On Friday June 20, 2003, King-sensei introduced the art of aikido to a dozen 11 and 12-year-olds as part of the City of Longmont’s Summer of Adventure camp. The organizers planned a full day of instruction and the event was held at the Isaac Walton Clubhouse (the sun-filled location of last year’s Bi-annual Shugenkai Summer School). Several of King-sensei’s students also attended to assist with demonstrations and instruction.

Since it was a warm summer day, most of the campers arrived wearing tank tops and shorts. This allowed them the full experience of repetitive skin-to-mat contact. Attempting to get the girls to remove all of their earrings, necklaces, friendship bracelets and other assorted jewelry proved challenging as some of these items were claimed to be “permanent.” This all fit in with the spirit of adventure, however, as King-sensei relaxed some of the typical dojo etiquette “just for the day” so the campers could focus on the fun stuff.

The youths claimed no previous exposure to aikido but seemed excited to learn. King-sensei began by talking about how aikido is different from other martial arts, how we have partners not opponents, how we lead and don’t force, punch or kick, how we protect ourselves by learning ukemi, the art of falling. Ukemi practice proceeded in small groups, starting with sitting seiza and putting a shoulder on the mat and rolling over it and continuing on to basic forward rolls, standing forward rolls and backward rolls. It was surprising how quickly most of the campers caught on to aikido rolls, and it was even more surprising to see the determination of the ones who were struggling to overcome their fear and keep trying.

This paid off in the afternoon when King-sensei brought out the shinnai to challenge the youths with their newly acquired skills. A few slaps of the “alligator” on the mat brought some very interesting expressions to the faces waiting in line, but no one bolted for the door. Even the most timid tried to roll over the raised shinnai, under the vertically moving shinnai and over the sweeping shinnai – and only a couple of them got nipped by the alligator! Judging by the Ooh!s and Aah!s, the campers seemed to really enjoy this challenge.

Moving on to technique, King-sensei started with the katate tori tenkan movement, followed by katate tori kokyunage, ikkyo and zenpo nage techniques. When King-sensei was demonstrating, each time he took his ukes over the top, a small group of boys sitting together would exclaim “Suwweeeeet!” They practiced, boys with boys, girls with girls (one girl said she absolutely could not practice with a boy) and got the basics very quickly. King-sensei continued with katate kosa dori zenpo nage, kokyunage and nikkyo. By this time, just about every time King-sensei took his uke to the mat at all the boys were yelling “Suwwweeeet!” Then they got the most sweet treat of all – they each got to throw King-sensei to the mat!

After almost four and a half hours of aikido, even these adventurous youngsters were getting tired. King-sensei led them through a brief session of ki no kokyu ho and then took questions. A question about the “wooden sticks” on the rack at the shomen led to demonstrations of attackers with weapons, jo-bokken interaction, and multiple attackers, all of which of course brought additional exclamations from the Sweet Team.

Thanks to the City of Longmont for offering Shugenkai Colorado this opportunity, thanks to the intrepid youth who partook, and most of all, thanks to King-sensei for volunteering his time and bringing so much enthusiasm and energy to give the kids a most sweet adventure.

  

  

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Our Annual Tradition

My dad and I are part of the Shugenkai California dojo, which practices the martial art of Aikido. Every year on New Year’s Day, everyone from the dojo (the place where we practice), gets together to perform a cleansing ritual to start off the New Year. This past weekend, on Saturday, we once again repeated it.

