Tuesday, January 31, 2006


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,


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.


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?


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!


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.