Friday, February 24, 2006


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,


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...

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,


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.