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Shodan: Chris Lyon

First Degree Black Belt is the beginning of keiko (study).
After years of training, the basic forms of Aikido start to live in the body, the heart, the mind, the way music lives in a musician.
The idea is to become a brush, writing peace in the world.

Chris came to the dojo several years ago with a background in training with Nobu Iseri (whose dojo was across the street in Ojai from where Living Aikido is now). She told me before she started classes, “I want to get my black belt!”

Every Dan presentation in our lineage is crafted by the promoter as a self-revelation: not only of martial skill but of the deep self to be witnessed and held by the community.

Some presentations are about the physical challenge inherent in the practice. For a candidate who regularly trains with her grandchildren, you might think that would be the case for Chris’ presentation.

Chris’ Aikido is a tapestry of her life: her inspirations, her faith, her service. Her narration of the techniques and concepts of Aikido in the context of her story was connective and liberating for those of us privileged to be there. She piece-by-piece narrated us through the techniques and experiences of Aikido and told us the stories of her inspirations in life and her involvement(s) in Aikido.

After the presentation, she commented, “All right, let’s do this in 2 years and see where I am then!”

And I thought, “Now there’s a bold way to schedule your nidan (2nd degree black belt) presentation!” Which is not what she meant, but which made me chuckle.

Bow-in (Formal)

[box type=”note” style=”rounded”]If you came this way in may-time, it would be the same. – T.S. Elliot[/box]

The Formal bow-in is similar to the informal bow-in , with a little more oomph.

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]eiza is always the beginning.

Two Bows for Unity – the self and the work of the self

Four Claps to Invoke the World – often the Four Directions (NESW) or Heaven/Earth/Center/Life.

One Bow in Gratitude for What Has Gone Before. Sensei at this point will often pause to call in the memory and presence of O-Sensei, the founder of Aikido.


The rest is the same.

Bow-in (Informal)

[dropcap]S[/dropcap]eiza is the beginning, facing the shomen. In relationship to the Place of the Way (dojo), facing the calligraphy on the Shomen.

One bow – Gratitude for yourself, for your commitment to the excellence of your life.

Two claps – invoking your world (lit. heaven and earth), calling your life into your training so it can be purified.

One bow – Gratitude for those who have gone before; e.g. for your teacher, and their teacher, for your parents, for the people that make the food that you eat, the water that you drink.

Sensei turns to face the student, and the sensei acknowledges his identification with the dojo, with the Art of Peace, with the Shomen, by bowing to the students and calling out, “onegaishimasu!”.

The students should reply, “Onegaishimasu, sensei!”

Adult Class post-Bow-in

After our bow-in in the adult class, we do a series of 3 meditations coupled with physical movements as part of the Furitama. These meditations have their roots in Shinto, the native Japanese spiritual tradition, and are part of O’Sensei’s class-opening practice toward the end of his life.

Amterasu No O-Kami

Amterasu was the sun of Japanese mythology. One of the stories in the Nihonshiki (the Japanese myth cycle) is bout the sun becoming disgusted with the world and shutting herself away, and how the other gods draw her back out into the world again.

This exercise uses the breath to stoke the fires of the body, to fill the body with ki, with life, to prepare us for training – but sometimes to draw out our inner fire again which has gone to hide, disgusted by the difficulties of the world.

O-Harai Do No Kami

O-Harai means “Great Purification”. The first purification in Japanese mythology was a great waterfall, and a misogi – a ritual cleansing. Aikido is a misogi practice. It’s meant to purify the body, the heart, the spirit, to make us more clear, better human beings.

Just like clothes get dirty when we wear them out in the world, our spirits also get dirty: little remarks left unaddressed, sadnesses and rages unexpressed, parts of ourselves we reject because others find them difficult. Just like our clothes are not bad when they get dirty, the same with ourselves: we just need to clean up a bit.

In the O-Harai meditation, we imagine a waterfall, or a powerful rain or some other irresistible force pounding down through us. Standing in a waterfall is intense – you are pounded by the water so that any spare effort becomes unthinkable, you have to both surrender to the pounding water and hold on to your core.

In this part of the furitama, we try to relax, to let everything fall away but that bright core we stoked in the first meditation.

Ame No Minakanushi No Kami

This is the meditation of the hara, the center, of the first thing.

When we move from our hearts, we become entangled in things, because feelings are clingy. When we move from our body alone, we are weak and easily injured. When we move from our thoughts we lack relationship to others and often end up getting hit in the face (in reality in practice, and figuratively in life).

The center incorporates the self and the surround together. The center does not cling or overreach or disconnect. Moving in this way, our center is our strength, so the heart can relax and feel everything that is happening, and the mind can relax from all its hard labors and perceive the detail of what is happening, drawing with its enormous capacity the (somewhere between 10,000 and 4 billion) impressions every moment that it absorbs.


Shaking your hands up and down


Find your chushin, your center line, with your hands, one to the sky, one to the earth. Extend yourself upward and downward, draw in the 2 great extremities of the world and cup them together, like a contradiction between your hands.

Connect to your center, shaking that contradiction as you shake yourself.

Polish your center, by which I mean, shake off the accumulation of crud that happens by being in the world. Connect to the light that is your core, and open up to it, recognize your center as the true heart of you.

Easy, right?

Why bow in & out?

The traditional Japanese answer is: [highlight] because our teachers did it, and out of respect, we adopt their form to hold our practice.[/highlight]

Well, okay. But I’m not Japanese, and if you are reading this, you probably aren’t either. As an American, as a philosopher, as a poet, that isn’t enough for me. I bow in and bow out because I find it helpful. I feel like it brings the class together, it unites all the participants in a single movement, a single physical set of acts – and rituals have great power in the human psyche. If we can bow together, we can probably work together, we can begin to let go of our separation, we can turn and look out to the horizon of Aikido, searching for peace.

On a personal level, bowing in calms me quickly, allows me to let go of the day that was behind me. As the sensei, it reminds me of my job, that I am taking responsibility for what happens over the next hour in a formal way (where my tendency might be to just play for an hour – although there’s nothing wrong with that). Bowing out gives me energy to face the evening, reminds me what I want to carry out with me from Aikido into the world.

The japanese word for a bow is shomen-rei, literally meaning “face-respect”. You’re paying respect to another person by bowing to them, acknowledging their fundamental worthiness to participate in the system of human kindnesses.