Changing of the Guard

Bow in January 2018 seminar featuring Yamada, Bernath and Posluns Shihan

When I started my first dojo in San Francisco in 1992, I had no idea what would happen in future, how long I would be able to stay in the US and how it would work out for a Canadian to live in the USA.  It was not a forever situation because my resident VISA (E2) was based on the new NAFTA that allowed for a Treaty Investor to start a business and live as a resident alien. However, this VISA was only given for up to 5 years at a time and could be renewed for less at the discretion of the US State Department and the political winds at the time.

So from day one, I always had to think about ascendancy and who would take over the dojo when my time to leave the country was up.  When I started the dojo, I was already Sandan (1989) and had been practicing for almost 20 years.  Just barely an instructor, my peers and colleagues were all in the same boat starting to teach as a way to further their Aikido career.  There were no role models other than our Japanese Sensei’s and we were still learning the depths of Aikido Waza by traveling with them to absorb as much one on one transmission as we could.

I realized how important the physical facility of the dojo and everything in it has ritual and philosophical meaning as a practitioner who was interested in Budo (Martial Way) and not just the physical repetition of techniques.  The Kamiza (Shinto Shrine) is the spiritual heart of the dojo so making and executing a good design was important.  But since, we first leased a distressed property in the Polk Street Gulch that had a demolition clause, we had to design the Kamiza to be able to be taken apart and reassembled elsewhere.  Kanai Sensei designed our Kamiza and Alan Horobin (one of our first shodan students) built and then re-installed the Kamiza in it’s current location in the space that SFA now occupies (see the pictures below).

First de-install and de-construct Kamiza into it’s pre-designed pre-built sections.

Nothing left of the old Kamiza location, just a ghosted image on the wall.

Re-construct and re-install into the new dojo location, new spacer plank had to be made.

Re-install completed, now just relaying the tatami.

Back area of new dojo space for observing and storage and members.

Kagami Biraki

Ever since I started my first dojo in 1992, in the middle of January, we observe the Japanese tradition of New Year Celebration, known as Kagami Biraki. We make fresh Kagami Mochi (pounded sweet rice cakes) just prior to the end of the year.  A special offering is made on the Kamiza (dojo shinto shrine) which is the spiritual heart of the dojo where the Kami (spirit) of the dojo resides.  Since the Kamidana (house for the spirit) was given to me by my late teacher Mitsunari Kanai Sensei  (1939-2004) it has great meaning for me.  By remembering to observe Kagami Biraki it is another way for me to honor Kanai Sensei’s memory as well.

As well as the Kamiza, we also have other Shinto ritual objects besides the Kagami Mochi like the sake cask and mirror (see Kamidana open doors of upper left).  It is the time to get together with members of the dojo to honor this event as Kagami Biraki is traditionally the time when practitioners of Budo (Martial Way) go to visit the dojo and Sensei (teacher).  It is the time at the Aikikai Hombu dojo when there are promotions for Aikido practitioners of Godan (5th degree Black Belt) and above from around the world.  At the 2018 Kagami Biraki at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo, some of my friends and colleagues were promoted to Nanodan (7th degree Black Belt). Congratulations!This is the raw sweet rice, prior to steaming which has been soaked overnight then drained. These are the Azuki (Red) Beans which have been washed and drained, then into the Instant Pot to cook under pressure to make Azuki Bean Soup special for Kagami Biraki.These are all the ingredients to make the special Azuki Bean Soup with fresh mochi. Of course it helps to have a Mochi Maker instead of doing the old fashion Mochi Tsuki.

I’m just the mochi maker-person. The “proof of the pudding is in the eating” or in this case the mochi is in the Azuki Bean soup.

Finally the practice starting with the mochi making and ending with Reishiki (etiquette).

Kyu Grading

As  we don’t have colored obi (belt) to differentiate kyu rank hierarchy, either white or black belt is worn, there is no outward sign of rank until Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt) which is really just the beginning and not the ending place.  We look at grading as an opportunity to consolidate the students repertoire of techniques and liken that effort to putting money into a savings account which then accrues interest.  In Aikido, rank is merely a stepping stone along a path and that can be seen in the symbol of “Do” or “Way” which is the third pictogram for AI KI DO and is represented in the calligraphy above abstractly showing a person walking up a path.

