How to Choose a Martial Arts School Part 1: The People


How to Choose a Martial Arts School
Part 1: The People


I am putting together a series of posts and brief videos about how to how to decide what is the best martial arts school is for you and your family.

Here’s Part 1: The People.

1.    The People

In martial arts training, particularly aikido, you’re going to be spending a tremendous amount of time with the students and instructors at your dojo. So, to me, people are the most important part of training.  If you don’t want to spend time with the instructors and the other students, then it makes no sense to join that martial arts school. It doesn’t make any difference what their martial arts style is. If you don’t like the people, move on.

So, start and end your research with the people who you’ll be training with.

2.    The Instructors

Aikido, along with every other martial arts practice, is done with a teacher. If you think that you can learn aikido online, or from a book, you are fooling yourself. You can’t. Find the right teacher and you’ll learn. In fact, find the right teacher and you’ll love your martial arts training!

It doesn’t matter what level black belt the instructor is or how many competitions that person may have won. None of that guarantees that the instructor is any good or is the right instructor for you.

Start your research by learning how much the instructor cares about your practice. As Chief Instructor at Aikido’Ka, I care about why you want to practice martial arts. I will work to help you understand and achieve your goals.

I meet with every single prospective aikido student. I personally do every orientation. We will discuss why you want to train and how our community may help you reach those goals. I will then formally meet with you, quarterly, to make sure you are getting what you need from your training. All of the instructors at Aikido’Ka are happy to speak with you, any time, about your training.

Make sure that the instructors, and any staff, are courteous and professional. Make sure you feel safe and that your child will feel safe. I can’t imagine a worse situation than joining a martial arts school to build your confidence and character and being frightened the entire time you are training. Please don’t do that to yourself!

Ask the instructor about his or her larger training community. Is the dojo an active part of an organization or the school isolated and on its own?

Aikido’Ka is a member of the California Aikido Association, which, despite its name, has member dojos around the world. We are members of the 2nd division, which is headed by Michael Friedl Shihan. Friedl Sensei is an absolutely great guy and has been my personal aikido teacher for years. Aikido’Ka is very active in the CAA. I do not exaggerate when I tell you that I have friends many places around the world thanks to being an active member of our extended aikido family.

3.    The Students

Don’t just look at the instructors. Talk to the students. Does the dojo have any people who have been training for more than just a short time? Are there people at the dojo who have been training for 10, 20, or 30+ years? If so, you can figure that people like training there. Do people have fun when training? Do they feel safe? Don’t only ask the students. Watch them train and see if they look like they’re having fun and feeling safe.

Here’s what I’d like you to do: Come to Aikido’Ka. Sit and watch. Join in. See how people interact with each other. Look at their faces. See if they’re smiling and laughing and making friends. You’ll see that Aikido’Ka is a fun, friendly, safe atmosphere. It’s a good, safe place to be.

Feel free to talk with any of the students at Aikido’Ka. We don’t have secrets. Ask them anything them about their training. They’ll answer you truthfully.

4.    Take Your Time

Many martial arts schools will give you one free class to figure out whether their place is right for you. They will then want you to sign up and start paying dues.

I am quite sure that one or two classes is not at long enough for you to learn all you want about the teachers, the students, and everything else.

At Aikido’Ka, you receive 30 days free to try out aikido training. That’s right, you have a full 30 days to see if the instructors, the students and everything else works for you. If not, then it costs you nothing. You don’t have to buy a uniform or anything else. Your first 30 days are free. Now I’m not saying that you can’t join us in that first 30 days, but you don’t have to. And those first 30 days – they’ll be free.

So if you’re looking to improve your health, your life, your confidence, build some self-defense skills, and all sorts of other positive things, then please start your free 30 days at Aikido’Ka right away. Just call me at (530) 273-2727, or send me an email and we’ll get you started.

I look forward to training with you!

Start your 30 days free training now by filling out the form below.


Your Training Partner is Not Your Pretend Enemy

Recently, Jeramy Hale Sensei was teaching at the dojo. He brought up a point which I thought was so important that I decided to make a video about it. Jeramy Sensei was making the point that your aikido training partner is not your pretend enemy.

Here’s the video. I hope you enjoy. I look forward to seeing your comments.


Here’s the transcript to the video:

Hi, everyone. My name is Frank Bloksberg. I am Chief Instructor of Aikido’Ka, an aikido dojo in Grass Valley, California. My good friend Jeramy Hale taught at the dojo on a recent Friday evening, and said something so important and profound that I feel compelled to discuss it with you. Jeramy was talking about the relationship between the people training. Jeramy explained that even though your partner is playing the role of an attacker, that person is not your pretend enemy. Let me say this again because it’s so incredibly important. Even though your training partner is playing the role of attacker, that person is not your pretend enemy. I’ll explain why Jeramy’s point is so important.

