Nippon Kan has been an ongoing growing organization for over twenty-two years. For all of us, each year contains 365 days but for an active organization such as Nippon Kan, each and every day is busy with new projects and activities. This past year has been very busy, and now that it is drawing to a close, it is a good chance to look back on all of the events that have taken place.
A great honor bestowed Nippon Kan this year was resolution no. 38 Series of 2000 which was sponsored by the Denver City Council, presented by the City and County of Denver on May 1, 2000. This resolution acknowledged Nippon Kans long standing service to the community. I believe we are the only martial art school in Denver that has been awarded a resolution from the City and County of Denver. Previously Nippon Kan was awarded the Minoru Yasui Service Award for community service in June of 1996, which was another great honor.
Another great honor bestowed Nippon Kan this year was official black belt ranking from Aiki Kai headquarters at Hombu Dojo in Japan for seven of Nippon Kan’s instructors. Since Nippon Kan is an independent dojo without direct affiliation with Hombu, this is a great honor.
Nippon Kan’s involvement in community service has been on-going for over the last ten years. Bi-annually, Nippon Kan joins with the Denver Parks and Recreation Department in maintaining and improving parks and trails in the Denver and Front Range areas. This year our spring volunteer project was held June 3rd along the Cherry Creek bike paths near Pulaski Park. Over eighty Nippon Kan volunteers joined in the effort to clear grasses, cut back under growth and wrap trees. Our fall volunteer project this year was held on October 14th in Civic Center Park where over 95 volunteers helped turn the flower beds in the annual city-wide volunteer project, “Put the Beds to Bed”. Each year, Nippon Kan has broken its own records, this year included, as we finished turning all of the beds in one hour and forty minutes! At this project, Nippon Kan also donated time and materials to serve a hot Japanese lunch to over 250 volunteers involved in the project city-wide. The City of Denver estimates that over the past ten years Nippon Kan has saved the city over $350,000 with volunteer labor contributions.
Nippon Kan has been involved with the Denver Rescue Mission of Denver for almost ten years now, providing and serving over 250 meals to homeless on a monthly basis. To date we have served over 25,000 meals.
Another ongoing program of Nippon Kan is our international cross-cultural exchange program, which has been very active this past year. This year Nippon Kan and the village of East Naruse located in Akita Prefecture, Japan celebrated the 10th year anniversary of our cross-cultural exchange program on May 13th.
A large ensemble of members and friends gathered in Denver to make the trip to East Naruse Village to join in this special anniversary celebration. Nippon Kan’s Vice President, Emily Busch, six Nippon Kan members, Denver City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega, four Native American dance performers; Marilyn Youngbird, Susan Jean Johnson, John and Raymond Malnourie, and myself were all part of the entourage. We participated in many cross-cultural events including a festive day of exchange of different traditional dances and music. The response from the village and from the regional media were overwhelming.
We also visited the village of Matsukawa in Nagano Prefecture where we were welcomed by a local taiko (traditional Japanese drumming) group named Kyogaku Daiko, whom is ranked among the top ten taiko groups in Japan. The celebrations in Matsukawa were met with as much local and media response as was our visit to East Naruse Village. I am sincerely thankful to the Native American performers who travelled with us not only for their outstanding performances but also for their gentle, outgoing and open attitude toward the people and culture of Japan. I also am very grateful to City Councilwoman Deborah Ortega for representing the City of Denver at our 10th Annual Cross-cultural events in Japan.
The year 2000 marked another exciting milestone for Nippon Kans Cross-Cultural Exchange Program with the first annual trip to Mongolia. From July 13th through the 24th, seven Nippon Kan members including myself went on a tour of Mongolia. The Mongolian Technical University in Ullan Battar, the capitol of Mongolia and other Mongolian nationals residing here in Denver made this tour possible through their sponsorship. As a reciprocal gesture for hospitality we had extended to a Mongolian delegation visiting from the University in Ullan Battar to Denver in February, we were invited to visit their country in return. This was a pilot adventure as we looked into the feasibility of opening up a tour program with Mongolia on an annual basis. The tour was rich in adventure as we learned about the history and culture of the country. We were exposed to many different facets of the culture including local music, which featured an eerie warbling quality unique to the region. In 2001, we are planning another Mongolian tour in July, which should coincide with Nadamm, Mongolia’s largest country-wide horse racing and wrestling festival. The theme of this tour will be Aikido Founder, Morihei Ueshiba’s Mongolia Dream. I am planning to invite Aikidoists from across the United States to join us for this special tour.
Other Cross-Cultural Exchange trips in 2000 included two visits to St. Andrews University in St. Andrews, Scotland, one in April and one again in November. On both of these trips I instructed Aikido seminars with the St. Andrews Aikido Club. Assisting me on the first trip was Nippon Kan Chief Instructor Andrew Blevins, Technical Instructor Jeremy Olive, Nippon Kan Vice President Emily Busch, and uchideshi Shaw Lacy. Assisting me on the second trip was Instructor Doug Kelly and uchideshi Shaw Lacy. The St. Andrews University Aikido Club as well as Shaw Lacy, an alumnus of the university helped make these trips possible. I am planning on travelling to Scotland and St. Andrews again next year. St. Andrews is known for many reasons. It is well known among golfers as the “Birthplace of Golf”. It is also known as the site of the first Scottish University founded in 1411, as the historical seat of the Church of Scotland and also as the University of choice for Britain’s Prince William. I am very honored to have had the opportunity to visit St. Andrews and enjoyed touring its cultural and historical sites. By the way, although I did visit the “Birthplace of Golf”, I did not play a single game of golf. I did however, have a few pleasant nights enjoying a fine Scotch Whiskey in cozy Scottish pubs!
