A pictures of the zen training area at the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago.

Estunengieko – Ringing out the year with practice!

A pictures of the zen training area at the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago.

Zendo (zen hall) at the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago on New Years Eve.

Every year on New Years Eve at the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago, JCC members participate in Estsunengieko (crossing over to the new year practice).  The evening begins with a through cleaning of the Center from top to bottom ((大掃除 – oosoji).  This symbolizes the idea of starting the next year purified and fresh, which would be very similar to the idea of Spring Cleaning.

This year following the cleaning, was the actual estunengieko (end of the year practice – 越年 稽古).  The practice began with entering the zendo (zen hall) and everyone participating in misogi (禊) breathing practice, which is another form of purification in Japanese culture.   With clear minds and spirits, everyone then sat zazen ( 坐禅 – seated meditation) to calm and center themselves.  An aikido (合気道) class followed the sit and everyone practices with full intention and sincerity.

Pictured are yakisoba, oden, and mochi. There are traditional Japanese foods eaten for New Years.

A traditional Japanese meal was prepared for New Years.

Finally, following aikido came the bonenkai (忘年会 – celebration) which involved eating lots of rice cake (mochi – 餅), traditional Japanese New Years soup (oden – おでん), and noodles (soba – そば).  The eating of soba noodles is a custom of passing into the new year, as the noodles break easily, and hope  symbolize good fortune and health.

We hope you enjoyed your New Year’s Eve, however, you were celebrating.

Happy New Years (謹賀新年) !

Demonstration Information about Demonstration at the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago, Aikido Capoeira Chanoyu (Tea Ceremony) Iaido (Sword Drawing) Ikebana (Flower Arrangement) JKA Karate Shorinji Kempo Taiko Zen Meditation/Breath Work/Stretching

Cultural and Martial Arts Demonstration Open House at the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago 10/11/14

Demonstration Information about Demonstration at the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago, Aikido Capoeira Chanoyu (Tea Ceremony) Iaido (Sword Drawing) Ikebana (Flower Arrangement) JKA Karate Shorinji Kempo Taiko Zen Meditation/Breath Work/Stretching

Some of the traditional and tenured Japanese Cultural and Martial Arts in Chicago will be featured!

We would like to invite your group to our annual Open House event this upcoming October 11th (Saturday) from 12:00 pm to 4:00 pm.  The Open House will have demonstrations from several martial and cultural arts, such as:
Chanoyu (Tea Ceremony)

We will also have origami, tea tasting, and other cultural activities.

Iaido (sword drawing) Sensei demonstrated samurai martial art.

Ken Pitchford Sensei demonstrates iaido (Japanese samurai sword drawing).

There will also be a fundraising raffle for the Aikido International Foundation (AIF).  The AIF is a 501(c)-3 not-for-profit organization and with your generous donations, we can continue to help others in our local, national, and global communities.  These contributions are tax deductible.

For more information about AIF, please click here.

The raffle drawing will include items generously presented by the

following donors:



Chicago Athletic Clubs

Chicago Comics

Cassiopeis Jewelry

Crosell & Co (Home Goods)

Dark Matter Coffee

Davids Tea

Japanese Culture Center

JKA Chicago

Itto Sushi

Origami Only

Pastorelli Foods

Sunshine Cafe

Roto Fugi

Uni Sushi

Vosges Chocolates

Yolanda Lorente, Ltd.

Other Donors To Be Added!

Aikido International Foundation Logo (Enzo Surrounding an image of the Globe)

Aikido International Foundation (AIF) s a tax-exempt, not-for-profit educational organization as described in section 501(c)3.


Each raffle ticket is a $10.00 donation, 3 tickets are $25.00. Tickets can be acquired via the JCC Office or the AIF Webpage:


*Please note, please acquiring tickets via the webpage should put Raffle Ticket in the Comments Box.

Thank you again for your support and we hope to see you at the Open House!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido founder, demonstrates kiai.

Research study shows grunting (kiai) improves performance

Morihei Ueshiba, Aikido founder, demonstrates kiai.

Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba lets loose a powerful kiai.

Kiai is a the practice which involves explosive exhalations from the hara with vocalization, usually using the syllables “Ei!” and “Toh!”

Many marital arts students and observers wonder why kiai is so strongly demanded during practice.  Often times, people feel reluctant to generate such a powerful, loud breath.  Some even feel self conscious.

Researchers from the University of Nebraska have recently published a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research which may offer some scientific foundation for the physical benefits of kaia (or as they word it “grunting”.

They discovered that grunting produced a 3.8% increase in groundstroke velocity for tennis players, while not impairing any oxygen consumption.

So be proud of your kiai, gather all your breath, and harmonize with your energy.  On the court or on the mat, you can always tell people you are conducting your own research study.

