Reflecting on 2006

“Our lives are governed by the forces of nature. Aikido is a way to recognize these forces and respond to them appropriately. Its base premise is nonresistance. One does not compete with a superior force; one blends with it and leads it to a harmonious reconciliation. This requires training--training of one’s spirit, body and mind.“ Mitsugi Saotome Sensei

I have heard myself say time flies like an arrow, but it’s not how I feel about 2006. I thought it would never end. There were spectacular training and teaching opportunities throughout the year for myself and Daniel McAbee in Seattle, Stockholm, the Rocky Mountains, Santa Cruz and Montana. I felt on the edge of a shift in my practice and can’t remember when I was healthy enough in mind and body to focus so much attention on my personal study of aikido. Then there was the dojo move. How many opportunities for practicing patience does a girl need?

January: I began the year immersed in a Weapons Intensive and Multiple Self-defense study led by George Ledyard Sensei. I admire George’s approach towards weapon wielding. He values precision and detail as well as mindfulness- the sword is a fine tuned vehicle, not a club. It was gratifying to study in my hometown and then bring that newfound knowledge back to the dojo. In addition my husband Daniel and I got to train together for several hours a day in a rigorous and concentrated manner. That rarely happens. It was a gift to look through each other’s eyes, pay attention to breathing patterns and note the sweat droplets forming on our brows as we challenged each other to read the intent of the attack. We had a great time.

The following week we hosted Clint George Sensei (Last Chance Aikido, Helena, MT) for a weekend seminar. Students of all levels packed the dojo and trained their hearts out. Clint appeals to new and experienced students alike. His enthusiasm for training is infectious. Standing tall and square in the center of the white mat with arms swirling in space, he emphasized how to approach practice. “Aikido is a vast art with so many points of view expressed,” he said. But there are particular details that are important. Get whatever you can by watching carefully. Steal the movements with your senses. Be aware of even the simplest gestures, but keep a good firm centerline.” I particularly enjoy how he combines an enticing innocence with a deadly serious when he speaks about running ki. “Have a springy alive feeling in your feet. Bring in the ki of earth. Bring down ki of heaven. Left foot stands on a cloud; right foot on water. Have your heels be easy to pick up. Feel pulled up and then settled. We can develop explosive power from this place.” The dojo was vitalized by Clint’s visit.

Mid month we held a TCA Black belt dinner. Twenty-one of us gathered to discuss new dojo possibilities as well as define our training goals and aspirations for the future. It was a pivotal meeting. “You are all a vital part of this school,” I offered. “ Part of our decision to commit to new location-one double in size of our old space- involves your interest in assisting us in its future operation.”

It wasn’t our choice to move. The Greenlake dojo has been a fitting home for ten-plus years. We might have stayed indefinitely had developers not snatched it up for condo land. When we least expect, life has its way of coaxing us onto the next appropriate step on our paths and in retrospect, that’s exactly what happened. The end of our lease forced us to search for a space that would accommodate our present dojo community. We were gratified by the insights and comments expressed in this meeting like how far away can we move and realistically expect students to travel? How much construction can we handle in shaping a new space? At the meetings end I felt a strong conviction from the senior students that inspired Dan and myself to move this weighty project forward.

After nearly a year of searching, we found a suitable spot and signed a lease on January 15th. Daniel and I pictured a construction time of several months that included a move to the new location scheduled for June. We brought our architectural priestess Pat Brennan to the space and began to create a design that we thought we completed in February. A 75 mat space would include French doors, generously sized picture windows, two offices, dressing rooms upstairs and a space to watch training from above. Two bathrooms, a community room and hard wood floor space to offer taiko drumming and tai chi, maybe even ballroom dancing. Two weeks later we chose a contractor and readied ourselves for the whirlwind of building ahead.

