by Rustling Birch

We gather to celebrate Chinese New Year with another successful hot-pot supper.
It is our dojo's third participation in this tradition
For the occasion, we have shed both our gis and the gravitas of our Aikido personas.  Everyone this evening is sporting colorful and snappy outfits.  Conversations are lively and animated, and a definite light-heartedness fills the air. We mingle cheerfully on the very mat that usually reverberates with the sounds of our falls. Some of the students have created a large colourful banner to commemorate the Year of the Horse, and the dojo itself is festive.  

Appetites grow as five tables are set up on the mat. Hot-pots are placed on the tables, and their fragrant steam begins wafting towards us. Anticipation builds. One after another, heaping platefuls of food—meats, seafood, and vegetables of all sorts—are loaded onto each table. It then takes some dexterity to cram in the required bowls, dipping sauces, teacups, and chopsticks.

We eagerly await the invitation to gather around the tables. It does not take long for more than thirty people to find a place and settle in.  We each gingerly begin slipping a bit of bok choy, a mushroom, a strip of tender beef, a fat shrimp into the hot-pot, retrieving them when they are done.  Not long into the meal, however, the strategy evolves, and we begin tossing everything in at once, oftentimes retrieving food that we didn’t put in. We sip, and dip, and slurp, voicing our approval after every bite.  We chat, and laugh, and tease, creating new bonds or bolstering old ones.  

After the meal, we exchange New Year’s greetings—xin nian hao!  Gong xi fa cai!—and Sensei gives us each a hongbao (red envelope), with a special treat inside.  
2014 is the year of the Horse, the seventh animal in the twelve-year Chinese Zodiac animal cycle, established during the Han Dynasty (206-220 BC).  The recognized attributes of the horse include energy, strength, and gregariousness... May we all be energetic, strong, affable and friendly throughout the year in all our endeavours, both in our training and in our personal lives!!