At around 4:37 in the morning, my dad shakes me awake from my peaceful and warm sleep and I find myself shivering and tired. I do the usual stuff that you do in the mornings, and then I change into warm clothes like a pair of jogging pants, a long sleeved shirt, two jackets, and a ski cap. In past years we usually woke up around five, but today we had to drive my aunt to the airport. I snoozed on the way. After dropping my aunt off at the airport, we drive to our Sensei’s (teacher’s) house, which is where we always meet before driving to the location of the ritual. I notice that the streets are pretty much empty just before I fall asleep again. We drive up the hill leading to his house. We’re the first to get there. After waiting a bit, everyone else shows up one after the other. There are eleven of us: Me, my dad, Mike, Glenn, Chris, Hank, Hank Jr., Pascal, Randy, Ricky, and our teacher, Kevin Jones, whom we call Sensei. After getting some things from the dojo, we start on our trip. Glenn and Chris get into our truck to carpool with us. It’s a 40 to 50 minute drive. I don’t bother trying to fall asleep again.

Our destination is Pacifica. When we arrive, all of us get out of the cars to survey the beach. The sand looks smooth and the waves are huge. We all quickly change from our street clothes into our gis (practice uniforms) and take off our shoes. We also drape the towels we brought around our necks. Once everyone is ready, Sensei leads the way while we walk over the asphalt of the parking lot and right onto the sand of the beach. This is much better than the past experiences because before, we had to walk on a dirt road before we got to the beach. On the road were sharp little rocks that made it really painful to walk on. Returning to the story, we walk onto the beach and we form a circle close to the water. We then all bow at the same time to begin. Sensei then reads a shokushu (inspirational/instructional saying written by Tohei-Sensei, one of our Sensei’s teachers) entitled, Will Power. After the reading, we form a straight line with our Sensei in the front, and we “Tohei-Sensei” jog over to where a good location to warm up would be. The “Tohei-Sensei” jog is just like a regular jog, only you have to think light as you go instead of thinking heavy while pounding your feet and plodding along. When Sensei finally stops, we put our towels down on the sand and we form two lines in the seiza position (kneeling down) facing our Sensei, one line behind the other. Then everyone takes turns to do Haku Breathing. To Haku Breath, you take a deep breath in, and then exhale in one short burst. We usually do it five times and then finish with a long exhale. Sensei goes first and then points to people to do it as well, until everyone has done it. When we’re done with the Haku Breathing, we get up and do Keikoho. Keikoho is a set up exercises that we do before almost every class. It gets our bodies as well as our minds ready to do techniques and other things we may practice.

After Keikoho, we take our gis off to reveal the swimming trunks we all wore underneath. It’s pretty cold, but not as cold as I expected it to be. I try to absorb the cold, and let it go to my one point. Your one point is your source of energy and it must lead everything you do. So then we form a straight horizontal line facing the water and we join hands with the people next to us. Sensei stands in the middle and once he gives the signal, we march right into the icy cold ocean. When we’re about waist deep, we stay there until a wave comes and we duck just as it hits us. We don’t duck to avoid it; we duck to submerge ourselves – I feel that it also helps me keep my balance. We duck just by bending our knees. Then we stand back up and prepare for the next one. We do this a total of three times. Now these waves were big. They were huge! Every time we were hit, some people in the line detached and had to hurry back before another wave came. On the third time, this gigantic wave came rolling at us. I was holding hands with Ricky and my dad, and when we saw the wave coming, Ricky said, “Oh S***!” That’s the first time I ever heard Ricky say something like that, and when he said it, his voice changed and his accent disappeared. Right after his statement, the wave pounded on us and sent us rolling in the water. I got up from the sand and was laughing like crazy. Sensei calls us to back out of the water to regroup, but it’s not over yet. We follow Sensei back into the water and we form a line again, but this time we’re in the seiza position, and we’re closer to shore. After some water hits us, we start to Haku Breath again. Everyone in the line has to do it five times. When it’s my turn, I’m only able to exhale three times before being knocked over by rushing water. We wait for everyone to finish, and when everyone is done, a powerful wave races at us and knocks most, if not all of us over. I roll on my side after getting hit. Then we walk back to where our gis and towels are and dry off. After we’re dry, we put our gis back on, which is really hard because our legs are wet and our feet are covered with sand while the gi pants are dry. Then we “Tohei-Sensei” jog back the way we came and this time we run through the water so our pants get soaked from the knees down. After we dry some more and change into our regular clothes, we go get some breakfast at IHOP. I heard that someone told one of us that we were "freakin' crazy"! That’s how extreme this is.

