When I first began putting together the framework for this book, my wife Theresa and I were training together in the back room of a Muay Thai school. Gratefully, the four years I spent training Muay Thai helped me build a relationship with Mehrdad Moayedi - the owner and chief instructor of the school. What struck me most was his similarity with my first Aikido teacher, Sensei Richard Stickles. Stickles Sensei and Mehrdad both had similar visions for the future they wanted to create - and both would pass away before realizing those visions.
Stickles Sensei w0uld often tell me of his dream to establish a true 'zen center' dojo where Aikido was practiced, his Tibetan Buddhist practices would be offered, and zoning would be split allow for multiple uchi-deshi at a time. In fact, he had sketches of the building he wanted to erect and would mention a plot of land down the street that he believed would be ideal. Mehrdad had a similar vision from the Muay Thai perspective. While he spent most of his time trying to build up a fighting circuit in the traditional Muay Thai world, he would often talk about his dream to build a 'monastery' to train martial artists and fighters. I would have to be foolish to miss the responsibility I have to do what I can to 'move the needle forward' on such a worthy goal.
As I completed the book: The Aikido Student Manual: A New Generation's Guide to Traditional Martial Arts, I realized who my audience truly was. It wasn't the wider population of Aikidoka or the entire population of traditional martial artists. It was, first and foremost, a gift to my students. A way for me to sum up, at this point in my martial arts journey, what it means to be a traditional martial artist. A way to light a fire or re-kindle a dying one and help my community keep their commitment and passion for this beautiful art we practice.
Establishing a 'zen center' dojo has now become my dream. The beautiful vision of a place where people realize the joy in practicing Aikido, meditation, and a truly simpler way of life. Too often, we find ourselves chasing our own tails, desperately trying to fill a void with our vices, with money, with anything that will distract us from reality. This is why it was so critical for me to establish a 'Board of Directors' for the dojo - to ensure that as a teacher, I never forget that building a dojo requires a community. It is not just a community that believes in and is loyal to their teacher, but also loyal to its mission. A teacher, or sensei, is an integral part of that mission when it comes to relaying technique and setting examples, but no one is perfect - and more importantly, no one lives forever. A board of directors increases the likelihood that a mission lasts beyond a single teacher's lifetime and continues to grow. In the same way, we hope our children not only succeed but surpass us - it is the hope and dream that the missions we create, like our children, surpass even our wildest aspirations.
Lastly, I want to create a place where all are welcome to come and follow the way. A place where, no matter what your affiliation, style, focus, etc., there is something to be gained by spending days, weeks, months or even years at the dojo.
I will forever feel blessed to have had such incredible teachers and sempai, who have and continue to inspire me to be my best self - to recognize my own limitations and surpass them. Most of all, to continue pushing the needle forward and hopefully inspire the next generation to work even harder and create a future of universal peace as O'Sensei envisioned.
I love every one of you, and there's absolutely nothing you can do about it.
See you on the mat,