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Kagami Biraki Speech 2014

Thank you all for coming along today to celebrate the official start of training for 2014. The origins of kagami biraki are obscure but one tradition associated with it is the covering of the sacred mirrors in the shrines over New Year which are then opened up at kagami biraki. The quieter time over the transition from one year to the next provides an opportunity to review the past and plan for the future. Kagami biraki marks the transition from introspection into action. As such,  I am going to use this opportunity to introduce some of my plans for the dojo in 2014, a year that is numerically significant as it marks the 20th anniversary of our dojo.

When I’m planning for the dojo I get to thinking about what it is that we practice here. Aikido is a paradoxical thing. Of all the budo, or martial-ways of Japan, it must surely be the one for which people hold the widest and most divergent views as to its appearance, practice, function, and purpose. My own opinions and practice have certainly changed over the years and I think it is important that my own students be likewise able to create and recreate their understanding of aikido. Change is an inevitability of life and, I believe the true purpose of aikido is in positively relating to change.

Transformation is a recurring theme in the Founder’s teaching. His stated goal for aikido was the transformation of the very nature of budo, from a tool to overcome others to a path to transcend conflict itself. He taught not just a philosophy but an embodied practice which he intended would forge more powerful and effective people.  As he says;

Iron is full of impurities that weaken it; through the forging fire, it becomes steel and is transformed into a razor-sharp sword. Human beings develop in the same fashion.

Forging is not only a process of burning and beating impurities from the ore but also the combining of iron with carbon to produce steel which is not only strong, but flexible. In Japan, tanren, or forging, is a popular metaphor for the process of transformation. The term is used for both physical conditioning exercises and for seishin tanren, or the forging of the spirit.

The belief that facing hardship builds character is a strong one and aikido can certainly present many challenges to overcome, the fire and the hammer if you like. But it also provides a new way of perceiving and relating as well as a supportive community, the carbon that transforms iron to steel.

I have observed that a desire for transformation is the shared quality of all of those who persevere with their training in this dojo. The envisioned transformation may vary from person to person, and over time for each individual, but it is the possibilities that aikido offers for continued growth that keeps us going, especially when the path becomes difficult.

My role as a teacher is to facilitate growth in my students, to manage the development of the dojo and to pursue my own practice. Those of you who have been in the dojo for a while will appreciate the degree to which it has changed over the years, perhaps more than any other dojo in New Zealand.

Although change is potentially unsettling, as you can tell from the theme of this speech, I value the capacity for change personally, institutionally and societally. The challenge is to encourage and engage in change while still providing solid ground for individuals in their own process of growth.

Over the past year it has grown clearer to me that being specific about the primary values of our dojo is essential in  grounding our practice. After careful consideration I have chosen the seven values of integrity, excellence, commitment, responsibility, courage, clarity and respect.

I have also worked to define these values as clearly and succinctly as possible. They are posted here in the dojo, on our website, and I have emailed you all a copy so please take some time to consider them, ask questions if need be and, most importantly, act upon them in and out of the dojo.

From February there will be additional aikido classes on the timetable with a Wednesday class from 6:30 to 8:00. There will be a cycle of four classes over Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, with every fourth class being a weapons class, meaning the weapons class will fall on a different day every week.

I hope this will give you more opportunities and flexibility in your practice and especially  support you in developing your weapons skills as this is a characteristic and essential element of our aikido lineage.

Despite this being the official start to the year we have already had two weeks of classes and it has been great to see good attendance and lots of enthusiasm. I am going to work to keep improving dojo but a dojo is created by all of it’s members so I encourage you to keep working hard and having fun and forge something special this year.

Alan Roberts - Dojocho (18 January 2014)

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