Here’s a quote from an article about the self-defense value of a particular form of karate. “When we train, we’re as serious as we would be during a life-and-death struggle. Our mindset throughout each session is that we’re really defending ourselves. We’re conditioning our minds to see our attackers and to fight them with every move we make.” In other words, see the people you’re training with as your enemy and treat them that way. After years of this type of practice, how do you think you’ll respond to any type of a threat, whether physical or emotional?

Well, here’s what the article says about that:

“When students practice, we try to develop reaction. Ideally, when you’re attacked, you’ll react automatically. The further you go in your training, the more your techniques will become reactions. They’ll become second nature to you.”

I agree that it’s absolutely true that training should create fast, precise movement. If you have to think about how to respond to a physical attack, then chances are your response will be too late. But if year after year you practice a violent response to attacks, then that’s how you’ll respond to any perceived attack – without any thought and lightning quick. Indeed, that’s the point.

The self-defense aspects of Aikido are about resolving disputes, even potentially violent disputes, with no one getting hurt. With Aikido, we look to blend with our attacker. We use evasive movements to unravel the attack and place the attacker in an untenable position. We practice these movements until we can precisely perform them without thought and lightning quick. So if you do perceive an attack, you will not automatically respond with violence. And that’s the point.

Here’s another important point:

Aikido, as with every other real, modern martial art is not a combat system. Aikido is primarily about self-improvement and relationship building. While Aikido practice can build incredibly effective self-defense skills, it’s primarily an art. Practicing Aikido can make you a much happier, healthier member of an incredibly fun community. Practicing a true combat system will make you a better fighter and get you beat up a lot, likely nothing more. You get to choose which one of these you want from your life. You know which one I choose.

Here’s how I describe the roles that attacker and defender have in Aikido practice:

You bring the attack in such a way so that your training partner can do his or her technique perfectly. Likewise, you perform your defensive techniques so that the attacker can receive the technique perfectly. We’re people, so we don’t do anything perfectly. Nonetheless, that’s the goal. We practice to support each other’s improvement. We’re not pretending to be enemies. We’re partners in our practice, and working together for mutual self-improvement and to learn whatever the thing is that we’re working on.

Whenever human beings understand something, we automatically believe it. You don’t have a choice. The belief happens automatically. Once you understand something, you may be able to override the belief. But many beliefs continue even after the belief has been thoroughly debunked. The scientific literature is filled with studies about this. If we pretend to be each other’s enemies, then we actually are enemies at least for some time. We then have to somehow override that belief.

Consider for a moment what pretending to be enemies can bring up in your mind. Bringing an attack as an enemy involves trying to hurt your enemy. It brings up the desire to defeat, even humiliate one’s enemy. We destroy trust and community by doing so. In no way is this appropriate for Aikido practice.

Aikido exists to improve our lives and our relationships. Not surprisingly then, creating enemies has absolutely no place in the dojo – not even pretending and not even for a short time.

Now don’t get the wrong idea. Aikido is martially effective. Depending on your practice, it can be extremely effective. You can train as vigorously and powerfully as you want. You will get there with respect and by building trust with your training partners.

The dojo is a safe place for everyone who trains here. If you and I are training together, you have to feel safe. If you don’t feel safe, then I have work to do to get you there, and being your enemy sure isn’t going to accomplish that.

So thank you, Jeramy. If Aikido training sounds good to you, then please check us out at, and thank you so very much for your time.

Start your 30 days free aikido training by filling out the form below. I look forward to training with you!

Attend Our 10th Anniversary Celebration — March 10-12, 2016

It’s completely hard for me to believe, but our 10th Anniversary is coming up. So, I think this calls for a little dojo history lesson. 🙂

White-Faced Ibis

These are White-Faced ibis, not Sandhill cranes.

In Japanese culture, the crane is special. It’s a sign of longevity and good fortune, because it supposedly lives for 1,000 years. In reality, cranes do live long lives. In captivity, their life-span averages 40 to 60 years. Supposedly, one captive Siberian crane lived for 83 years and fathered chicks at age 78. OK, then!

Anyway . . . to Aikido’Ka Opening Day. We had classes and other events going all day long. It was quite the extravaganza and tremendous fun. While I was leading a class, I heard a familiar sound and listened carefully. It didn’t take too long for me to think I was hearing Sandhill cranes — a lot of them.