The video material included below is from the most recent Kyu Grading at North Vancouver Aikikai which was held on Saturday December 15th, 2017.  At each level, the candidate is demonstrating the test technique curriculum to the best of their individual ability.  All candidates have trained diligently and with a sustained effort. Regardless of small improvements that could be made to individual techniques, this is the way learning Aikido happens by practicing in a focused and sustained way.

All candidates put in additional practice as well as regular classes for many months prior to the testing day and by seeing their own demonstration via streaming media it is a good way for the practitioner to be able to see where corrections need to be made.  Grading is not just the report card for the candidate it is also for the Chief Instructor too! They need to see where the dojo members need more focus and where their efforts are paying off with better execution of techniques.

All test candidates should be pleased with their demonstration they were all very well done and show how much effort was put in to attain those results.  Congratulations!

4th Kyu

3rd Kyu

2nd Kyu

1st Kyu

The calligraphy “Do” above was created by Kazuaki Tanahashi who was giving a Brushmind seminar in 2008 hosted by Mountain Rain Zen Community.  North Vancouver Aikikai was the venue for a demonstration of calligraphic brush painting and talk about his experience as a teen who lived with his mother in an outbuilding on the Iwama property where O Sensei lived during the war.  Kaz Sensei learned Aikido directly from O Sensei during that time and was often joined by such senior Instructors as Tohei, Saito and Osawa Shihan.  He came to the USA coincidentally on the same ocean liner as Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei which sailed from Honolulu, Hawaii to San Francisco in 1964.

Learning to Steal Aikido!

It is not enough to merely watch and then regurgitate Aikido techniques in terms of how we practice. We say in Budo you have to steal your techniques from your teacher or other senior instructors. You can not spoon feed Aikido or any real Budo to students, it just doesn’t work and ultimately you just embed in your students all of your own worst habits.

In this respect, I was very lucky to have started Aikido at Toronto Aikikai in early 1973. Although we were not on the mainline in terms of Aikido we were in proximity to Boston, New York, Chicago, San Diego and other centers where the North American Shihankai were located and where they traveled to give seminars.  Even with distinct geographic territories we all practiced together under our Sensei’s who were from the last group of Uchideshi (inside disciples) of O-Sensei, founder of Aikido and who maintained their friendship after going abroad.

The Sensei’s I am referring to like Yamada, Kanai, Sugano, Tohei (Akira), Tamura (Europe) and Chiba Shihan were the teachers that we came up under and who had great influence on our practice.  At that time those of us who were attending and hosting seminars and traveling with our teachers were able to experience the Shihan in an upclose and personal way.  I think in Zazen they call it direct transmission but in our case sometimes that also meant a hand print across the face!

Sort of like an Aiki Smorgasbord, it was a lot of fun for us and we all have many war stories which we never fail to bring out at the slightest provocation.  Plus each teacher had favorite ukes for specific techniques so that was another form of direct transmission to a willing and able Aikido thief!  Sometimes you start to forget where you acquired the techniques that are part of your own curriculum. It has been nice to know these Sensei’s maybe not deeply but still over many decades you get to know them.  Enough to be recognized by and called upon for ukemi which always made you feel special about the relationship. Each Shihan had their own unique personality and their techniques were always a reflection of their own personal understanding about Aikido technique and teaching style.

From each one, I got what I could and always acknowledge the somewhat eclectic nature of my own Aikido background but I know exactly where the core of what I like to teach comes from and I always try to make direct transmission of those ideas and values to my own students. I always tell them  that until they are mature enough in their practice to be selective they are like sponges and absorb from everywhere.  Over time, they need to become discerning as to what they let in otherwise bad habits persist.

One thing I realized in the late 1990’s was that the Sensei’s were not going to be around and teaching forever. Unfortunately that has proven to be all too true all too quickly.  Of the group from the last uchideshi that were our Shihan, only Yamada Sensei is still with us and of late has had some health issues too!  My resolve was how to preserve the techniques of the teachers we followed in the original and unadulterated form.  For the most part, my peers are not that interested in changing or modifying or trying to distill what our teachers gave us but rather I think we feel like archivists trying to ensure the principles and values we got from them will stay whole and are transmitted without dilution in all respects.

The increase in bandwidth offered in broadband internet and the advent of digital videography with streaming compression technology interested me enough to develop a searchable database of high definition video material of techniques captured from seminars and summer camps.  I was dissatisfied with YouTube it wasn’t a real tool to study this kind of material.  My own published material got lots of views but was plagiarized and pirated by other sites.  I realized I needed to put this all on a private server and offer it primarily to others like myself who wish to continue to revisit the techniques of our Sensei’s to re-familiarize and continue to integrate this material into our daily teaching syllabus.

