Happy New Year: Kagami Biraki


By Craig Thomas Naylor

I’m at the age where I usually don’t make it to midnight on New Year’s Eve. I’ll sit with my dog in the dark of our bedroom closet while she shakes in fear of fireworks exploding around us. Not only that, but I have a sip of champagne or some cider pressed from my orchard, then hit the hay, trusting the new year to come in all by itself. Likewise, I do have recollections, some eliciting a smile, others a cringe, of celebrations in more youthful years of raucous revelry, too much drink, and way too much fun. But those days seem behind me now.

For me, the new year starts with a celebration with my Aikido students called Kagami Biraki. Sometimes we do this early in the morning of January 1, other times a few days later, occasionally waiting until the traditional Japanese day of January 11.

Kagami Biraki is a meditative training that “opens the mirror,” a time of reflection and preparing our heart and spirit for the year to come. The ceremony varies from place to place. We begin by bowing to the shomen, the small shrine that, in my dojo, includes a picture of Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, some wooden weapons, and a Bible. In this martial art, we do not strike back at opponents but instead “turn the other cheek” to find a way to resolve the conflict, so neither person is hurt.

After bowing, we clap twice in unison, awakening the spirits to our presence and our desire to train in a manner of purity and love. We strike a bowl-shaped gong four times and allow the reverberations to massage our heart and mind. We stand, grab a wooden sword called a bokken, and take a moment to imagine one aspect of the year ahead we wish to address: perhaps a relationship needing a spark, perhaps gratitude for the healthy birth of a child or grandchild, an aspect of our career, or the intent to overcome addiction. Furthermore, we hold this image in our heart for a moment then, with feet shoulder-width apart, make twenty-five slow cuts with the sword, refining our purpose, our vision, with each strike. Each downward slice follows a path to the bottom, our knees bending, connecting to Mother Earth. As we raise the sword, we connect to heaven, then again to earth; binding the earthly and celestial with each cut. When done, we sit in the Japanese kneeling position as the gong is struck four more times, each reverberation an echo of the year ahead.

We repeat this process with new wishes, new intentions, until we have cut heaven to earth one hundred times.

Sometimes I do Kagami Biraki in Montana mode. Instead of inside in a dojo, I take my seven-pound maul to the wood pile. I clean snow off the chopping block, place a round on top, fix in my mind an objective for the coming year, then study the wood. Each log has a place that says, hit me here! It’s usually a crack in the grain, but occasionally I have to commune with the wood to find the special spot. I spread my feet shoulder-width, raise the maul above my head (no roundhouse strikes here!), hold my intention while prehearing the split go all the way to the bottom of the log, then guide the sledge down. This is typically done with a kiai, the martial art vocal exclamation we know from karate demonstrations. If my intention is true, the wood splits with little effort. If my intention involves a particularly challenging task for the year ahead, I find myself missing the sweet spot, and then I pry out the seven-pound head and do it again, occasionally many times.

I do twenty-five strikes then pause and look around at this wondrous world we live in. I watch chickadees at the feeder, read prints in the snow of turkey and deer that come for a snack, look to the sky and, perhaps, catch a snowflake or two on my gloved hand. I marvel at the beautifully crystalline and intricate designs Mother Nature bestows upon us all.

Then I place another round of wood on the block, entertain a new intention for the year, split twenty-five times, then repeat with a new aim, a new purpose, until I have made one hundred cuts.

I know the day will come when the maul will rest in the shop, the bokken in its case, and my here-to-fore one hundred cuts will become one hundred steps with a walker or one hundred blinks of an eye or one hundred final breaths as I welcome the great mystery that lies on the other side of life. But I hope I will always be eager for the changes, challenges, and inspirations of a new dawn, a new year, and the miracles to come.

Oh, and traditionally, Kagami Biraki ends by smashing of the top of a sake barrel with a wooden hammer and everyone drinks. I skip that step but I’ll leave that decision up to you.

Happy New Year! May it bring innumerable blessing to you and yours. MSN

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