Friday, September 25, 2009

Castle Rock AIKIDO Celebrates One Year in Their NEW Aikido Dojo Facility!

July marked the one year anniversary of Castle Rock AIKIDO's purchase and renovation of their new 2400 SF facility on Caprice Court in Castle Rock.

It was a long, labor intensive journey, but well worth it! CLICK HERE to view a photography journey from a dirty, furniture manufacturing warehouse to our beautiful Aikido training facility.

Without a doubt this new dojo has greatly contributed to the rapid growth of our school and of the other programs in our facility such as the Iaido Samurai Sword program and Zen meditation classes. Thank you to all the students, contractors, and others who helped make this building such a wonderful place to train.

CLICK HERE to view the renovation process.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Ukemi: The Other Half of Aikido

by Pat Musselman Sensei

Ukemi (pronounced 'oo'-'keh'-'mee') is defined in many different ways, but the common theme among all definitions has to do with receiving and falling. Many times it is simply referred to as "the art of falling." In my opinion it is a mistake to simply think of ukemi as falling down. If we break down the word itself we find that 'uke' (the person being thrown) means "to receive," and 'Mi' means "through the body." Therefore, I like to think of ukemi as just that; receiving through the body. In general terms, we all recognize ukemi as tumbling and falling. It is a method of protecting our bodies as we fall from an Aikido technique applied by the thrower or 'nage' (pronounced 'nah'-'gay'). In reality, ukemi is so much more than just falling down.

If we consider that roughly half the time on the mat we are uke and the other half nage we see just how important ukemi is. Ukemi is 50% of our training! Many times we only consider our turn as nage to be important for our development. This thinking couldn't be further from the truth! Proper ukemi practice is an essential part of training that is often overlooked. Ukemi helps us with spatial awareness. It also provides crucial information about the technique being practiced. If we change our perspective from just being a training dummy, to being a receiver, we gain more insight about the technique. Developing good ukemi skills is also very important because it prevents injury and serves as a gateway to more advanced techniques.

There are many different styles of ukemi. Just like everything else in Aikido, it will alter slightly from one person to the next based on their particular style and body type. The fundamental principles of ukemi stay the same. First and foremost we must protect the head and spine. No matter what your ukemi looks like, if you can get up off the floor without injury you are on the right track. The way we protect ourselves is by eliminating the corners of the body. The goal is to make our bodies round so that we blend with the mat as we land. Finally we must stay relaxed and breathe through the roll.

There is another very important aspect of ukemi which is often overlooked and that is the "art of attacking." As uke we must be 100% focused on the moment. It is easy to allow other thoughts to enter our mind during ukemi. This is especially true if we treat ukemi like wasted time between turns being nage. As uke we must commit ourselves completely, both mind and body, to the role as attacker. Once uke attacks he/she needs to follow through. The common problem is that many times we are attacking in slow motion and we know what technique it coming. If we loose focus this may cause us to alter our attack and our body's response to the technique. It is important that we don't input unnatural movement or fall prematurely.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome when learning how to take ukemi is fear. This is a very natural response to something which we know has the potential to cause us pain or injury. As uke you should never hesitate to communicate to your nage that you are uncomfortable falling from a particular technique. With that in mind uke should remember to never attack faster than he/she can fall, and nage should always take into consideration the experience level of their uke. Ultimately, through continued practice and repetition we develop muscle memory and uke no longer has to mentally prepare for a fall. Once this level is achieved ukemi becomes as simple as going with the flow.

A final thought on ukemi is this: Never take an opportunity to train for granted. The idea that our training doesn't begin until we break off into partners and practice as nage will severely limit our ability to grow as Aikido students (Aikidoka). Most of us have such a small amount of time during the week to actually spend in the dojo. When we come to the dojo we need to take advantage of every moment to hone our Aikido skills. The moment we step foot on the mat we need to turn off all of life's distractions and be totally focused on the training at hand. Don't waste this opportunity. We must make the most out of every moment.
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Why is it that we bow so much in Aikido class? What does it mean? Aikido Q & A

Q: Why is it that we bow so much in Aikido class? What does it mean?

