An image, which does not seem to do anything with Aikido, is sometimes posted on an Aikido’s Facebook page. If the image posted was of an Aikidoist throwing another Aikidoist high up in the air, it could get far more “Like” reactions. Yet, this image is important and valuable as the image was taken during Aikido Nippon Kan’s social practice activity.
Since 1991, Aikido Nippon Kan has been serving free meals to the people in need once a month, and March 17 was the 299th time to carry out the monthly event. On the day of serving free meals, volunteers work from early in the morning to cook and transport over 300 servings, and the photo was taken at around 6:00AM on March 17, 2019.
When articles about serving free meals to the people in need were posted in the past, various comments were posted in reaction, such as “What does it have to do with Aikido?”, “It must be to get attention and to sign up more students to Aikido classes.”, or even “Because you keep feeding them for free, the number of homeless people does not go down.” Cold comments toward people in vulnerable situations are countless, and a low level of interests by many is obvious by the number of reactions on the Facebook page.
Let’s revisit the basis of Aikido and the serving of free meals to the people in need.
Any Budo-ka or a martial art instructor, teaches how to make an opponent fall. In the practice of Aikido, your opponent, or “uke”, will not even resist but rather often take a flamboyant breakfall. When people spend so many years in such a peculiar environment, some of them may develop a false sense of themselves to possess some mystical, magical power. As I have devoted 55 years of my life to the practice of Aikido, I have had to develop a certain discipline to check things in balance by untangling certain seemingly contradictory thoughts and ideas. In the recent years, I have become more inclined to think more often about many forms of conflicting and contradictory thoughts and ideas, presumably because I am having to say good-bye to my older mentors and my friends who were about the same as I am in the recent years, and these farewells are making me realize again and again that any champions will fall in the end when it’s their turn.
While I have continued pondering as I have aged, I’ve started to think that the job and the responsibility of Budo-ka may not be to make the opponent fall, but to reach out to vulnerable people who cannot get up by themselves and to help those who are trying to get back up as well as to give them directions so that they can get on with their lives on their feet. This perspective seems to be a piece of truth that has percolated through my decades of ‘shugyo’ in a budo called Aikido.
S San, a 26-year-old volunteer was working hard from early in the morning. As he is camera-shy, the image captured of him was only the silhouette of him working. He fled to Malaysia in 2005 after having fled to Thailand from Rakhine State in Myanmar where domestic conflicts had continued. He came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2011, and he has been working at DOMO Restaurant as a chef for the past 7 years since 2012. He went to a language school while working full time, and he obtained a U.S. citizenship in 2016, and he even got married during the same time. While he is studious and hard-working, he can also be quite strong-willed, and it was not sometimes easy to work with him even for me. But in the end, I was able to help him be independent. He has been a great help as a volunteer for the past several years while he is enjoying a lifestyle with his own family that’s 180 degrees opposite from when he had been a refugee.
While 100 people in need of free meals must have 100 different reasons why they are where they are in their lives, the distance between who serves free meals and who is served free meals is only the distance of a serving table, about 2 feet long. People on both sides are standing at a distance where the one can easily reach out to the other. And anyone on the other side may be where I may end up being tomorrow, and anyone on the other side may end up being on our side tomorrow.
We served over 270 meals on March 17, 2019.
People line up for free meals for different reasons, and people also volunteer to serve free meals to those who in need for different reasons, for example, after having overcome their life’s challenges. It was a cold morning on a Sunday with blistering wind through an alley behind a church where meals were served, but we served over 270 meals with much help from many Aikido Nippon Kan students and their friends and families. And I find a place of ‘shugyo’ on occasion like this and among the people like them.
The Founder of Aikido’s philosophy regarded Aikido as a product of the Universe and he had pursued the credo of “歩々これ道場 (Hobo Kore Dojo)”, a Zen terminology that literally means “A Dojo is with Every Step.”. And Aikido Nippon Kan’s ‘shugyo’ philosophy is to continue practicing the credo of “歩々これ道場 (Hobo Kore Dojo)” to continue our endeavor in the quest.
Thank you once again to all the students and their families and friends who volunteered in the 299th Free Meals Service on March 17, 2019.
Kancho of AHAN Nippon Kan