I dashed outside and saw circling directly above the dojo a flock of Sandhill cranes. There must have been hundreds of them. The cranes visited several times that day. I’m not superstitious, or anything like that, but I sure did appreciate the visit. 🙂 The cranes don’t show up every year, but they often do.

Michael Friedl Shihan and Kimberly Richardson Sensei

Michael Friedl Shihan and Kimberly Richardson Sensei

While I can’t guarantee the cranes will appear during our 10th Anniversary Celebration, I can assure you that we’re going to have a great time. Two of my favorite aikido people will be teaching — Michael Friedl Shihan and Kimberly Richardson Sensei. Michael Shihan is my direct aikido teacher. He’s an extraordinary teacher and a great guy — informative, fun, easily approachable. Kimberly Richardson Sensei is an absolute marvel. She moves with extraordinary grace. She’s very friendly and approachable. You’ll love both of them. Getting the two of them with us together is an incredible treat. We’ll also have some other teachers who have been instrumental in our success teach some. We’ll be providing lunch at the dojo. I also understand that Michael Shihan may put on a brief magic show during lunch!

On top of all of this fun, Ian Isbell will be doing his shodan test Saturday morning around 10 am. Ian will be our second home-grown black belt. Talk about exciting! Ian has been training for about 8 years, and is a key member of Aikido’Ka. He’s a really great guy with a truly joyful spirit.

Ian Isbell

Ian will be demonstrating for his shodan on March 10, 2017.

Aikido’Ka is a friendly, fun dojo where you are welcome. So please join us and celebrate! You’ll get a $20 discount if you register before March 3, 2017.


By the way, the photo I’ve used with this post is not of Sandhill cranes. They’re White-Faced ibis. Ibis aren’t cranes, but they’re considered “crane-like.” Since I couldn’t find any photos of cranes that I’ve taken, I used this one. I expect to get some crane photos soon and I’ll update this post then.

Molly Hale Sensei Video — Why She Trains in Aikido and at Aikido’Ka

A couple of months ago, I recorded an interview with Molly Hale Sensei. In this video, Molly talks about why she still trains in aikido after 30 years and in our dojo, in particular. I have also included a transcript in this post.

Here’s the transcript:

One of the things that brought Jeramy and I to this area was the fact that there’s some marvelous Aikido right here in this dojo. That was a critical aspect to us for any place that we moved that it had to have not just Aikido. But it had to have Aikido like here, full of heart, full of a broad cross section of people, all different walks of life, all different ages, from the little people up to some of we older-timers. The community of people, they’re joyful. There’s serious training, but the training temperament is of heart, of joy, of being connected to each other. It’s not just on the mat. It’s in the community itself. I find that the people that are here in in this dojo are very aware of carrying it out into the world in their daily personal lives and in their lives within the community. That was really important.

What keeps me training, because I’m sort of an anomaly in terms of the typically able world because I’m not typically able. I have been training in Aikido for 32 years and 11 of them were on my feet. I refer to the last 21 years as being on my seat. It’s kind of like “What brings me?” A huge thing that brings me, of course, is the community of people, because where else do you go where the basic premise of coming together is to polish the practice of how do be loving to self and other? how do you be loving to the world? To join with a community of people where that’s their premise, that’s what they are coming in to explore, to inquire, what does that look like? It’s pretty outstanding. You can go anywhere in the world where there’s Aikido and you can into the dojo and the first agreement is to touch without harm. Sounds like it’s an ideal thing to me. I keep coming back because I keep learning. After 32 years, you think, “Oh, you know it all.” Not. There’s so much to explore in Aikido.

What brings me back, really, is the people and the open inquiry into how do I, in the world, be more loving, as input. I have places and times and things that it’s like, that wasn’t very Aiki. I just know that there’s more room to polish. I’m mostly not knocking large chunks off anymore, but there’s still all that polishing that’s possible, and in a community of people that are there and are supportive of the doing.

Our New Friday Night Aikido Class — Jeramy and Molly Hale

Molly and Jeramy Hale

Molly and Jeramy Hale

You can now train at Aikido’Ka 7 days a week! I am delighted to announce our Friday evening aikido class.

Not too many months ago, Molly and Jeramy Hale moved to Nevada County and joined Aikido’Ka. Yea! In case you don’t already know this, Molly and Jeramy are long time students of Frank Doran Shihan. They both hold the rank of yondan (4th degree black belt). They are absolutely delightful people, terrific aikidoists, and wonderful teachers.


They’re now going to be trading off teaching class on Friday nights from 5:30 – 7:00 pm. For now, I think Jeramy is going to teach 2 Fridays in a row, then Molly will teach one, and then back to Jeramy. That will probably change. When/if that schedule changes, I’ll let you know.

