I feel honoured to have learned from and in some cases enjoyed the friendship of a few of the senior Japanese shihan, students of O-sensei. Some of them I have only taken a single seminar (or even a single class) with. Others I have known for decades. A few that I owe a real debt for training, I have no pictures for. Here are a few photos reflecting my contact with them over the years. (I have purposely omitted Yukio Kawahara-sensei and Hayato Osawa-sensei, who I will cover separately.) Again, in many cases I don’t know who took these pictures. My sincere apologies for using them without acknowledgement. As well, I have forgotten some the names of some people in the photos, for which I apologize.
Recently, Wil Wong asked me to post 10 photos related to my Aikido career without comment. I don’t normally do FB games, puzzles, contests etc. but Wil is a persuasive fellow. Once I got into the process, I found myself enjoying it. I decided to add the comments here, for anyone interested. I will also add some additional pictures soon that didn’t make the cut, but that I wanted to share. Obviously, most of the photos I am in were taken by someone else. In most cases, I have lost track of who that is. If that’s you, I apologize in advance for using your property without permission.
Jukendo, or bayonet technique, is a traditional Japanese martial art based almost entirely on what we would call choku tsuki, the straight thrust. Needless to say, their understanding of this movement is detailed and complex.
It was developed during the modernization of Japan’s army well over 100 years ago and is partly based on traditional spear technique.
As a former soldier, O-sensei was expert in Jukendo and incorporated many of the techniques and ideas into his jo technique, which more closely resembles spear or bayonet movement than conventional jodo. In some of his early videos, you can see him practicing with a mokujo and see them racked on the wall with the jo and bokken.
Jo students will notice differences in that that the hands never move on the mokujo, which resembles a rifle. As well, any contact with the tip of the mokujo is considered a finish, obviously because of the bayonet.
And notice some of the similarities in stance and footwork.
Thrusting is an extremely practical martial arts technique. It is fast and very hard for the opponent to see, when compared to overhead strikes. You can thrust with impact with almost any long object, such as an umbrella or even a rolled up newsaper, where overhead strikes would be ineffective.
Kawahara-sensei once told me that a Jukendo expert, a friend of Tanaka-sensei’s, showed up at Osaka Aikikai and picked up a jo to train with the students. He was so fast and solid that he could hit people at will and nobody could touch him.
This isn’t just historical; I think that some of the choku-tsuki strategy touched on in this video is quite interesting.
I was curious to see what O-sensei had to say about practice during a pandemic. I went back through the references I have available — and could not find that he said anything about pandemics in particular.
However, he would have been well-aware of the situation.
While Japan had experienced many waves of influenza in the past, it was devastated from 1918–1920 by three waves of the Spanish Influenza. A third of the population was sick and a half million people died – many of them once-healthy adults in the prime of life. Without doubt, O-sensei would have known many of them personally.
Even more grievous, O-sensei’s two young sons died in 1920, within three weeks of each other, of an “illness” — the records don’t seem to be more specific than that.
How did he respond?
At about this period, he was intensively practising sword technique, often by himself.
This was also approximately when he became deeply involved in the Omotokyo religion. He seemed driven to further his studies of spirituality.
I may be projecting, here, but I think he viewed the pandemic stoically — as something he could not change, but that could not change his own correct behaviour.
Here are some of his quotes related to Aikido and health, from “The Art of Peace” by John Stevens.
About maintaining practice: “Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.”
About personal health: “When I do Aikido, old age and illness vanish!”
About social distancing: “I do not need a dojo to practice Aikido. I’m not teaching for fame, status, or money. I can teach under a tree or on top of a rock. The entire world is my bridge to heaven.”
Lastly, COVID-19 is not the only lethal illness besetting us: “The Art of Peace is medicine for a sick world. We want to cure the world of the sickness of violence, malcontent, and discord—this is the Way of Harmony.”
As we dealt with closing our Finch dojo and not being able to practice in person during the pandemic, we decided to start a small project on our history.
We asked our members to contribute short anecdotes about the various locations we have used. Here are their personal reflections. We hope to be adding more of them, soon.
Samurai Club: 1992-1994
There’s an iconic
story of the muscular dude who was whimpering under Yumi-sensei’s devastating
nikkyo at the Samurai Club. That is the stuff of legend and should be preserved
for future generations!
