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March 2, 2021




(English translation below, by the author)

Al reflexionar sobre mi práctica, me vienen tres palabras a la mente; apertura, contracción, y frío. Pienso en lo que Sensei nos ha dicho una y otra vez, y en lo que nos ha demostrado sin palabras: que el Aikido nos enseña a abrirnos, a no contraernos al enfrentarnos a circunstancias aparentemente difíciles. Este año trajo consigo el hecho, en apariencia desfavorable, de entrenar al aire libre. Así que al volver a Nueva York después de un periodo de aislamiento en el campo, apenas fui a clase. Pero Sensei, Kate, y otros alumnos del dojo estaban ahí a diario. Bajaron las temperaturas, empezó a arrimarse el invierno, y Sensei seguía ahí fuera entrenando. El ver cómo transformó su enseñanza y transportó su práctica fuera del aula me afectó profundamente. No podría explicar ni calificar cómo he cambiado durante estos últimos meses— pero he podido aprender lo que realmente significa la apertura, y he percibido con claridad ese espíritu feroz que le da la bienvenida a cualquier adversidad. Mi tía aprendió de su maestro un apodo para la inquietud de la mente humana; “el mono loco.” Aunque lo hace con humor, en realidad lo dice completamente en serio. Yo misma estaba impresionada con el gran trabajo de mi mono loco, con su rún rún rún constante, y en especial con sus teorías y razones dando explicación a porqué no asistir a clase. Contemplaba cuidadosamente cualquier factor que pudiera dificultar mi práctica, muy atenta a todas mis resistencias emocionales y mentales. Por ejemplo, ¿llovía? ¿estaba el cielo muy oscuro? ¿me sentía deprimida, o ansiosa? No llegaba a considerar seriamente que estos mismos hechos pudieran ser una parte esencial del entrenamiento. Sin embargo, me di cuenta que cuanto más asistía a las clases, cuanto peor el tiempo, más ganas tenía de estar en el parque con Sensei y con el resto de mis compañeros. Sería difícil distinguir el momento preciso en el que di ese giro, en el que pude mandar callar a mi mono. Fue gracias al ejemplo de otras personas, y por eso les estoy infinitamente agradecida. Vi asombrada cómo se derrumbaban mis razones y mis cuentos, mis detallados análisis sobre lo que era capaz o no de hacer. Ahora, cuando el tiempo se pone verdaderamente frío, tengo la sensación de que la oportunidad es mucho mejor; puedo regalarle a mi ser algo bello, algo incluso más hondo a través de mi práctica. Así paso que el otro dia, al final del calentamiento, mientras nos estirabamos abrí los ojos; vi un cielo negro, la nieve caer, y senti la suavidad de los copos sobre mi cara. Me sentí enormemente agradecida de vivir aquel momento tan sencillo y tan pleno, de recibir ese regalo en la quietud. Después de quince años sin hacer ejercicio, había dado por entendido que simplemente soy una persona a la que no le gusta moverse. Hasta que no empecé a hacer Aikido, no comprendí que mi cuerpo aspiraba a muchísimo más que a ejercitarse. Anhelaba transformación. Cuando empecé en el dojo, me sentía insuficiente e intimidada sobre el tatami. Permitía que se entreponieran todo tipo obstáculos. Estaba dispuesta a subestimarme a mi misma, a mi capacidad de sobrepasar la incomodidad, el dolor, y el cansancio. Esta práctica no solo ha conseguido que supere eso, si no que me ha devuelto mi propio cuerpo, y una alegría física que solo llegué a sentir de niña en mis clases de baile. Me ha demostrado que soy capaz de mucho más de lo que pienso; todos los días veo que tengo la oportunidad de una mayor apertura, de una mayor capacidad. Sin duda esto se ha visto reflejado en muchos otros aspectos de mi vida, a veces de manera bastante literal, y otras veces de una manera mucho más sutil y hermosa. Hace una semana, soñé que estaba en una enorme playa tropical. El sol pegaba, el mar era de un azul puro y límpido. Pero algo en mi interior sabía con absoluta certeza que ese agua estaba muy, muy fría, y aun así quería lanzarse. Así lo hice sin pensarlo dos veces, y no solo pude nadar sumergida en ese agua congelada— pude respirar en ella. Fue un sueño muy corto, pero al recordarlo esa mañana lo reconocí indudablemente como un sueño de Aikido. When I reflect on my practice, I think of three words mainly; openness, contraction, and cold. I think about what Sensei has repeatedly told us, and demonstrated to us without words: that Aikido teaches us to open, not to contract, in the face of perceived adversity. This year brought the perceived adversity of training outdoors. So, when I came back to New York City after a period of isolation upstate, I hardly went to class. But Sensei, Kate, and other students from the dojo were there every day. As the temperatures lowered and winter descended, Sensei was still outside, training. I can’t fully explain or qualify how exactly I changed over these past months— but seeing the way Sensei transformed his teaching and took his practice outside moved me deeply. It has taught me the true meaning of openness, and helped me see clearly that fierce spirit which embraces difficulty. My aunt calls the mind el mono loco, “the crazy monkey” — a term she learned from her teacher. She says it playfully, but she’s really not joking. I was really impressed with the imperious work of my crazy monkey, of her incessant and indistinct chatter when it came to, among other things, why I shouldn’t go to class on a particular day. I gave a lot of attention to my mental and emotional resistances, and I used to generously weigh in factors that I considered might make training more difficult. Was it very dark? Was it raining? Was I anxious, depressed? I hadn’t seriously considered that these conditions could be an integral part of training. But the more I went to class, and the worse the cold got, the more I wanted to be at the park with Sensei and the other students. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment things tipped in this direction, or when it became easier to tell my monkey to be quiet. I can say that I was led by example and I am so thankful for that. It’s been a humbling, kind of bewildering experience to see my prejudices, my reasons, my stories about what I can and can’t do crumble before me. Now, when the weather conditions are more extreme, I feel like I’m being presented with an even greater opportunity to give my being something rich and beautiful through my practice. Just the other day during our warm up, stretching our heads up I decided to open my eyes, and I saw a black sky and dozens of soft, gentle flakes of snow falling on my face— I was so filled with gratitude to experience a moment as simple and whole as the one I was in. I never wanted to exercise, and didn’t for about fifteen years— I thought that meant I was a person who just didn’t like to move. I didn’t know until I started Aikido that my body wanted so much more than to exercise. It wanted to grow and to transform meaningfully. When I joined the dojo I felt constantly inadequate, small, and afraid to move on the mat. I let so much get in the way of just even walking out the door. I was so ready to underestimate myself and my ability to surpass discomfort, pain, tiredness. This practice has returned me my body, and a joy I only experienced similarly as a child when I used to dance. It has also single-handedly shown me that I am so much more capable than I think I am, and that I have the opportunity of becoming more capable and more open every day. This has undeniably bled into many other aspects of my life, sometimes clearly and literally, and at other times in more subtle, wonderful ways. About a week ago, I had a dream that I was on a tropical beach; the ocean was very blue and the sun was blindingly bright and warm. But something inside of me knew with complete certainty that the water was very, very cold, and yet I wanted so badly to jump in. And so I did without hesitation, and not only could I swim with ease submerged in that freezing water— I could even breathe. It was a short, vivid dream, but when I recalled it in the morning I recognized it as nothing other than a dream of Aikido.

