Monday, December 25, 2006

Another Year in the Bag

That's it - training finished for 2006...how was it for you? I hope you worked hard, had fun, and learned a lot along the way.

What am I wishing for in 2007??
  • have more training time
  • do less business travel
  • listen more
  • be more patient
  • participate more
I want my aikido to show in every moment of every day, like a magic I have; A magic that others will wish they did, too. At the heart of what we do is fellowship and community, not just with each other in Yoshinkan, but with all the people in the world who are training hard every day to give their life structure and discipline, and who use this opportunity to become better people.

My heartfelt thanks to everyone whose support helps give me courage to continue.

Warm Wishes and Happy Holidays!!

Osu! John

Monday, December 04, 2006

Having a "Near-Life" Experience

During the busy nights of drinking last week an interesting conversation happened that I want to share with you...my co-worker, Jae, is a devout Christian. He was raised Christian, and later began to practice voluntarily (not just out of habit). Because he is a practical, smart, single young man in a business of high stress and pressure (PT sales), he is a great mirror through which I try to understand how devout Christians apply their religion to their complex daily lives.

Over many sessions, he and I have discussed the difference between his religion (Christianity) and mine (martial arts). We did so again last Thursday. He related a story to me of his business trip to the US in September, and of nearly having a plane crash on a flight from Chicago to San Francisco. All around him, people were screaming, franctically trying to make cell phone calls, and basically in a chaotic panic. Eeven seasoned flight attendants broke down hysterially. As far as they could tell, it was their last few moments of life. What would YOU do?? Jae told me that he closed his eyes and realized he was helpless, realized he loved Jesus Christ, and that he would go to heaven. He was no longer afraid. he asked me if martial arts would give me the same comfort and piece of mind. He called it a "near death" experience. I call it a "near-life" experience. These are the times that help us break through to the other side of our conciousness and really truly begin to understand ourselves and our lives.

I have not been near death in a long time (last time I was 21 years old). At that time, it would have been hard to say I felt anything but anger. Not fear, anger. That was a long time ago, and now I am married with a family of my own. What would I feel this time?

I contend that our study of The Way is designed to give us courage in the face of hardship, including death. Many take the words of books like Hagakure "The Way of the samurai lies in Death" to mean that one must not embrace life and long for death in every waking moment. Wrong. In fact, study of death through martials arts should yield an appreciation of our own frailty and mortality; and at the same time, our ability to overcome these limitations and be so much more. We must discover the joy of every day, knowing that each morning could be our last. This means leaving nothing unsaid, living each moment as fully as we can, so that even until the last breath, we have been fulfilled and are thus satisfied and ready to let go.

This makes me especially sad when I see people like Seagal-sensei, who has trained for so many years and still knows only anger. Or my wife's yoga teacher, who has trained his whole life and does not know peace. If so, did they both waste their time?

I hope that my last lesson to my boys will be the lesson of how to let go with courage and dignity. Until then, they and the others close to me will know that I love them, because I will tell them and show them often. I will live my life 100% without regret.

On the mats as well, I will give 100% so that I get 100%.

And if today is my last day, so be it.
If it is not, see you on the mats tomorrow.

Osu!

Have you had a "near-life experience"? What was it??

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The "Eyes" have it



Another important idea today...where are you looking??

In addition to all the other things that make our techniques work, the eyes are a vital component to putting it all together.

On a metaphysical level, our eyes/gaze , called metsuke in Japanese, are part of the way that we focus our energy and attention on the matter at hand. They should give uke pause, and show that shite is tuned into the moment. Some say you should focus on a point just at the top of uke's sternum, meaning not to look uke directly in their eyes, but it is a very subtle point.

At the practical level, we tend to move our head where our eyes are looking. If we look away, our head can turn, taking our strength and balance with it. Yet another reason why it is important to keep our eyes squarely on our opponent(s).

I would suggest putting your gaze in a central location on or about the chest of your opponent, with head slightly tilted to allow for better peripheral vision. In any case, it is important that your head/spine not be turned and be straight just as your back should be straight.

"see" what I mean?

Osu!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Might versus Right



I know what you're thinking..."why isn't it working??" It happens to all of us. It happens for a long time. It's frustrating as hell. That feeling when you apply a technique and uke just stands there with a blank, bored expression. NOTHING HAPPENS. We've all been there. So, what do you do??

For most of us, you gun it. You apply more strength to try and muscle the person into the technique, as if you would smack the round peg with a hammer to get it through the square hole. Hmmm...I admit it is very gratifying to see uke respond in the technique the way you think it should work. However, as Saori says "aikido is for everyone, but everyone is not for aikido". The truth is that application of a lot of muscle power is counter-intuitive to the proper application of aikido techniques. In aikido, uke is the one that should be doing the hard work. Shite should be relying on timing, position, movement, atemi, and the rotation of the hips as the primary means of getting uke off balance and keeping uke off balance until the dynamic result (projection or control) inevitably occurs. Of course, when done from a static position as kihon waza, it's really hard to get that all the time and get that response from every uke.

However, let's look at it from uke's point of view as well. As uke, should you just "go with it" so that you are faking a result? Yes...and no. Yes in that as uke you want to experience the projections and controls to understand them, and you want to give shite a chance to feel the dynamic feeling of applying them. At the same time, wrong is wrong, and it does not help shite to go with it if the basic principes (as I described above) are lacking. A fine line indeed.

Here's my advice.

1) focus on the basics - timing, position, movement, atemi, and the rotation of the hips

2) remember as uke that the dojo is a place of learning

Uke's primary goal in the dojo is giving. That means giving of time, energy, and body to help shite master the principles by applying technicques over and over. That's also why we bow to each other and why we change places frequently. We respect and appreciate uke's sacrifice, and we want to share all facets of the experience.

I think it is best not to worry so much about whether or not each kihon waza really "works". It is more important to try and remember the learning point of each technique and drill it with the intent of mastering the application of the key components of every techniquen namely, timing, position, movement, atemi, and the rotation of the hips. In time, all techniques are one, and they will all have the right result.

I know it is tough. Lest we forget, Patience is another element we must practice in the dojo.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

One Little Word

Sometimes that makes all the difference. Today we worked on ushiro ryote mochi sankajo osae 1 & 2. Technically, we were able to get it fairly accurate. However, I was aware after the lesson that I spent most of the time doing the technique TO Saori and David, rather than WITH Saori and David.

Of course I know that Aikido's "ai" means harmony and refers to the dynamic union of shite and uke at that brief moment in time when they are together in a single motion. Easier said than done.