A: I have been asked this question often. I think the simple answer is that it helps develop a correct attitude of respect in all things we do, both on the mat and off.

Aikido is not a sport. It is a discipline or an educational process for training the mind, body and spirit. A correct attitude of sincerity and a proper atmosphere are essential to the learning process of Aikido.

When we enter or leave the practice area of the Dojo, we always bow respectfully (either standing or kneeling) towards the front of the training space or Shomen. At the beginning and end of each class, we also bow to the Shomen and then to the Sensei. After receiving instruction from the Sensei, we bow to the Sensei and then again bow to our partner as we start to practice the demonstrated technique; and we bow again to our partner when the practice to the technique ends.

This may seem like an awful lot of bowing, but it is simply showing respect to the teachings of O-Sensei, to our Dojo, our Sensei and each other. It helps create a positive atmosphere of harmony and respect.

The words spoken at the beginning and end of class and at the beginning of practice between the students and the instructor also reinforce this respect. "Onegai shimasu", when spoken by the student loosely translates as, "Please give me your instruction." When spoken by the teacher it means, "Please do what is expected of you."

The words, "Domo arigato gozaimashita", spoken at the end of class by the students to the instructor loosely mean, "You have my respect and gratitude for what you have taught us." This is a most respectful way of saying thank you.Bowing helps create this essential attitude of respect which is necessary to properly practice and develop your Aikido. See you on the mat!

The Last Samurai of Martial Arts

On Wednesday, January 28th, Kei Izawa Sensei of Tanshinjuku Aikikai in Louisville, Colorado lectured to a crowd of nearly fifty on the last samurai of martial arts and Founder of the art of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba. The one hour lecture was sponsored by The Center for Asian Studies and the catchy title, no doubt, contributed to the excellent turn out. Mr. Izawa, or Izawa Sensei as we know him in the Aikido community, was introduced by a lengthy and impressive docket of both business successes and Aikido credentials. Perhaps the most recent of which was the publication of the new English translation of Osensei's biography: A Life in Aikido, The Biography of Founder Morhihei Ueshiba by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, published by Kodansha International.

Izawa briefly chronicled the early life of Morihei Ueshiba, his upbringing, education, and early martial studies. Izawa began by contrasting the typical upbringing of a child born to the post-feudal samurai class with that of the more humble farmer's class of Morihei Ueshiba. The point of this comparison was to illustrate how Osensei transcended the social implications of his lower class and became a man of tremendous national prestige, respect, and reverence - a testament to him living the principles of Bushido.

Even after Japan's governmental restoration of the late 1880s, the samurai class was still regarded as the most esteemed class, follow by farmers, artisan and craftsman, and finally merchants. Perhaps in stark contrast to American values of the Gilded Age and even of today, merchants of Japan were considered the lowest of all classes. Despite all of this, Ueshiba became a man of overwhelming significance, and arguably, the last samurai of martial arts, in his country and around the world by living the principles of which he taught for many decades.

Izawa briefly reviewed the seven virtues of Bushido, which is the Japanese samurai's code of conduct. This code of conduct is considered by some to be analogous to that of medieval, English chivalry. Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honor, and Loyalty are frequent interpretations of Bushido's virtues and were first articulated in the English language by a Japanese national named Inazo Nitobe in 1899.

Nitobe was a fascinating personality in Japan's history, in part, because he was raised and educated in Japan as a Christian, which gave him a unique perspective on East-West relations. His classic text, Bushido: The Soul of Japan will be reviewed in a series of articles to appear in future issues of the Dojo News and on the Castle Rock AIKIDO web site.

Like many successful people, Ueshiba was plagued, it seemed, by a multitude of career failures until his late 30s. While at first I found this surprising, I then remembered that success author, Napoleon Hill, in his classic 1939 text, Think & Grow Rich!, articulated that most people do not experience any real success in life until after their 40th year. It was around this time that Ueshiba began to integrate his martial skills into an early version of what we know today as Aikido.

