Thursday, December 23, 2010

Open For Business

So, you want to open a martial arts school?

Big decision... maybe one of the biggest you'll ever make.
There is a massive difference between those teachers who go on to have successful careers running their own schools, and those that are back working for "The Man" 9 to 5 within a year (or less). What's up with that?

1) Why Open a Martial Arts School?
To be great, not just good, but GREAT at martial arts requires a sacrifice of time, energy, and discipline very few people can achieve. Becoming a great teacher goes even beyond the requirements of being a great martial artist. If you are someone who has invested (yes, "invested") that much of your life into mastering those skills, the only lifestyle choice that can truly satisfy you is to do that every day for the rest of your life. Since most of us are not independently wealthy already, it means we must work for a living.

Since you know from previous blogs that I equate a martial arts lifestyle with a religious/spiritual lifestyle, I would say making a decision not to teach your art is like spending your whole life studying religion, and then never actually using that knowledge for the common good by becoming a priest. To go even a step further, a master has a moral obligation to the art itself (and his or her own masters) to transmit the body of knowledge to the next generations, or risk losing it forever when he or she inevitably dies. Sadly, this has happened to many, many martial arts throughout human history.

I believe that a good master develops those students who will one day become teachers, and helps them grow into being ready, including sharing with them the practical aspects of running a school to encourage them to pursue this dream and become successful entrepreneurs themselves one day.

Even though many martial arts students and instructors daydream about opening a school, few will actually do it. This is a trend that can and should be reversed. The world needs more martial arts schools and more qualified, dedicated teachers.

2) It's Not Just About Martial Arts
Like all small businesses/start ups, running a business requires much more than just knowing the subject matter of the product. Owning and operating a hair salon means not just knowing about hair, but also about real estate, employment contracts, banking, marketing and sales, technology, insurance, and a host of other sub-skills. These skills are shared by every entrepreneur, and operating one successful business usually means switching from one to another is pretty easy. As a martial arts school owner, get ready to learn everything about everything else (except martial arts).

3) Dollars and (common) Sense
You have to be profitable. You deserve to be. Profitability equates to sustainability, and we all want to be associated with success. Students do not like to see their teachers on the dole, and we want to believe our teachers are professionals, preferably full-time professionals. This is what makes a school (full-time operation) different from a club (part-time operation). To do this, you have to have at least some basic numerical skills, be well organized, and fair.

A balance has to be struck between making the classes accessible and giving fair value for the knowledge received. The value of the knowledge itself cannot accurately be measured, since to the teachers it is priceless (based on the lifetime of investment they have put in it). It is also true that cost and value have a psychological connection. More expensive things are perceived to have higher value. I do not advocate being unethical by charging students exorbitant fees for voodoo. However, I do believe the classes should not be for free, and should fairly compensate the teacher for the investment of his/her time, energy, and knowledge, as well as provide a foundation to make the school sustainable.

4) Customer Service
As a teacher, you have to have skills. These skills have to be good enough to attract students and show them what they can achieve through dedicated training over time. However, what will matter most to the students is not how good you are, but HOW GOOD THEY BECOME. Successful teachers appeal to the psychology of the individual and the group, and must always focus on helping each student become the best that he or she can be. This means providing individualized guidance as much as possible, developing a personal relationship with each student, creating a supportive student community, and working hard to make the body of knowledge as accessible to the students as it can be.


While many misguided teachers do this, ultimately they are the ones that will lose their students and have nothing. Teacher/student relationships are like every other business relationship (doctor/lawyer/priest/accountant). They are based on TRUST. The moment that trust is undermined or results in harm to the customer, the relationship becomes irrevocably damaged. Good teachers focus on the students and their improvement EXCLUSIVELY and SELFLESSLY.

In practical terms this means that students must understand that they will progress and improve, feel firsthand the goal setting and achievement, be encouraged and supported by the teachers and other students, and correctly identify the improvement as being consistent with what they want for themselves. A feedback loop (formal or informal) is helpful for keeping dialog with each student about their training.

There can be a great temptation to be involved with students as close personal friends (or more).
Good teachers bear in mind that it is a PROFESSIONAL relationship, and keep it so. Teachers can be professionally close to their students (just as a good doctor or lawyer is often considered a family friend and trusted adviser over many years), but professional protocols should always be observed. Since the school involves a trust relationship, it should be bound by the same behavioral guidelines as any typical workplace or university as regards teacher/student conduct. Many a school (and teacher) have been ruined by failing to observe these important rules.

 Not an appropriate student/teacher relationship.

5) Products and Innovation
There is a lot to be said for tradition, especially in martial arts.
However, if we compare martial arts to religion, then we must acknowledge that religion's great failing has been to hang on to tradition at the expense of adapting to the needs of modern practitioners, which has resulted in confusion and disassociation among worshipers.

One of the things I like most about FMA, and specifically Kali Majapahit, is that a lot of time and energy is spent on perfecting the curriculum to make it as easy as possible for the students to absorb. The classes are very well organized, and bodies of knowledge for each sub-system are set up in a logical fashion to promote understanding. The drills and exercises are very carefully constructed to develop students' skills in the shortest possible time. Good businesspeople care about their products, and in making those products compelling and competitive. It is a common mistake for the teacher to think he or she is "the product". THE PRODUCT IS THE KNOWLEDGE, NOT THE TEACHER. The knowledge must have portability or it dies when the teacher dies. Students must be developing knowledge that they will take with them on their own martial arts journey.

Many teachers fail because they want to train "the old way", which may not be consistent with the demands of the market (the students) for how they need the material presented. Such hard training methods are usually best left to the advanced students and other instructors with a deeper understanding and commitment, and who are not prone to misinterpret that training as cruelty.

It is reasonable to expect the students to make some investment in the equipment needed to train properly. However, it is unreasonable to make the school into a sales platform where heavily marked up merchandise is flogged on them at every opportunity. This undermines the trust relationship and leads to an empty school. The goal must always be on developing the students' skills first and foremost, using every innovative tool and technique (ancient or modern) which can be integrated into the curriculum. Often times the cheapest equipment is the most effective.

cost? One chicken...

6) Keeping It Real

Good martial arts teaching is much more than just being a good doctor or a good lawyer.
Some of the benefits of the training are not immediately visible and take time to manifest in each student. Because good martial arts is a lifestyle choice, it stands to reason that all the positive aspects of this choice do not appear on Day one. I do not believe in "watering down" the arts, since I do not believe in watering down the benefits either. However, at the same time, I look with disdain on those schools which teach some psychobabble and delude the students into thinking they are gaining some real practical martial arts/self defense benefits. In short, keep it honest. Martial arts means exactly that. Students should develop martial skill and artistic expression (and I consider "art" to include lifestyle) in accordance with the school's mission and the student's unique balance. I personally can accept a wide range of "martial" and "art" combinations as long as they are not misrepresented to the students, and both teacher and student are clear on the goals and objectives of the training.

If you are a great teacher, please open a school. The world needs you.
If you are studying with a great teacher, plan to open a school yourself one day. Live the dream.

See you in class.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010


I found a pleasant surprise over the past few weeks - I have downsized.