Aikido-db.com the online searchable
Aikido Database for Mobile and Desktops!

Try aikido-db.com, the online searchable Aikido Database featuring near DVD quality streaming MPEG 4 video material which is viewable through a mobile app available as a FREE download from the Online App store! The app allows you to access the 550+ unique clips already populating the database at no cost.

This database is powered online by Filemaker Server and can NOW be accessed through virtually all mobile devices including Android and iOS operating systems and via Desktop browsers like Safari, Chrome and Firefox. But for the best possible mobile experience use Filemaker Go 15 now available FREE fo iPad or iPhone, just go to the following link to download:
Filemaker Go App for iPhone and iPad

Then, download the following launcher file and save to Filemaker Go App:
Aikido Database Launcher File

To access via Android and Apple OS mobile devices and desktop web browsers, click on one of the links below. Choose the database for your platform and browser (AIKIDO_DBdt for older desktop browsers like Internet Explorer or Netscape but go to AIKIDO_DBandroid for Android, iPhone/iPad mobile devices and browsers like Firefox, Safari and Chrome for Desktop) then just login as a Guest Account.

For Desktop and Android Device Access Click!

The Techniques of Mitsunari Kanai Shihan

Mitsunari Kanai Sensei (1939-2004)
Portrait: Lyn Flitton

As March comes around every year I start to think about Kanai Sensei and his passing now almost 13 years ago. I was never a direct student of Sensei’s in terms of my day to day practice, but he always treated me as such, which meant a lot to me.

I started Aikido in the spring of 1973 at Toronto Aikikai.  My first teacher (Bruce Stiles) was one of Kanai Sensei’s first students, so I always had a great affinity for Kanai Sensei and interest in the physical style of his techniques. Over the years I have followed him to many seminars and summer camps. One special trip in particular I traveled to Japan with Kanai, Yamada and Tamura Senseis in May of 1989. It was a combination of North American students and also Europeans, so needless to say it was like oil and water trying to mix together or maybe like throwing gasoline on a fire?

Kanai Sensei for me represents the height of the development of Aikido. I believe he has really taken Aikido to a new and fascinating level so well explained in the articles he published and interviews he gave over the years.

Mitsunari Kanai Sensei
Waza: Ogoshi Uke: Shakoda Neil Videography: Lyn Flitton

Intuitively, I realized that in order to preserve Sensei’s techniques, we had to capture them for future generations and that is why in 1999 I decided to start videoing Sensei on Digital Video and to learn how to edit and make them available through my website online and now via streaming from our online searchable database of Aikido Techniques at: aikido-db.com

Fortunately, Sensei lived long enough to see the fruits of our labor and was particularly pleased with the quality of this new digital media. He too realized that it would be important for future generations to see this material in its original and unadulterated form. I am pleased that I have been able to keep Sensei’s legacy going in my own small way and I know that he was pleased with what we were able to accomplish.

To see and hear Sensei for yourself,  try the following link Kanai Sensei Lecture Series 1993. This is a lecture that Sensei gave at our first location on Pacific Avenue in 1993 about his ideas regarding Aikido techniques.

Kanai Sensei Lecture San Francisco Aikikai circa 1993
Ukemi: Joel Posluns, David Halprin, Claude Berthiaume Translation: Cynthea Bogel

I have so many fond memories and times I spent with Sensei and my video material is a constant reminder for me of what he was like. He was one of the most wonderful human beings, I cannot remember ever hearing him berate a student. I only remember one time his being mad at me for some issue of etiquette and I felt so bad that I let him down, I decided that I would never make that mistake again.

When I moved to Vancouver in July of 2003, I had decided to practice with my old friend Ishu Ishiyama Sensei and felt very fortunate to be so welcomed at his dojo. When I told Kanai Sensei about my choice he was very pleased and told me that Ishu-san was his first soto deshi (outside follower as opposed to live-in) and that he was the first person that he had taught sword to (Muso Shinden Ryu). I realized what a fortunate situation it was for me to be able to practice and teach within an environment where I wouldn’t have to explain why I practiced as I did and who had taught it to me.