"Aikido can be very difficult to describe in words," Izawa said. "But, it's really about diffusion, instead of defeating." Izawa then illustrated Aikido by playing two videos of Ueshiba filmed at different times in the Founder's life. The videos demonstrated how Morihei Ueshiba evolved from a more brutish martial artist in his late 30s to a more gentle martial artist in his late 70s. As can be readily seen by the two videos, what did not diminish over the decades was Ueshiba's power. In fact, it could be argue that his power continued to expand into his elder years.

Izawa had the opportunity to demonstrate his own use of Aikido philosophy during his lecture when a computer incompatibility issue initially prevented him from showing the audience from viewing the two videos he brought with him and were an important element to the presentation. But, as Aikido philosophy teaches, we must learn to adapt to our ever changing environment, blend with the challenges we are faced with, and redirect the energy of any given problem or set of circumstances to a positive outcome. Izawa quickly petitioned the audience for a Macintosh laptop.

One young student happened to have a Mac in their back pack and quickly volunteered its use. Within 5 minutes, Izawa was back up and running with his presentation. Considering that the lecture's content involved the philosophy and practice of Aikido, it seems appropriate to see such a non-martial application of its philosophy right there, on the spot. There was something overwhelmingly charming about the technological glitch and its prompt resolution. It seemed to add a true sense of authenticity to the subject matter being discussed.

What was so nice about the lecture is that there was no "angle" or "pitch" attached to it. Izawa was there simply for the pleasure of sharing his hard work of translating this Japanese text to English, and to share his experiences in doing so. One question from the audience inquired as to whether or not Izawa experienced some challenges translating from Japanese to English. Izawa responded that there were times when translation posed a challenge. There are so many elements of Japanese communication that do not possess a literal translation to English, or if they do, the notion initially intended by the author is lost in the literal translation and, therefore, some editorial license was needed.You can order the book through by clicking HERE

Zen with Len: Change Your Mind

by "Kensho" Len Silverston
Instructor, Mondo Zen Meditation
Student, Castle Rock AIKIDO

Since Aikido is about developing the mind and body, how interested are you in "changing your mind?"

As conditioned human beings, we often do things that do not make sense. My Zen teacher, Roshi Jun Po, refers to this phenomenon as the "hysterical historical." When someone insults us or says something that we do not like, our conditioning may lead us to anger, shame, judgment, violence, or repeating the insult many times in our mind, even though the person only insulted us once! Our minds are often conditioned to react, instead of respond intelligently.

If instead of reacting unconsciously, as we often do, we train our minds to respond with a combination of wisdom and compassion, we can completely and positively transform our lives. Is this possible? Gautama the Buddha, frequently taught that "experience, itself, is the great teacher." In my experience, while substantially changing one's mind is very difficult and requires a great deal of practice, it is possible, and it is the most worthwhile thing one can do. In my life, I changed my mind and the way I think, and my life has been transformed. I have transformed my life from having very frequent and long states of depression, to hardly ever experiencing depression, having a relationship where my wife was just about to leave me to a wonderful, strong, peaceful and intimate relationship with this same wife, and from being a stressed workaholic to living in a much more balanced way, while still enjoying professional success. My point is that we can change our minds!
So how can we change our minds? So how can we change our minds? There are many ways. The Hoffman Institute provides a powerful program, framework, and toolkit of effective techniques that help us identify and transform the patterns in our minds . Dr. John DeMartini has numerous program such as "The Breakthrough Experience" that provides a method to recondition our mind by "collapsing" negative thoughts which zap our energy.
Vippassana meditation is a technique that helps us to see things as they really are, not how we want them to be and "aims for the total eradication of mental impurities and the resultant highest happiness of full liberation." Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism offering a form of meditation called "Zazen" that is designed to "calm the body and the mind and experience insight into the nature of existence and thereby gain enlightenment (satori)."
Hollow Bones is a Rinzai school of Zen that offers a way to change the mind called "Mondo Zen," which involves a dialectic protocol of koans (questions) designed to liberate us and has two parts of "Awakening to Clear Deep Mind" and "Transforming Your Disturbing Emotions." Techniques such as "Kouk Sun Do" and "Qi Gong" are designed to build chi and balances our mind, body and spirit, thus changing our minds. I have mentioned these in particular, since these are some of the techniques that I have personally used to change my mind. There are countless other schools, techniques, forms of meditation, and teachings that can help us change our minds.
What do these techniques share in common? They all focus on awareness, and more specifically, becoming aware of our conditioning, so that we can stop reacting, transform ourselves, and become more conscious, allowing us to think and act more wisely. We, as human beings, live a great deal of our lives unaware of important things, for example, how our minds work.