In February Daniel and I embarked on an aiki adventure. Go to Europe, train in Sweden in the dead of winter, enjoy snow, saunas and sumptuous food. We studied with Seishiro Endo, 8th Dan Aikikai, from Hombu Dojo, Tokyo. Participants came from all over Europe: Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Estonia and Netherlands. The first 3 days was a black belt seminar attended by 50 of Sensei’s senior students. The dojo was a steam bath. The emphasis of the training focused on connection. What is it? How do we do it? How subtle can it be? How fluidly can you express yourself? Sensei taught ukemi and nage work simultaneously, offering his lively humor and chastising us for our stiffness and poor listening skills. I was moved by how many vibrant advanced practitioners filled the room, many of whom were in their 50s and 60s and in excellent training shape. Maybe it’s the cold temperatures that keeps everyone so youthful here.

Still jet lagged from our journey home, we joined the Seattle community in welcoming Mitsugi Saotome Sensei to town. He taught a week-end workshop in Seattle for the first time in a number of years in honor of George Ledyard Sensei’s 30 years of practice. Friday night he conducted a sandan and above training and besieged us to do the Aikido that must by now be in our cells. “Aikido is not simply Zen,” he said in a quiet voice. “We train our spirits and our bodies to respond appropriately with what unfolds before us moment by moment.” The remainder of the weekend was devoted to weapons. Sensei was on fire offering a form a minute. It was exhilarating. Many of the senior students of our dojo attended the seminar. Others observed. We brought the spirit of the training back to the dojo and enjoyed sharing our new learning.

March:I flew to Washington DC to participate in a weeklong workshop on "Mindfulness and Technology." Students and researchers from areas diverse as architecture, public policy, neuroscience, sociology, music composition, and computer science encountered colleagues from seemingly unrelated fields that included a journalist, a librarian serving a Navajo reservation college, as well as teachers of calligraphy and Zen meditation. Central to the discussion was how the rat race experience frequently dominates both our work and private lives. We examined how to bring contemplative perspectives into our daily life and envisioned how a workplace of the future could support mindfulness and conscious personal evolution, good health and environmental awareness. Asked by David Levy to share an afternoon of aikido practice with this distinguished group, Sara Snell and I examined how the circle, triangle and square shapes we make in our bodies and our environment, shape our consciousness. We offered two step turns as a tool for maintaining center in any life setting.

We ended our time in the Library of Congress library room. Privileged to meditate in the nation’s oldest federal institution (surrounded by 29 million books) for 45 minutes, I felt our constitutional history seep through my pores. It was a life-changing event for me.

April:Focus on fundraising for the new dojo. This is new territory for me. With the help of a committee of students and instructors: Jen Stoakes, Susan Adams, Susan Borg, Anne Yamane, Kris Allott, Michelle Fokos, Michelle Thoreson , Dan Murnan, Claire and Mark Gibbons, Scott Bleufeux, Delf, Taryn Sass, Sara Gerhart Snell, and Jessie Levin and others, we organized event planning flyers, letters to the community and rollathons. I coaxed filmmaker Dan McAbee to assemble a piece honoring all the teachers that had blessed our dojo in 10 years and David Hurley created a slide show of all of our students. I t was magical to see black belt students first days of the mat. Susan Adams assembled vibrant photos of our teenagers on the Salmon River weapons camp and Michelle Fokos did a knockout job as raffle co-coordinator.

Problems with the building began to loom. What seemed possible on paper didn’t look so good in reality. Parking requirements by the city posed a challenge. Architectural plans became more complex than first imagined. We took lots of deep breaths and envisioned a positive outcome. I kept reminding myself of the value of practice, as there was lots of opportunity to practice rising above disappointment. Codes for wheelchair assess ability drove the bids up and changed the planning of the space. We considered other alternatives- a lengthy trip to Bali.

Endo Sensei came to Seattle for Easter. I was delighted for the opportunity to practice what I had loved in Stockholm but beware expectations- they can get ya! The lows and highs of training. I didn’t feel as stretchy and fluid as I did in the Nordic land. But amidst the challenges of meeting my perfectionist self, I experienced moments of utter glee taking more ukemi than I do in daily life. On Monday evening several dojo cho in the city joined Sensei in a private class to celebrate Glenn Leichman’s new dojo opening. I found a flow that night, like the way I often feel dipping my oars into the top of a rapid- a whirling concert of waves. Endo Sensei has a Yoda laugh. I can still hear the glee in the air as I tumbled through space.