(Note from Jim: I remember it well. The first class we went to teach, I ran into the “muscular dude” in the change room. He looked at me and said, “I guess I’m in trouble.” I told him that no, Yumi was the one to watch out for. I followed him onto the mats where he caught sight of Yumi and gave me a scoffing look. As the class started, we were doing nikkyo. She walked around demonstrating to individual students, and she had figured out this guy’s attitude already. I remember to this day the high-pitched shriek he made on the way down from his first nikkyo!)
I share the following anecdote: I ran into this guy called Ron at Loblaws a while back who was in my graduating class in high school. In grade 13, we had a membership at the local Y and that was the only time in my life that I did weightlifting in any regular way, but Ron was dedicated to it and was pretty buff. He’s Italian and loved the Stallone movies (we’re talking mid-1980s here) and had the nickname Rambo Ron. I’m not making that up.
Anyways, we were catching up and I told him that I had reached third kyu in Aikido but recently stopped due to ongoing shoulder issues. He said he tried Aikido back in the day and he was at a club run by this “big Scottish dude and his tiny Japanese wife. I’ve got a lot of respect for you if you could stick it out that far cuz, man, it was brutal! She did this move on me one time and I swear to God I was on the floor in half a second!”.
I had just begun my Aikido
career, maybe three lessons in. It was at the original dojo on Yonge St., just
south of Hwy. 7.
The format was same as
we have now – two, one-hour classes back to back, with a short break between.
Both classes were open to beginners at that time.
The first class was a
normal class attended by perhaps 10 people. At the end of the class, everyone
milled around in the lobby area as usual. I was enthusiastic and entered the
dojo first and lined up for the second class and began to meditate.
There was a door to the dojo with glass panels so when I heard it close, I knew class was about to begin. Upon opening my eyes, and much to my shock and dismay, I discovered I was the only student.
It was sort of like that scene from Spiderman when Peter Parker is in a cage with the wrestler — I looked at Sensei Jim and the look on his face seemed to be “You’re mine for one hour!”
(P.S. – Obviously, I lived to tell about it )
I remember joining way back in 1993, when I was young, flexible and had a full head of hair! I had just moved to Markham, after graduating from college, to start a new career.
I made the switch from Karate/Judo/Iaido to Aikido. I joined when the Samurai Club was at its original location on Highway 7 and Yonge St.
Senseis Nakamura and Barnes had just taken over from Sensei Hewson.
So many fond memories over a lot of great years. I wouldn’t trade them for anything!
Impact Centre: 1994-2000
I knew I found the right martial art when I read the book, “The Magic of Conflict” by Thomas Crum. So, I decided it was time to start practicing Aikido.
had researched Aikido clubs in my area and was told a tall sensei and his wife
taught Aikido at the Samurai Club in Richmond Hill and were very good
I met with Moni, the head instructor/owner of the Samurai Club which provided not only Aikido but instruction in a variety of different martial arts. Although I told him I wanted to focus on Aikido, he pressed me to purchase the most expensive “Gold” membership, so I could try other martial arts.
He did, however, discourage me from practicing karate as he said I did not seem to have a “suitable personality” for that type of martial art. I think he meant I was too shy, or something along those lines.
I attended my first Aikido class, taught by Jim-sensei. I remember Sensei demonstrating some techniques on various ukes and stating to myself “Holy sh-t! How am I supposed to learn to do that?” I still remember trying to conceptualize all the moves… left foot forward — no, right foot forward; does the right arm go with the left leg or vice versa? I had better ask AGAIN! Now we have to practice the other side too ‑ really?”
When the class ended, Jim-sensei asked me “What do you think?’ I still remember my response, keeping in mind I had practiced a little karate years prior. I told him “This is a very humbling martial art — if I am going to continue, I will have to leave my ego at the door”
Many years later, with many classes and seminars as well as a few injuries under my belt (literally), I still feel the same way – some classes more than others.
FYI-during the few years we practiced at the Samurai Club I never once tried another martial art — I just knew that Aikido, with its principles of harmony, blending, ki etc. was in my heart and soul.
what has made my training experience even more amazing are the friendships I
have made here. Regardless of the various locations of our club-past and
future, it has and will always be my second home
At the Samurai Club dojo at Hunter’s Point, we were doing ushiro tekubitori (attack from behind). Jim-sensei was stressing the importance of uke getting completely behind nage in the attack to avoid being hit. I heard him… but didn’t exactly listen.