After returning from Singapore, I tried on a few pairs of pants in my closet that I bought off the web. 3 months ago, none of them fit. In fact, I could not even button them or zip them up. Now all are snug, but they fit.

Pretty happy, and know that this is a direct result of losing almost 7kg in the past 2 months since I left JPM.

It is hard to stay the path of exercising regularly and paying attention to food. It is especially hard when immediate results do not show. However, if you can be patient, they come. It feels great when they do.

I don't think I have gone down a size since high school. This is good - very good.

As my wife correctly points out, it is not about weight, it is about body makeup and strength.
For me, though, it just feels good to wear clothes I was too big for before.

New Age, Old Tricks

"I am the ALL-POWERFUL OZ!... Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain..." (The Wizard of Oz)

Out to dinner the other night with friends and the topic of Jin-Shin Jutsu (JSJ), came up. They asked me what I thought.

I am no specialist in JSJ, and hold nothing against it per se.
What I can say is that there are a lot (an awful lot) of people on the fringe of homeopathy and alternative healing fleecing the unsuspecting. Many of them prey on our emotional weaknesses, naivete, gullibility, and insecurity, and cause innocent people to pay exorbitant amounts to get nothing in return (except poverty).

I am a big believer in spirituality, and accept the importance of faith in daily life. Still, these charlatans anger me. The next time some scammer hits you up, please consider the following:

1) What's the Science?
If it is a legitimate healing methodology, what is the science that backs it up? If this cannot be easily and simply explained, hold onto your wallet tightly. Acupuncture is a great example. Although there are some unbelievers, the healing effects of acupuncture and TCM for a variety of ailments are extremely well documented and backed up by modern medical science as well. The body's hydroelectric system can indeed be tuned using the needles, and there can be little doubt as to acupuncture's effectiveness by a skilled practitioner.

2) Touch
I am sorry, but it is very hard for me to accept healing arts that do not even touch the patient.
I guess I watched too much Star Wars as a kid. If they claim to heal you without touching you, head for the door.

3) The Thin Line between Healing and Psychotherapy (and cultism)
Of course the patient's mental state has a lot to do with healing. That said, I do not personally believe meditation or the like on its own can heal bodily injury. Therapies which rely solely on this cause me to want to meditate on how to get my money back. When the line is further blurred by adding some supernatural being (God) into it, I need to exit immediately.

4) Magic Words
I lump chanting and other magic healing words with 3) above. My magic healing word would be "refund".

5) Happy Endings
In my view, any treatment plan for an injury (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual) has a beginning and an end, as well as constant feedback along the way. If I broke my arm, for example, I expect the doctor to diagnose (X-RAY or CAT scan), treat (cast and/or sling), assess using periodic visits, and complete (rehab to regain mobility). If my doctor told me to keep coming back once a week for the rest of my life, I would be highly suspect (and might break his arm in return). By this rationale, I find it unacceptable when alternative therapies are presented as open-ended, where you keep going (and paying) forever. If my specialist wants to see me every week for an indefinite period, great, but I am going to stop paying after a fair and reasonable time frame.

Remember, in China, doctors were paid to maintain health, not to treat sickness. We should err on the side of preventative medicine, and be skeptical of long-term therapies. Of course, religions and lifestyles are long-term approaches, but they should be presented as such, NOT as therapies or treatments. There needs to be honesty and transparency between caregiver and patient in order for trust to develop.

My apologies to all the legitimate alternative healers out there. Your reputations are being wrecked by pseudo-babble from those who would seek to exploit the unknowing. Please join the cause to educate people about what the real benefits of real treatment from real therapists can be. Alternative medicines, and pseudo-medicines, should be licensed and regulated. Practitioners should be able to show clear credentials to patients. Treatments should have a logical basis in scientific fact, and have start and end goals.

The charlatans are better left in Oz, where they belong.

A Week In Singapore

Just back from a training week in Singapore. It's been a while since I was there, and since I had mileage I could use for the airplane ticket and Rob let me crash at his place, I could go on the cheap. Here's what happened:

1) Testing
Guro told me after Monday's class that he wanted to test me on Wednesday. Shaiful was also testing, and was going for his kasama (red shirt) rank. Test went smoothly, and it was great to see some other old friends who are now kasama (Robin, Neal, Frederic, Sylvia) come out as well. This was my first time playing with my new kris, and I like it a lot. Guro graded me to Phase 5, and said my flow and boxing had improved. Cool.

2) Classes and Structure
Many new faces and Ben told me the school is now up to about 170 students. Wow! I went to Tuesday 12:30pm class and it was packed with 15 or so. I remember when that class was only 4-5. Guro still uses the phased approach, and this cycle was shortened due to Christmas break. This one was all about FLOW, and especially overlap between sticks, hands, and karambit. Very cool and a lot to use here in the Tokyo Study Group.

3) Video
Friday I helped Guro, Ben, and Herve work on shooting for the Kali Majapahit Online program. It was a good day and we got further than I expected. It was interesting to see how the material is catalogued, and how Guro wants to present it. Some very, very cool stuff in there. Kali Majapahit is great because there are so many options for movement and solution. It could be confusing if it was not so well organized (but it is!). Every series included kadena de mano, karambit, stick, panantukan, and flowing applications. I think it is very high quality material.

4) Gear Shopping
Brought back some new stuff for me (training karambit, everlast gloves, bag, kris) and some stuff for other students, bags, etc.) . Thanks to Ben's packing, everything arrived safely.

5) Knees
for some reason, the jumping squats played hell on my knees and I had knee trouble all week; now gone. Why?

6) Panantukan
Great classes and professional boxing drills we can use in Tokyo. Sparred with Clement which was fun. he has very long arms and solid boxing skills. I'd hate to have to fight him for real.

In short, a great week with lots of drills and training. It makes me wish I could live in Singapore again, but Yokohama is where it is at for now.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Simple Math, Part 2

In a previous post, I set out the idea of simple math being just that - you lose weight when you burn more calories than you take in. You gain weight when you take in more calories than you burn. Not hard for most of us to grasp.

Recently, a US-based professor of human nutrition validated this by losing 27 pounds in 10 weeks by eating twinkies and other junk foods only. This professor also stated clearly that he did not recommend this diet to people, but that the math held true.

Some key take-aways from this:

smaller portions help control calories.

2) Smaller meals more frequently
This guy succeeded by eating small meals (a single twinkie, a bag of chips, etc.) every three hours rather than big meals every 6 hours.

3) Pay attention to total daily calories
Sadly, this seems far more important that where the calories actually come from.

4) Occasional slips in content are forgivable, slips in calorie count are not
If you must have a cheeseburger, make up for it elsewhere and you will still be OK.

5) Use your target weight calorie count, not your current one
Use the correct daily calories for the weight you want to be, and you will get there.

I have to admit, 27 pounds in 10 weeks sounds pretty shocking.
I am sure I can do better than I am doing, especially since my current habits are not that terrible (no twinkies, doritos, sugarccinos, or soft drinks).

Something to think about.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Better Red than Dead

Congratulations brothers (and sister). YOU ARE RED.

It is a great achievement and a big step forward. You are less dead than before.

What do I mean?