At the end of the month Emerald City dojo and Two Cranes co-hosted Linda Holiday Sensei. We galvanized our energies to put on a rich and dynamic seminar. She generously delved into a study of atemi and how we want to use our Aikido to wake us up to the present moment. I put Linda on an airplane and picked up two kittens I had been eyeing for a month- two kittens who managed in their way to teach daily aikido classes in the way the batted at each other and resolved their fight and play with the tenderness and intimacy I found mesmerizing.

May: Fundraiser events and goodbye celebrations filled the calendar. And the demolition part of the building went fabulously. We were getting set to leave, but unfortunately failed to factor in delays that greeted us just after the contractors began to bang their nails. If you only knew what was in store….Who could have imagined the permit process would take 3 months for approval. Some of the delays were understandable, but there were factors that will never be revealed to us. Maybe it’s as simple as how much construction is currently zooming about in Seattle and the processors are drowning. Perhaps our sweet and lowly permit application sat on some well-meaning person’s desk for weeks end hoping and wishing to be selected from an overflowing stack. Ah, more time to meditate over how the space could take shape once the construction began.

June: More lessons in patience. Still no permit. Little letting gos here and there stretched into bigger surrenders as it became clear we wouldn’t be ready to host an opening seminar in September or open in time to launch a children’s program and open house for the Maple Leaf community and friends of Two Cranes. How ideas just get in the way of reality. I think Lily Tomlin said something along that line.

July: The Santa Cruz retreat was a delightful training time and for me personally a way to enjoy being with my students in an intensive training environment and eat up to good energy of practitioners who come from all over the west coast to take in the wisdom provided by Mary Linda and Clint George Sensei.

The next week Dan and I attended the Rocky Mountain camp. This was the 26th year of this camp including my teachers Saotome and Ikeda Sensei and also Doran Sensei and Ushiro Sensei from Japan. For at least 22 years I have driven the pass or gutted out the almost always turbulent air ride across the Rockies to attend the training. Rocky Mountain Retreat. 2006 lessons emphasized:

  1. Never disconnect from your partner.

  2. Take the center before each technique begins.

  3. Touch uke then release the pressure and move your whole body at appropriate angle to then move uke.

  4. Remember: it happens before it happens.

I was asked to teach a focus class at the retreat and concentrated on the relationship between aikido and the principles of Tai Chi. How much the study of essential internal energies have impacted my understanding of Aikido these past six years. Folks who participated in the class were lively and enthusiastic, encouraging me to do more of this teaching in the future.

August: Home for a week. Just enough time to pack for a week long river trip with friends and family down the Lower Salmon river in Idaho. Passengers included long time friends, students and teachers Ikeda Sensei and Ken Wright. Blustery weather, lighting storms, heat waves, wind torrents, we had it all. We Slept out under twinkling stars that felt close enough to touch.

The day we got home Jonathan Miller Lane arrived from Vermont for a week visit. We created daily training opportunities to prep for what was an excellent Nidan demonstration on August 15th. Jonathan holds the claim to fame of being one of the first walk-by folks to sign up and start training at Two Cranes in 1995. I don’t think we had a name for the school yet. Several years ago he opened his own school in Middlebury Vermont and convinced the town to allow him the use of the town hall community center basement for a dojo space.

September: My perky, zebra striped tummy kitten Tesshu died on September 1. I was stunned at the level of despair I feel for the loss of this 6 lb warrior. Dan named him after the famous sword master, but who knew how much that name would mark his response to his genetic illness and death. He had a sensual little saunter. On several occasions he would gleefully escape his leash and haul ass down the side walk as though to say you can’t catch me. He seemed so proud. I have redefined the meaning of power when a kitten cracks open your heart more than the sharpest blade.

Tom Read visited that next week. Our 2nd annual Mary Heiny and Tom Read seminar was a rich gathering. Although it was supposed to be a new dojo celebration seminar, it ended up being a good by gala. Together they offer electric teaching, sharing stories of their lives in Shingu, Japan and how their combined 70 years of deep study effects a life.

Two weeks following I traveled to Missoula, Montana to study with Saotome Sensei.