I made my attack but ended up standing directly behind Jim-sensei’s right elbow, which proceeded without hesitation and with force into my diaphragm. I hit the ground with the wind knocked out of me. It seemed like an eternity before I could suck in any air.
Yumi-sensei happened by. She looked down on me, then up at Jim-sensei and said, “Don’t hurt him, I need him for uke in the tests,” and strolled away .
many memories. But one that I remember vividly is when I called to ask about
classes at Samurai Club. It was Fall of 1996. I was freshly laid off from my
first job as a new Canadian immigrant. After training with my old friend from
Romania at a dojo in Richmond Hill, I decided to make a change. Somehow I’ve
always associated all my major changes in life with Aikido dojo changes too.
So I called, and Jim-sensei tells me to come and practice a class. That evening Yumi-sensei taught the second class, too. Tom was there as well and he was my first practice partner.
felt connected. I felt I found a new family and little did I know that this was
going to be a second family of mine 25 years later, still even
though life had me moved to Belleville and subsequently to Ottawa.
moved to Waldorf and I remember the day we took the attached pictures as well.
We were practicing for demos and one of the pictures is an an iconic picture
that was on all my posters, all my websites of the club and the demos I’ve done
That is the shot of Yumi-sensei throwing me. This particular technique is so vividly imprinted in my memory that I always try it as a featured technique during demos or advanced classes I teach. Every single time, I remember Yumi-sensei explaining it and doing it with me that very day at Waldorf.
I get a lot of enjoyment from the kids in the kids’ class. The program started at Waldorf and Tom’s son Adam and Renata (another member’s daughter) were regular and original members. They were both quite playful, about five years old or so
At Waldorf, we had to
store the mats between classes, putting them down before class and taking them
up again after, piling them onto two steel carts.
The kids naturally wanted to play with them once they were loaded. One day, we saw Adam climbing on the piled mats and told both of them to quit.
Renata hadn’t been involved and was not going to take it lying down. Right away, she came marching out to tell on Adam. It was a masterful performance, almost like a court deposition. She ran through everything Adam had done wrong with great solemnity, in detail, in sequence, with full explanations of how she had told him to stop. It was excruciatingly funny.
But the truly hilarious part was the expression on Adam’s face. He was absolutely mortified and hangdog. I still laugh when I think about that.
We were occasionally honoured by visits from Kawahara-sensei. He liked to stop over in Toronto to rest, on his way to events in the eastern part of the continent.
One day as we drove him to the dojo it was obvious that he didn’t feel well and looked very tired from his travels, so we urged him to take it easy while we took care of the class, which he agreed to do.
After a few minutes, though, he appeared in the dojo wearing his gi. I guess he had no intention of resting while there was a class. However, we were still very concerned that he did not feel well.
He started teaching the class, and then he completely blew my mind by practicing for quite a while with Dennis Adair. Dennis is a regular member, now retired. He is a well-known, senior black belt and had known Sensei for many years. Sensei took ukemi from Dennis for quite some time. Neither Yumi nor I had ever seen him take ukemi for one of his students!
I was very concerned for Dennis (he later acknowledged that he was, too!) since I was half-expecting to see a demonstration of some horrendous kaeshi-waza (counter-technique). However, Sensei just kept on taking good ukemi, over and over.
Sensei didn’t seem any the worse for wear when we went for dinner afterwards.
He was an enigmatic man. I still can’t fathom why he would have jumped into taking so much ukemi when he wasn’t feeling well.
Perhaps it was his way of bringing his energy level back up.
Right after we
first signed the lease for the Finch dojo, we went there with our Aikido friend
from Tendokai Kathleen, (an architect), to talk about the layout.
standing in the parking lot, talking about the dojo’s future. I glanced down,
and I saw a $100 bill lying on the ground next to Jim’s foot. We could not see
anybody around in the parking lot who might have lost it.
believe that found money is unlucky, due to past experience. (It has nothing to
do with Japanese beliefs, it is just my own superstition.)
I pointed it
out to Jim and Kathleen. Jim knew how I felt but doesn’t share that belief, and
he quickly picked it up.
I guess it did turn out to be lucky money for us after all ‑ the dojo was a very good home for many years, and the $100 came in handy!
