Welcome to the Vermont Aikido Blog

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This site represents a collections of writings and short essays by Vermont Aikido students, offering multiple perspectives on the practice of Aikido. It formerly included dojo news and events, but those announcements have moved to our Facebook page. You may also find videos from seminars and visiting instructors on our YouTube channel.

While you’re here, however, please explore the variety of perspectives our members have shared and feel free to comment with your own experiences.

Thank you!

Misogi and Aikido

For years I have heard the term misogi used by people who practice aikido and I’ve always wondered what it really meant. I knew it had to do with the Shinto practice of standing under cold waterfalls as a purification ritual. But is that something I have to do to progress as an aikidoist?

In her book, Journey to the Heart of Aikido, Linda Holiday Sensei described preparing for a misogi practice with Anno Sensei. They agreed to douse themselves with 10 buckets of icy water each night for 4 weeks in preparation for the New Year’s purification plunge into the Kumano River. The first night she did the bucket misogi, Holiday Sensei screamed each time the freezing water hit. When she told Anno Sensei about it in the morning he said, “Next time keep your center, don’t lose it!” After that she practiced in silence, thus building her inner strength and focus, so that she was able to walk into the river at the New Year silently and joyfully. This story spoke to me of the joy that can be found in misogi practice. I hadn’t thought of it that way before; it seemed more of a harsh determination to punish the body as much as possible without submitting to weakness.

I now think of misogi as a careful and deliberate way of challenging ourselves so that we can keep our focus on center no matter what is going on around us. So, when I’m climbing a hill and it becomes difficult to continue, I call on my inner strength to continue on in spite of the shortness of breath or pain, with a clear and happy spirit. And when I’m challenged by something that triggers a negative reaction in me, I try to breathe and stay with my best self in my response.

It takes discipline to learn to be quiet and peaceful when there is danger or chaos around us, and misogi is a way of cultivating that serenity. We have so many opportunities to practice!

In aikido class, when sensei tells me to do something and I notice myself wanting to argue or explain, I simply say, “Hai sensei!” and do my best to follow the direction. To the American mind, this may seem like mindless, even dangerous, obedience. But when I do it in the spirit of misogi practice, firmly but lovingly keeping peaceful focus on my practice, I find that something opens up in me that allows me to practice aikido in a deeper way. It brings quiet acceptance. And when I notice myself wanting to complain about how hot it is, or how tired I am, if I instead straighten my body, breathe deep into my hara, and renew my commitment to my practice, I find that new energy springs up to meet my determination. I am capable of so much more than my small mind knows. Misogi allows me to connect with my bigger self; the self that knows that we are all part of one thing, and that our strength comes from something bigger than our small selves. I don’t know what it is that we connect with, but I know it’s real, and that misogi practice allows me to have more of that experience. I hope to remember this more often, in all areas of my life.

Interested in Vermont Aikido?

If you’ve been interested in getting on the mat and experiencing Aikido, we offer an affordable and convenient introductory program. For $60 you’ll get four introductory classes on Tuesday nights, as well as a free uniform! Taught by Sensei Aaron Ward, the Tuesday night class runs from 6:00 – 7:15 and is intended for new students – though often attended by senior students as well. Come check out the dojo and see if Aikido is something you’d enjoy. We look forward to seeing you!

November 26, 2015

We’d like to take this day to thank you for reading this blog, training in Aikido, and being part of the presence of Aikido in the world. Everyone makes a contribution, and together we realize the Art of Peace. Thank you.

 

 

Terry Dobson Sensei on YouTube

As mentioned last week, Vermont Aikido now has a YouTube channel! Along with seminar footage, practice demonstrations and interviews, we’re happy to be able to feature video footage of our founder, Terry Dobson Sensei. Terry’s spirit remains essential to the heart of the dojo and to our practice. Please enjoy.

Journey to the Heart of Aikido

Hello! We apologize for the unannounced hiatus of the last two months, and hope you were able to attend Shibata Sensei’s seminar. The Vermont Aikido blog will be resuming regular publications in the coming month, so check back regularly or subscribe to our regular updates! In the meantime, however, we would like to recommend Linda Holiday Sensei’s book “Journey to the Heart of Aikido,” an account of her training and education with Anno Sensei. It is a truly remarkable book and one that will inspire your Aikido practice for a long time after reading. Please find a copy if you can, and check back here for new writing soon!

book-cover

Yoshi Shibata Sensei at Portsmouth Aikido!