Even though some people think we’re crazy to do this, I actually have a lot of fun, especially at the “getting hit by the waves” part. This ritual is called the water misogi. We practice many kinds of misogi such as bell and iron bar. So every year on New Year’s Day, really early in the morning, you can find me standing in the ocean getting hit by waves.

-Michael Lim

At least I think it was '98. Could have been a different year. At any rate, we went out to Half Moon Bay to do water misogi in the Pacific ocean.

This was one of those ocean misogis where the temperature is not as big of an issue as not getting knocked on your butt by the waves. Well, we all took hands and marched out in the surf, and everyone was holding on to each other so no one would get swept out. My stepson, Ben (I don't think he'll mind me telling this story) was inbetween two other people, I forget who, and they were holding his hands tightly. Well, this one big wave hit, and it started taking Ben's shorts with it! But he couldn't pull them up because the other guys wouldn't let go of his hands. He didn't lose them completely, but it was a close call, and it made for a very memorable misogi for him.

I think this might have been the same year that I learned a lesson in situational awareness when, after the misogi, we were watching the video of it (Ken had set a tripod up on the beach), and all of a sudden my big derriere took up the entire field of view. I've been camera-shy ever since, and I almost always know where one is set up so as to avoid standing directly in front of it.

Glenn Orr

Lifting the Mist

It’s early but it’s light.
Kind of light, that is.
It would be lighter if the world were not enveloped in mist and fog.
But that seems perfect
at Glacier Basin Campground in Rocky Mountain National Park.
It gives our little party of the hearty
cover under which to walk the path through the woods to Sprague Lake.

Sensei said not to bring anything with us.
But of course he brought us all wooden jo's.
2000 cuts! We should have known.
He always takes such good care of our muscles.

Here we are, at the lake.
It’s small, incredibly still.
Ringed with trees, and a path all the way around.
We find a little clearing,
grass and boulders underfoot.

In a practice room
you would close your eyes
and put yourself in a wonderful place.
But here
I can’t close my eyes.
In front of me is the glass-still dark lake.
The trees close by are visible
but the trees across the lake are gone,
shrouded in the grey mist that reaches down
and touches the water.
The air is cool, feels clean.
There is space and freedom and friendship all around.

And begin.
1-2-3-4, I’ll count to myself,
to see if Sensei makes us do extra.
Don’t choke up on that jo!
Made that mistake last year
standing on a giant boulder
not far from here.

248, 249, 250 – and switch.
Early morning bird calls
ring clear across the water.
The silent rhythm,
the cut of the jo.

655, 666 – the mist is lifting,
just a little,
with our collective lifts of the jo.
The trees on the far side
of the lake
are reflected in the perfect mirror of water.
How can it be
so still?

1008, 1009 – or was it 1108, 1109?
What are you supposed to say
when Sensei says “A count please?”
Say something.
We heard about
what Jones Sensei does if you don’t.

1336, 1337 – the grey seems lighter now.
A lone duck
swims diagonally across the glass lake,
an ever-spreading V of ripples trailing behind.

And switch.
1501, 1502, 1503.
Is Sensei swatting at a grasshopper?
Oh.
He must have forgotten
about his tender shoulder
when he planned this.

1750, good side, bad side.
More birds are chirping
as the mist continues to pull up.
Glorious mountains and glaciers
reveal themselves above the trees.

1945, 1946.
A brilliant ray of high-altitude sunshine
breaks through the mist,
sparkling onto the water.
1999, 2000. We did it!
Lifted the mist from the land.

We stand
each on a rock
our jos perched high above our heads.
The wood feels weightless
as though drawn upward
into the aching blueness
above the last of the fog.

There are misogis,
and then,
there are misogis.

-Wynne Palmer

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