August 26, 2020

This article was written on June 5th, 2020, on the fifth anniversary of Chiba Sensei’s passing away.


Today, June 5, is the fifth anniversary of Chiba Sensei passing away. Chiba Sensei, an uchideshi (live-in student) for the founder of Aikido, was my teacher. I was fortunate to be with this remarkable man as a live-in student myself and travel with him on many trips. Today, I feel his words about a dojo are more relevant than ever. In 1986, in a dojo journal, Sensei wrote about the traditional dojo having the following:


“. . . an impractical existence. It is not a social club, recreational center or business enterprise, nor even a training hall or school, as it has been treated largely in the West, but it is a sacred place. Not the kind of place that appears instantly when the mats are put down, but one that exists somewhere out there physically, whether or not it is used all the time. It is such a waste, in a business sense, when one considers the size of the space, and such impracticality can be fatal to a dojo in its struggle to survive. I consider that the life of the dojo is an impractical existence relative to our normal, gaining-losing consciousness, and, as such, is of vital importance to it. Normal, or abnormal as we are, and as we struggle to survive in this competitive and materialistic society, there needs to be a space somewhere that exists for something beyond our sense of practicality. Our great need for the dojo, which waits out there empty and unused, for us to return to each day, is what gives it its purpose as a sacred place. A place of vacuum where that so-called practicality, which is based on the gaining-losing consciousness, with its consequential conflict and isolation, can be neutralized through a counter existence.”


In reflecting on Sensei’s words, I find that the practice of Aikido could be considered impractical in light of not receiving awards, rank, or testing one’s self in competition. I consider Aikido to be a system of dynamic martial movements, that is, kata. It involves a large degree of cooperation. Once a person’s balance is taken, that person does not try to counter, does not try to resist. There is no active sparring, and although an uke should be firm and not collapse, they do not offer a fighting resistance. It is not a dance, but it is not a system of combat or a combative fighting system either. And it’s time for its practitioners to stop apologizing or defending their art in regards to this.

Could Aikido be used for fighting or self-defense? Yes and no. All martial arts are based on getting off the line of attack, minimizing an opening, and seeing where the openings of attack are located. In this sense, many of the movements are excellent. But for them to be used in real situations there must be an active testing of the techniques with resistance and duress.