Image courtsey of the Aikido and Healing Arts Center of Roseville, http://rosevilleaikidocenter.com.

Yoshi Shibata Sensei will be teaching a seminar at Portsmouth Aikido in New Hampshire, this coming August. The seminar begins on Friday, August 14th, with a class on calligraphy, and continues with Aikido classes on Saturday and Sunday. Please read the PDF flyer for more information, and visit portsmouthaikido.org to register. Discounted rates are available before August 1st.

We hope to see you there!

Getting to 100%

(We’re back, with apologies for the hiatus. This insightful post comes from Todd Olinsky-Paul, a senior student at Vermont Aikido.)

I think about energy a lot.  In my civilian life, I work in the renewable energy field, focused on energy storage.  It’s not a new concept, but it is relatively new to our electrical grids, which were built around a model of centralized generation and one-way flows of electricity.  It’s a model that has worked amazingly well for 100 years, but it’s virtually unchanged from the days of Thomas Edison.

We know how to generate electricity.  And we’re pretty good at transporting it from one place to another.  But we’re terrible at storing it.  We know how to store energy in other forms – liquid fuels, for example, like the gas in your car’s tank; but we don’t yet know how to store electricity very well.  In fact, we have the capacity to store less than 1% of the electricity we generate worldwide.

Because there is virtually no energy storage on our power grids, they operate as the world’s largest just-in-time delivery system.  You might not realize it, but when you walk into a room and flip on the light switch, somewhere, some generator gets a signal to increase its output just a tiny bit, to compensate for the increase in demand.  When a factory shuts down for the night, somewhere a generator ramps down in response.

The reason for this is simple.  Our factories and appliances – the technologies we depend on for daily life – require just the right amount of electricity.  If generators supply too little power, we have brownouts and blackouts.  If they supply too much, power spikes can destroy sensitive equipment.  Our electricity grid operators are responsible for supplying the exact right amount of electricity needed, exactly when it’s needed – every moment of every day.

What does all this have to do with Aikido?  Well, I think of Aikido as essentially a practice that teaches us to work with energy – to perceive it, use it, move it around.

There is a truism in Aikido that every interaction between uke and nage requires 100% energy.  If uke brings 50%, nage has to bring 50%; if uke supplies 90%, nage only has to supply 10%, and so forth.  Much like the electrical grid operator, nage is responsible for perceiving how much energy is needed, and supplying the exact right amount at any given moment.  Give too little energy and nothing happens; too much, and we can cause damage.

Fortunately, we don’t have to generate all this energy ourselves.  My first Aikido sensei, Harvey Konigsberg, used to say that ki is not like lightening; it’s more like oxygen.  We don’t have to wait for ki to strike, it’s all around us, and using it is as natural as breathing.

So far, so good.  But how do we know, as nage, how much energy we need to bring to the technique to hit our target of 100%?  After all, 100% is not an amount, but a description of wholeness.  100% of a gallon is very different than 100% of an ounce.  So, if uke has unbalanced himself and the universe in attacking us, how much energy is required to make it, and him, whole?

Aikido is based on physical principles, and it helps to understand the science of Aikido – leverage, centrifugal force, human physiology.  But it is also an art, and part of learning the art of Aikido is learning how to gauge the energy in an attack, and how to respond to it.  It’s a trial-and-error process that can take many years, and there’s always room for improvement.

Aaron Sensei sometimes talks about “agreeing” with uke. It’s a great way to think about Aikido, because it makes personal what could otherwise be very abstract.  We often use this as a way to think about direction – uke wants to go this way, so we should agree with her – but we could also use it as a way to understand how much energy to bring to the technique: uke wants to bring a lot of force to this interaction, so I’ll agree with her and just bring a little.  Or, uke wants to hold back, so I’ll oblige by supplying most of the energy.  It’s like a pot-luck lunch – oh, you’re bringing the potato salad?  Fine, I’ll bring the beer.

An interesting practice to try sometime, when you’re not too busy working on the components of technique, is to focus on feeling the energy in the attack.  How much energy is uke bringing?  Which way is the energy going?  How can I agree with uke about this?  Often this leads us to getting out of the way – the prerequisite for almost any technique.