Due to the ongoing pandemic and the close nature of aikido techniques, you MUST be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to participate in any Albuquerque Iwama Aikido activites. Please bring your vaccination card when you first visit the dojo and show it to your instructor. Thank you for your understanding.
December 20, 2021
What a year!
Back in March and April of 2020 when we began to see the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, even those that accepted the gravity of the situation early thought it would be behind us by now. In the last few weeks our world was shaken again by the identification of the Omicron variation, and we are not yet through infections from the Delta variant.
Nevertheless, we had several notable successes in 2021. Not the least of which, we reopened the dojo! Our soft reopening in July and formal reopening in August was in large part due to the dedicated work of our members. There was a lot of physical work involved in remodeling our new space and everyone contributed. Beyond that the spirt you all brought to the dojo, from those accepting teaching responsibilities to others new to the mat is what has allowed us to persist over the past, very unusual year.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the amazing flexibility and generous conditions Keith Winterkorn who owns our building has offered us. Indeed, the entire Chinese Culture Center, led by Ray Tokuda has opened their arms to us and invited us to demonstrate at their annual Lunar New Year Celebration, an event that draws hundreds of spectators.
I’m happy to say we’ve even begun to grow. We have several new recruits, and our retention of new members has been exceptional. Of course, now is not the time to let our foot off the gas in terms of recruiting new potential members. I have some plans to help with that in the New Year. Perhaps a children’s class now that they can be vaccinated???
We should all be prepared for some setbacks. If COVID infections remain high, we may have another mandatory shut down. There will no doubt be other bumps in the road, but part of our Aikido training is to blend with incoming forces and come out the other side!
On another topic, sometimes training can be long and grinding. To paraphrase the great MMA athlete George St. Pierre said, it’s easy to go to train when you want to, but on the days you don’t want to train, it’s even more important to go the dojo. Two things that always reinvigorate me are attending seminars by high ranking aikidoka and Dan tests. Well, COVID has greatly reduced the opportunities for the former, but the recent outstanding tests by Paulina and Patrick made up for it! Performances like that make coming to the dojo a pleasure and push me to be a better aikidoka.
Whatever you celebrate this time of year, or if you do not mark any special events, have a happy, healthy, and COVID-free 2022.
September 1, 2021
Well, it’s been a few weeks since we’ve officially reopened, and things are going well. We have one new and a couple of prospective students. As we settle in, I want to remind and reinforce some dojo procedures and aikido traditions.
We are amazingly fortunate to have such a wonderful space in which we can train. The word “dojo” translates to “training hall” but it goes beyond simply a gymnasium. It is in many ways a sacred space, not in a religious way, but in an historical and spiritual manner. As such as we transition from outdoor training as necessitated by the COVID pandemic to a dedicated space with many trappings both specific and significant to aikido, it is important to treat the space, and each other, with the appropriate respect.
Try not to be late for class. As we all know, unexpected things come up from time to time. I’d rather have you late than not train, but that should be the exception. You should be dressed and on the mat, preferably kneeling in line, before the sensei claps to begin the bow in ceremony.
During class do not engage in small talk. Everyone should be respectful and attentive to the Sensei. Small corrections of a partner are acceptable to avoid injury or if he/she/they do not understand a technique, but longer explanations or questions should be directed to the instructor.
Luis is working on finishing our shomen. However, the photo of O Sensei has been mounted on the wall. You should bow in respect when entering or leaving the dojo, and whenever you step on or off the mat. Of course, you should also bow to your training partners. These bows should not be perfunctory, rather they should convey your sincerity and appreciation for the opportunity to train in the dojo and with your partners.
The sempai-kohai relationship is not always as simple as it seems. It is based on Japanese tradition for respect for the elderly and those more learned in a given subject. But it also involves returning the gift of knowledge given to one over time to others.
When training, sempai should always execute the nage side of the technique first. Kohai should defer to sempai on the mat but also with respect to dojo procedures and traditions.
Concurrently, sempai must realize it is important to return the gift of learning to their junior training partners. This should be done willingly, not reluctantly, but with the same respect they give their own sempai. We are all human and have our own faults. Overcoming small slights, often unintentional, is an important part of aikido off the mat. Don’t let grievances fester and accept criticism constructively. It is just as important to give criticism in a constructive and non-threatening manner. And remember body language and facial expressions often speak louder than words! Just like you, this is a constant work in progress for me!