It is not my interest to offer Aikido in this way, and when Aikido becomes a system of fighting and resisting and striking and grappling, it is no longer Aikido. It is fine, but it is no longer Aikido.

Many of you who know me well, know that I studied boxing seriously for seven years, and have been practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for about fifteen years. I have nothing but the utmost respect for these arts, and much gratitude to my instructors in them. I also have the highest regard for fighters and competitors in these arts.

Contrary to what some people in Aikido may believe: the ego and misplaced personality leading so many of us astray can be worked on in competitive arts if one has a good instructor. Simply because a system promotes competition does not mean that certain undesirable aspects of competition cannot be transcended.

Truly, though, I am not interested in answering all the “what if” questions (such as “Can a practitioner of Aikido dominate a practitioner of another art?”) . For a long time I was interested . . . and that has now passed. Although I feel that Aikido has martial potential, its real value lies in the waking up of an individual. O’Sensei was a deeply spiritual man, and his search through training led to this aspect being manifested more and more, especially as he aged.

As many great people have said much better than me: the world will only change with individuals waking up. When we have woken up more and more, we will transcend the idea of subject and object, stop objectifying each other, stop exploiting each other, and stop warring with each other.

By its very design, Aikido’s purpose is to reconcile. Its “goal” is to resolve subject and object, to bring heaven and earth together. This is the ideal, and of course it is us that get in the way. However, we must still carry on and try.

The argument that young people don’t try Aikido because they only want mixed martial arts or fighting arts is simply not true. Many of my students did not come to the dojo seeking to learn to fight. It is time to let Aikido be what it is. Let the practitioners of Aikido deepen their search of themselves, while keeping the art vigorous and dynamic and sincere. This does not involve a dance-like Aikido or a system of grappling. There is a healthy tension in between the two extremes that may be found.

Finally, let the people of Aikido see the value in other combative fighting arts and give them the credit they deserve. Many fighters are spiritual people seeking themselves. They are effective at walking that path. Whatever path you choose, go deep into that and be grateful. It’s enough.

Thomas Merton wrote about the desert, which reminds me of the true significance of a traditional dojo, which Chiba Sensei wrote about above.

He said: “The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to [people]. The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted by [people] because it offered them nothing. There was nothing to attract them. There was nothing to exploit . . . The desert was created simply to be itself, not to be transformed by [people] into something else. So too the mountain and the sea.”

I offer that perhaps Aikido is the same: the fact that there is no competition, no real rank, no awards, essentially nothing to be had is its real value.

I am deeply grateful to my teacher for all that he gave me and this world—I hope that I can pass a small amount of it on through my work here in Brooklyn.

May 19, 2020



My mother passed away this Mother’s Day, May 10, after four occurences of cancer over the years and its final metastasis. To say that she fought valiantly and positively against cancer would be a great understatement. Even toward the end of her life she remained a positive force.

Carol Deebach was born June 7, 1940, in Dayton, Ohio, to Robert and Margaret Deebach. She was the 11th generation of her family in the United States tracing her roots back to the Plymouth Colony in 1631. After moving to California, she met my father in San Francisco and became Carol Savoca. They moved to San Diego county where I was raised.

Throughout my life my mother was a solid rock for me. Although my father didn’t believe becoming an aikido teacher was possible in this world, my mother supported my dream and often ran interference for me with him.

She had an amazing spirit of positivity, grace, courage and fire. Her grandmother was an especially devout figure in the Christian Science church in the early 1900’s, and their tenet of positive thinking contributed to my mother’s strong can-do attitude.

The agreement between my father and mother was that my sister Elizabeth and I were to be raised Catholic our entire life after being allowed to go to Christian Science church with our mother for our first six years. This arrangement had the effect of leading me to question much-- seeing my father absolutely believe in this way, and my mother believe in another way, produced a strong spirit to try to understand what this life is. It was often difficult growing up, trying to grasp why my mother didn’t go to mass with us. This difficultly led me to search most of my life for answers to life’s questions. And later I understood the principles I had been taught as a very young boy from my mother’s faith—specifically, that negative thinking is not to be embraced, and that Mind is everything. Very rarely did my mother complain. Even in later years, when her suffering grew, she still went out with friends, was concerned for her children, and continued her life-long work of volunteerism.

She supported me and our dojo through countless positive words, sound advice, and financial donations. Without her tireless efforts toward me, as was true for my father in a much different way, our school would not exist.

Really, though, none of the above captures what my mother means to me. The retired abbot of Prince of Peace monastery said it much better to me at my mother’s funeral: the loss of a mother is different than any other loss.

Everyone comes to this existence through a mother. I am so grateful for my gift of life, for being able to walk this earth for a brief time. It is my mother, with her boundless compassion and grace, that made this possible.

I will miss you, Mom. All my love-

Robert R.D. Savoca May 18, 2020 Brooklyn, New York

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