Guro Fred is always careful to point out that Kali Majapahit is not just a fighting system, or, more correctly, a way of learning the Southeast Asian fighting arts. Health and longevity are integral aspects of the training and every bit as important. Through KM, you learn about the body in general, and your own body in particular. You are encouraged to exercise, expected to quit smoking (if you were stupid enough to start in the first place), educated about osteopathy and homeopathy, taught about TCM, informed about nutrition, lectured about psychotherapy, and so much, much more.

Think about how many people you know choose death over life. How many people willfully engage in self-destructive behaviors because they lack the confidence and tools you have developed? You are less dead than they are, and become less dead as you continue your training.

All of these powerful tools help contribute to your overall health and longevity, and bring you a fuller, happier life. They are keys to improving yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually.

Accomplishing your Kasama level is proof positive not just of your commitment to Kali Majapahit, but of your commitment to yourself. You should feel most proud. Now, as visible examples to the others, it will be time to take it up another notch. Reach inside yourselves. Ask the difficult questions about what the next steps are to changing your life through Kali Majapahit. Becoming better fighters; better teachers and leaders; BETTER PEOPLE.

You are gaining control of your lives. You have the responsibility to share this gift with others.

I salute you.

Friday, November 12, 2010

House Building 101

When it is time to build a house, great care must be given to the foundation. No matter how pretty the rest looks, if the foundation is weak, the house will be weak. The bigger the house intends to be, the stronger the foundation to keep it there.

In our martial arts, foundations mean many things.

First of all, foundation means footwork and balance.
So much of what we do depends on having strong, stable footwork which puts us in advantage, and our opponents in disadvantage. No matter how pretty the technique, lack of footwork will lose the fight every time. The drills are often boring and repetitive. They don't look sexy or cool. However, there are few better uses of time than doing balance and footwork drills for improving overall fighting ability. Good fighters spend a large part of their training time on footwork to make sure it is instant and intuitive.

Strong foundations also mean strong basics. We all want to learn the next cool jumping kick or sophisticated trap. However, in reality, the muscle memory we have the best is the basics. Those basics are what we return to under stress, and what make the difference between walking away and being carried away. Basics must be drilled until they are instinctive. These basics combine to form the building blocks of the rest of the techniques we learn.

Especially in an integrated art like Kali Majapahit, where common concepts are reused irrespective of weapon or distance, the basics are our vocabulary for building fluency of expression. Without good basics, you can never flow.

Be patient. Take the time to build a strong foundation of basic techniques and balanced, correct footwork. Once you do this, your house will withstand any storm that comes your way.

needed a better foundation...


Well, that's it. I am officially 44 years old.

A lot has happened since last year's birthday post, and it is time for some reflection.

Personally, it has been a good year. I came back to japan just before my 43rd birthday, and we have quickly and splendidly settled into Yokohama. The commute to work was long, and the days longer, but I got used to it - eventually that problem solved itself.

Health-wise, I am almost 6kg lighter than I was this time last year, thanks to going to the gym a lot these past 2 months, and to a nasty bought of stomach virus that kept me on my back with no food or drink for 6 days. I feel better than ever.

My stress is also greatly reduced. My leaving my last job was a long time coming, and very stressful up until it resolved. I still love my old company, and miss my co-workers, but the setup was not right for me and we all knew it. Something better will happen soon and I will have lessons learned and fond memories of a bunch of people I spent just over 5 years in co-dependency with.

On the home front, it has been a big year. I have learned a lot about myself and who I am.
I am forever grateful for the love of my wife, who has helped me become a better person. She is direct, simple, and honest; no lies or illusions - very practical. I want to be more like her. At the same time, we must all dare to dream, and my dreams are what led me to Japan from Villa Park, Illinois nearly 20 years ago. I am closer to her and to my darling boys than ever before. The gift of my career change brought with it time to walk to the school bus together, to greet them when they get home, to have dinners together and talk about homework.

Life and family are more than the punctuations of annual holidays - they are the joys of the little things every day we are together; time that can never be replaced once it is gone. They are growing up a little bit day by day, and it is magic to see it and be part of it. This will not last forever, but I am glad to have it right now.

My life in martial arts continues with renewed energy and fascination. Filipino martial arts in particular remain my passion, and I look forward to spending Friday nights with the guys sharing what I know and helping them deepen their understanding. I am lucky to have a small group of regulars who are open minded and enthusiastic. Martial arts is one of those many things in life that give you back what you put in, with interest. I am glad they are mature enough to understand that.

Overall, no complaints about my life at 44. 43 was a great year, and 44 looks to be even better.

That's all that really matters, isn't it?

Friday, November 05, 2010

Little Things, Big Results

I am a big believer in small lifestyle changes that give big long-term results.
It is hard for people to sustain massive shocks to their daily routines, unless some stressor triggers it such as moving, changing jobs, etc. Instead, there is much greater success in making minor adjustments. The minor adjustments I prefer are those which take very little time or effort, but can have profound impacts on the quality of our lives. Here are a few of my greatest hits:

Soft Drinks
Make a habit of choosing mineral water instead of sugary soft drinks.
If you have a time-based routine such as a coke after lunch, switch it for a mineral water.
Best if you drop them altogether and drink only water or unsweetened teas (green tea, oolong, jasmine, etc.) instead. One step at a time.

Maybe for some people this is not a minor change, but if you can switch it to unsweetened tea you are already doing yourself a big favor. Especially bad are the big calorie sugarccinos of the Green Monster. If you need the caffeine (or think you do), see the next item on the list.

Make sure you are getting 7 hours or more every night without fail.
Adjust your schedule so you do. Catching up on weekends is no substitute.

Better if you don't, moderation if you do. Try to avoid beer's big calories, soft drink mixers (like rum and coke), and always always hydrate. Red wine is a good choice if you must.

IN-convenience Stores
Try to avoid their high-calorie, preservative-laden meals.
Best is to make your own bento (or kindly ask your partner to help).
Better yet, make your bentos together the night before.

Go Green
Make at least one meal a day meatless. Breakfast is an easy one, but a big salad dinner is nice, too. Maybe for starters make Monday your "green day". Increase as you see how good you feel.

Get a few minutes at least of sun every day you can.

Needs to be scheduled time for yourself to do any activity you like.
Make sure you are getting at least 3 times a week for at least 30 minutes each.

I stretch before bed. Morning is also nice.

Even though I am a morning shower guy, I still take my Japanese bath soak every night.
Something I just can't live without.

Maybe you already do some of these things. Maybe you can add a few more.
Even doing one new things, and making it into part of your routine with add to the quality of your life and health. One step at a time.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Vitamin Water and other fitness fantasies

(originally posted on CNNMoney. full article here)

In my opinion, vitamin water is the worst offender of all spurious health products. see below. In your heart of hearts, you probably already know that mineral water, plenty of it, is what your body really needs. When buying mineral water, go for the ones with the highest Ph number. The higher the Ph, the more alkaline the water is, and hence the better this water will be for helping balance the blood acidity which most modern people have. Guro Fred suggests drinking at least 3 liters of mineral water daily, and I wholeheartedly agree.


