Monday, February 06, 2012


Richard Strozzi-Heckler at Two Rock Aikido dojo

Twenty of my past thirty-seven years have been generally influenced by the martial art aikido ( with the most recent twelve being directly influenced by it. Many Samurai Game® facilitators use aikido-based movements to prepare participants for the Game's play. By 2000, I knew that to best understudy George Leonard ( and his Game I should engage in aikido. He practiced it, eventually held 5th degree black belt rank in it, and wrote extensively about it. So, in May of that year I stepped onto the mat and began my own path of practice.

Some years later I began delivering a training/learning program using aikido demonstrations and simple exercises, and started bringing in qualified aikido practitioners and teachers to assist delivery. Why? Numerous organizations and schools had been requesting the Game, but were asking for delivery outside its design parameters. Their groups were either too small or too large, or they wanted delivery completed in less than the required time, or the situation was not appropriate for the Game. Out of this need I designed The Art of Practice and the Organizational Dojo™ (AOPOD).

AOPOD, now delivered internationally, provides clients and participants a powerful platform for enhanced awareness and practices regarding service, communication, leadership, teamwork and successful conflict resolution. Users, some on a recurring basis, include: Event Network Inc., Environmental Chemical Corporation, The Emerald Queen Casino/Hotel, personnel of the USS John C Stennis aircraft carrier, Bond University, Top Human International, Transcendence and Ju Hong HR Services Ltd in PR China, etc. Skillfully playing a major part in its delivery are Allied Ronin Associates Susan Hammond, Lisa Ludwigsen, and Dr. Paul Marshall

This past June I suffered a shoulder separation four days before my initially scheduled nidan (2nd degree black belt) exam, and needed to delay the test for six months. The Ronin Post's July and August 2011 issues contain my article "Testing Time", dedicated to mountain climber Carlos Buhler and how meeting him carried me through my injury and test postponement. On December 1st, a few days ago, the rescheduled exam happened. At this level of testing an essay accompanies the challenge. Here, for this month and next, my essay is provided - completed November 30th as I reflected on certain aiki principles directly transferable to personal and professional effectiveness in the world that exists off the mat.

A few definitions (some loosely translated) to assist your read:

* Ai - Ki - Do = Harmony - Energy - Way, i.e. the way of harmonious energy

* Irimi = to enter into a situation

* Tenkan = to turn and look at a situation from the opposite direction

* Zanshien = the maintaining of a connection with all that is around you

* Onegai shimasu = a greeting or offer made to assist another's learning

* Sensei = teacher

* Randori = being under multiple attack (i.e., all hell breaks loose)

* Kyu = any aikido rank below the rank of black belt, with 5th Kyu being lowest and 1st Kyu being highest

* Katate dore, irimi nage, kaiten nage, and kata dore = names of various techniques

* Uke = the "attacker" in a paired partner aikido training situation

* Gi = martial art training uniform

* Hara = body center point, about two inches below the navel

* Seiza = a formal way of sitting on one's knees

* Aikidoka = those who practice and study aikido

On The Eve of Nidan

November 30, 2011.

Now I go within to reach back and touch memories: things I have noticed along the way. Tomorrow is my exam; but tomorrow is also another training day - not only in the dojo. In life every day is a training day, and every day is also a test. No matter who one is, or what one does, or where one lives. Some reflections I'm having today on the eve of nidan.

June 14, 2011.

It's 11pm at Petaluma hospital ER. My nidan exam was to be this coming weekend; the operative word is "was". Four hours ago I took a fall on the mat and separated my shoulder. Outside the dojo in pain, I sat on a wood bench and looked up. My sensei is standing there. "Well, no test for me," I say. He softly replied, "Maybe this is the test." Moments ago the ER doc had good news. The injury is not major and I will heal. She says it's a matter of patience and time. Isn't that the truth - she, the doctor - could be sensei's best friend, showing up here tonight to remind me that aikido, like life, is something we live within. Tonight begins my entry into six-months from which I can turn and look back so I might move forward again. Tonight is irimi tenkan.

