their teachers have left within them, I can feel their yearning. This is a constant reminder that every moment counts, and every opportunity should be taken, as my teacher continues deepening his study of Aikido. As long as Sensei is here and as long as I am here, this is what Ichi-Go Ichi-E is about, capturing the Now and its offerings.

Learning, learning, learning
It never stops. No matter how long I’ve been a teacher—there is always more to unveil. Keeping my hunger and seeking into my study—and learning simply happens. Looking up to the finest resource, my Sensei, takes me on a journey of discovery, and unravels my evolution as a martial artist.

Continue Being Inspired
My teacher is an ever-changing master of Aikido. He is a true seeker of the Way, who is training daily on the mat. Sensei is a living example of pure research of the path of Aikido. His total dedication and one-pointedness are rare. Seeing Sensei walking this path is inspiring beyond words, it uplifts my spirit.

Benefits of Long Term Teacher-Student Relationships
Long term relationships have their friction; the friction of time. In a world that tempts hopping from one thing to the next, this option is not always easy. It is where the rubber meets the road. I know that the most enlightening lessons in my life were derived from this friction—and as so, I protect this wellspring, amidst its intense nature. It is priceless.

Sharing the Passion
Having students is what makes me a teacher. Every time I am back from visiting Sensei, I carry something for our Dojo members. I am not sure as for what it is exactly, although they feel it, and I can see it in their training. A gift is being passed from one student of the art to the next, precious and exciting.

Because of Love
Amoris amor creates, Love creates love. When one loves what they do, it is catching on to others, and the ripple grows. Love is something we do, not just say. The work of love is done by deeds, and by being present. For my love of Aikido was so often fired up by my teacher, visiting Sensei, as often as I possibly can, is one physical expression of this love—perhaps the clearest one of them all.

Written with deep gratitude to my teacher, I. Shibata Sensei

Lee Lavi Ramirez is the chief instructor of North Valley Aikikai, and has been training Aikido under Shibata Sensei for the past 22 years.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Beginners Guide to North Valley Aikikai

by Wes White, 4th Kyu

Men and women, boys and girls take Aikido for a variety of reasons, physical fitness, self defense, strength development, flexibility, grace of movement, serenity of mind and a plethora of other reasons.  No matter why you came to Aikido, it is important to learn and remember certain aspects of being a beginner.   And we are all beginners forever.

First of all, Aikido in general is one of the most challenging and difficult martial arts you will learn, and it is a martial art, which gives it a combative aspect.  The combination of foot work, hand work, brain work, opponent coordination and awareness makes it quite challenging for the beginner, and all ranks for that matter.  DO NOT BE DETERRED if you cannot grasp basic concepts and movements as quickly as you think you should. 

Second of all, as in most all martial arts where the teacher is linked to the traditions and rituals of the art, there are basic movements and rituals you will need to be familiar with from the first couple of days you train. 
We bow a lot in Aikido, it is to show respect for your teachers and fellow aikidoka (a practitioner of Aikido) and to show respect for our traditions and those who came before us. 
One bows when one enters the dojo (workspace)
One bows when one leaves the “dojo proper” and goes into the common door that leads to the dressing rooms. 
One bows when one come out of the dressing room common area
One bows before coming onto the mat for class.
At this point the student or teacher positions ones self in seisa (a kneeling position) and does a formal bow in.  This is both a way to show respect for the founder of the art and to clear ones mind of all things outside of training.   

Warming Up
At this point if class has not started yet, students are allowed to warm up by stretching or doing ukemi (rolling and falling, blocking and break falling) until the class begins. 

Class begins
But watch for the senior student (HOW DO I KNOW WHO THAT IS EVERYONE LOOKS THE SAME??!!)  You will figure it out.  When the senior student takes his or her place in a formal kneeling position to the right side of the dojo facing the kamiza (all these terms!!) it is time for the class to begin.   It is the responsibility of this senior student to kneel down at the moment the class is scheduled to begin.  So if you know when it begins and pay attention, you will know it is time to line up.

You should line up in order of ranks.  But wait you ask, everyone has a white belt, how do I know?  Well the short answer is you observe and figure it out.  As a beginner it is always appropriate to go to the end of the line and wave all other students to your right.  There is a pecking order and you will eventually know who is an upper rank and who is a lower rank. 