Click here for the full study.

Morihei Ueshiba Sensei (Osensei) in meditation.

Meditators may be benefiting from changes in their brains.

Morihei Ueshiba Sensei (Osensei) in meditation.

Aikido founder, Morihei Ueshiba Sensei, sitting in meditation (zazen).

The researchers report that those who meditated for about 30 minutes a day for eight weeks had measurable changes in gray-matter density in parts of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress.

“Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density”


Therapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders. Here, we report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre–post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program. Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program. Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals. Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.


Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging – 30 January 2011 (Vol. 191, Issue 1, Pages 36-43, DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006)

URL: http://www.psyn-journal.com/article/S0925-4927(10)00288-X/references


Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar

Meditation hands held in a circle during zazen (seated zen).

Meiso ho and Kokyo ho (Zen Meditation and Breath Techniques)


According to our Association promotion test requirements students are required to be familiar with meiso ho (seated meditation practice) and kokyu ho (breathing exercises). Recently, a student testing for the rank of Nikyu was asked to describe these practices, and to say how they are important for budo training. He gave a very eloquent answer, which was accepted. After the test, he was privately asked if he actually did practice meditation and breathing. “I tried once,” he replied, “but they didn’t do much for me. What good are they anyway?”

In such a case it would be much better for a student to say plainly that he or she does not practice meiso ho or kokyu ho. At least this is honest. In any case, we know that this student’s instructor is probably also not clear regarding internal training methods, or at least does not teach them.

Honestly viewing Aikido as a whole, we can say that this situation is the norm, rather than the exception.

Meditation and related breathing exercises have been a vital part of Japanese martial tradition since the yogic practices of Buddhism and Taoism first entered Japan, and particularly since Zen Buddhism, with its emphasis on meditative training, came to be patronized by the ruling warrior class. Samurai during that warring stage were in daily contact with questions of life and death, of intention and concentration. They saw in the meditative discipline of monks a kind of dynamic calm and courage that they needed as soldiers. Monks, also, saw in the warriors the same intense energy and single-minded commitment that was necessary for their own spiritual training. Though their interchange, the martial arts in time became viewed as potential tools for spiritual development; they became known as Budo, martial ways. We have inherited this viewpoint, as exemplified by the internal training undertaken and espoused by the Founder during his life. The statements made by O’Sensei regarding his vision of the martial arts are actually not unique, but have been voiced in one form or another by certain martial practitioners throughout the ages.

This, then, is our tradition, and it is the background that leads us to view Aikido as potentially something more than just combative technique. Why then do many practitioners blithely sidestep the whole subject of internal training? In fact, given the high talk of Aikido philosophy contrasted with the actual practice and training of most Aikido practitioners, an outsider looking in might very well deduce that Aikido is a sham.

Of course many persons practice Aikido only for self-defense, for health reasons, social reasons, or simply as a hobby. That is fine, and desireable. But for the committed and sincere practitioners, who aspire to the deeper truths of martial training, it is unfortunate that the methodology of internal training is not stressed by most Aikido instructors. A simple reason for this may be that persons qualified to teach these facets of Aikido training have always been scarce; today’s generation of teachers have mostly been raised with, at best, a minimal exposure to this type of training.

The benefits of meiso ho and kokyu ho, so crucial to martial arts skill, include the following:

  • Development of joriki (the power of unified concentration)
  • Increase in kiai (vital energy) and free circulation of energy in the body.
  • Improvement of shisei (posture) and general health.
  • Development of calm in the face of danger or stress.
  • Reduction of stress and stiffness.
  • Development of proper breathing and use of the hara (lower abdomen, including the tanden or “one point”).
Meditation hands held in a circle during zazen (seated zen).

Meditation practice has many benefits.

What should the student interested in internal training do? Since meiso ho and kokyu ho are part of our formal promotion test requirements, it is mandatory that students have an experience of them and understand their method and intention. Ultimately, students with no interest in gaining this minimum understanding are ill-prepared to take on instructor positions, since they are unable to teach a portion of our minimum test requirements.

Students should not hesitate to ask their instructors to explain and teach internal training. Express an interest in this training, and it will be addressed.

Take the time to at least experience our internal training methods. When it is your turn to answer questions during your promotion test, you will feel better knowing that your answers are sincere and based on your own solid experience.

It should be our goal not simply to follow the path of O’Sensei, but to be better — stronger, wiser, better educated, and better instructors — than O’Sensei was. Even it is not possible to surpass our teachers, we must train with the spirit of doing so using the full range of trining methods that have been handed down to us. In this way, Aikido will be successfully passed from generation to generation — without weakening.

Fumio ToyodaAikido World, Vol 11, No. 5