At the moment I landed on my shoulder and it separated I didn't take it as an opportunity to irimi and tenkan - but I do now.

September 30, 2011.

I'm sitting seiza at the recreation center gym in Incline Village, NV. The weekend seminar hosted by Truckee Aikido has just opened. It's an annual gathering for aikidoka from Two Rock Aikido (Petaluma) and North Bay Aikido (Santa Cruz). Richard Sensei, bows in and turns, "Let's practice Aikido". A wave of hot energy surges within me because these three words ("let's practice aikido" is his standard opening to every class) sound so differently in this moment. Prior to tonight I've interpreted this greeting as an invitation to engage in a martial art full of techniques: katate dore and irimi nage and kaiten nage and kata dore, etc. Tonight I'm struck that my journey these past eleven years stretches far beyond a martial art, or taking a sit fall or doing a soft front roll or learning to knee walk. Tonight I hear his invitation as "let's practice living in accordance with life's principles" - principles of mastery important to all: martial artists, musicians, lawyers, teachers, physicists, carpenters, farmers, soldiers, politicians, priests, rabbis, casino floor workers, sports coaches, workers on the floor of a stock exchange, bankers, prison guards, etc. Yes, tonight, "let's practice aikido" invites that I will perform certain martial art movements; but this shrinks in comparison to how I engage with people outside the dojo: how I listen, how I walk through an airport, how I comport myself when passing through immigration in some far off land, how I pay my bills and file my taxes, how I engage with my ex-wife, etc. All of this is suddenly included into possibility of "ai " and "ki" and "do" as a practice.

Before this night I didn't think of Richard Sensei's class greeting this way - but I do now.

1992. A late Spring day at 4pm

I am walking aside a pond in Lake County, California. Two government-issue general purpose medium tents stand before me; butted together they form the classroom for an intense seminar that I'm conducting. A few months ago I hired Richard Strozzi-Heckler to come here today and facilitate a leadership simulation, The Samurai Game®. Richard is fast becoming a friend and colleague. The Game is an aikido-based invention of his friend, George Leonard. I don't realize it at this time, how much Richard and George have contributed to the world as aikido sensei as well as through their individual and collective teachings based on aikido.

About a half hour ago the men I was in charge of followed Richard outside the tents for some grounding and centering exercises and "two-step", plus something he calls walking into empty spaces. Now on our way back to the tent Richard turns and asks me a simple question, "What is your practice?" I haven't a clue what he is talking about, and in that moment I'm tongue-tied, though my internal mental chatter is running non-stop. I look around me. A vivid world explodes and settles like dust: the sounds of birds and frogs, the warmth of sunlight striking my left cheek, the texture of the air stirring my hair, the smell of pond water, the crunch of my boots on rocks beneath my feet. Richard's exercises and his question have caused me to lift my head and reach out with my senses to connect with all that surrounds me.

Inside the tent he quotes Taisen Deshimaru, "You must concentrate upon and consecrate yourself wholly to each day, as though a fire were raging in your hair." In the moment it's impossible for me to know that in eight years in addition to the word "friend", I will associate "zanshien" and "sensei" when thinking and speaking of him.

Mindful connection. Teachers. Both are important, regardless of one's profession or study or occupation or position in life. All of us, whether walking to tent or walking through life, no matter who we are, if we look we will find many sensei. If we truly commit to connect we understand zanshien.

I didn't think about teachers and present mindedness in this context in 1992 - but I do now.

January 10, 1997. Mid-afternoon.

I am sitting legs sprawled, on Capitola Beach south of Santa Cruz. The sunlight is striking my face, as is a brisk sea breeze. The wet sand soaks through my trousers and puddles of water surround me. The tide is coming in. An hour ago my friend, John Gallagher, and I were walking over boulders and I slipped and fell. A horrible pain shot ...

(to be continued in January 2012 issue of The Ronin Post)

© Lance Giroux, November 2011

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