Out of many
hours of practice at our Finch dojo, one particular training stands out in my
Right before an
evening class was about to start, the lights in the whole area went out.
blackout. Jim-Sensei decided that we’re going to have a class anyway.
We were able to
find two small flashlights, that didn’t help much, but at least it wasn’t pitch
The warmup went
relatively easy. However, the actual practice was challenging.
You had to be
fully aware of your surroundings: your uke, the other people, the walls.
everyone who participated in that practice came out with better sense of ma’ai
practice proved to be one of the highlights of my training.
After arriving in Canada, I had wanted to return to Aikido — though there was always some reason for not doing so.
When my older daughter was about five and a half, she kept coming home from school black and blue. It wasn’t bullying, it was coordination. I was told: “She can trip on her shadow.”
I knew the solution: Aikido. I brought her to the kids’ class and within a month her coordination was fine.
While watching my daughter practice, I was particularly impressed with the fact some of the dojo’s most senior instructors led the class. In many dojos, they leave instruction of the kids to junior black belts.
Thank you Yumi-, Tom- and Igor-senseis!
During this time, I had numerous opportunities to chat with Jim-sensei, as he was usually camped out behind the desk at the entry to the dojo during the kids’ class.
In these conversations I indicated that I had trained previously. He was quite willing to recognize my previous (lowly) ranking. What with an adult class following my daughter’s class and being able to start at my old ranking, I was keen to get back into Aikido.
One month into my training I spoke with Jim-sensei again and said “Let’s pretend I’ve never trained before.” Returning to Aikido after a long break was like returning to a book or movie you had enjoyed long ago. You knew the general plot, though you were hazy on the details and at times there were gaps in how various parts fitted together.
Funnily enough, I still find the same thing with new techniques.
The great flood: in January, 2014 Yumi and I were in the Caribbean on holiday when we got an email from Tom. Part of the dojo roof had collapsed under the weight of snow and the floor was a couple of inches deep in melt water.
We were very happy that we had responsible senior members like Tom and Vadim on hand to take charge of this disaster. Fortunately, we happened to be coming back the next day. We had to close the dojo for a couple of weeks while the roof was repaired by the landlord.
Everybody chipped in to help with cleaning up the dojo. It was a tough job… we had to move and stack all the mats so they could dry out, and then dry them out (with hair dryers, in some cases) and glue some of the backings back on. It was a real mess.
As anyone knows who has worked in the aftermath of a flood, the smell is distinctive. We had to make sure that we eliminated all the mould.
To make matters worse, after we finally got the mats reinstalled, the roof repair failed and molten tar started to drip on a few of the mats. Again, it was a mess. Again, chemicals and elbow grease came to the rescue in a malodorous operation.
In a funny way, though, shared experiences like this tend to bond a dojo community together. We have all rallied behind other projects as well, including redecorating, installing the sprung floor and the move-out.
Of course, we would much have preferred to avoid the great flood!
It was a funny story when I attended the International Seminar at JCCC Aikikai last fall.
There was a student from Japan, who asked me which school I was from. When I told him Hokyuryukai, he was very amazed and showed me respect and bowed to me all the time.
Jim-sensei later told me that he probably thought I said “Kokuryukai,” which means “Black Dragon Society” – the name of an association of black ops specialists and assassins from the war.
Jim: When I first told Kawahara-sensei that the dojo’s name was going to be
Hokuryukai, he did a double-take too, for the same reason!)
In the Finch
Dojo one night I watched Sensei Jim demonstrate the ushiro kubeshimi choke hold
on Igor. As Jim explained the finer details, Igor blacked out and slid to the
I asked Igor
later why he didn’t tap out. He said “It went quiet and dark… and I felt very
I often get
phone calls from prospects about the classes, and some of them have been kind
I got a call
from one lady who immediately asked me if there was a discount for security
I told her that
no, we didn’t have any discounts, and that instead we tried to keep our fees
for everyone as low as possible.
“Well, the Karate club near me gives security guards a 10 percent discount.”
I asked, “How
much do they charge regularly?”
She said $125 a
I pointed out
that we only charged $90 a month.
She said, “But
they give a 10 percent discount. Don’t you give a 10 percent discount?”