He began his message with a reminder that what distinguishes aikido study from other martial arts and sports is an emphasis on striving to achieve a personal best vs. to be the best in the room. If one hundred people in a room are celebrating the opportunity to wake up like they never have before and happy for those who would share in the same endeavor that is different than wanting to dominate that person who is training next to you. He makes it sound simple – as if it’s easy to reach for our personal best. But we are conditioned to look around the room and see just who’s got it down better, who is sleeker in their movement and who is pounding uke to the floor faster. “It’s easy to forget where we come from,” Saotome reminds us. There is our Amphibian brain, and down the road chimps, and our Neanderthal part. He points out that that our capacity for violence lies deeply woven in our DNA. It takes a conscious effort to counter the impulse to fight. That’s why we practice- through practice we create different pathways to channel our instinctual reaction to things; to touch an energy force beyond our own. True practice inspires us to cultivate a reliance on our intuitive power that’s always available.

Dan and Richard painted the dojo walls at the 11th hour of the last day of the month. From sheet rock and gray colored walls to a soft white, the place lit up. It is beginning to feel like a genuine training space.

October: On Saturday, September 30 we held our final class at Greenlake and then packed up the dojo in record time. Sunday evening we dusted off our new mats, lit a candle and commenced our first training in the new dojo. The room was filled with keen anticipation. How would it feel –all this room to extend ki? With skill saws and generators moved to the back of the room, we stepped onto the mat like wading into a new body of water. First the toe touches, then the dive head first. After a year of preparation, we had arrived. It felt fantastic.

In the spring of ’06 Dan and I had made plans to take his father on a cruise through the Panama Canal. How did we know it our departure date would be the day after we moved into our new school? So we moved and promptly flew to Florida to begin our journey. It was an eight hour float through the mighty canal. Much of the day I sat on the balcony and imagined what it might have taken to dig this route. The tropical storms off the coast of Guatemala and Southern Mexico are swirling, swaying us side to side. The cloud cells are monstrous, dark-gray on the bottom; shaped like fly saucers. The thunder rumbles its hollow moans and the sound of the wind whistles an eerie, high-pitched tone. Since I can't escape the boat, I resort to reflection. (reflection on how to convince myself I'm not seasick!) It's in these precious moments where I am far away from the normal rhythms of my daily life that I lean into feelings of how fortunate I am. Aboard this ship there is ample time to be dreamy and reflect upon my blessings-between meals. One of those primary good fortunes is Aikido. One of its great gifts is offering me relationships with people who are seeking to wake up a bit- create a sense of an inner wisdom.

November became a time to energetically move in and adjust to new training shape, new mats, height space, all the details that become second nature when you practice in a space for a decade. Of course we all know the value of change encourages a waking up attitude. This month’s training invited reflection and mindfulness.

December: On December 3 we held a We Are Here training- our first seminar in the new dojo. The senior teachers of Two Cranes, David Hurley, Anne Yamane, Dan McAbee, Joey Perlmutter, Richard Darby, and Helmut Floss shared their aikido throughout the day. Richard began the day with a discussion of how useful it has been to cultivate a center. “It’s particularly useful,” he said, “when raising a brilliant multi-directed adolescent girl!” Joey shared his reflections on how valuable it is to awaken to the sequence of moments that constitute time. He referred to Jackson Pollack’s artistic creations. “He stands in hanmi as he whips his paintbrush in circles and directs the paint to his massive canvasses on the floor. His creations bring up feelings of chaos and disorder to many onlookers, but Pollack’s goal is to capture a moment in time where it all is held silent and there is total potential quivering on the canvas. It’s much like what we search for in our aikido.” All of the teachers brought their unique points of view to life and spoke to the value of having a practice that enhances our lives in fundamental ways.

As the month flew by, walls got sanded and painted, door stops laid, bamboo flooring began to appear under our feet, leaks were repaired. The dojo is beginning to emerge from a rustic warehouse feeling to an inviting locale for practice. There are too many people to thank, but not a day goes by where I don’t wake up filled with appreciation for all the effort of so many to breathe life into our new school. May 2007 bring us peace, bounty and mindfulness.

Kimberly Richardson