Vitamin Water and other sports drinks don't deliver health

Don't be deceived by claims that vitamin and sports drinks are a healthy water substitute. "Once you put any chemical into water, it is no longer water. You must read the labels. It has less than 0.5% of vitamins, minerals, and other stuff. That is very little to be effective, give you energy and boost your immune system. You only receive 13 ounces of carbohydrates in an 8 ounce serving, and those 13 grams are all sugar -- crystalline fructose and sugar cane. A $3.50 bottle has 2.5 servings. So you will consume 32.5 grams of sugar when you drink the bottle," says Kevin Bailey, CSCS, owner of Bailey's Total Fitness, Inc.

"If you are looking to lose body fat, it will be hindered as soon as you drink one of these. Gatorade is even worse, with 34 grams of sugar per bottle. Also, if you are diabetic, these products could possibly cause more harm than good due to the drastic spike in your blood sugar levels when consumed," he says.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Japanese kindergarten

Last week we decided to move our 4 year old son Ray from international kindergarten to Japanese kindergarten, called Hills Gakuen. Crazy you say? Cost was not the issue, but a lot of other factors were.

It is not that I am against international schools. in fact, we put our oldest, George, into international schools the whole way, and he is now at Yokohama International School, the top international school in Japan. I fully expect to send Ray there from grade 1 onward.

For example, many people feel the Japanese elementary school system focuses too much on rote, at the expense of creativity and individualism, and the students turn out to be cookie cutter worker ants, mindlessly obeying Japanese protocol, incapable of free thought, and doomed to work soullessly in the hive until they are replaced by the next batch.

your average Japanese office worker?

Hmmm...I don't entirely disagree. However, when it is done right, the Japanese kindergarten system is an amazing thing. Instead of trying to force children to memorize without understanding, it promotes learning through music and movement, repetition and pattern, and allows kids to be what they are - kids. Kids have boundless energy, and rather than chastise them for not sitting in their chairs all day long, a good kindergarten lets them use their bodies as learning tools - incorporating songs, dances, drills, and other play to get children to want to learn and understand. this physicality will help their bodies develop and form the foundation of good health for the rest of their lives. This approach is far better than showing that they can do worksheets just like their older siblings.

In kindergarten, I think it is most important that children enjoy school, not that they sit and do endless worksheets of letters and numbers. The most important practice they can have for elementary school is SOCIAL, not academic. This means that they should develop the habits of getting along in groups, playing well together, and being polite. Practicing a bit of tooth brushing after meals/snacks and washing hands after restroom is good, too. In a Japanese kindergarten, there will already be a class leader, whose job is to help all the students master the required skills and get along together. This is a step of maturity for the boy or girl who is ready to look after the others, and starts them on the right path of being responsible for the success of others, which is a key leadership attribute.

Far too often the international kindergartens, under pressure from overachiever parents, want to show that the 4 and 5 year old students can write letters and numbers and do worksheets. I personally think that is OK for some kids, but not nearly as good as having the kids enjoy school, have fun, and develop strong core social skills. Music and art should be learned by doing, and their bodies should be as active as possible. Letters (and worksheets) can come later.

In short, I am very glad we found such a good Japanese kindergarten. It offers good social training, active learning, and a lot of fun for the students. it's perfect.

What does this mean in the context of martial arts (this is a martial arts blog, after all)?

Practicing forms and forms and forms is not a substitute for being able to fight, and nor is it a proxy for the critical character development that good expression in the martial arts helps develop in all of us. Even if we never get into an actual fight (and I hope none of us ever have to), we can use the character development, energy and respectfulness we learn in the dojo EVERY SINGLE DAY.

Teach your children well. Don't settle for second best.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Unemployment Benefits

On September 4 I lost my job.

It was amicable, inevitable, and in retrospect probably for the best for the company and myself.

Over the past few weeks, I have had to adjust to a new lifestyle of being out of work. Here are the main benefits I found:

1) more sleep
I was probably getting 5-6 hours a night before. It wasn't enough. Moreover, I felt tired all the time, and that had an effect on my overall energy levels, my mood, and my relationships. I was exhausted. Now I am getting closer to 8 a night, and sometimes the odd afternoon nap as well. I just FEEL better. get enough sleep. It helps.

2) Control Over My Diet
Toward the end, I was not eating particularly badly. light brekkie, moderate lunch, moderate dinner. The real issue was accessibility. Because of the 7-11 in the basement of the building, I came to use them (and their processed, prepackaged mayhem) a lot more than I should have. I cook more and eat much better now, and it shows.

3) Training
Exercise makes a huge difference. I am in the gym almost every day now and rather than making me feel tired, it has the opposite effect. By training (not over-training) I feel more energetic and generally better about myself and my life. Regular exercise is an essential part of being happy.

4) Relationships
I have time to take George to the bus every morning and walk Ray to and from school. We eat dinner together at home as a family every night. My wife and I go to and from the gym together. I help the kids with their homework. WE TALK. This has really helped me to reconnect with my family. When a typical day at work started by getting up at 5 am, getting to work at 7am, getting home at 8-9pm, during the week I hardly ever saw them. I need this time. I love it. We feel like a family again.

5) Stress
I thought I would be really stressed out about being unemployed, but I'm not. I know I will have to get back to the routine at some point, but I don't dwell on it. I am enjoying the moment and taking it as a rare opportunity; a rare gift. My stress levels are very low and I feel great.

Working or not, the above are important facets of a happy life to bear in mind. The goal is always BALANCE, so that we can have sustainability and longevity. I hope I can keep these lessons even after I start back at work someday.

Until then, see you on the mats.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Getting Angry

I was reading somewhere that anger wins more fights than any training. Anger, Rage, FURY, SAVAGERY. It's probably true.

When you stop to think about it, giving in to the rage within can make all the difference. On any given day, in any given situation between two people - the angrier one often wins.

This is not what you find in classic martial arts textbooks, especially those which espouse philosophy. However, in real situations, tapping into your primal killer instincts, without remorse, can make the difference between life and death.

I do not like to fight. I LOVE martial arts, but that is precisely because I abhor violence. I think everyone should develop the confidence, discipline and self-control not to use violence to resolve conflicts. In any altercation I will choose to talk it out, if not, to walk away. However, if given no other alternative, I want to be able to unleash every ounce of rage within me, especially if that will help protect my life, or the lives of my loved ones.

Our training must make this a last choice, but a choice that is available if no other choice exists.

I have met my share of good martial artists that lack the "killer instinct", which is that ability to disconnect mercy or reason and deliver the knockout (or worse) when required. I am not sure if or how this can be developed, but for martial artists I consider it a necessary component of the training, since without it you will fail when you need it most.

I agree in daily life this is not needed, but it is a lot like fire insurance.

You may never need it, but if you do, you are likely to need it pretty damned badly.

what do you think?

"give in to your anger..."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Simple Math

It's time for some simple math....

If you want to lose weight, take in less calories than you use.

Thus, if

A is the number of calories you eat daily
B is the number of calories you burn daily

Then as long as AA you will gain weight.

The math is simple. Like most simple things, it is all about implementation. That takes willpower. It is often the case that sudden, drastic change results in a lack of sustainability.