I said “So, our
dues are $90 a month. Their dues, with the discount, are about $113 a month.”
confused, and repeated, “But they offer a 10 percent discount!” and hung up.
As you can see from the attached
photos, my boys, Lyle and Lee, grew up in that dojo (if I may put it that
I can still remember the look of excitement
and nervousness on Lyle’s face when he first joined the kid’s class in
June, 2012. It was a great experience to be able to witness him improve weekly
and move on to the next level/s – from being the shortest and youngest to being
the “sempai” in the kid’s class and then finally moving on to the adult class.
Lee, on the other hand was all smiles, when he joined (2016) he
particularly enjoyed the exercises that he calls “playtime”.
I would like to thank Jim- and Yumi-sensei (as well as the other teachers and seniors) for leading out and impacting my boy’s lives in a positive way.
We will surely miss this place and all the memories that were created all these years but we’re also excited and looking forward to the new place and new memories we will share.
Cyberspace – 2020
In 2020 we had to close the Finch dojo as a consequence of a very hefty increase in rent demanded by the landlord.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. We moved out at just about the time the pandemic lockdown began in Toronto, so we escaped the worst of the financial damage.
Aikido can be practiced anywhere. Social distancing meant no gatherings, though, so solo practice became the order of the day.
Aikido includes buki waza (weapons practice), and the suburi and kata can be practiced by oneself.
We all wanted to keep our community together, so we started doing two virtual classes of buki waza a week through Zoom, based in my backyard. The first was in mid-April, with 12 members participating and Yumi-sensei shooting overhead views of the teaching from our deck.
Until we can get together again, we will mainly focus on footwork, jo and bokken suburi and kata, and review the positions for some of the kumijo and kumitachi partner forms.
It is a brand-new environment that takes some getting used to. We have worked out most of the wrinkles in terms of the technology and the content, and we are all getting used to our new training environments. I think the classes improve each time.
It still feels a bit weird to bow to my iPad at the beginning and end of class – but I know you are all out there!
Best wishes until we have the chance to see you in our new dojo (wherever it turns out to be…)
We have finished moving everything out of the dojo. Many thanks to the members who helped and are providing foster care for our equipment!
Looking around the dojo yesterday, it was almost empty. It was a sad moment — I thought of all the hard work we put into building that dojo, all the members who have passed through its doors and the many great memories.
We’ve been in that unit for 15 years, which is a long time for a rental space. We didn’t want to move, but conditions dictated it.
We have a lot of members who have never trained anywhere else. It must seem strange to them to be talking about relocating. However, it’s kind of normal for dojos to move once in a while for various reasons.
Our dojo has actually moved a few times before. Here’s a little history.
1992: Samurai Club, Yonge St. — The Samurai Club was a martial arts centre operated by Moni Aizik, a Judo/ Krav Maga instructor. He employed instructors in various martial arts to teach his programs. One of them was Aikido, and the first instructors in that program were George and Gerry Hewson. They decided to resign after a few months due to other commitments, and Yumi and I agreed to take the position.
It wasn’t a big stretch for us at that time – we were running Aikido Tendokai out of the Pape Community Recreation Centre (as it was then known) downtown. After Yumi and I took the classes over, we registered with the CAF under the name “Samurai Club Aikikai.”
The only student remaining from George and Gerry’s days is David Cheung, who is now a dojocho in Hong Kong but remains an honoured member and visits us whenever he can. David gave us a lot of support when we set up at Finch.
Another well-known member and mainstay of the dojo trained at that time. Tom joined us then as a junior white belt.
1994: Impact Center, Hunter’s Point Rd. — Moni decided to expand and relocated his school to a very large facility northwest of this previous location. We expanded the number of classes somewhat and the membership started to grow. The dojo was big enough that we were able to start holding seminars, as well. It was a great honour when Kawahara-sensei came to visit us for the first time. It was around this time that we used the name “Thornhill Aikido Club,” since the name of the main school had changed.
The students still with us from those days are Marco and Aubrie (who joined as beginners), Vadim P. and Andrei (who joined as junior white belts) and Dennis Adair, a black belt and my sempai (now retired from practice but still an honoured member.}
2000: Waldorf School, Bathurst St. — We felt it was important to get control of our membership, rather than leave it in the hands of a third party. One of our students at the time, Ed Edelstein, was a teacher at a nearby Waldorf school and he arranged for us to rent one of their gyms three times a week.
