Birankai Aikido training focuses on transforming the self and body through development of centeredness, connectedness, wholeness, liveliness, and openness. These qualities are fostered through not only through empty-hand practice, but also through training with weapons, Iaido (Japanese swordsmanship), and Zazen meditation.
Aikido is not just a martial art — it is a path to self-transformation.
The modern Japanese martial art of Aikido was developed early in the 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969) as a synthesis of his martial studies, philosophy, and religious beliefs. In the words of the Founder, the aim of Aikido is “to unify the mind and body and to promote peace, harmony, and cooperation among all beings.”
These characters are most often translated as “the way of unifying (with) the fundamental life energy,” or as “the way of harmonious spirit.”
At the heart of Aikido training lies the concept of effectively meeting, redirecting, and guiding an opponent’s force to neutralize an attack or aggressive situation.
Aikido physical training is characterized by the repetitive practice of various motions known as kata (forms), until rational and unforced movement flows naturally throughout the body. This training includes empty-hand techniques along with sword, staff, and knife defenses. The intensity and focus of martial training is used as a “Way” to increase mindfulness and self-awareness, as well as to unify the mind and body.
The fact that there are no competitions in Aikido is a logical conclusion of its philosophy. Since winning and losing are never a concern, the trainees are free to dedicate their efforts to mutual goals. It is therefore possible for men, women, and children of all ages to walk together down the path of budo, the heart of Aikido.
Birankai North America welcomes people of all ages, abilities, beliefs, incomes, races, nationalities, genders, and sexual identities.
Weapons study is a way to gain a better understanding of timing, distance, and ki musubi, harmonization with one’s opponent, within a martial encounter.
Weapons practice includes the use of bokken (wooden sword), jyo (wooden staff) and tanto (wooden knife). Emphasis is placed on the weapon itself being an extension of the body. Instruction in weapons provides students with the opportunity to deepen their study of balance, timing, distance, weight distribution and body movement.
Weapons practice can aid in the development of “martial awareness,” which is crucial in the student’s understanding of Aikido as a martial art. Training with weapons informs the unarmed body art movements, primarily because many Aikido movements are derived from sword work.
“The sword and jyo are extensions of your body and must be handled as if they have your blood running through them,” writes the late master Kisshomaru Ueshiba in his book, Aikido. “Unless you can make the weapons part of your body, you have not truly trained in Aikido.”
Birankai's weapons curriculum:
I think that instead of analyzing and comparing how each technique or movement is related to weapons work, it makes much more sense to me to see and feel the sameness in executing one’s energy by which aikido is distinguished from other martial arts. A long time ago I read a book ...written by Tenryu, a famous Sumo wrestler who once challenged O-Sensei and was defeated, and became O-Sensei’s uchideshi thereafter. In that book ...he describes aikido by saying that it is a martial art which is the ultimate transformation of swordsmanship into a body art. I personally agree with his statement, and have been deeply inspired by this. However, it no longer matters to me nowadays to say which comes first, body arts or weapons. I see no difference.
(T.K. Chiba, April, 1994)
Iaido, a form of Japanese swordsmanship, involves the study of kata (forms) in which the practitioner draws a katana from its scabbard in a smooth, controlled movement; cuts down an imaginary opponent; removes the blood from the blade; and then replaces the sword in the scabbard.
A number of Birankai North America dojos offer instruction in Iaido, as Chiba Sensei established it as one of the pillars of his Aikido study. Additional information on iaido is available here.
Numerous prominent martial artists in Japanese history came to find in Zen practice a vital element that informed their practice. Indeed, many of the qualities needed in Aikido training—the fearlessness, energy and focus required to plumb the depths of one’s own existence in the midst of conflict—are demanded in Zen as well. When the dualistic separation of “self” and “other” is transcended through the forging of deep mind-body training, the concept of an opponent loses all meaning.
It is important to cultivate the eyes to see that the substance is beyond forms, and to find true peace within tranquility of the mind. Only when this is thoroughly attained, paradoxically, are we not only able to see these forms in a positive light, but can we also bring to our lives many colorful flowers for our appreciation. As the Heart Sutra reads, “Form is exactly emptiness, emptiness is exactly form.”
Zazen, I believe, helps to cure or calm down the fever that man has been infected with throughout modern civilization, so that he or she can come to see the true-self and the quintessence of existing things. And most significantly, its value is found within simple practicality. It is equally open to anyone regardless of the various strings of the human condition. Through this simple practice, we are led to the world where mechanically fixed, established values that often do not belong to us may be reversed from the bottom up. And thus, we are able to return human quality to its original purity and peace for the universal liberation of man.
(T.K. Chiba, 1993)