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

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