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Writings & Reflections

A Meditation On These Difficult Times

We live in an all-too-fractious time.  Yet I have a strong intuition that our art can somehow contribute to struggles for dignity, justice and peace.


The presupposition of any martial art is that the human species (though not all human beings) has a propensity to violence and that there can be thoughtful ways of responding to this tendency. The deeper presupposition of Aikido is that a thoughtful response is moral and mindful, not just methodical and effective.


In the face of the continuing possibility of violence, our art compels us to connect--to each other, to the world, to the dangers and injustices that face everyone. Such connection is neither sentimental nor easy. It requires hard attention and persistent practice. It does not bring about a world we wish for, but it can help us improve and affirm the one that we have.


In the midst of our ongoing tumult, my mind returns to the central term of Aikido. One of the many meanings of the Japanese word ki is breath. Now is certainly a time when breath cannot be taken for granted. It can too easily be taken away by a stealthy virus or callous injustice. Our art tasks us to acknowledge a breath beyond our own.

Heath Atchley

Responding to the Call: Reflections on Attaining a Black Belt

What does it mean to attain a dan (black belt) rank in Aikido? It can, of course, mean many things to many different aikidoka.


A common image we receive from pop-culture representations of martial practice is that a black belt indicates mastery, and with mastery comes invulnerability: a martial arts master, as so often portrayed in movies and television, defeats all foes. Such an image, of course, is a fantasy. Nothing can erase our basic human vulnerabilities. Nothing can protect us completely from all dangers. Furthermore, a thoughtful Aikido practice acknowledges our vulnerabilities and helps us to grow with them; it brings us to a vitality that incorporates vulnerability rather than denying it.


Another common thought is that attaining a dan rank is the result of discipline and commitment. Certainly these qualities play a role in achieving anything desired over a course of time. Yet I think the effectiveness of these qualities is often overstated. Willpower drives discipline and commitment. Over time willpower tends to fade. Moving through life in a willful and driven way is more often exhausting than vitalizing.


At a deeper level, I believe attaining a dan rank is about awareness and response. An advanced aikidoka is one who becomes vividly aware that the art brings something valuable and supportive to their life and actively responds to this awareness with presence and intention. Consistent practice, which is the key to growth, comes not so much from driven discipline but from being faithful to what the art gives (which is also a way of being faithful to oneself and to what is more than oneself). It can feel like a call, like what the art gives calls out to one and waits for a response.


Our students who have entered the dan ranks practice powerful and beautiful Aikido. They work hard. They bring a lot to our dojo community. They have heard the call. And they have responded.

Heath Atchley

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