dojo: the story of an American aikido school
dojo: the story of an American aikido school
Teachers & students create community as they train in martial arts; in a world full of violence, how do we talk about peace?
Teachers & students create community as they train in martial arts; in a world full of violence, how do we talk about peace? Read more
About this project
For over twelve years, I have been a student at Aikido of Madison. The dojo, started over 30 years ago by Senseis John Stone and Robin Cooper, is a special place, and I have long held great admiration for the manner in which they, and all of the senior instructors, conduct the school. A few years ago, I started to think that their particular approach to practicing aikido was deserving of a wider audience.
Not an instructional video, “dojo: the story of an American aikido school” is an exploration of the art of aikido and how John Sensei, Robin Sensei, and company teach it in modern America while honoring its Japanese roots. The film will include on-location footage of class instruction and interviews with a variety of students and instructors along a continuum of rank and experience levels (from 3 months to 30 plus years).
My project will also seek to raise the profile of the art of aikido. Not only is aikido a beautiful art to participate in or observe – often dance like, evocative of tai chi or other martial forms that have smooth, flowing motion – the teaching, as handed down from O’Sensei (Morihei Ueshiba, who founded the art in the early 1900’s), is grounded in the belief that true aikido, in essence, is about restoring balance and peace to the universe; interrupting violence by de-escalating and neutralizing it, rather than adding to it.
I will also explore why the practice has taken root in America. What draws American students to the martial arts? What do they find when they get there – what they expected, or something different? How do you create an atmosphere where people can train for potentially life-and-death situations in a manner that creates a supportive, family-like community? What presumptions of American culture – with its expectations of instant success, with imagery of power and domination – are challenged and broken down for the student who trains in a Japanese martial art? These are the questions I seek to answer with my film.
Progress so far:
[the first official trailer for "dojo"]
I began principal videography in November of 2013; over my winter vacation, I assembled a first draft of a trailer for the film (see above). I have interviewed a dozen people so far, and have several interviews scheduled through the first weeks of January (and an ongoing email campaign through the dojo list to get more people to sit down with me!).
How will funds be used?
Funds raised will cover equipment, pre and post-production costs, as well as pay for a composer to create a score for the piece. I also hope to cover some staff time for technical assistance for legal issues, accounting help, and putting local professionals to work to assist with camerawork, sound and editing.
If I am able to exceed my initial funding goal, additional funds will extend the scope of the project to include travel to do in-person interviews with Saotome Sensei, who was John Sensei and Robin Sensei’s principle instructor, and former students of Aikido of Madison who have left Wisconsin and run schools of their own.
Risks and challenges
As with any project, I face a certain number of challenges with this documentary. Chief among them are recording accurate audio in the dojo itself; it’s a very acoustically alive environment, and getting clean audio of Sensei’s instructions (without being too invasive) is difficult. I typically shoot with a boom mic on the camera and the Zoom H2n set-up on the side of the mat. Since Sensei typically instructs while throwing Uke (the person taking on the role of the attacker) to and fro, they are often speaking left and right – in other words a stationary mic on one side of the mat misses nearly half of the instruction. With full funding, I would both get a higher end boom mic, and also add a second Zoom (preferably the newer H4n model), placed on the opposite side of the mat, so that I would have ample sound sources to pull together a fuller picture of Sensei’s instruction during editing.
There have been other equipment challenges. When I started shooting in October of 2013, I was using the Canon Rebel T3i which I had purchased as a Birthday present to myself in the July the year before. Before too long, I discovered that the image sensor had developed a defect – 4 min. into shooting a pixel would get stuck in the “on” position, displaying as a red dot in the near middle of the image. The camera will need to go in for repairs, which will take a couple of weeks; I could not afford the down time, nor could I keep shooting knowing that my shots would be ruined with a hot pixel, so I purchased a Canon 70D. I’m glad to have the new rig, but the expense was unexpected.
(In addition, I purchased a Light Kit to help with interview shoots. The kit has been very helpful – except for the afternoon when one of the bulbs, apparently defective, sizzled and nearly started a fire in my apartment!)
Scoring is the biggest challenge from a post-production perspective. A substantial piece of the funding will be put toward hiring a professional, creative musician who can create a score that enhances without over-powering.
Though I’m the driving force behind this picture, a project of this scale will need a cadre of folks around it to be successful. Besides the instructors and seniors students at Aikido of Madison (who have been very supportive to date), I have a community of technically inclined and experienced videographers and editors around me – and some have lent their input for free up to this point. I would like to see them compensated, at least in part, for their contribution. Some of this funding will allow me to pay for time to bring a few folks in for some of the more “heavy duty” aspects of production and post-production; I would love to have an assistant cameraman occasionally, and I will want some editing assistance to polish the final edit, especially when it comes to color grading.
This is a massive project to coordinate – working with class schedules, my own schedule, keeping equipment in top shape (and batteries charged), scheduling interviews, getting folks to sign releases, transportation to and from interview locations and the dojo. It reminds me of many of the theatre productions I’ve directed or produced, and I’m thankful for the lessons I learned through all of those experiences. I am committed to getting this documentary made; having this Kickstarter funding will lead to the best possible project in the long run.
With my shooting schedule to date, I’m confident that I will have enough footage gathered by late March to begin assembling the finished project, and that I can meet my goal of having it edited for submission to the Wisconsin Film Festival 2015 (whose deadline is Nov. 2014; if successfully funded, and ahead of schedule, I may try to submit to the Sundance Film Festival 2015 as well (whose deadline is not yet set, but is usually around August).Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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