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.

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.