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Alejandro Anastasio at Aiki Expo 2003

by Ikuko Kimura

Published Online

Alejandro Anastasio

I really liked your demonstration. As you wrote in your profile, you wanted to show how you live your aikido through your demonstration. I could see your attitude towards life by your happy seriousness, and by how much you practiced from your demonstration. I was very very impressed.

Thank you. We put a lot of work into it. We had a lot of fun. Zac Rutherford and I trained often and at an extremely high level. Other than the three times a week I see Zac at the dojo, we had three other times when it was just us training for the Expo.

How are you enjoying the Expo?

Oh the Expo was phenomenal. There is great diversity in the arts. Of course aikido, aiki jujutu, a lot of other sword work and things of that nature. The feel is very good. Stanley has got a good thing going with the Aiki Expo. I really enjoyed coming out to learn and share. It’s really a phenomenal event.

Did you come last year?

Yes, I was here last year. I was mostly vending and sold t-shirts and posters and things like that. I did not do a demo last year. However, I did have the opportunity to take a few classes.

You are running a company?

I am a professional graphic artist outside the dojo. The cross over to create aikido graphics was quite natural. I make my own posters and t-shirts and anything art and aikido related. I am trying to get started as someone starting a dojo. It takes a while and can be financially difficult as well. The company is the dojo. Making art for aikido helps me support the dojo. Whatever I sell there is for the dojo.

How did you start aikido?

Initially, I used to take inner-city kids into the back country mountains in Washington state. We would be out there for 5 weeks or so building and rebuilding trails. The pre-training I had to do was with all the supervisors. We all went into the back country training camp to train and get to know one another. One of the instructors taught aikido.

So he is doing this conflict resolution thing about how to move energy like that and that. The idea he said was to work with the energy as opposed to fighting against it. I had never heard about aikido before. He said the concepts of the physical movements of aikido are templatable to life as a whole. He said, “OK, if I grab you like this what would you do? “I would make this kind of turn… I want you to go away,” I said, “I do not want to fight with you.” He just led me just to think of aikido. I didn’t really sink in for a couple of years until I moved to Boise, Idaho. There were not a lot of things going on in Boise when I moved there. It seemed like a great time to start.

There was a dojo there so I started getting into it. The main reason why I started aikido was because I don’t have two hands. My posture was pretty bad about 7 years ago and my back started hurt a lot. I started aikido because of not having two hands. I just spent a lot of time extending with my right hand and side. This was starting to affect my left side. Plus my muscles are developed unevenly do to my body type. I wanted to do something posturous for my spine (body) and also wanted something for my mind and spirit. Aikido has it all.

That impressed me yesterday, your posture was perfect, much better than those with both hands. The way you held your sword, although as if you were holding with both arms. I could see your ki was being extended.

Those things are important - posture and extention. Most of the time I cut one handed. Sometimes I use both sides extending through the parts I do not have. It depends on the weapon and on what is needed in the moment. I am glad that you mentioned my posture because I really used to have a very bad posture. Aikido really taught me to understand the ability of my body’s movement through extentition and posture. It really helped my back out a lot.

So aikido helped you?

Ah, quite a bit. In fact, a phenomenal amount. A lot of my back problems are gone. My spine was little bent just because the muscles on one side of my spine are stronger than the other. It kind of pulls my spine over to my stronger side. So I went on the hunt for a cure. I tried yoga and Tai Chi and was not fully satisfied. I wanted something martial that moved well and very harmonious. Of course, aikido fit all the bills. The more aikido I do the more my back straightens out. Which in turn allows my arms to extend equally even though there are of two different lengths. I express the need in class that holding your posture in aikido allows the technigue to move very well. Sometimes when people cut, they bend their backs. When the back bends even a bit posture is broken. This in turn affects the technique.

The main reason for beginning?

Aikido is art for the mind, body, and spirit. A personal evolution of who I am as a person. Personal growth with the potential of helping the people I interact on a daily basis. I also wanted my body to be a bit more stronger and last longer. All the other benefits of aikido overlapped. I love the philosophy and believe greatly in the potential of aikido. Mostly I love because it because it is fun and doing aikido brings out great joy in me.

That’s great. I understand that at some point you were not able to do aikido because there was no aikido dojo in Boise. So you were training aikido by internalizing and living your aikido rather than by technical training in a dojo.

The internalization of the principles of aikido were important because at a number of different times there was no dojo in Boise. I heard one could practice their aikido by living the principles. So I gave it a try. If I went anywhere really crowded, I did not think of pushing my way through. I practiced harmony, flow and blending. So this was a great chance to practice my aikido. A kind of way to find out what’s going on here in this crowd with this kind of motion. I did a lot of templating of aikido concepts onto my daily life. People talk about “oh you take this aikido and you live it outside…” but usually you don’t hear how people do that or how that is accomplished. So I started thinking about aikido as a conversation. We are conversing right now. How are we living aikido in this moment? The blending of questions and answers trying to get positive energy flowing. I also did a lot of technigues by myself. Rolling backwards and forwards, Shomenuchi Ikkyo-undo, and munetsuki Kotegaesh. Really just trying to internalize it. I lived with the principles of aikido. A lot of blending and harmonizing with all kind of life’s ukes.

