Welcome to the first issue of Nikyo Monthly on the Web.

We'd like to give a very special thank you to Christine Kennedy who designed the banner for our new web-based newsletter. In coming months, you will get to see other banner designs by Christine, and pick the one that you like best.

 

Think big. No, bigger.

 

 

When Morihei Ueshiba found enlightenment in his garden, he said, "I am the universe." When Maruyama Sensei describes his feeling in an exercise like Sayo Undo, he says it's like his arm "splits the universe." And sometimes, when people teach unbendable arm, they say, "Imagine that your arm reaches to the end of the universe."

Now, if they meant those references to the universe literally, we better pause and think about it for a moment. Because the universe is a pretty big place.

 

Maruyama Sensei looks small. But to himself, he feels like he fills the universe.


There is a photograph I know of that can give you an idea of the size of the universe. When I fist saw it, it took my breath away. It's called the Hubble Deep Field, and it's a picture that was taken over the course of 10 days by the Hubble space telescope.


In this photograph, you see dozens and dozens of galaxies. It is easy to count 20 or 30 of them right off the bat. But when you realize that even the small points of light in the photograph are galaxies, it becomes apparent that even in this one picture there may be too many galaxies to count.

Now it's hard to comprehend the size of even a single galaxy. It's hundreds of millions of stars, all separated by distances you couldn't travel in a hundred lifetimes. And in this one photograph, there are scores of galaxies. When you look at this photograph, and think about the scope of it, you can't believe the universe could be so huge.


But here's the clincher. This isn't a photograph of the whole night sky, or even a significant portion of it. The Hubble Deep Field shows of section of the sky that is just 1/30 the diameter of the full moon. You could take a similar picture—with hundreds more galaxies—in millions of other positions in the sky. (If you haven't seen the Hubble Deep Field, you should really take a look at it.)


And there's another clincher. Most scientists now believe in a hypothesis called inflation, which says that in the initial instant after the big bang, the universe expanded at an incredible rate. If that's the case, the universe is way bigger than most of us have been imagining. The farthest galaxy in the Hubble Deep Field might be 14 octillion centimeters away (don't ask me why they're using centimeters). That's 14,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (14 followed by 27 zeroes). By one theorist's estimate based on inflation, the radius of the whole universe measured in centimeters might be one followed by a trillion zeroes!


So now when you're imagining that your arm reaches to the end of the universe, at least you'll know what you're getting yourself into.


When you first get a sense of the size of the universe—or of your inability to comprehend it—it can give you a feeling of insignificance. Or worse.


I remember when I was a kid and I would play in my mind with thoughts about the size of the universe. I would think to myself, how could it go on forever? But conversely, how could it ever stop? If it stopped, what would be at the end—some kind of wall? Then what would be on the other side of the wall? And if both of those options were impossible, how could we even be here, in this universe that makes no sense? When those thoughts took hold of me, I would get a feeling of panic! But since the universe did not rip apart when I realized it couldn't exist, the panic passed, and I went on with my playing.


In some ways, that's what happens when people feel overwhelmed in daily life. Their world seems too big, too hard to figure out. If only they could make it small and manageable, maybe everything would be okay. But the way Aikido sees things, it's better to let the universe be huge, and simply become a part of it. Stretch to the ends of it, expand into it, hold it inside you. What's that? Scientists say the universe is getting bigger at a rate of thousands or millions of miles per hour? So much the better!


So how do you catch this feeling? It's sounds somewhat childish, but the answer is imagination. It's one of the most powerful tools we use to catch our best feeling in Aikido. (And, in fact, it is one of the most powerful tools cosmologists use as they reach to understand the scope of the universe.)


We imagine that one-point is in the center of the lower abdomen, itself at the center of the universe, and we feel settled. We imagine that our arms stretch ten, or a thousand miles, and we feel strong. We imagine that our breath continues out to the horizon, and we feel calm. We imagine, before an attack commences, that we have reached out and made contact with our attacker, and we feel confident.