This brings us to the subject of ranks.  Everyone wears a white belt until you become a black belt unless you are in a childs class.  There are however 5 ranks in between beginner and black belt.  They are called Kyu ranks.  First Kyu students line up to the left of the ranking black belt students.  Fifth Kyu is the first rank.  One should always have a beginner's attitude, and keep humble, open and hungry to learn and improve.

The formal Bow in
At this point when all the students are lined up the instructor (Sempai or Sensei) will enter the class from the left or right and kneel down in front of the kamiza, situate their self and bow to the Kamiza).  We all bow to the kamiza as a group at this point.  The teacher then turns around and bows to the class.  The class bows to the teacher and says in Japanese “Onegai shimasu”.  It is done this way most every time and is one of the basic and most important rituals of an Aikido class. 

The formal warm up
The teacher then takes the class through a series of warm up exercises conceived precisely to help our bodies prepare for the unique exercises and techniques practiced in the Aikido Class.  This is another important ritual in the Aikido world.  The formal warm up ends with the teacher saying to the class “Ukemi” which means to practice on your own your rolling and falling skills.  At a certain point the instructor will say “Shiko” which mean knee walking.  Students will practice knee walking for a few minutes then the formal instruction will begin.   

Teaching or Demonstration of Techniques
After knee walking is over, the students sit down generally in the back of the dojo and the teacher then calls up a ranking student or anyone she wants to demonstrate a technique.  The teacher either demonstrates it in total silence or gives verbal clues as to how to do the techniques depending on the instructor or the night.  In very traditional dojos or with traditional teachers in our dojo, no words are spoken.  While the demonstration is in progress students are expected to sit in seisa. 

When the demonstration ends, the teacher will kneel and bow to the class, the class will return the bow.  The students then pair off AND THEN BOW to each other and begin working together to try and perfect the techniques.  The formal terms are Uke and Nage (Uke gets thrown, Nage throws) The lower ranking person will first “attack” the higher rank first as per the attack demonstration.  The nage “drives” the technique, for example, if the attack is a shoulder grab, the Uke grabs whatever shoulder the Nage offers, it can start on the left side or the right side.  Then the technique switches to the other side.  The technique is performed four times and then the partners switch and nage becomes uke, and vice versa.  The technique is practiced four times.  Right left right left.  You should practice in silence as much as humanly possible.  No one but the chief instructor should be giving any sort of criticism or advice.  

During this practice session the instructor comes around the class and offers more personal instruction, criticism, and helpful hints, philosophy or anything they want to offer.  You should consider it a great honor to be singled out for advice from the instructor.  When the instructor stops talking to you, you should bow and thank them for their advice.  After a certain time, the instructor will clap their hands or call an end to the technique, then the students will BOW AGAIN to one another and thank each other for the practice.  This happens with each and every technique.  Then we all run back to the lineup and wait for another demonstration and the cycle begins all over again. 

Formal Bowing Out
The instructor calls an end to the class and students fix up their uniforms and then kneel in the rank order explained above.  The instructor then kneels and formally bows to the kamiza, turns around and makes any pertinent announcements and then formally bows to the class.  Students return the bow and repeat in Japanese “Domo Arigato Gozaimashita" (Thank you very much).  The instructor then says to bow to “your partners.”  Students bow once to the kamiza and the face each fellow student to thank them for their help and assistance. 

Cleaning Up the dojo
Part of each class’s ritual is to sweep the dojo after class.  Pay attention to how its done and join in. 

Most students will then do a “formal bow out” off of the mat from kneeling.  Then one more bow at the edge of the mat before going into the dressing room. 

Miscellaneous to remember:
When in doubt, bow to a senior student. 
When in doubt bow to the instructor.
After the instructor tells you something thank them (can be done in Japanese or a simple “Thanks you sir/m’am” will suffice.
Never turn your back on the instructor.
When the instructor is in your proximity giving advice or instruction you should kneel and pay attention. 
Never show the bottom of your feet to the instructor
Never turn your back on the kamiza
Never fix your uniform facing the kamiza or the instructor.

Always be aware of your space and techniques so you don’t run into anyone.