DSBK Annual Report 2021

DSBK continues to survive and thrive a wearying global pandemic. According to national statistics on martial arts dojos, vast numbers of martial arts dojos have closed. Our perseverance is truly remarkable. And all the more so because we acquired our first-ever solely inhabited dojo space!

Our annual report demonstrates our organization’s strength and wisdom in saving for a rainy day.

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Cutting Class

Ahhh. There’s nothing like a good sword-slinger movie set in a historic and/or fanciful Asian world. Any Kurosawa film belongs on the list. My favorites include Seven Samurai, Red Beard, and After the Rain. I also love Hero, The Twilight Samurai, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers. And then there’s my very long list of to-be-watched films! Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, the Rurouni Kenshin series, The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi to name a few. 

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DSBK Annual Report 2019

Durango Shin Budo Kai Aikido focused on building a robust financial backbone throughout 2019. The dojo achieved this outcome by networking with the community, nurturing our own internal processes, always developing our practitioners, investing in board member training, and building a plan for the future. Our end goal: secure our own practice space.

Even as we ready for a new year and new decade, check out our growth (and fun!) over the last 300+ days.

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The Wrestler’s Vessel: A father and son give thanks for family, respect, and Aikido

Jerry and Nate face off on the mats. Jerry offers his torso as a target. Nate surges forward, his fist a torpedo gunning for his father’s gut. Jerry pivots, deflecting the punch. At the same time, he catches hold of Nate’s fist and positions his hands to apply a brilliant wrist lock called kote gaeshi. But then, as Jerry pivots again to apply the compressive bend, the flow of the technique stutter-stops. Nate regains his balance and a slight tussle ensues between the two men.

“You can’t force it, dad,” Nate grins.

Jerry pays close attention in class.

Jerry exhales a guilty laugh. A smile curves under his beard. “Wrestler’s instincts,” he apologizes. A former state championship wrestler, Jerry was Nate’s wrestling coach for many years.

Nate guides Jerry through the felt experiences of tense force and relaxed energy. Jerry listens with rapt attention and asks many questions.  Both their voices are characteristically deep and resonant, yet soft and subdued. If their voices were instruments, Jerry’s would be a tuba; Nate’s a trombone.

They repeat the attack and this time, father successfully slams son to the mat. In fact, Jerry takes Nate’s balance so effectively, Nate laughs all the way down.

“When he teaches me stuff, I just love it!” Jerry beams.

Because Nate began his training over a year before Jerry, he is ranked a couple kyus (levels) above his dad. He wears a hakama and sits ahead of his dad when, according to standard tradition, students line up to bow in at the beginning and end of class. It’s a strange reversal of the familial hierarchy.

“It was a little awkward at first,” Nate says, recalling when Jerry joined the dojo. “Suddenly I had this uke [practice partner] with thirty years of relationship to manage.”

Jerry confesses that before he took up Aikido at Durango Shin-Budo Kai with Nate, he and his wife seriously discussed how the father/son dynamic might change. In the end, Jerry felt it would be healthy to have a space where the son’s expertise could expand beyond the dad’s.

Nate (left) watches over dad Jerry’s Aikido (far right).

“I had to kinda rise in myself to lead,” Nate explains. As his father’s senpai (senior student), he had to take responsibility of that leadership role in order to keep his father safe and help him grow through the training.

Nate’s internal rise was immediately evident to his dad. At that time, Jerry and Nate worked together as teachers at Bayfield High School. When they passed each other in the hallways, Jerry observed how his son’s posture changed. He stood taller and walked with poise and balance. While carpooling, Jerry listened as Nate rattled off what he’d learned on the mat.

Likewise, Nate discovered all-new facets to his father soon after Jerry joined the dojo. “It’s interesting to watch him learn techniques, get coached, and make the effort to adapt and change,” he says. “It’s also interesting to watch him test and see how he deals with that stress. Watching him engage with that process…I’ve never seen that side of him.”