At the extremes are starvation diets that dramatically reduce A but do nothing about B or PX90 extreme home workouts that do lots of B, but do not really address A. Michael Phelps, winner of 16 Olympic Gold medals, packs in 12,000 calories per day during hard training, but he has very low body fat due to his enormous B. As he says "eat. sleep. swim." A typical adult has a 2,000 calorie per day guideline, but many people go over this, especially in the US. Coupled with a decreasing B, this results in obesity.

you can look like this while eating 12,000 calories per day...if you swim 12 hours a day as well.

Most of us already know that the most effective, long term way to lose and keep off unwanted weight is BALANCE between A and B. Gradually reduce A and increase B and weight will naturally come off and stay off.

This is mostly true when we ourselves have control over the change (or rate of change). We feel shock and rebound. When the change is out of our control, such as loss of job/death of loved one, natural disaster, and the like, we will suffer the stress and break, or suffer the stress and adjust. Different people react differently to stress. The best way is always to control the change through small, gradual lifestyle adjustments.

This requires patience, which is a rare commodity in a modern world of instant gratification.

For body weight, it can take several weeks of implementation before the change begins to be visible. That can be the delay that causes people to stop. This happens before they see the change, reinforcing their lack of self-esteem and belief that they are doomed to fail, no matter which fad diet they try.

In a nutshell?
  1. know a bit about what kinds of calories you eat
  2. know a bit about basic nutrition
  3. Be aware of stress in your daily life and how you respond to it
  4. Make long-term goals, but short-term plans
  5. start small. small changes can yield big long-term results
  6. reward yourself for positive changes, rather than punish yourself for small transgressions
  7. give it time - it can take several weeks before the results start to show
  8. plan your work and work your plan - stay the course, be patient
  9. balance decreases in A with gradual increases in B - make sure to plan BOTH
  10. avoid extremes. too much too soon can have drastic negative effects on your health
AVOID FAST FOOD!! lots of calories (mostly from saturated fat, salt, and sugar).
"Fast food speeds you to the grave". This is probably the biggest single change anyone can make to lose weight.

Now off of work, I am eating better, exercising more, and much happier than before.

I will update my progress in my own plan to lose weight, get fitter, and increase my happiness.

See you on the mats.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

pins and needles, needles and pins

Second session of acupuncture today...

I LOVE acupuncture. As creepy as it sounds, acupuncture does some things that massage alone cannot do. You need the needles. I am spending the next 4 months or so going once a week to get help releasing the years of pent up stress and tension in my neck, shoulders and back. We all carry stress in different places, which results in muscle tension, fatigue, pain, and general ill health. Since I am out of work for a bit, I want to use this time constructively to recover my health. Acupuncture is an essential element of this plan.

Many people have never tried it since they are afraid of the needles, don't believe it works, and so on. As a believer, I can say there is not much better at fixing general wear and tear on the body, dealing with muscle, joint, lymph, tendon troubles, and keeping energy levels high. It may or may not work for serious injuries, cancer, and the like - but in my view will be better on your body than many of the western remedies. As for the needles causing pain? Well, for me they never really "hurt". There is some discomfort when they are inserted, and sometimes when they are removed, and some strangeness when the points are stimulated, but this is far less than the benefit they provide. Especially, the following morning after your body has had a chance to adjust to the treatment - you wake up feeling great!

I am a big believer in preventative medicine. Many people only go for acupuncture when they are sick or injured. It is far better to go regularly, at least once a month, to maintain health and energy, and to develop a long-term relationship with your healer/naturopath so that he/she can get used to your body and understand your baseline optimal health. This makes it easier to spot things which are off-balance and correct them. No two people's bodies are the same, and understanding the baseline is a key part of what the healer does. Of course, this also means you should find a practitioner you like and stick with him/her.

Acupuncture is also about trust, and this is why you need to be able to have an open relationship with your healer, discuss your health, and give feedback on your treatment.

Your life as a "Human pin cushion" will be a cornerstone for good health.

Get stuck in!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stairway to Heaven

Now don't get me wrong - I LOVE TECHNOLOGY.
I am forever amazed at our human creativity and for right or wrong, our ability to innovate and drive technology further. I suspect it is our inherent human laziness that makes us want to do less and less.

When it comes to working out, however, I advocate never missing an opportunity to torch off a few calories.


I am not talking about going up 60 flights to the office, if indeed that is what you do.
However, a few flights here or there, within reason, do add up. At my gym, I find myself going up and down from the 8th floor to the 5th or 6th and back again several times a session. They designed it that way. I call it the "Stairway to Heaven". I don't run up and down them (bad for the knees), but just walking up and down is it's own little extra helper.

Try to use the stairs whenever you can - it will help you get fitter faster.

See you in Heaven!

Friday, September 10, 2010

What Martial Arts Teaches Us About Conflict

Conflict is inevitable. It is a part of all of our lives, and aspiring to live without it is unreasonable, since many times conflict is brought about by the actions of others, not ourselves.

Martial arts has as a principal benefit, the study of conflict and how to deal with it. Many people think martial arts are violent, and promote violent resolution of all conflicts, domestic or otherwise. This is simply not true.

Through our study of martial arts, we aim to better understand ourselves and our emotions, and to learn how to remain calm under stress. This helps minimize the chances that a conflict presented to us will escalate. Many conflicts arise from insecurity and weak character - that is, we fight because we feel a desperate need to prove ourselves worthy. In martial arts training we do not see fighting as a means of resolving conflict. Rather, it becomes a way of developing the confidence not to fight at all.

This has broad implications for society, and reinforces my belief that the world would be a much better place if everyone in it studied martial arts (under good teachers, of course).

1) Mutual Respect
We bow. we bow to each other, to our teachers, to our partners, to our opponents, to the kamiza. There is a lot of bowing. Respect for one another is a very important step to avoiding conflict. It is more than saying; it must be doing. I think a lot of the discord globally comes from both sides not feeling respected by the other.

2) Aikido no Ai  合
This character means "coming together", "joining", "unifying". Proper aikido is not done "to" someone, it is done "with" someone. Shared activities foster universal understanding. Corporate trainers know this, but martial arts masters have known this for far longer.

3) Winning versus Losing --- or --- different degrees of loss
It is a shallow mind that thinks of combat as winning versus losing. Ask anyone who has ever been in war about this. Even those whose army was victorious would they say they "won". War is just different degrees of loss. Friends die on both sides and the tragedy is hardly less for either side. In conflict everyone loses. Every real warrior knows this. Good martial arts training teaches us about mortality, and the frailty of this human life we have. It is very important to consider deeply that losing less than the other side hardly equates to "victory". It is still a net loss. Doshu wrote "...the main feature of aikido is that there is no victory and no defeat".
Boxing is an interesting example. Every boxer gets hit in every fight. No one comes away without injury. The fact that we declare a winner and a loser is artificial, and because boxing is combative we consider it a martial art, when it is, in fact, a sport. Sports can have winners and losers because they abide by artificial rules. It is important not to mistake this for combat.

4) Dedication and Commitment
When we see other martial artists train, we can see their commitment to what they do, even if we do differently. There is never a need to show ourselves to be more or less dedicated than they are. In conflict, this "one upsmanship" and desperate need to outdo the other is a key reason why we see so much extremism/radicalism on both sides. Being a moderate is simply not consider "cool". In martial arts, our principal commitment should always be to the training and nothing more. All true paths lead to the same enlightened place, which makes all martial artists brothers and sisters. It would be good if nations followed this example.