I think Kanai Sensei was pleased at this turn of events even though we never got to talk about it again. I told Sensei in my last e-mail to him that I would see him in May at Claude’s regular seminar in Montreal and that I couldn’t make it this year to his annual spring seminar hosting T.K. Chiba Shihan for the first time since that seminar’s inception.  At that time, we were to discuss the possibility of him coming to Vancouver for a visit and to teach a seminar.  Ishu-san and I kept on conspiring to lure him here with the enticement of a salmon fishing expedition leaving from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver.  But unfortunately that was never to be, it was too late!

Now of course I teach at North Vancouver Aikikai where I work every day to acknowledge the heritage of my Aikido.  They have a saying for those who practice Budo, you are never taught but instead you steal technique from your teachers.  That is what I have endeavored to do in my own practice and teaching.  I attempt to define and preserve what I find of interest and include in the curriculum of waza that I practice and teach.

Here is some examples of techniques that Kanai Sensei had as a focus in his classes:

Mitsunari Kanai Sensei
Waza: Tsurebegoshi Uke: Shakoda Neil Videography: Lyn Flitton
Waza: Tsurebegoshi Uke: David Halprin Photography: Lyn Flitton

Waza: Jujinage Uke: Joel Posluns Videography: Lyn Flitton


Waza: Maki Goshi Uke: Claude Berthiaume

Waza: Iriminage Uke: Fiona Blythe

Waza: Maki Otoshi Uke: Spiros Koyanis


Waza: Maki Otoshi Uke: David Halprin

Waza: Koshi Garuma Uke: Shakoda Neil

Waza: Hajiki Goshi Uke: Shakoda Neil

Waza: Bokken – Suriagi Men Uke: Joel Posluns

Waza: Bokken – Suriagi Men Kaeshi Waza Uke: Joel Posluns

Waza: Iriminage Uke: Lauren Mallas

Waza: Kaitenage Uke: Joel Posluns

Waza: Katahiki Otoshi Uke: Shakoda Neil

Membership and Programs

Membership

North Vancouver Aikikai is dependent upon its membership to pay the dojo expenses. So as a member of the dojo, paying dues is an on-going commitment, that is as long as the member decides to practice Aikido at NVA. In order to make payment easy, members of the dojo can set up automatic deduction through PayPal and any major credit card.

For Dues Payment Options, please go to our Dues Payment Page by clicking here Aikido dojos are very social places and because there is no competition in Aikido, members tend be to friendly off the matt. We hold Pot Luck Dinners and get togethers, usually in relation to a seminar or weekend intensive training with guest instructors. Plus we often go on “Road Trips” to visit other dojos and attend seminars that they host. As part of the United States Aikido Federation, we have several hundred dojos and their members to practice with.

NVA is a B.C. Registered Society S-52265, dedicated to the preservation of and instruction in Traditional Aikido and Ryushin Shouchi Ryu – Iaijutsu, our only objective is the perpetuation of the Budo Practice that our Shihan have given to us. As a not-for-profit we offer Scholarships and sliding scale tuition for worthy individuals.

Programs

Beginner’s

Teens & Adults beginner’s classes provide a foundation with a rigorous class offering lots of cardio-vascular exercise. We concentrate on basic rolling, footwork and techniques. Basics Teens & Adults will become more proficient in learning ukemi (the art of falling) and in their footwork (taisabaki) in this class. Evneryone in the dojo attends these classes.

Advanced Taijutsu

Advanced Classes will provide a more comprehensive approach to Aikido practice. Participants in this class need to proficient in their Ukemi, there is no rank requirement but instructor permission is required for unranked members.

Weapons (Bokken & Jo)

Wooden Sword and Staff are taught as a way to understand distance and timing. Weapons are an integral part of Aikido and not taught separately. Instructor permission is required to participate. Both two man forms and kata (solo forms) are taught as well as weapons take-away techniques (including tanto – wooden knife).

Iaijutsu

Ryushin Shouchi Ryu is a Kobudo (anicent martial art) specializing in Iai-jutsu (quick-draw sword art). North Vancouver Aikikai is the BC Regional HQ for RSR Americas and is affiliated with Ryushin Shouchi Ryu International Headquarters in Japan.

We offer classes Wednesdays 7 – 8:30 pm and Sundays 9 – 10:30 am plus open matt Mondays to Thursdays 4 – 5 pm including special training for participants in this dynamic sword style. For more information about this style, please click here to visit the website for Ryushin Shouchi Ryu Canada.