My Observations From The Santa Cruz Seminar of 2014

(This post was written by Aaron Ward Sensei, chief instructor at Vermont Aikido.)

There are things that, after years of training in Aikido, I see in a different light; things that in the past I may have overlooked entirely. These may be something as straightforward as the running of a seminar. Without a doubt, this year’s Santa Cruz seminar was one of the best organized and executed seminars that I have had the good fortune to attend. That in itself was a great accomplishment for the Santa Cruz dojo, but it’s not what I want to write about. What I would like to write about is the concept of giri, which loosely translates to “duty,” “responsibility” and “obligation.” For all too many people in the West, terms like duty, responsibility and obligation mean only one thing: a burden that has to be grudgingly undertaken. Something that we have to endure.

The value of giri is not what we have to do, but what we get to do or are allowed to do. The realization that every task reflects on you, your sensei, and your dojo. Knowing that a job is only done well if it is done with the proper spirit. My observation of the 2014 Santa Cruz seminar showed a dojo with members that live the reality of giri, undergoing their tasks in a wholehearted and joyous manner.

O-Sensei said, “Always practice the art of peace in a vibrant and joyful manner.” The truest form of Aikido is based in giri.  A great deal of credit has to be given to the students of Aikido Santa Cruz, but my experience is that giri flows downhill: the people who have the deepest understanding of giri get this understanding from their sensei. Just as a student’s good basics can be attributed to their sensei, so can their understanding of giri. So Linda Holiday Sensei deserves a great deal of credit for the success of the seminar along with her students. Their giri led to a seminar that has left a lasting impression on me, not just as a person but the way I practice and study Aikido.

 

Gratitude

(This post was written by a senior student at Vermont Aikido.)

“Eliminate the desire to throw and replace it with gratitude.”
-Anno Sensei

I recently attended a seminar at Aikido of Santa Cruz taught by Motomichi Anno Sensei. Anno Sensei was a direct student of O-Sensei and has been training for sixty years.

Over the course of the seminar, he repeatedly told us that Aikido was not about throwing your partner, but about expressing gratitude. He asked us to express gratitude as we trained. I did not fully understand what he meant, but endeavored to do what he asked, and trusted that the experience would perhaps provide me with a glimmer.

When Anno Sensei demonstrated practicing with gratitude, I saw an open being, full of love and devoted to harmony, and connected, not just to his uke, but to all of us. I could see in his movement the expression of a loving universe. I realized that this was not just how I wanted to practice, but how I wanted to live.

The first thing I noticed was that when I bowed to a fellow Aikidoka on the mat,  respectfully asking them if they would train with me, I saw my partner as a human being. I noticed their smile, the light in their eyes, their openness, and their beauty. I noticed their intention of good will; I realized that this was someone I wanted to train with, that a connection with them would enrich my life and provide spiritual sustenance. Then began the physical practice, when one of us approached or attacked. The attack was a hand grab, called “katatadori,” moving into a breath throw, or “kokyunage.” I grabbed first, and noticed that my intention did not match up with the word “attack.” Rather than attempt to overcome my partner, I grabbed with the desire to connect with him. I grabbed to show my gratitude that he would practice with me, that he would share his spirit generously and unreservedly in the few moments we had together.

Then it was my turn to throw, to be “nage.” I felt no desire to overcome my partner or even to throw him; only a desire to be open, to help him, and to take care of him as he connected to me with his grab.

There is much that I have to be grateful for, including the privilege and honor of living in this world, among human beings who are striving to be the best they can be in the face of sometimes insurmountable odds. I am grateful to O-Sensei for giving us the Art of Peace, and the tools to create a more harmonious world. I am grateful to Anno Sensei for so generously passing on the teachings of O-Sensei and being a beacon of light for us. I am grateful for my own Sensei, Aaron Ward, for his dedication to our dojo, and for choosing to take personal responsibility for the development of each individual who steps on the mat. Perhaps most of all, I am grateful to the members of my dojo for practicing with such joy and generosity, and for inspiring me to be the best person that I can be, every day. May this gratitude find expression in my practice.