Beginner's Mind!

New Year's Misogi is intended to set the tone for the year to come. We take the opportunity to consciously forge the template of our attitudes and actions for the coming days, weeks, and moths.

Rising early, I take the time to offer whispers of gratitude into the night air for all that has been, all that is now, and all that is yet to come. The morning's meditation revolves around being open to learn, accepting wisdom where I find it, doing whatever is appropriate at any given time, and accepting whatever results ensue (without debilitating expectations and/or disappointment). I vow to be a diligent student of universal harmony, constantly searching to understand how every person, thing, and situation is my sensei if I but have a beginner's mind and appropriate humility.

Arriving at the dojo, I silently offer thanks for being able to spend a special morning with friends who are so supportive of practicing and improving our understanding of the best and most basic fundamentals of living well and living fully.

Jones-sensei speaks to us, concentrating our thoughts on the purpose of what we are here to do this morning. He then leads us in breathing exercises.

Forming a single line and carrying iron jos, we jog in the morning darkness up a hill to a ridge overlooking San Francisco Bay. Lying before us, laid out at our feet, is our current earthly domain -- the twinkling lights of Fremont, Newark, and Hayward. Beyond is the glistening waters of our bay, the lights of a bridge connecting our domain to what is beyond -- the hills of distant lands and the skies of infinities.

Forming a line and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our friends, we set our feet firmly on the earth and mud in which we find ourselves in this particular moment. We begin an active meditation. We cut the air with our iron jos. Again, and again, and again endlessly we cleave the air -- striving to cut straight to truth and understanding, humbly surrendering to the action of harmonizing body and mind with the energies of the universe.

The moon guides my cuts and offers its own unique illumination to what I do. Clouds drift by, obscuring what had previously seemed clear. The lights of the bridge come into my consciousness to offer their guidance in place of the moon. I smile and continue cutting to the truth. Again and again I cut, until the thousands of individual lights of the night fade away into the strengthening light of the new day.

Still I cut -- seeking to cut straight and true to the heart of what I am to know and understand. As the lights of the bridge fade and seem to offer less and less guidance for the form and structure of my cuts, trees take over as my guides. At the foot of the hill is an array of tall, stately, elegant evergreens that offer to show me the way. Again I smile and continue cutting.

I cut until it is finished. Whatever was meant to be, now is.

It is not always my privilege to comprehend. It is my privilege to do what is approprate and accept whatever may result from my actions and the actions of all others. I have taken one more small step toward harmony. I am grateful.
-Cliff Dean

Bring dogi, hakama (if applicable), running shoes, and, to quote Sensei, "anything else you consider essential (My sempai Ken usually suggests intraveneous Advil)"

Happy New Year! Wow another year has come and gone. Where did all the time go. Anyway, today it was time for our annual event to bring in the new year - Misogi.

At around 0200 AM, (after some guest left my home), I started checking my dogi bag to make sure I had everything.

Dogi - Check
Hakama - Check
Weapons Bag - Check
Towel - Check
Swim Trunks - Check
Extra Clothes - Check
Running Shoes - Check

Looks like everything is there, so off to bed I go, for three hours until the alarm goes off and I am in the shower, putting on my clothes and down to the car. With all my planning I somehow managed to leave my towel in the house. So back inside to grab one and hit the road.

This new years misogi was a little different. We had no idea as to which type of misogi we would be doing this morning (especially since we were told to bring some shoes). I did not know what to expect, so therefore I could not prepare myself for the task at hand.

When I arrived at the dojo, I see Sensei and everyone else dressed in dogi and/or hakama. This is interesting. As I pass by everyone to get to the changing room, I notice that there are not any bells in their usual place. Interesting. When we all lined up the room was quiet. I guess everyone was wondering what we would be doing today. (Or maybe that was just me) Sensei began talking to us about today's misogi and how we will be focusing on Earth and Air. But that we would also need Fire and Water as well.

So it began, breathing and then Sensei mentions for us to grab an iron jo and then to put on some shoes because we are going outside. Once outside we Tohei jogged down the hill from the private dojo, turned left for a block, turned left to go up another slight hill until we hit a patch of green that was facing the San Francisco bay.