To me, that is the next level of improvement in my training...to respond to the feedback from uke dynamically, and make the technique a single fluid motion between us. That will take the rest of my life to achieve, but well worth it. Work on this concept more in class tomorrow.

Osu!

John

Vital Signs

vi‧tal  /[vahyt-l] –adjective
1. of or pertaining to life
2. having remarkable energy, liveliness, or force of personality
3. necessary to life
4. necessary to the existence, continuance, or well-being of something
5. of critical importance
6. indispensible


Vital. I like that word, and have been thinking about it all morning. That is how I want my training to be. Vital. Having remarkable energy. Necessary to my well-being. indispensible.

Like many things in our lives, when they are neglected or taken for granted, they diminish.
I often worry that my training will lose focus and intensity, especially when I am travelling so much and burdened with so many other things. It is especially important for me to make my time on the mats counts, and to never become complacent with my current level.

I continue to believe that who I am in the dojo is who I am out of the dojo (at least who I want to be). Vibrant. Participating. Supportive. Obsessed with excellence.

I hope you, too, can keep your energy level high when we train, and be sure to be in the lesson 100% every moment we are there together. Be Vital.

Osu!

John

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"whenever I move, that is aikido"

Excellent quote from O-Sensei, and worthy of a lot of consideration.

I saw it here on a you tube site which looks like Aikikai guys from Sweden or Finland (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYRrlKgRNQ4). A very cool clip of some very cool guys. I also like this clip from Master Tony Yates (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aicHsMC6rxM)

I escpecially note his crisp footwork and very strong atemi, which rocks uke back onto his heels. To me, both of these are great examples of final product after years of work, where the motions are strong and balanced, and there is a dynamic contact between shite and uke.

I get excited whenever I see people that good. I want to be that good. You probably do too.
"Whenever I move, that is aikido"...someday...

Osu!

John

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Softly softly

Just noticed this morning how soft my uniform had become...I bought it on eBay some time ago, and it arrived crisp enough to stand on its own. It actually hurt to wear it for awhile. Now it is as soft as a flannel blanket, which is somehow comforting.

When I started in Yoshinkan I was the same way. Every motion was all muscle power and force against force, which from my prior training I thought was the right way. Now, the trick is how to get the most result out of the least effort. To use the hips rather than the arms and chest, to be subtle and, for lack of a better term, "soft". At this point Yoshinkan becomes very efficient.

One of the most wonderful things about Yoshinkan is the subtle nature of the techniques, and the blend of linear and circular shapes. Unlike purely linear styles like Wing Chun, Yoshinkan allows for circles and spirals of all shapes and sizes as a way of redirecting motion and capturing uke from the most advantageous angle. Each movement should set up the next, in an inevitable dance that leads uke's attempt to rebalance into an osae or nage.

The discovery here never seems to end, as each technique challenges us to explore how the human body affects balance and strength, and how to remove them with the minimal amount of effort. Still so much to learn, and truly fascinating stuff.

Osu!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Cause and Effect

Today we spent the whole lesson practicing and discussing how to make an effect happen on uke. Specifically, it was the effect of their balance falling into position so that your own body shift can be at the right place at the right time. It all hinged on being able to move their arm to a certain position, behind which their balance was dependent. It got me thinking, though.

If we observe carefully, we can start to see the ways in which our actions impact the lives of other people. Sometimes willfully, sometimes unintentionally, but ALWAYS. I find it amazing that our second son is so quiet and calm compared to our first. maybe it is just because he is different. But maybe it is also because WE are different.

Take a look around you. See all the people you interact with on a daily basis. All of their lives can be dynamically changed by being in contact with you - just as uke is changed by being in contact with you. The power in this is impossible to deny.

Osu!

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Fork in The Road





We have all faced it, and we will all face it again. The fork in the road between right action and easy action. This can take many forms. Sometimes it means the difference in doing something just for one's own selfish desires, and doing for the greater good. Sometimes it is simple difference between right and wrong, made worse by the delusion that we can do wrong and "not get caught".

Make no mistake, we are in combat every day. This combat is a "combat of the soul" and our victory is the victory of our good human nature over the evil that men do. We live in a world of temptation.

I want very much to believe that martial arts training prepares us to win these battles, the little battles inside us every day that cause us to give in to temptation, or help us to stand strong against it. The temptation to sleep in late and be lazy can be overcome, as we have found from our years of training together at 5:45 AM. So too, can other temptations be overcome, and allow us to choose long-term benefit over short-term satisfaction. We win a little bit every day.

Of all the challenges we face in our lives, the challenge to choose right action in the right moment without hesitation is to me the central goal of my life on this earth. I know my training will give me the courage to win this battle again and again.

What will you do next time you stand at the fork in the road? Will you be proud of the choice you make? Will your training give you the strength to do what is right?

I wish you the same victory I wish for myself.

Osu!!

John

Get a Grip

Good lesson today training in suwariwaza/tachiwaza sankajo from katatemochi and shomen uchi. On important thing in Yoshinkan that I often neglect is the need to grip uke's arm. Not sure if it's because I am trying too hard to flow, or just afraid to grab the arm. However, it is an integral part of several of the key controls in Yoshinkan that you actually GRAB uke's arm (usually elbow) and rotate it as part of the process of taking uke's elbow/shoulder and breaking the balance. The kihon shomen uchi responses for ikkajo, nikajo, sankajo, and yonkajo (ichi variations primarily) are prime examples since they depend on this rotation to unbalance uke and begin the dynamic motion of the technique. Without gripping and rotating, the technique feels weak and often fails to control uke effectively.

It is important to remember to get a grip.

Osu!

John

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

It Is What It Is



The other day I heard from my college friend Rob. What a great surprise. I remember the first day that I joined the fencing class at Colle of DuPage, and we became instant friends. That led to a wonderful time in my life from 87-90 or so, with a lot of discussions about everything and the occassional spontaneous camping trip thrown in for good measure.

He asked me, "what is Ki?" Yikes. After being involved in the martial arts in one way or another for almost all of my life (all of it that meant anything, anyway), had I found the answer yet? At the same time, the answer to this elusive goal is something that most of us have in the back of our mind all along this journey, and the answer changes as we change.

As well, this question speaks to the nature of we martial artists as spiritual beings, and underpins the close relationship to Buddhism and Shinto in our training. Hollywood movies attempt to make a lot out of this, whether it is the insidious Star Wars saga with its "May the Force be with You" or the Karate Kid series "wax on, wax off".