Both men point out that while they enjoy seeing each other in new lights, the mutually respectful relationship they bring to the dojo has been an ongoing work-in-progress reaching all the way back to their wrestling days. Nate took on wrestling because he felt intense pressure to follow in his dad’s colossal wake. For his part, Jerry thought Nate loved the sport as much as he did and was shocked to discover Nate hated every tangled, tussled minute of the training and competitions. Nonetheless, they worked through the schism with grace.

According to Jerry, a longtime pastor, “I think Aikido, in many ways, reframes the [biblical] concept of grace.” He goes on to explain how learning the fundamental principles of seeking your opponent’s agreement or seeing the world from your opponent’s perspective helped him extend grace not only to disgruntled students, but also to his own son as they worked out their adult relationship. “I intentionally worked to become an adult friend with my children.”

Nate concurs, noting, “We share the core value of respect. If we get irritated with each other or something’s not going right, that underlying respect helps work through the kinks.”

With Jerry preparing to relocate to Austin, Texas to be nearer to grandchildren, he and Nate now relish their time in class. The looming separation makes them intensely grateful for what Aikido contributes to their ever-evolving dynamic.

As Nate sees it, Aikido reinforces integrity, a word he links back to his childhood upbringing in the church. He says, “The biblical idea of integrity comes from ceramics and pottery.”

He goes on to explain how a potter can form a vessel from clay, then bake—or fire—it before glazing and firing it again. If, after the first firing, a potter notices any cracks in the vessel, he can either trash it and begin anew, or glaze over the structural weaknesses and move on. “The idea of integrity means starting over. For me, that’s what Aikido is. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about going back, finding the gaps, and starting over.”

***

Now that we’re all poised on the holiday doorstep, ready to start over with yet another New Year, the entire Durango Shin-Budo Kai organization offers thanks to the wider community for its ongoing support. We are especially thankful for guidance from the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado, and we owe a mighty thank-you to Mountain Middle School, its students, and families for giving us the bright and beautiful space to practice. This natural rhythm of give and accept—extend and receive, inhale and exhale—is fundamental to Aikido and to all healthy connections.

Other families enjoy training together at DSBK. Laurel (left) and her dad Nathan tested together this Fall.

We understand that in this outstanding region, we all enjoy a bounty of exceptional charitable organizations and life-altering nonprofits. We appreciate your consideration as you make your year-end donations and thankful contributions to your local, regional, and national networks.

Founded in 2003, DSBK Aikido is a registered 501c3 educational non-profit committed to the embodied practice of Aikido as a means to increasing the peace and harmony for each practitioner, as well as for the whole community and beyond. As always, we will seek additional ways to extend our contributions to the community in the coming years. To that end, none of our teachers are paid, ensuring all funds go toward rent, insurance, and aikido outreach events and efforts in the community. For information about how to give, please visit our Patronage page.

Happy Holidays!

Teaching Learning

Finally: the answer to the conundrum which has bebuggered our dojo and its instructors—maybe all dojos and instructors—since the dawn of forever!

Ours cannot be the only dojo that wonders what constitutes the best practices for teaching aikido. Should you demonstrate techniques silently and allow practitioners to repeat them ad infinitum? Should you provide minimal verbal instructions? Or should you provide descriptive details, memorizable steps, and plenty of explanation?

And what about when you’re not the instructor, but just the senpai (senior student) paired with a novice, or kohai? Should you remain mostly silent while your partner reps a technique? Should you correct the errors you see or feel—either silently/bodily like a mime or verbally/accurately like a tutor?

 

I am especially keen to unravel these mysteries because I am co-teaching our 4-week Monday/Thursday Intro to Aikido class (download the intro class flier) coming up on March 12th, 2018 (for questions or to register, contact Philip Riffe: philipriffe@gmail.com)!

Upending Convention 

The answers to these and other questions can be found in Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. Co-authors and experts Peter Brown, Henry Roediger III, and Mark McDaniel compile recent findings from neuroscience and cognitive psychology and combine the results to reexamine what learning is how best to facilitate it.

Conventionally, our culture believes that learning anything the hard way is a waste of time and effort. The student and teacher are better off when the learning is fast and easy. We also believe that practice makes perfect. Repeat something over and over AND OVER until you have it down. However, like nearly all the revelations arising from fMRI (real-time observations of living brains) evidence, the takeaways on learning are counterintuitive and quite opposite from the quick-and-easy conventions.

