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It’s always a pleasure to introduce someone to Aikido.  It’s not often someone takes that extra step and come onto the mat to train, going from an idea or wish to an actual action.  The eagerness and curiosity that a new student wears is a reminder of how we should continue to approach daily training, like that of a new born, full of wonder and curiosity, of life and vitality, of an empty cup, and an open mind.  I consider it an honor and a privilege to be able to teach; never a burden nor chore.  We emphasized the trust between Uke and Nage, the relationship we have in Aikido, the harmonizing with instead of confronting and fighting.  And of coarse, safety first!  Aikido, though its origins in Daito Ryu and Aikijutsu along with the many other influences O’ Sensei had, is a formidable and deadly ask whose values and moral high ground take precedence over the violence and death the martial art ‘s origins.  We blend, harmonize, cooperate.  We do not fight, do harm, but command and control a situation as we would ourselves.  Self discipline is the best discipline.  Is there any other?  No.  If it were other discipline, it would be a punishment!  Our new student picked up the dojo etiquette that was taught as we went along.  It was a small class, so I was less formal than usual and as was her first encounter with the art, I took the time to explain the history, ideals, manners, and training practices we take for granted.  We began with seiza, bowing in, and went to warm ups.  I explained how there is a martial application to all we do, every action, has meaning and application.  We went on to a few Aiki Taiso; Funakogi undo, Jote undo, and Tai No Henko.  We focused on hanmi, posture, and correct movement.  Start them correctly and introduce key concepts early on I believe.  Some dojo’s are happy there is a body there and heaven forbid they make it a little difficult or push the student some by making them repeat until the correct posture or movement is made.  Will it be perfect, by no means, is it ever?  At any level?  All I have found is a greater degree of polish.  We are all still working on the same things we did on day one when I first put a foot on the mat.  It never changes, the attitude anyway.  Of coarse new things come along and we work on that, but the core attitude remains, distilled down to its essence is that of humility and gratitude.  We then moved on to tsuki into a kotegaeshi, showing movement of line, and incorporating Tai No Henko.  Naturally we worked on ukemi as that is paramount to any progress or future learning!  A bow and a sit out to a back roll, not bad, not bad at all.  I find that it’s all in the mind, that initial fear, that throwing yourself when you are always upright that needs to be let go.  It is said that walking is a constant stay of falling, if we look at it that way, taking ukemi would be it’s natural end or state of rest/peace!  We closed the class with a short review and demonstrations of other techniques in a more spirited fashion with a more experienced student to show that thought we took things slow and smooth, it can also be smooth and fast!  Something ot look forward and aspire to.  A few wow’s and smiles made the evening! We bowed out with a bell, centered, and at peace. Grateful for our new student. Ossu!

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I have been so very fortunate to have had many talented teachers along the path.  Recently I have had the honor of encountering my newest teacher, Scott Harrinton Sensei, Nanadan  7th dan, Shuyokan Aikido, and has studied  Daito ryu for several years, Shodan in Tang Soo Do, co author of  “Aiki Toolbox, Exploring the Magic of Aikido”  Harrington and Hennen, Aikitools.com, both friend, and amazing martial artist.  Few times in life do we witness mastery, like seeing a DaVinci for the first time, the glow, the life in the painting which darkens all others in its orbit.

The first time I trained with Scott Sensei was at Diamond State Aikikai in DE. He immediately came over and asked me to train with him; like magnets we were attracted as if a sixth sense took hold.  I soon had a taste of his Daito Ryu back round as he twisted me into a pretzel after performing shihonage.  My accolades, though well deserved, will surely embarrass him, as he is an incredibly humble person, especially given his martial talents and breadth of knowledge in the arts.

We are shown the path, sometimes it is in the form of a person, other times situations, it is up to us to see it and, it is we who must walk it.  This path is uniquely our own. “When the student is ready the teacher appears”  it is said.  When we encounter others along the way, paths cross,merge, and move on as well.  I have been training for close to five years under the tutelage of  Peter Tamagni Shihan, Rokudan,  with USAF.  Tamagni Shihan has been an inspiration to me from day one. I’ll never forget the way he moved, his tai sabaki and techniques were truly masterful!  Again, another treasure found!  Sensei’s dictums will always remain with me.  Borrowing form the US Army  Rangers, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast” has been a constant mantra for me in training. “You have nothing until you capture balance” Kuzushi is the quintessential part of training at Vineland Aikikai. While there I trained constantly three-day a week at Vineland, Saturday’s with Pallante Sensei at the Sand Pit Aikido Club, and added Sundays with Harrington Sensei.  Recent injuries unfortunately set me back for a year now and still linger and affect what I can do, but am continuing to heal.   The injuries were not with the aforementioned teachers.  I was always safe under their auspices. Rather a high-ranking uchideshi from a notable organization, either sheer incompetency or on purpose, I believe the latter. But that’s another blog!

We should though be better aware, our peaceful and harmonious art lends itself to being vulnerable to someone’s true intentions.  In a bad area, neighborhood, bar , club or myriad of situations, it is in the Dojo that one may need to keep their guard up at all times even more so, sad to say.  Accidents do happen, and are by their very nature unintentional, that’s just being in the tussle of things. That’s happened to me too, and it was never an issue, the person felt so bad, but was unavoidable. Likewise I broke someone’s toe during an Irimi, our feet collided, I felt virtually nothing and he broke his toe!  He was good about it, I felt terrible of coarse.  He was also my Sensei under Osameru’ Aikido Club, where I received my Shodan. The key difference is intention and sorrow after the fact.  So, keep your guard up and your ki on.  Tough to do in the spirit of surrendering yourself to the technique and trusting Nage to take care of you.

It is all part of the journey, the journey that led me out of that organization to rest and recoup here at home, which naturally lent itself to no more travel, I was traveling almost an hour up and an hour back and trained for a couple of hours or more, it also other than convenience, just made sense to train at home a my son, Julian, who also trains.  A good friend and teacher, Frank Spera Sensei, who got me into Aikido in the first place was helping me get back on the mat in addition to my son.  Frank Sensei also introduced me to Reiki and has helped in my recovery as well.  Opening a home dojo just flowed naturally. It was the three of us initially and we grew rather quickly to just under ten total in a short time via word of mouth.  We decided to join another association, AAA, American Aikido Association under Sensei Toyoda. We first met sensei at a seminar in Mill City, everyone was so nice, well-trained and well-mannered. The techniques were slightly different, we made best efforts to emulate them and in good spirit looked silly instead of showing off our style and what we knew. It was recognized and appreciated. We trained together and they got a sense of where we were ability wise and we surely respected their versions of Iriminage, Kokyoho, Shihonage, etc… all very effective to and safe for uke.  What was really impressive were the lower ranks, they all did ukemi very well and all gave solid honest attacks! We were impressed.  As we did more research, Toyoda Shihan’s legacy was impressive and honorable.  We had found a home again. We were recognized and formed our own dojo called Choetsu Aikido, meaning Transcendence Aikido, going beyond the traditional, as O’ Sensei dictated. Today’s Aikido will be different tomorrow. We were not asked to forget our styles when we joined up, rather it was looked upon as valued to the organization. We brought something to the table too. Frank Spera Sensei is Dojo Cho and Chief Instructor, I also instruct and am having fun doing so once again. There is a good spirit in the dojo that is cared for and nurtured. This is the path for now… keep curious and have fun along the way! Peace!

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