Since we had left Moni’s organization and Thornhill, we need a new name. We settled on “Aikido Hokuryukai,” which we registered with the CAF. Hokuryukai means “Northern Dragon Association.” It is a reference to the fact that we started in the Year of the Dragon and to the dragon spirit that O-sensei felt guided his practice.
It was during this period that we started the children’s classes, which we have maintained ever since.
It was a transitional period and not a great location, so we started to plan on something bigger. We did not gain any of our current members at this time.
2005: 1110 Finch W. — This space needs no introduction. Before we moved here, we incorporated to make it easier to sign commercial leases. (Even though it’s a private corporation, none of the instructors or anyone involved has ever been paid a salary or made any money from it. It is actually run on a not-for-profit basis.)
We have so many great memories of the space – lots of great training, several new black belts, very enjoyable community events, and all the rest that goes into making up a dynamic dojo.
2020: The next place, wherever it turns out to be. The help of all members will be welcome in finding a new home for further growth as an Aikido community.
The bottom line? Occasional moves are normal and nothing to be overly concerned about. The main wrinkle this time around is the timing, because of the pandemic.
By the way, I have only mentioned the students who are still members in this short history. There were many more great students in all these locations. Some moved away and many of them now practice in other dojos. They continue to be good friends.
After 15 years in the same location, the dojo at 1110 Finch Ave. W. is closing its doors. If is a very sad time for us. However, there was no other alternative, because of the terms of the lease renewal that were proposed to us and the lockdown of non-essential businesses during the pandemic, among other adverse business conditions.
We were not able to conclude negotiations for new
space before the lockdown occurred.
Accordingly, I can’t tell you where or when we will
re-open, but only that we will re-open. The timing depends on the pandemic and
the regulations regarding social isolation.
I am hoping that over the summer, the social
distancing regulations will be relaxed enough to permit us to practice jo and
bokken outside. Stay tuned… I will advise you once the situation improves.
Unfortunately, I can’t think of any way to continue
children’s class for the time being.
The current situation feels to me like a fast freestyle with multiple attackers… the dojo closing, the pandemic and various personal issues are all aggressive adversaries we have to deal with simultaneously — with clear minds, solid centres and good spirits. It is a very challenging time.
We have not shut down
as an organization and will continue to network with our members and the Aikido
community. A dojo is people, not a building, and our community is strong. Hopefully
we will have a roof over our heads again in a few months.
Please let me know if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions. In fact, don’t hesitate to contact us for any reason. It would be nice to hear from you — please stay in touch.
We recommend you do the Aikido class warmup regularly, to keep from losing flexibility. If you can’t remember the exercises, this website might help.
If any of these exercises hurt, STOP! You are not doing it correctly. Relax your body and breath slowly and deeply.
We usually do these ones before practice:
#2-9, 11, 13-16, 31, 37, 39-44.
(I think that #5 is just the ura version of the nikkyo wrist exercise.)
Usually before #37, we do an inversion. From sitting, roll back and put your feet on the mat over your head for ten seconds. This SHOULD NOT hurt your neck.
#49 is a good exercise if you have a mat or soft carpet.
Do an abdominal breathing exercise before you start:
Stand with your feet under your shoulders, spine straight, legs slightly bent. Breathe in through your nose as deeply as possible, consciously using your diaphragm and pushing your lower abdomen forward with your abs for a count of four. Let your shoulders relax backwards. It is useful to visualize pushing the air down to your tanden (near the navel).
Breathe out gradually through your mouth for a count of eight until your lungs feel almost empty.
Repeat three times.
After you finish all the exercises, do mokuso — sit in seiza with you eyes half closed, breathing slowly and deeply, until your mind is calm (sometimes, it takes a while!)
These exercises are not intended as calisthenics, but to awaken ki in the body and improve health and flexibility. Don’t even think about breaking a sweat. Suburi is better for stamina and calisthenic purposes.
When I run into challenges at the dojo – including the ones we now face with the pandemic – I remind myself of what things were like at Hombu Dojo in 1945.