We have a wonderful cohort of instructors. As our lives and work schedules change, times and classes taught by each may occasionally change. At least one of our instructors, Fred Sensei, outranks me and I’m honored to have him in our dojo.
An important aspect of aikido is learning to pass it on to others. Therefore, you will sometimes see a lower ranked aikidoka teaching with his/her/their sempai in the class. If you are the sempai, it is important not to undermine the instructor. Do what they teach and only what they teach. If you see a problem, do not confront them in the middle of the class. Rather, pull them aside after class and explain in a constructive and non-threatening manner, (see above!) what you saw and how you suggest they do the technique or exercise.
One translation of Ai-Ki-Do is “The Way of Harmony”. Many of you have heard me say in references to aikido politics, that for such a martial art we sure do fight among ourselves a lot! That is one of the reasons I want our dojo to be a paragon of harmony, or at least we should strive to be such.
Duke City Dojo Members,
The COVID-19 pandemic is no doubt affecting all of our lives well beyond the temporary closure of the dojo. Schools, the University of New Mexico, and many businesses are closed. Many of us are caring for relatives and friends with compromised immune systems, and of course there is a lot of misinformation propagated through social media and other means that increases our anxiety. Charlie and I are doing our best to secure the financial health of the dojo, but that is secondary to what we all should be doing. For the past few weeks I’ve been talking in my classes about taking aikido off the mat. Below are some thoughts on doing so in these trying times.
Before we can help others, we must help ourselves. One of the key aspects of aikido is remaining calm in the maelstrom around us. Indeed the term randori literally means to “take chaos.” I think a more accurate translation is to “control the chaos.” How do we do this? First, reduce the chaos around you. Turn off the 24-hour COVID-19 news. Be judicious in your social media time and skeptical about all you read regarding the current situation. Personally I only accept information related to the virus if I can trace it directly, i.e., not through a Facebook post, to the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, or New Mexico Department of Health. Of course, check any information before you repost or repeat it. Get outside. Take a walk, go for a run or a ride, just get out. This does wonders for you physically and emotionally. The weather is turning quite nice and with Albuquerque at 5500 ft elevation, we receive lots of UV light. Ultraviolet light is one means of sanitizing substances. If it works for you, spend a little time meditating. Most formal house of worship are closed but if that is or isn’t your spiritual way, take a few minutes to sit quietly in prayer or self-reflection. If you are familiar with formal mediation practices, use them, otherwise just concentrate on your breath and reflect on how well off you are, and you ARE well off. Even in this time of pandemic you are physically, financially, and with a lack of want, better off than 99% of the people that EVER LIVED!
You still need to deal with the outside world. It may be as simple as getting groceries but you’ll encounter people more anxious than you. Exert a calm demeanor to friends and strangers alike. Reassure those you know that this too will pass, and it will. I’m not an epidemiologist, but I was a statistician. ALL PANDEMICS PASS! If they didn’t we wouldn’t be here today. To paraphrase something I read in the Washington Post recently, the Corona virus may not have been preventable, but it was predictable. Viruses are common all over the earth and because they have relatively short life-cycles, they evolve rapidly. That is why the influenza vaccine must be reformulated most years. That does not mean we are all doomed, it means we have survived many epidemics and pandemics in the past, and we will survive this one. I can’t predict when COVID-19 will peak but it has raised everyone’s awareness of the need to wash our hands and keep our distance. Those are very simple steps that will protect you. There is no reason to fight over a six-pack of toilet paper or a case of bottled water. Society is not going to collapse. Even in China and Italy, the previous and current epicenters of the outbreak, there was no lack of food or water distribution. Relax.
Some of you may be fully engaged with close family or friends that need your help and that should be your highest priority. If not and you know of someone that has a compromised immune system or in some other way needs assistance, offer it to them. Let them know you are available to pick things up at the grocery store or pharmacy. If you are aware of a student from a foreign country or from a distant part of this country with limited means to return home, offer to have them a place to stay and a helping hand. Practice Your Aikido! You can still do aikido. Do weapons on your own or make time to meet someone from the dojo in a park for bukiwaza practice. Go online and look for videos of O Sensei, Morihiro Saito Shihan or other great teachers and study what they demonstrate. This will pass and when it does it will be wonderful to look back and examine how aikido helped us deal in a time of uncertainty.