5) Peace Leads to Peacefulness
A lifetime of martial arts training should yield tranquility that comes with wisdom and understanding. This way is a spiritual way, practiced with our bodies and using our minds.
"only one who truly understands war can comprehend peace".

It is my great hope that we can all live respectfully in harmony with each other.
This can only come from looking within and finding our real strength as people, our compassion, and the discipline to maintain peace together for the good of us all. It is time to put away petty beliefs and the never-ending desire for revenge. It is time for everyone to be brave enough to embrace peace.

Let's train.

Monday, August 30, 2010

It's in the mail

A brief conversation got me thinking about this...

Our lives are a direct result of the choices we make

I mean this in an objective way. That is to say, the good choices we make bring us good returns, and the bad choices we make bring us negative returns. The package is always in the post. And we must open every letter, good or bad. We can revel in the happy letters, but we must also pay the invoices, no matter how expensive.

This applies pretty much universally to our health, our jobs, and our personal relationships.

Guro Fred talked about this a lot in Hilot classes, and in our hearts, I think every single one of us knows it is true. However, we often fall victim to bad choices. Inevitably, these will result in bad things happening, we just don't know when. The package is always in the post.

Before I end up sounding like a Christian trying to guilt you into improving your life, remember that it is comforting also to know that the good choices we make (healthy food habits, frequent training, managing stress) also give us regular benefits that come when we do them. I don't know about you, but I like looking at my mailbox with anticipation rather than dread.

Make today the day that you take control of your life.

Make today the day that you think about the good and bad choices you make.

Make today the day you decide to change even one bad choice for next time.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Why do we love to see people fail so much?

I was just reading comments on Lindsay Lohan's jail time for violating probation on a DUI charge.

So many people seemed so happy to see her spend time in jail. Why? I am far from the world's biggest LL fan, and there are a large number of Hollywood personas I would add to that list (Mel just got added recently). However, it begs the question: why are we so glad when others fail? Are we jealous? Vain? Does it appeal to our fragile sense of self to see other more successful people brought back down to Earth? What do you think?

It is my sincere hope that those of us who have found The Way have used this to go beyond such pettiness. We should feel sorry for those of weak character; sorry for those surrounded by people who do not protect them and keep them grounded. There are many ways to fall from grace, and I am sure it is hard to deal with the difficulties of fame and fortune, just as it is hard to deal with not having them.

My advice to everyone is to keep on training. Always keep training, and have faith that good teachers and a good school will help us all see the importance of the smaller things in life.

My original teacher gave me a puzzle once. he drew two parallel lines of equal length on a piece of paper with a pencil. he said "How can I make one line longer than the other?" I replied instantly. "You can take a pencil and draw more onto one line." He agreed. But then he pointed out "Can I not also make one line longer by erasing part of the other line?" He continued, "Be careful that you never make your line longer than another person's by erasing their line. This is not the spirit of The Way."

I have never forgotten his lesson, and we are all wise to bear it in mind. Let's focus on our own lines and make them longer through our training.


36 Ways to Make a Positive Impression in Less Than 10 Seconds

saw this online and had to share it...note that martial arts training will help develop many of these habits. I count about half of the below that are part of life in a good martial arts school.



36 Ways to Make a Positive Impression in Less Than 10 Seconds

Posted on May 3rd, 2010 by Todd Smith

There are literally hundreds if not thousands of little things we can do to raise the bar in our professional and personal lives. So many of these things are easy to do and can be accomplished in less than 10 seconds. They just require an intentional effort.

What is CRITICAL to understand is that your ultimate success, fulfillment and happiness will come from doing the little things that matter.

As entrepreneur and best selling author Harvey Mackay said, “Little things don’t mean a lot. They mean everything.”

Here is a short list of 36 things you can do in less than 10 seconds that will make you a better person, enhance your self-image and improve the quality of your life.

1. Make it a point to say the words ”I love you” to the people in your home every single day.
2. Offer a friendly authentic smile- a great smile radiates warmth, puts people at ease and makes you likable.
3. Make comfortable eye contact- your eyes send messages; establishing and maintaining eye contact with people demonstrates confidence, respect, and genuine interest.
4. Use someone’s name – everyone likes to hear and see his or her name.
5. Acknowledge people- smile and say hi to the people around you.
6. Express your appreciation- say “thank you” to everyone who does something for you even if they are paid to do it.
7. Be unselfish and put others first- it could be as simple as holding the door open for someone.
8. Offer a word of encouragement- sometimes this is all a person needs to build confidence and take the next big step. This is big!
9. Accept responsibility when you are wrong- it’s the sign of a person with character.
10. Be friendly- it lifts the attitude of others and is the #1 factor in being likable.
11. Maintain a positive mental attitude- your attitude is a choice and that choice is 100% within your control.
12. Be kind and considerate- to people you know as well as strangers.
13. Be like a dog and be the first to greet people- it helps new people entering the room feel more comfortable and demonstrates your interest in them.
14. Offer people you meet a warm greeting- this will set the tone for the entire encounter.
15. Say please- make it a habit to use the word please EVERY TIME you ask someone to do something for you even if they are paid to do it.
16. Get up and walk into the other room to speak to someone, rather than yelling.
17. Put the toilet seat down.
18. Turn your head and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.
19. Improve your body posture- poor posture is an indication of low self-esteem.
20. Say goodbye- make a good last impression.
21. Offer a proper handshake- a good, firm handshake demonstrates confidence and makes a good impression.
22. Give someone a hug- a hug is a sign that you really care for the other person.
23. Proof your email, text or post- this is an important component of portraying a professional online brand.
24. Click the LIKE button on someone’s Facebook post- it’s an easy way to demonstrate interest.
25. Turn off your phone in meetings- even though your phone may not make sounds, your eyes and attention will be diverted from the other people in attendance and your lack of attention demonstrates disrespect.
26. Repeat your phone number twice when leaving a voicemail- speaking slowly and repeating your phone number will make you stand out.
27. When scheduling appointments use the other person’s time zone- this avoids misunderstandings or missed opportunities.
28. Speak with life and energy in your voice- no one likes to be around people who are “dead, dull and lifeless.”
29. Walk with a bounce in your step- it’s evidence of an energetic attitude that ultimately leads to success.
30. Turn off the notifications that are bugging those around you.
31. Write things down- it prevents you from forgetting things that are important.
32. Say something positive to others about another person- reverse gossip.
33. Congratulate your opponent- good sportsmanship is evidence of leadership.
34. Introduce yourself- be proactive and introduce yourself to people whom you have never met.
35. Look for the good in others and tell them what you see- you have the ability to bring out the best in people, especially when they may not know it themselves.
36. Hold in that fart- the pain will go away in less than 10 seconds.

As you can see, each of these tips is easy to do. They don’t require any formal education or financial investment. We can begin to incorporate them into our lives this very minute. All we need is to be conscious of them and be willing to take 10 seconds to do them.

Let me encourage you to print out this list and put an asterisk beside the ones you are committed to working on. Track your results and see how you do.