We would be doing cuts this morning with the iron jo. We did not face Sensei as we have done in the past, we faced our community. And then Hajime...

I am remember one of the first times that I did iron-jo misogi. This was at a time when there were not enough iron jo for everyone participating. So it was split between doing 500 cuts with a wooden jo and then 500 cuts with the iron jo. Unfortunately for me I got the wooden jo first for the first half of the misogi. All I remember is that once I got my hands on that iron jo, I tried to muscle the rest of the way through the misogi and how uncomfortable I felt at the time. I was able to finish thanks to others in the class, but I paid for it later that day and days later.

So here we are again doing cuts. This time I try to utilize the air element. I have heard Sensei mention air as 'not being there.' Doing cuts with the iron jo, I can either try muscling the cuts or not to let my body get in the way of the motion of the cuts. I tried focusing on not letting my body get in the way of the cuts (air) at the same time having correct posture and performing the cuts as best as possible (earth).

I lost count on the number of cuts that I performed. For one, I had to correct my thinking a couple of times. I found my selfing holding my face tight for no reason. Whenever I caught myself doing this, I would smile and look out towards the bay and the clouds overhead. Other times I visualized each cut of the jo slicing a cloud in half.

After the cuts, we performed jo kata 1 (ryu-sei jo kata) a couple of times, and then one final cut with a kiai. The kiai from our group sounded like it could be heard across the entire bay. Amazing.

So we headed back to the dojo, Tohei jogging back to the street, down a hill, making a right turn, and then up the hill to the private dojo, where we ended the misogi with the reading of motto.

I am mind itself.

The first part of motto is very powerful. Looking back at the misogi, it was my attitude that decided whether the misogi was going to be a great experience or a miserable one. I chose for it to be enjoyable. For me smiling during something like misogi always helps me out. No it did not make the jo lighter or the time go by faster. But it does make me feel better so that I can find joy in the exercise.

So this was another great start to the new year.

Thank you Sensei.

BTW you should hear what Morris says about you guys in Colorado.......

-Mike Hawthorne

I've had a word processing window open for probably the entire day, struggling not only with the words that won't come, but also with a whiny teething child, when it finally dawned on me that my situation was identical to that created by attending a misogi: it's easy to decide to do something, and usually harder to do it. So once I was able to decide I was indeed going to write something I stopped stalling and engaged my ki-board.

I was fortunate to attend the misogi at the Winter Seminar, and also fortunate to view the pictures of last year's New Year's Day Misogi. Knowing what I was going to try to do was enough to set my mind against me. Success at getting up at an early hour does not equate success at not griping internally about what lies ahead: in this case, a partially frozen lake and wearing a swimsuit in front of my “peers.” Laugh all you may at the juxtaposition of these two, but my mind was plagued.

During the car ride up to the lake we shared a few jokes about what else may constitute a “good” misogi (please consider hot tub misogis and sleeping misogis for the future – Ed.) and the jokes helped to calm my mind. There was also reference to either the idea or the actuality that a misogi could consist of repeating something until one was sweating profusely and only then being allowed to stop. At this I internally despaired, because I couldn't break much of a sweat if my life depended on it; and it was looking like it might!

In seriousness, I had attempted to confront the idea that the purpose of a misogi was to purify my mind and to focus on a new year of aikido practice, but I kept encountering the idea of “I don't need to be committed if it involves X” where X is whatever idea I'm dreading at the time. I was further stymied by the fact that I found the previous misogi of bell-ringing enjoyable (foot pain notwithstanding) and had a fuzzy idea in my genes that if I didn't find pouring frozen water on my head enjoyable then I shouldn't do it. Obviously one cannot pour a solid on their head, but any water in that lake that wasn't frozen with that air was simply not committed enough. In any case, my mind decided to go and my body followed.

Inspired, King-Sensei and Jones-Sensei evidently decided that a water misogi may not be appropriate for us. So King-Sensei told us that we were still going to do a water misogi, but of sweat (and yes, I again despaired that I would be there until the ice thawed trying to break a visible sweat). So we pulled out the iron jos, which I had never hefted before, and stood facing the lake.