Be sure to attend our new Friday night class!


Gabriel Cuppet’s Shodan Test

Gabriel Cuppet's Shodan ExamAt about 10 am on Saturday, December 10, Gabriel Cuppet will be doing his shodan (1st degree black belt) test. Gabriel is, and has been, a key member of Aikido’Ka for years. Please join us and support Gabriel on his big day! There’s no charge for watching the exam (or the seminar).

Gabriel’s test is part of the Aikido’Ka Seminar Series: Getting to Shodan and Beyond, Applying Principles to Technique. The seminar is being taught by Chuck Hauk and Daryl Berlie Senseis, both 6th dan.

Click this link for more seminar information.

Fundraising Success!

Fundraising SuccessThanks to our amazing community. We met our fundraising goals!

I set our original goal at $5,000, knowing that that amount would really help with paying for our new mats, floating floor and storage container. But I had forgotten that we only get 92% of the amount donated.

So, I let everyone know that for us to actually get $5,000, we had to raise $5,435. And we did it! We raised exactly $5,435. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am.

We’ve successfully completed the fundraiser. While the fundraising page still exists, I have turned off the donations.

I will keep you posted about how the installation goes, with pictures and everything. 🙂

It’s our goal to have everything completed for Chuck Hauk and Daryl Berlie Senseis seminar December 9 – 11. Gabriel Cuppet will be doing his shodan test Saturday morning (December 10). Please join us and enjoy the new mat and floating floor.

Click here to register, or get more information about the seminar.

Fundraiser Success!

Aikido'Ka LogoThanks to our amazing community, we met our fundraising goals!

I set our original goal at $5,000, knowing that that amount would really help with paying for our new mats, floating floor and storage container. But I had forgotten that we only get 92% of the amount donated.

So, I let everyone know that for us to actually get $5,000, we had to raise $5,435. And we did it! We raised exactly $5,435. I cannot tell you how thrilled I am.

We successfully completed the fundraiser. While the fundraising page still exists, I have turned off the donations.

I will keep you posted about how the installation goes, with pictures and everything. 🙂

It’s our goal to have everything completed for Chuck Hauk and Daryl Berlie Senseis seminar December 9 – 11. Gabriel Cuppet will be doing his shodan test Saturday morning (December 10). Click here to join us (or just learn more) and enjoy the new mat and floating floor.

On Making Things Better

It’s hard to fathom how the country went so wrong with yesterday’s election. I can’t say that things won’t be as bad as we fear. I’m afraid that they’ll be worse. So many, many people are going to suffer badly.

Our task is to figure out how to thrive given the circumstances.

One of mNkosi Johnson Sayingy favorite sayings is . . . “The best revenge is living well.”

That’s what I think we should do. Let’s not pretend that something horrible hasn’t happened. It has. But we should enjoy ourselves and our loved ones. We should work to create a better, happier world. We should work to increase well-being. What other people do certainly affects us, but they’re going to do what they’re going to do. And we can live well.

Which brings me to how we can do this. And, for that, I turn to Nkosi Johnson:

“Do all you can, with what you have, in the time you have, in the place you are.”

That’s how we can make things better. Or, at least, that’s what I’m doing to increase well-being:

I’m going to do everything I can with what I have, in the time that I have, where I am.

Re-starting now.

Way more to come.

Our New Mat Fundraiser is Live!

As you probably know, we’ve had a lot going on this year.

I am, along with Michael Freidl Shihan, co-host of the Aiki Summer Retreat. The last few years, we’ve held the Aiki Summer Retreat in Quincy, California. Until this year, we’ve been spending thousands of dollars each Retreat on renting mats. So we decided to buy our own mats. We were fortunate enough to buy mats with our friends at Aikido of Santa Cruz. The mats we bought cost our dojo around $5,000.

Dojo Storage Container

Our New Storage Container

Since we don’t have enough space to safely store all of the mats in the dojo, we bought a storage container. That storage container cost around $3,200.

We plan on using some of these new mats to create a new, beautiful dojo mat with a floating floor. The new floating floor will be much gentler on everyone’s body and make training easier and more fun.

Problem is that the floating floor is probably going to cost another $3,000, or so. In other words, this new mat process is costing the dojo over $11,000.

And, we’ve kind of run out of money.

So, I’m heeding the advice of my friends and we’re doing a dojo fundraiser. We’re looking to raise $5,000 to cover the cost of the new floating floor and recoup some of the other expenses.

We really could use your help!

For more information and to donate to our new mat fundraiser, please click here.