For a preface, I would say that any traditional zen master confronted with such a queston would be likely to give the student a whack with the kyosaku (the "stick of awakening" used during zazen training) not just because even they might not know the answer, but also since the question is even more important than the answer, and trying to put it into words could not do it justice.

However, here's my personal view. You need not agree with it or believe it. Even I may not believe it next time I read this.

KI refers to several things. Here I want to look at two broad topics:

1) the force of life
2) faith or conviction

An example of the first of the above two points: I am amazed at the grip my newborn second son Ray has, even though he is only 10 days old. He cries with a singular sense of purpose, much more loudly than I could if I were his size, and it is pure and without prejudice.

Life wants only to live, and this driving force is KI. It is what causes fish to swim upstream, birds to migrate thousands of miles, and trees to grow in even the most hostile of conditions. It is at once a beautiful and desperate thing, and involves the instinctive hope of any living thing to surivive and prosper. What we feel here is the most primal of all our basic natures, and animals are great examples of KI.

It is for this purpose that man-made things do not have KI. Quite simply, there is no life force in things which were never alive (although I must confess I like the romantic idea of Japanese swords and other ancient things having KI). We are also made acutely aware of this force when people die. It is as if the light leaves their body and what has held their molecules in the same place for so long just lets go and then the light goes out.

We are all born with KI, which is in us until we die. This is our common starting point and our connection to the natural world around us. A deep awareness of this through meditation can help develop our "connected feeling" (the AI in Aikido) but everyone has KI regardless of whether they know/acknowledge it or not. Considering our KI as our "soul" gives a Christian connotation which is not really appropriate, and also hints at Buddhist discussion about such things as whether animals have souls/Buddha natures, which is more academic than is necessary here, it is enough to say that since they are alive they have KI.


An example of the second part is during certain classes when I finally stop thinking and analyzing and just let my body move as it has been taught. This purity in motion, rare as it is for me, is when I let my faith in my techniques, my training, and myself take over.

This is really where we have an opportunity to develop KI.
When we extend our KI in class, or in our life, what we are doing is extending our faith and conviction in the moment at hand. This is faith and conviction in ourselves, in our cause, and in our technique. We TRUST. That is also KI. We let go and allow what is to be, to be.
Our training should help us to have this happen more and more often, until it becomes our natural state of being. That is, always letting go, and allowing ourselves to be connected to the natural world around us and, more importantly, not resisting that connection but instead rejoicing in it.

I have mentioned in other posts about "right action in the right moment without hesitation", and I believe this is a central concept to KI development, and the instinctive, decisive action it helps develop deepens our connection to our life force (as above). Humans are unique among the Earth's creatures in that we are self-aware (and may be the only living things on Earth that are so). This means that we can be concious of these things, and can actively seek to deepen our connection. So saying, we can develop our KI, at least inasmuch as we can make better use of the Ki we have been given.

Rob mentioned to me that he is "in tune with his body", to which I would say that strength of the body is surely important, but even more important is to be in tune with the world around us, since that is a power greater than our own.

I am setting the stage for a larger post about martial arts and religion which I owe this blog, but for now I want to get this out as a starting point.

I want to know what YOU think. Maybe we can find the answer together.

OSU!

John

Monday, May 08, 2006

"You will Want That Time Back Someday"

I suppose each of us has his or her own reasons for starting the long road of training in the Martial Arts. The great part is that over time, we realize benefits we did not foresee. In my case, self defense was the initial motivator, but I quickly found the spiritual side of the training to be a good guide for the rest of my life as well.

In my early teens, for some reason, I become obsessed with my own mortality, and wanted to overcome my fear of death, to be able to have "right action in the right moment without hesistation" which can only come from living without fear. Over time I learned that this is much more about not being afraid of Life than it is about not being afraid of Death. By this, I mean not being afraid to take chances and reach for your dreams; not being afraid of failing as often as it takes to reach your goals.

After several years of training, and some of my own close brushes with death, I was convinced that I had overcome such fears and was free to act. That is, I was no longer afraid of dying. The truth is, though, that at that age (20 or so), I had nothing to lose that I put a high value on. The rest of my life had yet to unfold. With nothing to lose, throwing away one's life no longer seems like such a noble gesture. Rather, it was just the angst and wasteful stupidity of youth.

Now, at nearly 40, my life has become rich beyond my wildest expectations. I have a wonderful family, many friends, and a challenging job. I have been able to take part in the happiness and success of those around me, and actually play a vital part in their lives, which is what I really wanted. Am I still unafraid to die? Could I let go if I had to??

I have to say YES, if I had to, I believe I could still give up my life (of course, one never knows until that exact moment). The very fact that I can say YES now is much more important now than it was when I believed it at 20. I have so much to lose now, and so much to let go of in such a case. The only things I will have are the belief that I have lived my life well and fully, without regret, and the desire to leave one final legacy for those I have known, which is the lesson on how to die with dignity when the time comes.

When I think of the heroes on United 93 (now a movie), I imagine what a man thinks about before he puts his life on the line. How does he decide to let go? What message does he send to those he leaves behind? Can he really have dignity in those last final moments? Those brave people defined the word HERO for me, and many of them had to let go of an awful lot to be free to have right action in the right moment without hesitation.

That brings me to the point of this post. All of us will end up wishing we have more time. We don't. That moment will come when it comes, and training in the Martial Arts is not about making us want to throw our lives away at the earliest opportunity. Rather, it is about experiencing a richness of life so great that we use our lives to the best possible result, and be willing to accept that finality when the time comes (and it will for us all) and face it with dignity and without regret.

I have seen lots of people engage in self-destructive behaviors of a wide variety (and have been guilty of many myself). Now that my life is good, I would like those extra minutes/days/weeks I wasted back. I can't have them. They are gone. I have only now, and the unknown future ahead of me, to do the best I can until the inevitable happens.

My advice here is simple: when you smoke that cigarette, slam that shot, or use drugs (and the list of self-destructive behaviors is longer than I can list here) just remember...YOU WILL WANT THAT TIME BACK SOMEDAY...unfortunately, you can't have it again. It's gone.

Make today count. Please.

Osu!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

How to Build a Technique

Here's a little metaphor I often consider...

We can consider techniques on many, many levels (the actual definition of "technique" is hard to make precise). One way that makes sense to me is to liken building my technique to building a house or other building.

The very first place is the foundation. Without a strong foundation, even house will fall in the slightest bad weather. This means that we train the kihon dosa until our legs and hips are strong, and out stance solid. This dachi is the foundation for all technique and under any circumstances, your feet should always return to kamae in order to maintain balance.