The lake presented a beautiful view with a line of trees opposite us and the sun not quite ready to rise in the east. There was the ice, of course, almost encrusted to the shore; and all the more beautiful now that I could admire it from afar.

As we started cutting I was surprised by the weight and momentum of the jo once I wasn't holding it at its center of gravity. King-sensei encouraged us not to grip the jo tightly or to fight against it. I tried to follow his advice, smiling at myself that it felt that I was dropping the jo, then struggling to catch it as it neared the bottom of the swing. I spent most of the cuts trying different approaches to see what felt best. Having spent some of the Christmas holiday playing with a dancing/rhythm pad for the Xbox, I also tried to swing in time with King-sensei, but usually failed, either because he was alternating on purpose or I was too distracted (or a bad dancer, but that's not germane to this topic).

By the time I couldn't swing the iron jo any more and King-sensei told me to switch to wooden, I was sufficiently relaxed that I wasn't embarrassed to be the first student to “need” to change. Apparently one side-effect of working too hard to care anymore is shedding mental hang-ups. I also noticed that I eventually started concentrating on two trees across the lake from me and tried to keep my strikes between them. So when the sun rose and geese later flew overhead honking noisily (or “laughing at us,” as was the joke), to my chagrin I had focused too much on the trees to want to look over. I regret that I missed much of the beauty because I was so nervous, though I finally managed to spit out a few smiles to find that smiling did make the cuts seem easier.

The few intense encounters I've had with weapons have all produced enlightening wounds. To date every time I hold a jo or bokken for longer than 15 minutes the palms of my hands get blistered, which confirmed for me that I grip the weapons too tightly. The misogi left me with a few days of elbows that wouldn't bend, yet my shoulders and wrists were fine, but I can't decide if I was letting my elbows bend too much with the momentum of the jo, or alternately forcing them to stay rigid. Matt previously mentioned in a class that using an iron jo would very quickly get you swinging it more correctly. I hoped my “injuries” and experience would get me closer to not flinging a jo into a car accidentally or stabbing holes in the dojo mat with bokken, but on a more sustaining level, that I'm a little bit closer to letting my insecurities burn away in my nonexistent sweat caused by my nonexistent muscles. A friend quoted to me today “Let us not die with our music still in us.” I believe that aikido has already helped me on a small level to let a little more music escape, if not yet a breakaway pop hit , at least an obscure indy release.

-Heidi Hoopes

Unturned Stones
By Cliff Dean

(beyond familiar ground),
by the taint of "known",
by mere mind's conceptions,
the ground beneath the unturned stone
and is.

Drawing the Blinds
By Cliff Dean

Beliefs are filters
Through which we look
To see the world
From a tiny nook.

Stand back and look
To see what blinds
We've drawn across
Accepting minds.



My Sensei
by Ken King (originally sent to the Aikido-L mailing list)

The following is about respect and appreciation:
My Sensei cares about his practice
My Sensei cares about my practice
My Sensei cares about your practice

My Sensei is not perfect
My Sensei is "right" most the time

My Sensei puts me up against a brick wall
My Sensei puts puts me in the brick wall
My Sensei helps me over the brick wall
My Sensei puts up another brick wall

My Sensei believes in a good foundation
My Sensei is a great builder

My Sensei trains hard
My Sensei trains me hard
My Sensei is very soft

My Sensei knows what he wants
My Sensei expects me to know what he wants
My Sensei rarely gets what he wants
My Sensei works with what he gets

My Sensei scares me
My Sensei inspires me
My Sensei confuses me
My Sensei enlightens me

My Sensei - Thank you


A Year in a Dojo
adapted by Wynne from "Seasons of Love" from the musical Rent

525,600 minutes
525,000 journeys to live
525,600 minutes
How do you measure
Measure a year?

In ki tests?
In shikkyo
In taigi?
In shomen-uchi?
In waza?
In hanmi?
In kote-gaeshi?

525,600 minutes
How do you measure
A year in a dojo?

In bleachers?
In pool views?
In rolling?
In funakogi?
In bokken?
In shinai?
In tanto or jo?

525,600 minutes
525,000 lessons to teach
525,600 minutes
How do you measure a year
Of a sensei in Longmont?