The Make It Stick authors reveal that when it comes to learning, easy in equals easy out. For example, whenever someone tells you a phone number, you might repeat the number over and over until you can plug it into your phone or jot it on a piece of paper. If asked to recite the number again later that day, odds are good you would succeed in the memory task. But, if asked to recall the number days or weeks later, odds are you will have forgotten the number entirely.

Why?

Because the brain stores quick and easy info in short term memory. Think of short term memory like a chalkboard. It’s as easy to mark on as it is to wipe clean. Long term memory is more like a safety deposit box. It will cost you to put anything in it, but once there, it will endure.

The cost required to store anything in long term memory is effort. Learning actually needs to be effortful if it’s going to last, expand, and enrich.

Worth the Effort

How can we make learning meaningfully effortful? The authors recommend “interleaving” or mixing the tasks and skills to be practiced. Their example comes from a study of youngsters challenged to master the art of chucking a bean bag into a bucket two feet away. One group of kiddos practices exactly that: lobbing bags at a bucket set two feet away. Over and over in the usual “practice makes perfect” style—or what learning specialists call “massed” practice. The other group interleaves their learning. Their buckets sit three feet and four feet away and they can shoot at either or both targets as mixed or as methodically as they wish.

On an immediate skills test, the first group nailed the two-foot bucket more often than the second group. However, within a few weeks without additional practice, the first group missed the target while the second group nailed it. The interleaved practice was more difficult and did not produce desired results immediately, but it built a wider range of skills thanks to mixed targets. Over time, the brain massaged all that learning into the physical finesse needed to land the shot, regardless of the bucket’s distance.

How might this apply to teaching and learning aikido? We may all benefit by mixing what we rep. Maybe, if I want to get better at that hiki-hiraki ikkyo irimi, I should rep some kote kaeshis or shiho nages from a hiki-hiraki start. Maybe I should rep some ikkyos from yoko-hiraki or dashi-hiraki starts.

Mind the Gap

Another vital point which contradicts convention concerns forgetting. We assume forgetting stems from a flaw in our ability to remember, or that the way we acquired the information was somehow flawed (otherwise, we would remember it). On the contrary, forgetting is what the brain does naturally and needs to do in order to acquire information for the long term.

How can we encourage beneficial forgetting? Build open spaces or gaps into the learning process. Following a lesson, allow for a gap in time and attention on the topic. Allow the brain to erase some or most of what you acquired. Then quiz yourself. The effort you put into reconstructing the lesson strengthens the wiring in and across your brain. To recall what you learned (and partially forgot), you must tap various regions of the brain—those governing sound, smell, touch, taste, and so on. Your prior learning and experience will also feed the reconstruction process, which in turn, bolsters the wiring (synaptic connections) around the new information. More connections equal deeper storage and longer retention.

Riddle Me This

Another way to build in gaps is to hold back “right” or “wrong” feedback. Gaps of silence. When your kohai is fiddling about with footwork or handwork, simply giving them a few unaided attempts is enough to let their bodies relay important information to the brain, like: this is weird…this feels inefficient…this doesn’t seem at all like what the sensei showed…etc. In the wake of that evidence, the mind and body work in tandem to problem solve, to imagine alternative solutions, or to re-imagine sensei’s demonstration. This attempt to solve the problem before being given the answer builds robust learning because when you do offer a correction/solution, kohai’s mind and body will padlock that information and connect it to all the wiring that arose during unaided experimentation. Again, more wiring makes the revealed solution stick better and longer.

Consider any time you were given one of those bizarre brain-teaser puzzles to solve. Like those two ten-penny nails twisted together that supposedly come apart. Or think of any time someone has challenged you to solve a riddle. You try out answers and solutions until either you solve it or you ask for the answer. How well do you remember the solution years later when you hand over the same puzzle or riddle to a new, unsuspecting victim?

Naturally, this book belongs on every educator’s shelf, but for senseis and aikidoka, this book represents an opportunity to strengthen and expand not only their practice, but also the essential senpai/kohai relationship which makes practicing so rich.

