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.

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!