A Great Christmas Present
by Heather Gawlick
Yesterday, a dear friend of mine I have known for a long time gave me a beautiful Christmas gift.
I had missed his call and we were playing telephone tag. My initial reaction when we connected was it had to have something to do with dojo business. Nope. That had nothing to do with it.
He called to sing me a Christmas carol in a way only this man can.
He has an amazing, booming singing voice. It can carry soulful tunes for miles and through your very heart. I love it when he sings.
He called to sing a silly song and make me laugh. It worked. I smiled the rest of the day.
Thank you again. You are truly generous. I am very blessed to have you for my friend. It was the perfect Christmas present.
May all you out there in cyberspace have friends who love you for who you are and surprise you with gifts of love and joy.
What does it mean to earn your black belt?
by Heather Gawlick
We celebrated watching one of our students earn his Shodan (first-degree black belt) this week. It was incredible to watch him transform from the first day he stepped foot in the dojo. He has truly learned a great deal in a relatively short amount of time. He has changed from an unsure white belt to a fully qualified instructor.
It is not just his growth, either. The dojo has changed since he started. He stuck with us through the days of no mats, grungy floors, and unpredictable room arrangements. He has watched some people come and some go. He has helped teach them all. He supported us when we organized visits for master teachers. As a true friend, he was honest with us when we needed to consider making changes and improvements.
Some people think becoming a black belt means you've mastered a martial art and there is nothing left to learn. That is a very sad misperception causing them to leave prematurely.
To me, earning your Shodan means you have just arrived at a place where you can actually start to learn. You have been around long enough to have weathered the ups and downs of the seasons of change occurring in every dojo and probably outlasted others along the way.
You have decided (consciously or otherwise) this is a way of life. You have learned this skill in your bones. It has become a part of you. You now move differently. You now have a glowing inner confidence you didn't possess before. You have trusted others with your life and others have trusted you with theirs. You are empowered with the love of the dojo.
You have learned that teaching is a part of learning. Questions lead to reflections and experiments. They are not inconveniences or annoyances. They are critical to fully understanding why and how things work.
You now know the basic movements, motions, and falls. You are now ready to learn some of the exciting stuff: the higher-level skills of off-balance and controlling others' bodies as you perfect how your body moves through time and space. The techniques you thought were impossible are now within your grasp and you have the confidence to try them.
You have stuck around long enough to become a member of the club of people who make this a permanent part of their lives. There are no former black belts. You are a black belt. You will always be a black belt. You are now ready to start the real learning and transformation of your life.
Welcome to the club, my friend. You did great!
What is different about our Aikido?
by Heather Gawlick
I've been pondering the question of who we are as Aikidoka. I've been asked a lot over the years who we are and how we fit in the Aikido world.
It's a fair question.
We aren't Aikikai, Ki Society, or pure Tomiki style. We don't belong to those groups. But, I don't believe we are on the fringes, either.
Those of us who studied under the Karl Geis umbrella while he was alive became a part of a different group with its own merits. I learned before the Internet took off, so information about other Aikido dojos was limited and I really didn't know anything about what other styles there were. Now, thanks to YouTube and other resources, I'm starting to open my eyes and mind a bit more.
The katas as I originally learned them look almost identical to what I see other Tomiki groups doing. It is very clear that is where we got our roots. Over the years since I started, we have slowed the techniques down, softened them, and rounded out the edges a bit. But, they are still clearly Tomiki techniques.
One thing that is very different from the other Tomiki groups is we don't do the competitions they are famous for. Karl told me he objected to the competitions because when you are trying to score points, that becomes the focus and it changes things. Karl wanted to keep the self-defense aspects of our Aikido as the focus, which makes it too dangerous to do as a sport with competitions. When everything you do results in broken bones, no one is going to want to keep coming to class.
Instead of competitions, Karl had us focus on randori, or free-style practice. The goal is to find the off-balance points and the places where one partner is in a terminal position. Randori done this way involves going so slowly the competition fades away and in its place is a focus on learning where your bodies can end up - spinal lock, arm bar, throw... It is practiced in the spirit of learning, playing, and safety - not winning. It is a tool for understanding that kata are your basic dance moves and they can be joined in an infinite number of combinations to make a full ballet.
Later, Karl created a set of kata to take the basic moves and chain them together. I see it as a way to bridge the gap between the scripted set of moves that makes up a kata and the anarchy that is randori. Some teachers have replaced the Tomiki kata with these chains containing the old techniques. I like to use all three sets of tools. They each teach a different lesson as a student progresses in their understanding of Aikido.
I think all the masters of Aikido have left their mark on this beautiful and graceful art, each one taking what Ueshiba invented and leaving a piece of themselves imbedded in their interpretation of how the body moves. Ueshiba passed his Aikido to Tomiki. Tomiki passed his Aikido to Karl Geis. Karl Geis passed his Aikido to me. I've picked up a few ideas of my own over the years and have passed them on to my students. I hope my students will pass their ideas on down to the next generation.
When dealing with an art that involves movement of the body, there is no perfect technique. Each time it is executed, there is a little bit of a change. If there wasn't, it would be a dead art.
Karl Geis has left quite a legacy for all of us who studied under him. I'll always be grateful to Karl and all my teachers over the years for everything they have taught me. I'm honored to walk in their footsteps. I'll do my best to pass the legacy and love we call Aikido on to others.
Heather and Roy Gawlick love Aikido and have a passion for sharing it with others. They hope you'll catch the Aikido bug, too!
Shinju Dojo Aikido Martial Arts School in Longview / Kelso, Washington