Usually, we find that when doing Jiyuwaza, once we start to lose the proper footwork of 180 degree turns and irimi of the hips, the rest of the techniques collapse. We begin to tilt or lean forward, and lose all the power. The loss of shisei is a direct result of the loss of dachi and no technique can manifest when that happens.

So it is important to consider how to make that foundation strong, and to always spend time in practice on the kihon dosa to give muscle memory to the movement of the feet and hips. Once this happens strongly and without the body rising up (actually the feeling should be one of sinking, not rising or floating) then we can begin to let the techniques manifest more fully and we will not get tired or lose kamae so easily.

Later, with a strong foundation, we can build a house of any size or shape. In particular, we can think of "zoning", a concept often used in JKD training, to divide angles of attack into different zones or quadrants. Western fencing also does this (and may be where Bruce Lee got it). Responding to zones is a lot easier than responding to specific attacks. We can also consider movement inside/outside of uke, high/medium/low zones for response, and other tactical elements, none of which work if the foundation of mobility is not strong.

Every martial art fundamentally needs the foundation of mobility in order to be effective, and Yoshinkan is no different. Please take time to work on this. It makes a big, big difference.

Osu!

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Playing Like a Champion

Lots of little boys dream of being professional athletes.
Where I grew up, Chicago, we often dreamed of being baseball players,
just not with the hapless Chicago Cubs.

For me, though, the thought of being a professional athlete was often really scary.
I could not imagine standing in front of all those thousands of people and having to perform under that pressure. Even though as a professional speaker, I have done large presentations before (300 - 400 people) I still get the "butterflies". This is NOTHING compared to the feeling of having to sink the tournament winning putt, or score the overtime goal shot to win the Cup.
The pressure must be unbelievable. I have huge respect for those that can bear it.

The worst for me was to watch a batter fall into a slump. That's when you could really see their true character. You knew they didn't know why, but somehow ball and batt wouldn't meet. The last place they probably wanted to be was in the batter's box lining up, but they also know in their hearts that the batter's box was the only place their problem would ever really get solved.

The dojo can be a lot like this. The path is long, and has peaks and valleys. Sometimes we don't know why, and the blind faith in the training is all we have to guide us. Of course, the dojo is the only place these problems can be solved, too. We must keep the courage to continue training and trust that it will all become right over time. Our doubts will be replaced with the quiet confidence of achievement, and knowing, really knowing, that we CAN.

At the best of times, we students support each other and provide companionship along the path.
But never forget, that the answers can only come from your own training. Every part of you, mind, body, and spirit, has to come to an understanding; a Knowing. That can only happen with practice. Words alone will not suffice.

Hang in There. Before you know it you will be hitting home runs again.

Osu!

"No Mind", not Mindless

Trying to keep an open mind is never easy. It is especially not easy when you are in the dojo. For me, it can be a place of refuge when the rest of my life is out of control; my little laboratory where I can test out what I want to improve in my life. Of course, it is never easy.

We often talk about "no mind" in zen practice. In fact, it even gets hacked up in bubble gum budo movies like "The Last Samurai". The reality is that learning to free our minds is about learning to let go...and this takes practice and repetition to achieve.

My original Zazen teacher used to say that doing zazen was anything but peaceful. He would say that if you do zazen correctly, you sweat from the mental exertion of trying so hard to let go and be "empty". He would say that the kyosaku (the stick used by the teacher to hit people doing zazen) was not just to wake you up and help you focus, but to remind you that the concious effort of trying to let go of distracting thoughts is a fight.

Many times I go into the dojo and get onto the mat trying hard not to think about what we are doing. Trying to let my body just DO what it knows how to do. Some days you get a glimpse of the Truth of Aikido, which is Freedom in Motion. Sometimes, you just suck. Today was the latter. "No Mind" was just "mindless". A total lack of focus. No kime. No zanshin.

Today I was disappointed. I could feel sensei wanting to take the training up a notch. I could feel the intensity, and it is almost a tangible thing. Your partner wants you to push them harder; they want to push you harder. Both of you are trying to get closer to the Truth. But I couldn't hold on. The distractions came and I could not be "in the moment". I could not let go. I just haven't been training enough lately and I disappointed my partner. That disappoints me.

Part of understading the "harmony" of Aiki is the fact that you and your partner are in a constant struggle to discover the Truth about who you are, especially in relation to each other, and in relation to the rest of the people in your lives. Our crucible, the dojo, magnifies our fear, our doubt, our anger, our frustration. It also magnifies our courage, our mercy, and our grace.

I am always sad when I miss a chance to find the magic - the connection to the training partner that brings both people closer to the Truth.

I will be ready next time. I won't let you down. We will find it toegether.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Take the Ukemi you never had

"it looks like it doesn't work" "they are going with it" "it wouldn't work on me" "there's no way they can make someone fly through the air like that"...

All are comments I have overheard from people watching a demo of Aikido. All are wrong, but worth addressing since they speak to the heart of what we are training in the dojo.

Let's start here: THERE IS NO UKEMI IN THE REAL AIKIDO

Shocked yet? I am NOT kidding. When you employ these techniques for real (meaning when you or your loved ones are under threat of injury), there is no ukemi for the person you do them to. It does not look flowery, graceful, or elegant. It works; they break. The End.

In some of the techniques (shiho nage kuzushi, hiji shime) we feel a gentle taste of what the real aikido must be like: a bone shattering stop to a very sudden drop. For others, we understand that changing the angle, adding atemi, dropping to the mat (like sumi otoshi), or combining sweeps with the movements mean there is no way out for uke. Only an idiot would allow an opponent an escape to a technique. The people who developed modern aikido fought for their lives in real combat - they were not fools. Trust me, it is there for uke's safety in the dojo.

The aikido we see on the mats gives uke a way out so we keep from injuring each other and can continue to train for the real aikido. I am glad to say that for the most part we have avoided injury in the dojo, although we are getting to the stage where it is more likely than before. In the beginning, we are largely incapable of harming ourselves and each other because we have literally no control over our bodies. At the brown belt level we are dangerous for having enough control and knowledge to apply a technique, but lacking the full control to execute it safely. Feeling confident, we end up hurting our training partner or ourselves. Now is the time to be especially careful.

Jiyuwaza is the hardest part of it all. People think even that is the real Aikido, but it is not. It is the closest our training can get, and in many ways extremely beneficial to our being able to do real aikido, but that is not it. If it were it would only be one technique in length and then uke would be unable to continue (if still alive).