In mirrors?
In showers?
In gradings?
In ginger compress?
In yellow?
In orange?
In over-the-top?

525,600 minutes
525,000 sword cuts to go
525,600 minutes
How do you measure
Measure a year?

In questions?
In misogi?
In bowing?
In sitting seiza?
In endless
Of folding hakama?

525,600 minutes
How do you measure
A year in a dojo?

In pizza?
In costumes?
In mummies?
In toilet paper?
In pot lucks?
In cheesecake?
In purses that hide?

525,600 minutes
525,000 students to meet
525,600 minutes
How do you measure a year
Of a sensei in Longmont?

It's time now to practice
For the learning never ends
Let's celebrate, remember a year
In the life of friends!


It was the best misogi I've ever had oh i mean the first misogi I've ever had. The day started at about 8:00 a.m. for me getting up eating, and preparing everything by that time it was time to go off to the dojo. When I got there, Scott, Victor, and Joe were the only ones there so we waited and everyone started to get there Marcus, Phil, and Michelle, Shannon, and finally Woodard-sensei after that it seemed no one else was coming so we left. We took 3 different cars my Mom’s, Joe’s, and Marks.

At some time in the trip we got confused and it ended up us and Joe going a different route then Woodard-sensei and Mark, But we all got to the same place so it was all good.

One side trip to pick up a bottle of vinegar but what we needed was ammonia.

After we got to the beach it was looking a little like it was going to rain, But luckily it didn’t too bad. On the beach we were instructed to put on our dogi then we did some (as Woodard-sensei described it) “light jogging” I was fine at first singing to myself old army cadences to distract myself then when i stopped singing I realized I was jogging and my legs were hurting so I started to slow down and slower and slower until i was five feet behind everyone. The jogging lasted a little bit longer then expected but it was a nice warm-up. The we preceded to do our regular warm-up. After we were instructed to take off dogi and to hold hands and extend Ki and go into the water. WooooHooo that water was nice, doing a Ki shout each wave, on one of the last waves Phil got swept away breaking away from me and Marks grip. It was one more wave and then back in. As we were drying off me and Victor asked if we could go again and me, Woodard-sensei, Victor, Mark, Shannon, and Joe went for a couple more waves.

After it all we were finished and hungry so we decide to go to Chilies to eat and then back home.

All-in-All it was a great experience and one I hope to do again and possibly in a different form of misogi.

Thank You Woodard-sensei

-Andrew Dawson

Humbly submitting my impressions of this new year's misogi 2005.

Thank you first to Woodard Sensei for his time in planning the event.

As we were running on the beach, the coquina was coarse under our feet. It was cold, deep and shifting, making it difficult to keep balance. I found however that as we ran together in a line, if I placed my feet in the footprints of the ones running before me, the sand was already compacted. The running was easier, balance more easily kept, and a certain unified rhythm began to manifest itself.

The lesson for me that I took from this was to walk in the footsteps of those that have gone before me and try to learn from their experience. I find that the older I get, the more set in my ways I tend to become (less teachable) and it is important in aikido training to remain humble and trainable. Therefore, if I listen and blend more at practice and in life there will be more beneficial results. The running may even be a little easier! A simple impression, but hopefully of some value to others.

-Mark Sohm

I woke up around 6:00 Saturday morning, took a shower, and ate like a dingo in a maternity ward. My breakfast consisted of a small cup of coffee, less than half a steak pan-fried, half a grape fruit, two pieces of bacon, and a slice of buttered bread. (Hey, I had to make sure I'd have enough energy for what I was expecting!) After breakfast, I played Terranigma on an SNES emulator on the computer until 8:45ish, then left for the dojo.

When I arrived, Scott, Drew, Drew’s mother Kim, Victor, Mark, Michelle, Phillip, and Joe greeted me. Woodard-sensei was a few minutes later than us. After he arrived, we waited a few more minutes for Al and his kids, but they never arrived. We split into three parties. Joe drove alone, Woodard-sensei rode with Mark and his kids, and I rode with Victor, Scott, Drew, and his mother in their gigantic, Limited Edition Model Excursion. (God, it was a nice car. Leather seats, CD/Cassette Player, Digital Thermometer, Air and Heating controls for the front and back, sliding seats.... plenty of cargo room. Perfect for stacking up dead bodies. Or groceries. But mostly dead bodies.) Around 9:10, our entourage set off for Ponde Vedra beach. The drive took a good half hour, stopping for a bottle of vinegar incase of jellyfish stings. (Wrong product. We needed ammonia.) Thank god Mark and Kim decided to drag race in their SUVs. (My knee started to act up.) They must have been going 25 miles over the speed limit!