For some people, it is a matter of literally thinking of these things. For others, it is more of a feeling. But with each repetition of a technique, or a ki exercise, or meditation, we expand ourselves farther and farther, stretching out to the shores of the universe. And as we do it, day by day, we feel increasingly comfortable, and relaxed, and peaceful.


And big.

 

Winter Camp


Sensei did some amazing things at Winter Camp. But what I'll remember most was a very simple demonstration.


Sensei invited two strong, young black belts—Dave Comi and Otto (whose last name I don't know)—to demonstrate Kokyu Dosa. The two of them sat in seiza, facing each other. Dave offered his wrists, while Otto held. When Dave began pushing a good-natured wrestling match ensued, with both combatants trying valiantly to push the other over—while avoiding being pushed over himself. It reminded me of an Olympic wrestling match in its final seconds.


Then Sensei traded places with Otto, and he invited Dave to push against him just as hard. Sensei held his wrists, and Dave's eyes blazed with resolve as he set his body up for the big push. Then, he simply fell backwards while Sensei smiled sleepily. Dave got up and pushed again and again, but each time he fell over as easily.


Sensei said later that he had been practicing Aikido 48 years. Those years were clearly evident in this demonstration—and every other one. People fell with the slightest touch, their faces lit up with surprised smiles, and people marveled as Sensei walked away, saying, "Did you see what he did? That was incredible!"


Camp is not a compilation of techniques. It is an opportunity to experience an incredible feeling, to see what happens when it touches you, to be amazed and inspired by it, and most important, to feel it grow within yourself.

 

Mr. Chair


As if to add a footnote to the newsletter article from last month, Sensei surprised us once more with his chair technique at camp.


If you read last month's newsletter—or if you've ever been to camp—you will recall what the chair technique is. Sensei uses it to show how an uke (attacker) must have real intent during practice, and not expect the technique we are practicing. He invites a student to sit in a chair. The student sits down carefully and unnaturally, expecting Sensei to pull the chair away. But Sensei encourages him to sit normally, leaving the chair unmoved to build confidence. Once the person becomes convinced the chair will be there, Sensei pulls it out, and the student falls—demonstrating exactly what should happen when someone is attacking, and we suddenly move.


We're always expecting at least one demonstration of the "chair technique" at camp. But this year, Sensei seemed intent on disturbing even that expectation. While we were eating a late dinner at a restaurant after our first class, Sensei noticed a student about to sit down and flawlessly pulled out his chair. The young man plopped to the floor, laughing. We were surprised the manager didn't try to throw Sensei out. (Which would have made the evening even more interesting!)


In case you feel bad that this young man didn't have the benefit of a mat when he fell—Sensei asked him to help with the demonstration once again during practice, calling him, "Mr. Chair!"

 

Testing


We've had a fair amount of testing recently, both at the dojo, and at camp. In recent dojo testing, Mike Abraham and Tim Vann tested for 6th kyu, Nataliya Minkovska and Callid Keefe tested for 5th, and Jerry Harrington tested for 4th. All did a fine job.

Camp gave us the opportunity for some higher rank testing. Candy Martens, Jason Beck, and Rob Greene all tested for 2nd kyu, their first brown belt. Mark Grey tested for 1st kyu—the final step before shodan rank. And Mike Lewis and Steve Ridley both did a great job as they tested for 2nd dan.


We congratulate all of these students on their promotions, and thank them for their many contributions to our dojo.

 

More on Winter Camp


Winter Camp had record attendance this year. Over 240 people were in Lawrenceville to learn from and be inspired by Maruyama Sensei. What's even more amazing is that over one tenth of the people at camp came from a dojo over six hours away, in upstate NY. Rochester, to be exact. Want proof? Here's a photo of the Rochester contingent with Sensei.

 

 

Upcoming Events


Misogi breathing, kiatsu, and back exercises with Judy. Thursday, April 11, from 8-9 PM.
Video Night is Thursday, April 25, starting at 9 PM.
Summer Camp with Maruyama Sensei is July 25-28.
Sensei in Rochester! August 2-4.