 

Featured image “Chalk” (CC BY 2.0).

How You Contribute to a Harmonious World

For almost 15 years, Durango Shin-Budo Kai has been a community resource for boosting mind-body unification, refining the spirit, and teaching nonviolent conflict resolution. As a 501(c)3, we are committed to the embodied practice of aikido as a means to increasing the peace and harmony for each practitioner, their families, the community, and beyond. As a martial art, aikido is remarkably adaptive. Its principles can be practiced by anyone of any gender, age, cultural heritage, or physical ability. (Indeed, we have welcomed onto our mats practitioners who were partially blind or wheelchair-enabled.)

While our nonprofit organization outlines our 2018 community outreach and education goals, we wanted to share the most exciting accomplishments from the last year.

Growth
New Year’s Day marked our one-year anniversary in the new dojo at 1140-A Main Ave (inside YogaDurango). Within this location, we hosted a jam-packed Open House, not to mention two successful semiannual introductory classes. We trained our bodyminds and refined our spirits during our solstice and equinox shugyos. These events brought guests from other dojos near and far, which contributed fresh zest to the training mix.

We added this blog to our website! The original articles you find there every month are generated by our own practitioners. There, we delve into what is new or old, lost or found on the path of this remarkable martial art.

Guides
DSBK once again participated in Durango 9R School District’s Keys to High School Success program where middle school students preparing to enter high school circulate through various learning stations throughout the day. With 6-8 dojo members on hand, we lead exercises that allow the young people to experience for themselves the power of relaxation, how to access calmness under stress, and what a difference it makes to center attention in the lower belly when facing a challenge. This year our participation made The Herald!

Michael Wilkinson (left) instructing the adults’ class.

In 2017, we also witnessed an important torch passed. After serving as the Kids Class Instructor for over a decade, Michael Wilkinson (4th degree black belt) retired from the post. Michael was a guide and a mentor to many, many children and teens. For some, he was a beacon—the only reliable and trustworthy adult available during those tough, transitional years. We are grateful Michael continues to practice and teach in the regular, adult classes. Meanwhile, Sky Yudron and Philip Riffe took over instruction of aikido’s next generation. They enjoyed packed classes with attendance reaching the double-digits during the long, hot summer.

Promotions
Promotions in rank occur when a student successfully demonstrates a selected range of techniques, ability, poise, and weapons exercises known as katas. Preparations for these “tests” unify the entire dojo around the candidate, generating a spirited, committed exchange of knowledge, skill, and insight. Promotions underscore the health of the dojo and the perseverance of its members. In 2017:

  • Tim Birchard earned 5th kyu (and in October, earned 4th kyu)
  • Sky Yudron earned 2nd kyu
  • Nate Brush earned 2nd kyu (and in December, earned 1st kyu)

Jenny Mason completed most of the weapons demonstrations required for Nidan, 2nd degree black belt. (Imaizumi Sensei will have the opportunity to review her promotion once she has completed all the requirements in 2018.)

Gratitude
We are all deeply grateful for the opportunity to train together, to grow and develop together, and to share the wonderful and transforming art of aikido with adults and especially the next generations in the kids’ classes. We know that this opportunity exists only because of the support of our partners and families to whom we are deeply grateful. As always, we will seek additional ways to extend our contribution to the community in the coming years. This natural rhythm of give and accept, extend and receive, inhale and exhale is fundamental to aikido and to all healthy relations.

Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to DSBK Aikido, a registered 501(c)3 educational non-profit. All our instructors volunteer their time for free. All funds go toward rent, insurance, and aikido outreach events and efforts in the community. Contributions allow us to keep the cost of membership as low as possible, making the practice more accessible. The ripple-effects of these benefits translate directly into your meaningful contribution to a more harmonious world.

For information about how to give, please visit our Patronage page. Or mail a check to: Steve Self, DSBK Treasurer, 120 Trail Ridge Road, Durango, CO  81301. Make the checks out to DSBK Aikido. You will be sent a receipt with the nonprofit info for taxes.

Here’s to a more harmonious 2018!