If you would like to learn about and practice ways to "change your mind", come to a "Zen With Len" held at Castle Rock AIKIDO in Castle Rock CO. For current schedule, visit:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Feel Sorry for the Natural!"

From Sensei Corner for Aikido Training
Featuring David Ito Sensei of Los Angeles, California

Many students new to the art of Aikido often become frustrated in their first few months of training. They feel awkward as they struggle with what sometimes they feel should be the most basic of techniques. In fact, many students often erroneously conclude that they aren't "naturals" and just don't have the aptitude for Aikido. Of course, this belief is usually untrue and students will begin to see progress if they will just stick with their training. The following article by David Ito Sensei should comfort students who don't quite feel like "naturals."

Shoshitsu Sen, the great tea master said, "When you enter the way of tea, no matter how you think you may disgrace yourself, it will not be taken as disgrace or shame. Make mistakes, be rebuked, stand corrected and learn." This wisdom has many applications, and certainly in Aikido you have to put in the work in order to develop yourself and improve your technique. Nobody wakes up one day and finds they can suddenly do Shomenuchi Ikkyo correctly. No matter what your skill level, you have to dedicate yourself to your training and work hard. Or do you?

Some individuals at first seem naturally talented while others seem unskilled by comparison. Interestingly, the unskilled or uncoordinated beginners usually emerge as the best students, a pattern which probably gave rise to the old martial arts saying, "Feel sorry for the natural."

The natural never has to learn the techniques fully and often jumps from stage to stage without any struggle. Yet, contrary to popular belief, the struggle itself helps us. Our struggle with Aikido can lead us to overcome our ego and to learn the infinite details of the techniques. Often, (my instructor) would identify someone as a natural and overnight they would seemingly pick up the technique, but before long something would happen to their practice.

That something bubbles up from the ego. Those naturals would get from A to Z and know a vast number of techniques, but what their practice had in variety it lacked in substance. Somewhere along the way they would lose the essence while retaining the form. The naturals tended to think of themselves as something great because they happened to look good doing Aikido or had attained the rank of black belt. Similar to fast food, in Aikido, looks can easily deceive, especially if we let our ego get the best of our practice: this thing may look like a burger, but it tastes like a shoe! Naturals too often forget that Aikido training is a privilege and that most students only earn their black belt long after the day they receive it.

The other day I spoke with a friend who teaches Kung Fu, and he had some sage words: "Students should train everyday with the heart of a black belt." These words to my ear sound profoundly correct; whether you took your Shodan test yesterday or you began practice yesterday, to get any lasting benefit from Aikido you must dedicate your heart and soul to your training.

I think our dojo has always worried less about rank and more about training, and rightly so, simply because training happens daily and testing amounts to just one day designed as a tool for you to gauge your progress. Furuya Sensei used to say that the great thing about Aikido is that it is completely egalitarian because no matter who you are or what your ability, anyone can learn Aikido if they dedicate themselves and work hard. I believe such dedication and discipline allow us to flower fully as martial artists and human beings. Enjoy your practice!

David Ito Sensei is the chief instructor of the Aikido Center of Los Angeles in California. He is a friend of the Colorado Aikido community and has been very supportive of Castle Rock AIKIDO this year. Should you find yourself in Los Angeles, be sure to bring your uniform with you and go train with Ito Sensei. You can visit the Aikido Center of Los Angeles website: HERE

Article published with the consent of David Ito Sensei. Castle Rock AIKIDO offers traditional Japanese martial arts for adults only. To find out more, please visit