This is just a small sampling of the things we can do in less than 10 seconds to make a positive impression on others. What are some other simple things we can do in less than 10 seconds? I look forward to reading them in the comments section below this post.

About the Author: Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 29 years and founder of Little Things Matter.

Related posts:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What does "Osu" mean?

(thanks to Diana for the question)

Many people have heard "Osu!" in various martial arts schools. Some students even say "Osu!" without really understanding what it is about. Here's how "Osu!" is used:

1) Greeting
"Osu!" is generally said to any higher ranking belt (especially dan ranks and instructors) whenever meeting them.

2) Acknowledgment
"Osu!" is the response to any order or feedback given. It is the response a student gives whenever any instructor announces a technique or the start of a drill, or anytime an instructor corrects a student's technique.

3) An expression of commitment (Kiai)
"Osu!" is used anytime you count out a drill for the last rep. It is also an expression of concentrated intention in the way a kiai is done in other martial arts.

OK, fine. But why "Osu!" and not "Hai-Ya!" (or any other random sound)?

Traditional Martial Arts and Militarism
Many of the traditional arts (especially aikido) have very close ties to militaristic expression in Japan. It is customary to greet senior soldiers (NCO and officers) with "Osu!" much in the way it is used in Yoshinkan aikido. This may be a shortened form of "Ohayo Gozaimasu" which is now extended to be an acknowledgment and compliance with whatever the speaker has said. Much of the post-war martial arts training in Japan is very closely linked to right-wing (and, indirectly, to support of the Emperor). Yoshinkan itself is closely linked to the Tokyo Metro Police Force, which is also a very right-wing organization.

Hard Training
"Osu" is also said to be comprised of the character for push "osu" and the character for perseverance "nin". This is a reminder to train hard, and early Yoshinkan disciples trained very hard indeed. We honor their spirit and commitment to training whenever we say "osu!". It recognizes our intention to train just as hard as they did, and to follow their example of "shugyo".

More to add? Let me know.

See you in class.


Friday, July 02, 2010

Get Out of Your Zone

I am talking about your comfort zone.

Most of us have real trouble pushing the boundries of our lives. We are creatures of habit; of routine. We find a pattern and we stick to it. This can apply to our jobs, our relationships, our eating/sleeping/drinking habits and, of course, our training habits.

It is called a "comfort zone" for precisely that reason. We are comfortable there and generally unwilling to venture far away from that. As I have mentioned in previous posts, habits can be a critical help to your training and your health when you establish positive routines and make them into habits. These can be dietary such as drinking enough water daily, getting enough sleep, or controling your calorie intake. They can be mental habits such as dispelling negative thoughts, goalsetting, and listening. They can be training habits such as focusing during class, keeping energy level high, and expecting the most from each class.

This is all good, but we need to be always mindful of the fact that quantum leaps forward in ability very often happen when we get out of our comfort zone - we adapt, we adjust, we explore, we challenge, we investigate. These are a vital part of your training and should be a vital part of every aspect of your happy and successful life.

Martial arts is so important for this. The dojo is a controlled environment where you can push your boundries and discover new abilities. In every class you become able to do things you couldn't do before and develop new understanding. With good teachers in a good dojo, you are made to safely get out of your comfort zone and build your confidence level.

Aaron's blog had a great quote:

"If you want something you never had, you must do something you never did"

Very true. Make today the day you push beyond your limits. Surprise yourself.

See you in class.

Monday, June 14, 2010


I LOVE wrestling (or "rasslin'" as it is called in the Deep South)

It is physical chess. It embodies good conditioning, strength, speed, endurance, and intelligence. Done well, it is a formidable addition to your body mastery and your fighting vocabulary.

So before you go get tangled up, what are some key things to think about when grappling:

1) Going Down
Not much can happen in grapping until you get to the floor. There are a lot of ways to get there including single/double leg takedowns, throws, tackles, scoops, lifts, etc. There are some good common sense ideas about doing so with the highest percentage of success and control. Bear in mind tip number 2)

2) Do not get your head byond your lead toes
keep your head back and down, but NEVER let it extend over your toes. Once you do, you will get pancaked or sprawled to the mats at a disadvantage.

3) Hips in, insteps down
Do not dig with your toes. A good drive will stand you right back up.
You need to have your hips driving and pushing through constantly. Keep your insteps down so your opponent cannot get under your hip mass.

4) Off your knees
NEVER be on your knees. Instead, get on your insteps, with your hips driving through.

5) Make your opponent uncomfortable at all times
You should drive your hips and ride our opponent such that he always has trouble breathing and feels your weight pushing through. This helps make him tired and keeps him from developing a good defense.

6) Take the head/spine out of alignment at the earliest opportunity
and keep it from being re-aligned the best you can. Doing this takes away a lot of strength.

7) Use large muscle groups whenever possible
Your hips/legs and back are your primary drivers in wrestling. Use them rather than your arms/chest whenever you can. You will get much better results and last longer. This includes putting on the submissions, meaning that you should use your legs and back rather than arms and chest to get the tap.Lifts, drops, takedowns, and throws should also rely and the legs and back for power.

8) Chains
Every high percentage move has high percentage escapes - which lead to other high percentage follows-ups ad nauseum. Train in chains so you can get a feeling for the fluidity and mobility of real technique chains when you wrestle. Be as ballistic in the training as you can safely be without injuring your training partner.

9) Take The Base
It is important to remove your opponent's base at every opportunity, and to keep doing so in order to ensure that they cannot recover. Use arms and legs to wrap opponent and turk the legs to keep the base offline. At the same time, you must be careful not to give your opponent your own base. Keep your hips away, and driving in and down.

10) Pane of Glass
For the takedowns, imagine a pane of glass vertically between the oppnent's heels. This pane must be broken with your foot or leg, or you have not penetrated deeply enough to load onto your hips.

Happy "pretzeling"

Friday, June 11, 2010


Went into 7am Yoshinkan beginner class at RYA on Wednesday.
No matter how long I do Yoshinkan, it is always great to work the basics. They just never ever get good enough (and I am sure they never will). The basic motions of Yoshinkan are designed to help condition the body with ukemi, strengthen the legs and hip with kihon dosa, unify the breathing and movement with shumatsu dosa and create the platform for all the rest of the good technique you will do as an aikidoka.
It is like a pyramid, where the amount of time spent on the basics determines ultimately how high the pyramid can be built. It was traditional to go back to the basic curriculum after every rank test and begin all over again, applying all the new things learned in the past grading.
There is always a temptation to want to rush on into "the fun stuff" and learn new techniques, new forms, and jiyuwaza combinations. However, over the long term, nothing is more important that having good basics and then working them over and over again until they are part of your muscle memory.
See you Wednesday!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Got into aikido Weds 7am beginner's class after a while away.
I missed the energy of having a bunch of people together in the morning, and it was good to train with Sensei Mike.

I was asked to help Alan train for his 1kyu test on Saturday.
1kyu is a big exam, mine was 45 mins, and the last step before shodan.
By this point, your techniques should look crisp and clean, and you should be showing some of the key principles of movement, and the foundations of good jiyuwaza.