At the beach, the sky was overcast and was a dismal shade of grey. The surf licked and folded onto the beach of whole and shards of earth-toned seashells. (And assorted bottle and toothpaste caps.) The ocean's churning was intimidating and its hue reflected the cold skies overhead. The waves were so high; the sea foam appeared to be reaching for the heavens. I scanned my surroundings and came to the conclusion that Philip would suffice as an excellent flotation device if need be. The storm was probably creating insane rip tides, I thought. Woodard-sensei instructed the class to dress into our dogis and we followed the normal dojo protocol of being seated in a circle and bowing in unison. (Minus the Shomen.) Then, Woodard-sensei had us follow his lead in a straight line for a "little jog" to warm our bodies and get the blood circulating. The jog seemed to stretch on forever, and the impact of cold sand, water, and seashells numbed the bottom of my feet. Our legs were sucked into the wet shore like quick sand, further increasing the difficulty. I was surprisingly able to keep up with the group for the most part. I wasn't fatigued at all. (Those Hindu Squats I learned from the Mixed Martial Artists really paid off!) Later, I discovered that if I ran flat-footed, rather on the balls of my feet, I wouldn't sink. Unfortunately, I had injured my left knee a few days previously, and the pain caused me to lag for the rest of the jog. I ran along side Drew for the remainder of our warm-up, and Woodard-sensei periodically rounded us up like a sheep dog. Upon completing the jog, we stretched and counted in unison. Soon after, Woodard-sensei commanded the class to disrobe and stand side-by-side, holding hands. I was at one end of the line and held onto Mark's wrist. I thought to myself, "Mom's probably gonna run Woodard-sensei down in her Z-28, if I tell her that we stood out here in the wind wearing nuthin' but our bathing suits..."

"Everyone, together now!" Woodard-sensei shouted, as we walked in large strides to about waist level in the frigid water. Between mouthfuls of seawater, Woodard-sensei explained what we were to do whenever one of the giant waves came crashing into us. "Everyone, stay -gargle-connected, imagine all negative thoughts, feelings, and impurities washing away, send your feeling infinitely -glug-foward in a ki shout; YI-ET!" Just looking at the waves increased my adrenaline rush. I wasn't expecting such a great impact from the waves--I was caught off guard twice--and was knocked backwards and was submerged under water, where I could see the bubbles and seashells swirl about me like some sort of spectacular undersea blizzard. Maybe O-sensei's spirit Tenshinnage'd me with that pimp-slap of a wave for considering the idea of using Philip as a flotation device.... (I must have swallowed at least half a gallon of salt-water and other debris.) I quickly leaped off the floor, choking and gasping for air. The water's temperature caused me to breathe rapidly. Luckily for me, the waves paused for about 10 seconds, enough time for me to regulate my breathing. As I craned my head over to make sure everyone else at the other end of the line was all right, an even larger wave was coming forth, Woodard-sensei had said in a matter-of-fact tone. I was ready for this one; I let loose the best Ki shout I could have possibly done. Afterwards, we trudged back to the shore and finished the ritual seated in a circle, bowing. Victor, caught up in the moment, piped up like a giddy schoolgirl and cried "HEY GUYS! LET'S DO IT AGAIN!" I joined him with Joe, Woodard-sensei, Drew, and Mark and went back for a second time. (We left Scott on the beach with Michelle and Phillip, whom I could have marketed to cannibals as frozen snacks, by the way.)

Aside the fact that I was slightly nauseated for awhile from swallowing so much seawater, and my knee hurt, I felt strangely refreshed. All in all, the experience was invigorating. My goal is to be more physically prepared if we do another water Misogi in cold weather. And to order a soda or black coffee instead of water. Guh...

-Shannon Jimenez-Rojo


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