So if we are not doing the real aikido, then what is the point?
By our training, we learn to control our bodies, learn to find distance, timing, balance, grace, speed, power, and all of the other characteristics that will help form the foundation of real aikido. Through the jiyuwaza practice we learn to center ourselves, control our fear/anxiety, and expand our sphere of consciousness. We learn to focus ourselves and to free our body. But this is still not the real aikido. It is only the steps to train for the real aikido.

Now, I am the very first one to say that our higher learning and study of martial arts should imbue us with ethical beliefs. That mans NOT breaking people into pieces unless we have no choice. However, let's not forget martial means MARTIAL. These techniques were designed for a purpose, and that purpose is to dispatch opponents swiftly, efficiently, and completely. Seagal-sensei's aikido is closer to what happens when you really use these techniques, which is precisely why I am against ever doing so except under the gravest of circumstances. To indescriminately injure others causes potentially permanent damage to our psyches as well. It is simply not worth doing unless there really is no other way.

So next time you do a technique in the dojo, silently be thankful to shite for putting uke there, and don't forget to take it. And never forget what these techniques are meant to do. We have dangerous stuff here, and dangerous stuff needs to be handled with care and respect.

And next time you watch an aikido demo, marvel at the skills and control of the people, be awed by their ability to safely show you a glimpse of the real aikido, and above all, be glad they don't injure anyone.

Osu!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

I think...I thought....I....

We always talk about circles in Aikido. Here's a big one to consider: We start by being unable to think, since we haven't even the most basic idea of what we are trying to do in the dojo. Next, we begin to think through everything, as if understanding with the mind could substitute for understanding with the body. However, in the end, we must return to nothingness - no thought.
Our learning follows a circular path, and we return to the place we started, but this time, with mastery, doing the techniques just as we would any other natural action, without thinking. Our goal is to no longer DO aikido, but to BE aikido.

Aikido is at once the most unnatural of motions, and yet also the most intuitive of motions.

Becuase as beginners we are unable to command our bodies, we move stiffly, and every motion requires an effort of will to effect. Later, we begin to dig deeper, and actually believe that our words will give us the insight our training has not yet delivered. But finally, we find the movements that were originally so challenging, are now no different that walking, standing, sitting, or any other action we normally take for granted. It is only by drilling the correct movements down into our instinct that we can free our minds of the unconcious desire to analyze and watch what we are doing.

In previous posts I have suggested training with a blindfold, since this develops awareness and sensistivity, and removes our reliance on looking at our feet and hands. Done properly, we should "feel" the location of our body (and uke's) in space relative to each other, and our motion should be based on that feeling. Sadly, the more you think about it, the less you can DO it.

I wish it were only that bad. To make it worse, when you are thinking or speaking or otherwise distracted, you cannot project KI, and without that all techniques fail to manifest properly anyway. The effort becomes frustrating and incomplete.

It is very easy to say "stop thinking", but that is like telling someone to get the words of a song they heard on the radio out of their head - no matter what you do they just keep coming back. Concentration and focus in the dojo are what help us learn to detach our over-analyzing natures, and make ourselves simple again. In this way, simple is good.

If you have to close your eyes - do. If you have to blindfold yourself - do. Whatever it takes, practice keeping your focus and projecting your energy, and LET GO. FLOW. Let your body be free to do what it knows how to do.

And then watch your skills go to the next level.

See you on the mats.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Elbows and Knees; Knees and Elbows

The other day, someone asked me what to present as a uniqueness of Yoshinkan.
Having done a variety of aiki styles in the past, I would have to say that apart from the usual things everyone says (focus on practicality, efficient motion, mastry of the basics, etc.) there are two things that really stand out in my mind as being strongly emphasized in Yoshinkan (at least more than in other styles I have seen): Knees and Elbows.

In Yoshinkan, the knees are critical. It is precisely the use of the knees that allows us to start Uke's motion moving and prepare for the shifting of our hips and body weight. When we fail to use the knees, we end up disconnecting our hips and are forced to compensate with strength of the arms instead of strength of the hips/whole body. Knees help cause Uke to cross the centerline in techniques like Shomen uchi Ikkajo Osae 2 and knees help guide uke to the mat without letting our body weight come up. In short, they are a vital connection of uke to our hip and to the floor, and anchor and a lever to move uke by shifting our weight. Without the knee movement, however, we cannot transfer the hip power efficiently (if at all).

Elbows are another key differentiator between Yoshinkan and other styles.
In Yoshinkan, we like to control Uke's balance through controlling uke's shoulder, and one of the most effective and important ways to do this is via Uke's elbow. The circular "rowing" motion of Ikkajo and Yonkajo are both specifically designed to use the wrist to elbow to shoulder pathway to control uke's body, and Yoshinkan is one of the few styles that actually grabs the elbow to manipulate it (many styles focus on wrist more than elbow and fail to connect to uke's shoulder as a consequence). Of course, techniques like hiji shime go without saying that the elbow is a central part of the technique.

One of the best places to work on this is during the basic tai no henko and hiriki no yosei movements, which are specifically designed to help us practice these two vital points. I suggest doing the motions slowly, paying particular attention to how you use your elbows and knees, since these will manifest during all of the other techniques.

So in closing, I suggest specifically visualizing the movement of your knees and elbows before training, and see if it doesn't tighten up your technique and give you a greater sense of control, which is what Yoshinkan is all about: control of yourself and control of Uke.

Osu!

John

Friday, February 24, 2006

HAI-YA!

OK, we've all seen those lame Kung Fu flix where the people go a bit mental on the Kiai...but is there really something to the whole "blood curdling scream" thing?

I would say YES. Done properly, kiai accomplishes a lot.
However, the key (as with everything) is doing it properly.
Kiai originates in the belly, not in the throat. Anyone who has studied singing will tell you that the powerful voice professional singers have cannot come from just using the throat. Some heavy metal singers without formal training try that and their voices are ruined in just a few years (the excessive lifestyle probably does not help either).

The kiai sound is made by a sharp exhalation of breath from the diaphragm combined with focus of intent behind it. It takes practice, real practice to be able to do this properly, since most of us are socialized not to use our voices in such a way (LOUDLY, that is).

When it works it...
1) Disconcerts Uke
This loud sound causes an involuntary reaction of Uke to blink or flinch. This creates an opening into Uke for a technique to manifest (if you do not consider kiai a technique on its own already).

2) Focuses your Intent
Projecting your voice has the added benefit of helping you channel your own intention. We often see a similar usage by weightlifters and other athletes when they exert effort. Aikido is all about channeling intention.