• The war had just ended and Tokyo was occupied by foreign soldiers. • Martial arts practice was completely outlawed. • The city was a wreck, virtually destroyed by bombing. • Part of the dojo’s roof had been blown off by a bomb and water was seeping into the interior. • Homeless people from the neighbourhood were living on the tatami. • Almost all the members were conscripted, missing or dead. • O-sensei had moved far away to Iwama with a small core of deshi. • The economy was in ruins and no one had any money. There were very few jobs. Many people were starving.
I’m inspired by the dedication of the second Doshu, 24 years old at that time, in gradually turning that situation around, starting almost from zero in building the Aikikai into one of the largest martial arts organizations in the world.
Of course, as things slowly returned to normal, he got tremendous help from O-sensei in addition to many other brilliant and committed sensei.
Compared to that, our problems are minor. If we have gained anything from Aikido, I hope it is resilience, flexibility, toughness, courage and a sense of community.
The problems we are facing with the pandemic are very real, but we will solve them.
I hope everyone is
keeping well during this enforced shutdown. Yumi and I are fine as far as we
know – you can be infected with COVID-19 without symptoms.
That’s why all classes have been canceled until at least April 5. People can feel perfectly healthy and still be passing the virus on to others. I don’t want the dojo to be the cause of serious illness for an elderly or unhealthy family member, or anyone else for that matter. And in the interests of the community, we fully support the suggestion to “flatten the curve” through social isolation.
It is a very strange
time. People are avoiding each other on the sidewalks and public activity has almost
ground to a halt. Many of us are spending most of our time at home, now. One
thing that made it more concrete for me was watching the Sumo championships in
Japan on TV, with no spectators in attendance. That was kind of surreal – the screaming
audience is always a big part of the show.
It is at a
time like this that we need Aikido practice, as part of the normal, weekly routine
that helps us keep fit and deal with stress. Unfortunately, at least for a few
weeks, you are going to have to do that practice at home.
Don’t forget to stretch, if nothing else – do the regular warm-up for 10 or 15 minutes once a day, so you don’t start to lose flexibility. The weather is getting nicer, so going for long walks or a run is a good option.
Tai sabaki is also very useful practice. Do “soto tenkan” 20 or 30 times from proper hanmi — tenkan, 180 deg. hip twist, repeat… focusing on correct posture, balance and breathing. Doing them without that kind of awareness is a waste of time… doing 20 good ones is better than doing 1,000 careless ones.
breathing are also very useful practices. If you aren’t already familiar with a
meditation system, meditate on technique. Try to quiet your mind and then vividly
visualize yourself performing a technique repeatedly. This will have a good
effect on the relevant neural pathways as well as highlight for you any gaps in
your understanding of technique. We can clean those up later.
I highly recommend
weapons practice as something you can practice alone. Most of you know the
basic jo and bokken suburi by now and some know the jo kata. If you don’t and
need advice, get in touch with me and I will help. Again, doing them with awareness and commitment a few times is better than just waving the wood around a hundred times.
If your jo or bokken are in the dojo and you need them to practice, let’s get together. I will be in the dojo this Saturday, March 21, from 1:00 to 2:00 PM, so you can pick up your weapons or any other property you have there if you wish.
This kind of hiatus
can also be an opportunity to do some Aikido reading. Saturday would be a good
time to borrow a book or two from the dojo library.
Since we are not regularly there, we need to check in on the dojo from time to time. I don’t mind doing it myself occasionally, but I know that most of you key-holders live much closer than I do.
All that would be involved is collecting the mail (let me know if there is any), checking that all the doors are locked, all the heat and fans are off and that there is nothing unusual going on (e.g. flooding or signs of break-in).
While the Judo club has ceased operations, an agent has been showing the space to prospective tenants. Last time, he left the ceiling fans running.
If you would be able to check the dojo out for ten minutes at some time in the next couple of weeks, please let me know when you might be able to do that.
As you know, this is happening against the backdrop of our move at the end of May. I will keep you up to date with the progress on that front. In a way, it’s a good thing that our lease ended when it did… If we had gotten stuck with super-high rent at a time when no students would be joining, it would have been a very dangerous situation.
We will be back in
operation as soon as we can. Officially, we are closed until April 5. I will
advise you closer to that time on where things stand.
Also, I want to keep
in touch. If you have any questions or concerns at all or just feel like communicating, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by
email or call 416.465-2823. If you are having problems and there is some way I
can help, just let me know.
We can get through
Hope to see a few of
you on Saturday (at an appropriate distance, of course!)