One of my own personal research project for the year 2000, is tentatively titled “The Founder’s Journey”. The physical journeys of Founder during his lifetime took him to many extraordinary places, places I have always wanted to travel to myself. I have been interested in seeing where my teacher went during his travels, and to see some of the things he saw. To this purpose I actually began tracing some of the Founders journeys five years ago. On this first journey I visited Tanabe where the Founder was born and to Kyoto (the Ayabe area) where he practiced the Omoto religion. Earlier this year as mentioned before, I had the good fortune of being able to visit Mongolia where the Founder dreamed of going. In late October, my partner Emily and I travelled again to Japan. The purpose of this trip was to visit the northern island of Hokkaido to trace the roots and history of Shirataki village, founded in part by the Founder Ueshiba in 1911 when he was twenty-nine years old. After this, the only place left to visit is to present-day China where he travelled during the Japanese-Russian War in what was then Manchuria. To visit China is one of my goals in 2001.
During this past year, Nippon Kan has spent over $40,000 supporting cross-cultural events and tours such as those chronicled above. We have also spent over $7,000 in food costs supporting our meals for the homeless program at the Denver Rescue Mission. These figures are a testimonial to the commitment Nippon Kan members have made toward enriching the Denver community. It is also a testimonial to the calibre of students and supporters Nippon Kan is fortunate to have, and to the strength of the organization. During the year 2000 we had over 500 new students join Nippon Kan’s beginning Aikido classes. I don’t believe there are very many martial art schools that can report similar numbers over a similar period of time. This number is also a testimonial to the fact that the public response to Nippon Kan’s educational programs has remained strong.
If you are unfamiliar with Nippon Kan you might be asking yourself why a martial arts dojo is so involved with community service and cross-cultural events. To answer this question I need to explain a little of my philosophy.
My definition of the purpose of a martial arts school is the development of the body and the mind. I hold to a strong conviction that community involvement is most important in achieving this goal.
At Buddhist temples priests for thousands of years have read sutras daily. This is for them gyo or essential religious training. Besides this daily meditation, they are also active in their communities. Their training also includes teaching in schools, being involved in cross-cultural affairs and helping the less fortunate. They put into practice the religious beliefs learned through their study of the sutras. To only study the sutras without putting this knowledge into practice would be wasting their studies.
The practice of Aikido at Nippon Kan is not motivated by religion, however we do practice Aikido very diligently on a daily basis. From our youngest members to our most senior members, we all gain a healthy body and spirit through our practice of Aikido. It is important for our practice to extend our training to the community around us. Only by putting into practice what we learn on the mat can we confirm that our training is applicable to the world outside the dojo.
It is easy for a serious martial art student to become isolated from the outside world. It is always important to be open to new ideas and exposure to community service and cross-cultural events is important for expanding our horizons. While I understand the importance of learning tradition, I have also come to realise that it is as equally important to be open to new ideas in order to survive and grow in changing times. To be too locked into the past means we cannot change with the times. To throw tradition to the winds however, we run the risk of losing our roots and identity. It is important to find a balance between what is traditional and what is new. For the 21st century I feel it is imperative to hold this view. We are no longer at war, and a wartime mentality does not fit into the mindset of today’s global society.
At Nippon Kan we do not focus on creating champions by teaching them how to throw, kick or punch their opponents into submission. It is rather a place where people are encouraged to look beyond technique and see the applications of their learning in the community beyond the walls of the dojo. It is important to be able to maintain an outside perspective. Isolation breed complacency and students can fall prey to illusion. Believing that Aikido is “love and harmony” or to bow to a photo of the Founder, believing that he was some kind of god instead of a man, are the beliefs of someone who is not living the true meaning of the Founder’s philosophy. It is more important to apply this learning to the world around us. Only by leaving a forest can you see the “forest for the trees”. The community outside the dojo is like the countryside surrounding the forest. From different places in the countryside you are able to see different aspects of the forest. The same holds true with the Aikido taught at Nippon Kan. We not only focus on the trees of the forest, but also strive to look at the Aikido “forest” from many different angles…angles and viewpoints given to us by the surrounding community “countryside”.
Looking back on this past year, I can say that we have accomplished many things both internally at Nippon Kan and within the community we live in. In the coming year of 2001, I see many more accomplishments that can be achieved by using the martial art spirit intrinsic to the Founders philosophy. It gives me great joy to give heartfelt thanks to the Nippon Kan staff and members who have given so much of their time and energy to support Nippon Kan. I also give my sincerest thanks to the community of Denver, which has given us much support over the past years. I look forward with excitement to the coming New Year, and the challenges that await both my self and all of us at Nippon Kan.
Thank you very much.
Nippon Kan Founder