3) Contracts the Muscles
This is part of kime, focus, and adds a certain extra "snap" to techniques. Of course, by flexing, you can then relax, which is an important part as well. Kiai should occur just at that moment of tension, and then release lick a bullwhip cracking.

4) Affirms your Sense of Being
Kiai is very primal. It affirms us as ALIVE, and helps to shake us awake from the dream that is our daily routine. We know that our study of aikido is designed to help us become "more alive", and kiai is one very great example of this. It is, quite literally, a projection of our sense of self.
Half-hearted kiai indicates half-hearted aikido, which indicates a half-hearted sense of being. We should strive to be 100% in the moment during our training (which helps us be 100% in the moment outside the dojo as well).

Our laboratory, the dojo, is a great place to develop this technique, where kiai helps to create a cadence in the warmup, or to add that extra focus during practice. I think of Kiai as one of the atemi techniques in my aikido arsenal, and a very useful one in combination with other techniques I do.

For students who don't like it or refuse to do it, I would encourage you to reconsider.

This SHOUT OUT could help add another dimension to your aikido.

(hear) you on the mats,

OSU!

Friday, February 17, 2006

A taste of Honey

That's what Saori calls training with me..."a taste of Honey" no pun intended I'm sure.
Still, it reminds me of that song, "Sukiyaki" by the early 80s group A Taste Of Honey. C'mon, you know you've heard it...http://www.80smusiclyrics.com/artists/atasteofhoney.htm

The first time I did, I was living in suburban Chicago, had just started training with my original teacher, and had just started going to high school (YES, I'm OLD!). I heard this song and it made me think of JAPAN, some far away place that existed only in my dreams.
How could I have known back then that fate would someday take me there?

It took me 10 years and three attempts (made it on try number 4) to finally arrive in Japan in January 1991. A lot happened in between, and stilll more has happened since I got here.
I found Japan wasn't at all like the place I had imagined when I heard that song.

To say it another way, I don't live in that Japan, but that Japan lives in me.

I get the same feeling sometimes, like I did 25 years ago when I heard that song, that life contains a great mystery for me, and that I am moving towards it one step at a time.
It gives me a great feeling of anticipation, and that's what dreams are all about, aren't they?

After a week away, I am anticipating being on the mat ASAP...and as Taste of Honey said
"It's all because of you..."

See you (soon) on the mats,

Osu!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

You Have No Idea What I am Capable Of...

I remember that line from some movie somewhere...I never forgot it. Maybe I have even said it to someone myself once or twice.

"You Have No Idea What I am Capable Of..." the idea here is to try to cause the person you say it to to fear you; to fear that offending you might bring them the full wrath of your fury, a God-like vengeance that would destroy them...Maybe also it is the unspoken way you settle into your kamae, or focus your metsuke that says, "you don't want any of this".

That is not who I want to be.
I want to twist that phrase into something else. I want to make it mean something different; something better. In the same way I want my life to mean something different, something better.

When I look into my little son's eyes, they tell me "You Have No Idea What I am Capable Of..."
In this case, it means that he has a nearly infinite potential to become a happy, successful person, with a lifetime of experiences that will enrich him and the lives of the people he shares it with. So do all of us.

For me as well, "You Have No Idea What I am Capable Of..." means that I want to show the people around me who I really am, not someone who is evil, hurtful, or spiteful (at least I hope not). I want to show a person capable of mercy, compassion, caring, forgiveness, and of being a source of energy, stregth, humor, and kindness in the lives of others. I can do this if my training gives me the courage to not be afraid to these things and to rightly see them as strengths instead of weaknesses.

You Have No Idea What I am Capable Of...but I intend to show you. Stay Tuned.

You Decide It and You Do It

This is for you (and you know who you are).

One could say that the study of Aikido can be summarized by that. "You decide it and you do it". Once you learn the basic movements, you could spend a long time thinking about the techniques, or you could just DO them. Inoue-kancho spoke about this at the Kagamibiraki ceremony, and it was clear that he decided his techniques and did them. Nothing more. But more importantly, nothing less. His tremendous willpower was visible in every movement. For me, this is the whole essence not just of our aikido practice, but of its effect on every part of our lives.

What I want from my training is to have the willpower to change my life. To decide it and to do it. To have the courage to face my fear, my laziness, my selfishness, and all of my many shortcomings, and to do what I decide to do despite them. This cannot be done halfheartedly, or it will certainly fail. It means developing a habit of giving and being 100% all the time.

If I get my wish, I will never injure another person through my aikido. My aikido will not give me mastery over others, but mastery over myself, and allow me to have all the important things in my life that I really want. This is the greatest benefit I can get from my training. I am not, and do not expect to be, the toughest guy in the world (sorry Seagal-sensei). Instead, I will choose to be the most successful guy in the world, judged by my own definition, not someone else's.

Every dayI go to the dojo, I reinforce my confidence that I can achieve what I want in my life. Not by changing other people, but by changing myself, and not by talking about it, by DOING IT. This is especially important at 4 AM when I wake up, in the dark and the cold, shave and get ready to go to the dojo and to a long day at work afterward.

I am often jealous of the days between 20 and 30 years old when I changed my life from nothing to something. During that 10 year stretch I paid my way through 5 years of private college, got a passport, went to a foreign country, learned a foreign language, and worked 40 hours a week or more basically the whole time. I didn't just take control of my life, I leveraged all of the training I had before (starting at 14 in my original dojo) and made those lessons count. I found I miss that time because I accomplished so much and my life was full speed ahead every day.
I was really proud of what I did during those years and I proved to myself that I could make my dreams come true.

I am equally proud of who I am now, and grateful to a lifetime (an adulthood anyway) spent in and around the martial arts, which are the real reason I had enough discipline to achieve anything at all. My current training takes me back to those days because it's tough, and I prove to myself that even nearing 40 I can still get it done. I do not have to be a victim of my boss, or my wife, or my children. I do not have to be a victim of MY LIFE. I can choose to change from victim to VICTOR.

This will be even greater than before, because I will not be selfish; I will use it to empower every relationship I have with every person in my life, and make all of our lives better. Hopefully not just with what I say, but with what I do.

Many people will come to the dojo seeking many things; this is my version of what I want.
I wouldn't trade it for anything, and I won't settle for anything less.

What are you looking for in the dojo?? Right or wrong you can find it.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Can You Stop a Bullet?

No, you can't. Don't worry, neither can I. It's OK, though. You shouldn't have to, and if you do your blocking right, you don't need to (even if it would be cool to do).

