January 15, 2022

On Sunday, January 9, 2022, the Iwama Shin Shin Aiki Shurenkai (ISSAK) conducted the annual Kagami Biraki ceremony to officially welcome a new year of aikido training in the tradition of founder Ueshiba Morihei O’sensei.  Over forty people gathered from across Japan, some coming from as far away as Kobe, in the Tanrenkan Dojo to participate in the ceremony conducted by Kaicho Saito Hitohira. 

Kagami Biraki Norito
Norito Prayer Chanting

Kagami Biraki (鏡開き) derives from a Japanese tradition in which round ‘mirror’ shaped rice cakes (kagami mochi /鏡餅) are offered to ancestors and divinities that are said to visit during the holiday season.  After a sufficient amount of offering time on the Shinto altar (Kamidana / 神棚), the brittle rice cakes can be broken into pieces (but not cut with a knife to avoid severing ties with the spirits) and enjoyed by the living.

Saito Sensei led the group in chanting prayers (norito / 祝詞) for universal peace, social harmony, and widespread prosperity, followed by gratitude to Aikido founder Ueshiba Morihei O’sensei, Saito Morihiro Shihan, and several departed members of ISSAK, including Alessandro Tittarelli Shihan, Dennis Tatoian Shihan, and Takamo Motoyuki Shihan.

After chanting norito, each participant offered a sprig of sakaki (榊) plant to the kamidana along with their personal prayers.  Sakaki is a broadleaf evergreen shrub viewed as sacred in Japanese Shinto spirituality.  The kanji character for sakaki contains both “tree” (木) and “kami” or “spirit” (神) and its evergreen nature indicates “sakaeru-ki” (栄える), a tree that is eternally flourishing. 

Sakaki also alludes to a border (sakai-ki / 境) that enjoins the spiritual and human realms.  In this way, the presence of sakaki designates entering a sacred space wherein human prayers are transmitted to the divine. 

Reverentially offering sakaki (tamagushi houten / 玉串奉奠) centers the donor’s mind in an attitude of respect for ancestors, natural forces, and the divine energies that contribute to the richness of human life.

Offering Sakaki

After finishing tamagushi houten, the beat of the taiko drum sounded the time for aikido technical demonstrations.  Affiliate dojo from Akita, Sendai, Mito, Ryugasaki, Nagoya, Uehara, and Nishiazabu presented their aikido “enbu” followed by members of the Tanrenkan ISSAK honbu dojo.

Kagami Biraki Embu: Demonstrating before the divinities.

Saito Morihiro Nidaime (Yasuhiro) Sensei dazzled the crowd with a variety of throws from morotedori before taking on niningake (two person) and sanningake (three person) attacks.

Morihiro Ni Dai Me Sensei demonstrates San Nin Gake.

Kaicho Saito Hitohira demonstrated kumitachi 1-5, including the special kumitachi “4.2” that combines 7th, 6th and 5th awase practices, followed by dynamic tachidori ‘sword taking’ throws and controlling techniques. 

Kaicho Saito Hitohira demonstrates Tachidori Sankyo

Once the demonstrations concluded, the Tanrenkan dojo was prepared with tables and food to host the “naorai” banquet.  A direct translation of the kanji (直会) would imply a “repair meeting”.  However, a naorai meal traditionally follows a Shinto ceremony and implies a strengthening of social and spiritual bonds within a community. 

Kaicho thanked the people for attending the Kagami Biraki ceremony, for their continued support of the Iwama Shin Shin Aiki Shurenkai, and their dedication to upholding the founder’s approach to aikido training.  He noted that the twentieth anniversary of establishing ISSAK as an independent organization is approaching in February 2024, and despite the difficulties associated with pandemic restrictions, the community remains strong due to the commitment of its people.

Naorai: Restoring the bonds of community.

Once the formalities concluded and the Tanrenkan cleaned, those with time available were invited back to the ‘shin dojo’ for more food, conversation, and camaraderie.  Indeed, the Iwama Shin Shin Aiki Shurenkai has much to celebrate as a new year begins.