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).