In the dojo, you often see the case of uke waiting for the attack to come, and then making a sloppy, late block when it does. This is no different than waiting for the bullet, and somehow being surprised you couldn't stop it. Luckily we are in the dojo, our laboratory, and not on the street where that strike might be deadly.

The point here is simple. Bullets only go where the gun points. Don't watch the bullet, watch the gun. Likewise, don't try to stop the bullet (you can't), stop the gun.
Two ways to do this:

1) Get out from in front of the gun (avoiding the path of the bullet)
This means moving around uke
2) Get the gun pointing away from you (causing the path of the bullet to miss you)
This means moving uke around you

Both of these ideas have relevance in Yoshinkan, and are common theories in other arts too. Wing Chun, for example, is notable for its study of centerline theory and attention to shite and uke control of that line.

In practical terms, this also means stopping the attack of uke at its origin -NOT at its destination. You can stop punches and strikes by blocking higher up the arm (above the elbow or directly at the shoulder - depending on how close you are). For kicks it means blocking when the attacking leg chambers (often with a push kick using the ball of your foot, or a cut kick at the base leg).

For this to work it is important that your eyes be focused on the center of uke's chest just below the neck. The right place in many arts is the point at the top of the sternum. Because of human anatomy, this will are will start to move as a strike develops, and you can use your peripheral vision to read the movement.

The next level involves actually taking the developing power of uke's strike as it launches, rather than midway through (which loses the force). Thus, in prinicple, you capture the strike as it starts, blend with that motion, and finally redirect it to your desired result.

Sounds simple, but hardly so. First it means overcoming the fear of being hit, so you can be close enough to uke to get the strike when it starts. Yep. That means MOVING TOWARD UKE so you can take control. One way to visualize this is as if you are a wave which washes into uke, and then washes out to your own destination. A great technique for understanding this is shomen uchi kote gaeshi 2. Wash in and capture, wash out and throw. Another good example is shomen uchi ikkajo osae 2. Wash in and capture, wash out and throw. The safest place is often the closest place to uke. It sounds odd, but it's true.

Try it and see.

Osu!

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Checkmate!

One of the biggest criticisms I hear about Yoshinkan from other stylists is that there is a fairly well-defined set of techniques to learn, and that's it. After that it is just practice practice practice. OK, it is true that Yoshinkan is very rigidly structured, which helps to keep the techniques and teaching method regulated and pure. At the same time, our practice in the dojo leads us to Jiyuwaza, the closest we get to manifesting REAL Yoshinkan. Jiyuwaza is quite far from being rigid or highly structured except in the very early stages.

Don't forget that chess also has a finite number of pieces and squares, but the actual combination of moves in a chess match is practically infinite. Chess also includes dynamic responses to an opponent, and there are various levels of mastery which include the ability to think and plan several steps ahead and sense your opponent's reaction to every move you make. When you play against a true master, there is a certain inevitability of the outcome almost from the opening move.

Of course, I would contend that Yoshinkan training allows us to make multiple moves for each single move our opponent makes, and that is where the chess analogy does not fit. Still, there is value in being able to understand the infinite possibility from studying the finite methodology, and it becomes yet another way that Yoshinkan training can manifest itself in us every day.

See you on the Mat,

OSU!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Close Your Eyes...

Typical cold January morning in Tokyo.
As I got ready for the class my contact lens fell out and gone.
My eyes are bad, really bad. Left one basically doesn't work at all (can only see vague shapes, I guess it's -200 or something). Right eye (usually contact lens) is -5.5.

So...out onto the mats without being able to see any detail at all.
We did Jiyuwaza, and aside from being a little disconcerting at first it actually didn't really matter that much. My techniques weren't great, but not any worse for not being able to see clearly anyway. I can blame not training enough, but can't blame not seeing enough.

Many times we talk about aikido techniques starting with the touch of uke on shite that leads to dynamic motion (although some would argue that tehniques actually start even before that). I think we can depend too much on our eyes and forget to listen with our bodies and "feel" the touch. I asked Sensei to do some of the techniques blindfolded. We haven't done it yet, but I bet it would highlight a lot about our balance and posture (or lack thereof).

Having your eyes open or closed shouldn't matter, but somehow it does. I'd like to do more blindfold practice since I think it develops a really good sensitivity.

See you (even with my eyes closed) on the mats.

Osu!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

It's a Kind Of MAGIC

WOW! You watch those guys at Kagami-biraki and they make it look so easy...they hardly touch uke andBOOM! like a cannonball from a cannon. It must be a kind of magic, right?

OK, maybe it's not really MAGIC, per se. At least, there seems to be a real, logical, quantifiable method for understanding how aikido works. The rest, of course, IS magic. The subject of another later post (stay tuned).

Today, sensei mentioned visualizing the lines, circles, spirals and other key shapes.
Aikido motion is sometimes best understood by the combination of shapes between shite and uke, and once we can see the imaginary lines in our mind, getting from point to point become more meaningful, more efficient, more effective.

I recall a very interesting book on physics in the martial arts, "Fighting Science: The Laws of Physics for Martial Artists" by Martina Sprague. You can find it on Amazon. OK, this helps turn some wizened old monk's words into something that foreigners can sink their teeth into (especially pointy-head enginner types, no offense). It does explain a lot, and it is a bit better than just saying "it works because that's how it has always been done".

We often discuss martial arts (especially striking arts) as "application of hard weapon against soft target" or in Yoshinkan "all your power, all your force, on a single point at a single time". Why? Maybe this book is a good read for the curious (or the faithless). Check it out and see what you think. See if you can start to notice the power of the geometric shapes in Yoshinkan. See if those shapes appear when your techniques manifest.

I want to believe that I can break down my movement scientifically and polish it until it is in accord with Natural Law, and has inherent strength, balance, and power because our universe provides a framework for it to be so. Not just because we say it should be so.

Beyond that, a little magic couldn't hurt, right?

Osu!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Pain and Injury in Aikido

Something in Saori's blog made me feel I needed to write this. I have watched a lot of people do a lot of Aikido over the years, and the rightful place of pain and injury in Aikido is a good subject for interpretation and debate.

Before delving in, lets' define for purposes of this post that:
* Pain refers to a sensation of physical discomfort
* Injury refers to lasting physical damage that reduces body functions

Thus, according to the definition above, pain cannot kill you, but injury can. To state it another way, pain stops once the technique stops, while injury lasts until it is treated. Both have a certain place in the ethical/practical framework of aikido.