I have had interviewed so many teachers, they are very good, but some teachers talk about harmony in dojo, but outside , some of them are not blending at all…

Some do and some don’t. It is not always easy to live what we teach. We are all human and that is part of the human condition. Actively and consciencly living our aikido in the living moment outside the dojo is important. I think it is more important than just doing techniques. The technique teaches us the basic principles about how to live in harmony, but unless you go out to practice that (and you must really try), you may never know the power of aikido and harmony. If somebody cuts me off in the car, it is OK. It is just like conversation. Conversation is very much like a physical interaction. Conversation is so much like aikido. You can cut me off in traffic just as you can cut me off in conversation just as you can do the same in aikido by grabbing my wrist. If I grab you and you push hard, that is like me saying something to you and you scream at me. Aikido is a way to harmonize with the moment. I surely try to live my aikido outside the dojo. You can come to the dojo and practice physical aikido. However, I tell my students in the dojo that if you really want to be good at aikido, try to live aikido outside of the dojo. Try to find harmony in every moment. Practice life by training in the dojo. Practice aikido by training in life. When dealing with people, a lot of compassion and blending, you know, soft resolution things are the path to harmony. When there was no aikido, that’s all I had. This was the greatest opportunity me to learn and internalize aikido when there was no dojo in Boise.

Great opportunity for you to be able to do that eventhough you are not doing physical aikido. if you were just practicing just in the dojo, you may not have thought of doing that way.

Correct. I may have just gone to the dojo and just practiced. It’s very important to find ways to learn how to live aikido in all situations. People ask me why I do aikido? I really wanted to wash dishes better. You know how you can hold one dish with one had and clean with the other. Not the case with me. Doing the dishes was the one thing which hurt my back the most because I was always bent funny and it also made my arm sore. I wanted to be more posturous and extended. OK, what do I have to do to comfort this? Aikido was the answere. People would ask why do you aikido? I want to do wash dishes better.

Mostly the reasons why I do aikido really aren’t anything martial at all. The reasons are the principles of aikido and how these principles allow me to be a better person.

For that year, I really just kind of internalized it and practiced what I could do at home and just did other practices. When I internalize things, it brings them out a lot more. For me, that year was really great training and truely elevated my aikido. When I came back to the dojo I had a different perception of techniques because I wasn’t just physical or technical. “Oh, this physical motion here is a blend, and this is harmony.” It is just like some guy driving and he didn’t use his turn signal. However, I was aware and I just blended in. Or in conversation, when somebody comes in strong, I just react with soft blending or turning motions. I then started to see how aikido techniques look like other things in life. How is Shihonage like a conversation or like dealing with my boss at work or driving in the street? It was a great year for me.

Are you teaching now?

Yes, I have my own school. Most of my school’s foundation is built on children. I have 44 students which 30 are children. I have 5 to 8 year old class. I call them Aiki-Mites, you know like the Mighty Mites. I have a 9 to 12 year old class. I even have teenager class, 13 to 16 year olds. I have it that way because I think each age range is at a certain develomental stage. How I teach 8 year olds is not how I teach 10 year olds. Which is a lot different how I teach 14 year olds. Which is, of course, much different than how I teach adults.

In some dojos you go from 6 year olds to 14 year olds and 15 year olds to adults. I think it’s good to brake them out a little bit. It is a little more work. However, it works for me and it’s really worth it.

Teenager classes are really a lot of fun. They like having their own class. They deserve a special class because being a teen is a very special time in life. One time an aikido guy said, “I don’t know if I could keep doing teenagers class. I would like to see 14 year olds in the adults class. I talked to the teens and they want a teen class. Especially the girls. I have more girls in my teenagers class than in any other class. Once I asked them how they would you feel if I didn’t have a teenagers class and had them come to the adult classes? They are like, “No way! This is our class and we want to keep it all teens. We don’t want to roll around with 40 year old men, and we don’t think 40 year old men want to roll around with 14 years old girls.” Which makes a fair amount of sense. They just feel more comfortable with other teens. They are growing and changing and getting to know their new bodies. They do what they do as teens and they just want to be with themselves. It gives them time to grow in a place that is safe for teens.

I enjoy the kids program part of my dojo. Kids are magicial. They bring out the kid in me.

I am sure you are very good with kids.

Yes, we get along very well. They like my long hair and free spirit. We just have a lot of fun. I do not want to be this entity/sensei figure that’s separate and above my students, especially the chldren. This allows me to have a lot of fun with kids. I try to be a good mentor and good friend at the same time. I am very stern with kids. Not strict but stern. The etiquette and disipline of the dojo set a strict standard. However, it also gives them a lot of freedom.

We do all kinds of cool things at the dojo with kids. I have this talent show that my aikido school put on by the children of the dojo. All my kids have talents outside of the dojo. They play musical instruments, do plays for drama, and have all kinds of other skills. So we put on this aikido talent show for kids at the dojo. We printed up fliers and sold tickets and raised almost seven hundred dollars. We used the money to send kids to aikido summer camp last summer.

My dojo is a lot more than just coming and train. We have lots of extra curriculum activities. We have teen and kid sleepovers, we smash pumpkins on Halloween with Kens and Jo’s, do cold water Misogi, have a ski, board, and weapons winter retreat for kids; and sometimes I will serve tea to them and we will sit in a circle and get to know each other. All my kids classes, and especially teenagers, are about having fun, personal growth and empowerment. It is like, hey, this is training ground for your life. You get good at being in front of people. So when you are older you can get that job because you are used to being in front of people. That’s why my student Zac today at the demo did so well. Because he has been in front of people a number of times at the dojo. It’s just good training ground for kids.

Have you ever come to Japan?

Not yet, I am planning to come, maybe next year or a year after, it’s very difficult for me to leave right now because I have a day job and I run my dojo at night. It’s a very young dojo. Therefore, I don’t have a lot of yudansha who can cover my school for a long period of time. It takes a long time to build a world class dojo. I have been doing this for 3 years and probably in another three or four years I will be in the position where I could be gone for a month. Which is what I would like to do every year.

Just take a month every year and go train, spend time in Japan and see other dojos around the world. I will get there soon.