Sensei Mike's aikido has changed. His movements are smaller; more powerful. His aikido is evolving, which is great. Today we worked on hijiate kokyunage, which has a lot of things to learn.
  • dynamic motion from the instant of contact
  • loading uke's balance onto your hips
  • hips moving on a downward angle to project uke
  • extension and zanshin
All in all, it is a very interesting series.
Alan looks good. I am sure he will do fine.

I'll be trying to get into the Weds sessions more, so I can get some teaching time and work on my basics again more.

See you there!


Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Battered Briton survives aikido ordeal

This is from the Japan Times...
nb, both of my aikido teachers at RYA are Senshusei course graduates, at a time when the course was even harder than what is described below. They appear in Robert Twigger's book.

News photo
It was a riot: Carter and classmates pose for a shot with the riot police who joined them on the 11-month Senshusei Aikido course at the Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo. ANDREW CARTER

Battered Briton survives aikido ordeal

Punishing course leaves Englishman bruised but hungry for more 'cultivation'


At the end of February, a group of international students graduated from the Tokyo-based Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, one of the most intensive martial arts training centers in the world.

News photo

Eyesore: Andrew Carter sports a shiner after his first session at the Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo in Tokyo last year. TIES BEEK

Yoshinkan (meaning "hall for cultivating the spirit") is a style of aikido founded by Gozo Shioda after World War II. Made famous by the controversial book "Angry White Pyjamas" by Robert Twigger, the Senshusei Aikido training course was initially started at the dojo in 1957 to train members of the Tokyo riot police. In 1991 the 11-month program opened its doors to applicants outside the police force, and since then the course has attracted recruits from all over world.

One such recruit, Englishman Andrew Carter, 24, who graduated from the course this year, spoke to The Japan Times about his motivations for starting the program and his experiences over the nearly yearlong course.

"I always wanted to join the British Army's Royal Marines when I was in my teens, but in university I went off the idea of the military ― the killing people part ― but I still wanted to experience something similar in terms of the training," he recalls. Then he read "Angry White Pyjamas," and after coming to Japan as an English teacher on the JET program, he decided to sign up for the Senshusei course.

Training takes place from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. five days a week, so paying his way was going to be a challenge. Arriving in Tokyo from Nagoya with only enough money for one month's rent, he shared a four-bunk hostel room with seven other people for the first two months of the course.

"I taught English to one of the guesthouse residents in exchange for food. I ate curry udon (noodles) for almost every meal for two months. One of the other guys, an American, had only pancake mix for two weeks of the first month."

Carter could have saved more money to help him get set up, but, he says, "I believed that a hard life outside the dojo was also important for one year, so I didn't mind coming with so little money. I was willing to endure the hardships it would bring."

The Senshusei course is famous ― some might say infamous ― for the severity of the training. Injury is not just possible, it's seemingly inevitable. The first training session of the course, says Carter, was "interesting."

"It was an hour of nonstop, difficult exercises. Out of 10 of us, one guy's legs gave out and he collapsed. I collided with another guy and he went to hospital with a cut to his head; I got a black eye out of that clash. One guy's nose started bleeding due to too many press-ups."

And this was only the first training session. For the next 11 months, Carter and his fellow trainees would endure three such sessions a day, five days a week.

"We all had bleeding backs due to hundreds of backward break-falls. The cuts would reopen each day and the backs of our dogi ― uniforms ― would turn red with blood stains. You're not allowed to start a training session with a dirty dogi, so one of the guys would tape women's sanitary towels to his back to soak up the blood."

Carter had damaged his knees during running activities in school, which made certain trials in particular all the more severe.

"My knees can become very painful. It makes seiza ― kneeling in the Japanese way ― a nightmare. Two months of the course focus onsuwari waza ― kneeling techniques ― so I wore knee supports, but other students who didn't found their knees would bleed from pivoting on them so much day after day. My training partner ended up on crutches as a result of suwari waza and seiza."

And if that was not enough, Carter also suffered back injuries.

"I damaged tissue around the lower back which lasted for about a month and a half. It made walking difficult. Sometimes I would collapse in work and my boss would have me over a table massaging my back."

Despite this, Carter stuck with the course and soon settled into the rigors of it. Then, two months after starting, he and his fellow trainees joined the police recruits for two out of the three daily classes.

"They were a mixed bunch," he says. "Two of them were girls, one a mother of two kids, three young guys and two older guys. Most of them would stick out anything. One guy kept training with a dislocated shoulder for an hour.

"When one of the international students was injured, we could take time off, but when one of the police was injured, as soon as they were fit enough to return to the dojo, they would be back. And if they couldn't train they'd be watching from the sidelines while standing in some sort of stress position. They were tough."

Soon, they started to get to know each other and bonds started to form.

"They were quite friendly to us. During our breaks we would relax together, eat lunch and use each other's medicines and ointments, etc. It is a requirement for the cops to have a black belt in a martial art before the course, so they were all black belts in judo, kendo or aikido."

But the friendship with the riot police members was not confined to the dojo.

"We had three dojo parties throughout the year. We had to perform for the teachers with the cops for our first one. We had a lot of fun at those parties. Most dojo parties ended with at least one of us or a cop passed out through drinking too much."

The police training course ended before the international students' course, but that was not the last of the camaraderie between the two groups, Carter explains.

"The cops left in November, but in February they turned up at our graduation, which was really cool of them. We didn't expect it, so it was a surprise."

Another surprise was the mental toll the course took on its participants, says Carter.

"I expected harsh training, brutal teachers and pain in my knees. I also was prepared for the possibility that I would not be physically strong enough to hack the course, but I was physically able to do everything that was asked of me. What I did not expect at the start of the course was how mentally demanding it would be."

Shugyo is a Japanese word that means "commitment to a discipline," and trainees on the Senshusei course must try to get a deep understanding of shugyo.

"Shugyo makes a great impact in the rest of your life; without some form of it, real training is impossible."

Soon after starting the course, Carter came to realize that he did not fully understand this concept.

"Others were studying techniques in their spare time while I was working or resting. It soon became clear that I was the weakest in the group as I was constantly making technical mistakes. I spent many embarrassing training sessions in front of my peers making mistakes. It was during this year that I decided I needed to re-evaluate my way of approaching life if I am to ever to be worthy of my black belt, if ever I'm to fulfill my full potential as a human being."

"I now see myself as a very different person. I used to drink and socialize a lot and leave studying to the last minute, but my year in the dojo has had a profound effect on me. It teaches you that you have to be focused, you have to predict what's coming up and study it and you have to be aware constantly of your own movements as well as being aware of a strict culture and of the teacher's needs."

"At the end of the year I see so many areas that I can improve on, in both aikido and in my life. But this is not a negative thing; it is very possible that without the course I would have never come to realize this. For me the course really unlocked a desire to do my best in all areas of life, not just the physical side of it, as I originally thought this year would develop."

Despite the physical and mental hardships that Carter endured over his year at the Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, he feels it has all been worthwhile.

"I will take the course again and I hope to improve on the areas I am weak on. This I see as an exciting and rewarding challenge that stretches ahead of me for possibly the rest of my life, and this, more than anything else, is what I will take away from my year in the 'hall for cultivating the spirit.' "