At the extremes, I can see the manifestation of Steven Seagal-sensei's aikido, which is designed to cause maximum injury to uke (and maximum entertainment for movie viewers). By contrast, comparitively "soft"styles of aikido like shin shintoitsu (as taught by Tohei Koichi-sensei) use neither pain nor injury in their application.

Strict traditionalists could fall on one side or the other. O-Sensei would probably have argued for an ethical aikido of harmony with all life, while bearing in mind that aikido, although sometimes said to be a kind of "moving meditation" or "dialogue of motion" between shite and uke, is still a "martial art" and martial implies the use of injurious force.

In today's world, there are not only ethical, but legal implications to consider. Breaking someone's body (or using potentially lethal force) such as Daito-ryu might advocate, could lead someone to trouble with the police (or a lifetime of regret at the very least). However, there can be situations where one's life or the life of loved ones is truly threatened, and right action would be defined as injury to another as a lesser evil rather than injury to the large group of harmonious people instead.

In my personal view, pain is an integral part of the training and application of aikido techniques. Pain acts as a primary means of disrupting uke's unified power of attack (UPA), and taking away their harmful focus and intent. At the same time, the ethics of application mandate that we stop our techniques once uke's intent is disrupted, and thus the pain stops as well, with no long-lasting effects on uke. I would furthermore say that without using pain, we must injure uke to stop their attack. I am not an advocate of injury either inside or outside the dojo, and would see this as a last desperate resort. Hopefully, there will never be a case where intentionally injuring someone is the only way to resolve conflict.

Part of the training in the dojo is about harnessing our willpower. This includes an understanding and experience of pain/discomfort. A great example is the Yonkajo technique. The pressure on those nerves really hurts. After the year-end session my arms were black and blue for over a week. The first few times we did it as a new student I wanted to scream -it is very uncomfrtable indeed. Now not so bad. What's differrent? The technique is the same, but I have changed. The pain is still uncomfortable, but does not disrupt my will any more. The ability to handle the discomfort and keep focused helps in many ways in my daily life.

The power of aikido is a lot like a having a life insurance policy - you hope you never need it, but if you do, you (and other loved ones) are likely to end up being awfully glad you had it.

What do you think?

The Man in the Mirror

Attended the Honbu Dojo opening ceremony called "Kagami-biraki" -literally "opening the mirror" on Sunday at Yoshinkan Hinbu Dojo in Ochiai. There were many famous teachers there including Chida-sensei, Chino-sensei, and of course Inoue-kancho.

It was a short demo, about 1 hour, and narrated by Chida-sensei. There were about 6 separate demonstrations, and a lecture by Inoue-kancho.

Notably, Chino-sensei's movement. Thompson-sensei described him like a "pocket battleship". He shows incredible energy on the mats, and he is the most dynamic I have seen. There is very strong intent in his movements, and he has no hesitation at all. He just goes full speed full time. And yet he always seems to have total control. Amazing. His Aikido has it all. Grace, Power, Energy, and Willpower. Maybe I can be like that in about a thousand years. After watching him, I continue to think of how important it is to be dynamic in my life. It is my goal that my martial arts training make me "more alive", more dynamic than otherwise, and better able to be a vital part of the world - specifically the lives of the people I share it with. This seems in keeping with Yamada-kaicho's opening address which was that Yoshinkan training aims to "give young people strength and help them contribute to society". Chino-sensei is a great example of that.

Chida-sensei was dynamic as well, just as on the DVD of him I have. He is effortless, and very focused. I wish I could have seen him do shomen-uchi shomen iriminage, to see the "spin" that Micahel-sensei talks about. Maybe next time.

Inoue-kancho's presentation hit the other point I want to mention here - Timing. He showed lots of examples of how the timing made the difference in the effectiveness of the technique. In essence, the timing was the technique. It is not just "right action", but "right action at the right moment". This is the AI of aikido; which is finding the harmony of motion between yourself and uke, and manifesting "right action" within that harmony. That's the Magic.

Since then, I have been thinking constantly about these things. Maybe this year will have the same breakthrough for me that I saw in Chris last year. The moment when the light bulb turns on, and you can bring together all the things which you have learned. When it starts to be a natural extension of who you are. After that, we must train hard to have that in every moment.

See you on the mats. Osu!

John

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What a Difference a Day Makes

Finally back in the groove. Feels great to be back on the mats and training again. Bang the rust off, shake it out, and try to remember what we were doing last year.

Taught Shomen Uchi Ikkajo Osae in the second class. It is a real eye opener to see through the eyes of someone experiencing these things for the first time. Instant flashback to the early days of Chris and I sweating on the mat trying to do kihon dosa, tai no henko, and even kamae. The tension in every muscle, the screaming legs at the end of class, throwing up after the first lesson because it was so early and my body couldn't take all the back breakfalls. Wondering why my arms and legs just wouldn't listen...

It has been just over 15 months since we started. Days like today feel like it has been 15 years - other days like it has been 15 minutes...

One of the biggest differences I notice is in the difference in presence on the mat. Maybe this is the "aura" or "ki" that people talk about. The "newbies" have a shy and timid sense about them. I remember that time too. Like a deer in the headlights, waiting for soemthing to happen to you rather than getting out there and making things happen through your own will. Life outside the dojo is not a bit different from this. After 15 months you start to feel comfortable, and some days it is more like home than anywhere else.

My original teacher used to say "The years teach much the days never know". I hope I can keep my beginner's mind and remain fresh throughout the training. I never want to lose the joy of starting to figure out how things work...Thanks Jimmy! I owe you one!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Friendly Little Drinks

Back from the US late last night only to discover my wife's dad took a tumble down the stairs at 2 AM at Nippori Station after a New Year's Party on 6 Jan, split his head open, lost a lot of blood, and seems to have some serious (possibly permanent) damage from it.
Good thing someone found him - he might have died.
Is there a lesson here? Isn't there always?

I'm sure he didn't wake up that morning (or go out that evening) expecting what happened. Given that he is experieincing headaches, blurry vision, and cannot walk, the chance of him driving his pride and joy (his Mercedes G Class), playing golf (every Japanese man's passion), or playing catch with his grandsons (number two expected in June) is slim. Was it worth it? Personally I think NO.

Lesson 1:
Treasure every moment and avoid foolish risk. The consequences can be dire indeed. Many things once done, cannot be undone. What would you give to have back what you have lost?
Make EVERY day count.

Lesson 2:
The things we do do not just affect us. They affect the large network of all those around us. Many actions which could be called foolish are actually malicious when you consider the damage they do to the lives of those surrounding people. All of our lives have changed from what happened to him.

May 2006 be bright and prosperous for us all. See you on the mats.