Sunday, December 29, 2013

Getting the Point

Quick update from my previous post.

We made it back from Maui (18 hours door-to-door), but the 9 hour flight back from Honolulu to Narita was absolute agony.  Although I did not break anything and had no internal injuries, I was whiplashed by the wave, and my neck and upper back are still swollen and it hurts just to sit down.  I am not sleeping well (3-4 hours/night max) since every time I toss or turn the pain wakes me up.

I did not go for TCM in Maui since I don't know anyone there (you will understand why by the end of this post), but luckily I was able to get in to see Edward Sensei at his clinic the day after we landed back in Japan.  His clinic was very busy, but he kindly made time for me since I was injured.

Those of you who know me know I am a huge advocate of TCM in general, and of acupuncture and moxibustion in particular.  It is absolute magic for joint/ligament/tendon/muscle pains and injuries, works well for headaches, stress, depression and a wide range of other disorders.  Even if nothing is "wrong" I recommend a monthly "tune-up" to ensure optimal health and balance is maintained.

There are many people who turn their noses up to TCM, calling it "voodoo" or "black magic" and generally of the mind that it doesn't work unless you believe in it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The more research is done, the more we come to understand that the holistic view of TCM and preventative medicine is scientifically valid and in many cases far more effective than traditional Western medical treatments.  In a potential life-or-death situation such as I had on Maui, I defer to a Western trauma center, where the Emergency Room staff are specially trained to keep me from dying.  However, keeping me from dying is not the same as keeping me healthy, and the difference is worth thinking about.

Here is my advice on how to evaluate the quality of TCM treatment:

Painless
Good treatment should be painless.  If I feel the needles or get too hot from the moxa, it is a sure sign of an amateur (and that I should find another clinic immediately).  I have had acupuncture treatment in the past and felt the needles hit my spine.  Not good.

Relaxing
Good treatment is relaxing.  Music is soft and instrumental, and care is taken to ensure I am comfortable (not too hot or cold).  Likewise, I should not experience nausea or dizziness from the treatment.  I have received treatment from some clinics (that I will never return to) that made me vomit on the way out.

Sterile
New/clean needles each time please.  Hepatitis (or the stress of worrying about it) should not be part of the treatment.  Good doctors have a very clean and well organized clinic.

Holistic
I expect to be treated as a WHOLE PERSON, not simply at/around the area where I have symptoms.  Unlike western medicine, treatments need not be exactly on the spot of the pain or injury.  Sometimes the best way to treat a site is to focus on the opposite side, for example.

Preventative
Good treatment does not just focus on the current problems, but also seeks to strengthen weak areas so that future issues can be better avoided and mealth can be maintained.  A good doctor will discover areas of concern I didn't mention because they are not bad enough for me to notice them...yet.

Investigative
A good TCM doctor is like a good detective; not just addressing the symptoms, but always questioning to understand and treat the root causes of disorder and disease.  Every patient is different and every treatment situation is unique.

Participative
A good TCM doctor involves me in the process and helps me understand what is going on with my body and how his/her treatment plan will address it.  It is an interactive experience rather than a one-way dialog or lecture.

Transparent
Good practitioners do not try to mystify patients with pseudo-spiritual or religious overlays. Objectives of the treatment are clear and methodologies are open to be shared and explained.
I have learned a great deal about TCM from being treated.  Questions should be welcomed.

Positive
Unlike Western hospitals, TCM clinics are places of HEALING.  Therefore, they and their doctors and staff should radiate a tangible positive energy.  The doctor and staff should exhibit a quiet, relaxed confidence and this is an important and often overlooked part of the treatment.

TRUSTWORTHY
A good doctor works hard to develop a trust relationship with patients.  I do not trust this important treatment to very many people, and knowing/trusting my TCM doctor is paramount.
Be willing  to pay more or travel as far as needed to visit the doctor who is right for you.  Your health is worth it.  Accept no compromise or substitute.

A treatment generally takes an hour or two and can involve any combination of acupuncture, moxibustion and massage, but that depends on what is being done.  A serious session (when I am injured) might be well over 2 hours.  The best thing to do afterward is immediately go home and rest/sleep as long as possible.  It has been my experience that a good session from a skilled doctor is one of the very best remedies for life's bumps and scrapes, and I strongly suggest a monthly visit whether you are injured or not.  It is useful for your TCM doctor to "benchmark" your baseline health, which can help him/her to identify when things get out of alignment and need to be adjusted/corrected.

A lot of our disease and discomfort is caused by stress and tension, and a visit for TCM can help relieve these.  I prefer TCM to chiropractic, since TCM looks carefully at the underlying factors which affect posture and balance.  Chiropractic tends to do an adjustment/alignment, but underlying tension and stress will quickly pull the spine back into the wrong shape if not addressed, resulting in the need for another chiropractic adjustment and so on in an endless loop.

After my experience on Maui, I couldn't get back to Japan fast enough, and I booked an appointment with him as soon as possible.   I have had a lot of treatments from a lot of TCM doctors in my time, and far and away the best I have met so far is Edward Obaidey at Edward Obaidey Acupuncture Clinic in Sangenjaya.  It is with himself, his staff and his clinic in mind that I wrote the above checklist.

If you have not had TCM treatment before, I hope this post will help you take the first steps with an open mind.  If you are a veteran like me, make sure your body is in the right hands by referring to the above and considering your current TCM practitioner.  Better still, go see Edward Sensei.  You (and your body) will be very glad you did.

http://www.edwardshinkyu.com/






Sunday, December 22, 2013

ER

Yesterday started off as a usual perfect day in paradise.  We had breakfast at the condo, and made our way to Kamaole III beach nearby.  After setting up the parasol and chairs, it was down into the surf for some boogie boarding.  George got dragged under by a wave and gave up, and I remember telling him to keep at it. "Sometimes life knocks you down, but you have to keep on getting back up".  Life is not without a sense of irony.

In the next set a big wave came and I crested it...and then was driven headfirst into the sand below.  I saw stars and felt lightning down my arms.  I staggered to my feet as the wave washed back, worried that I might drown if I lost conciousness in the surf.  I also wanted to get away from the next wave before it might drag me under.  I crawled onto the beach and discovered my face was filled with blood.

The lifeguards were waiting and got me a few steps further, lying me down while they brought a backboard and neck brace.  In a few minutes they were carrying me up the beach to wait for an ambulance to take me to the ER.  My fingers were burning; my head and neck numb.  My family stood by watching me, shock and horror across their faces.  I am sure I looked pretty bad.

In the ambulance, the paramedics kept asking me to touch my toes together, move my fingers, repeat my name and address - I knew they wanted to keep me out of shock and assess how much potential damage I had to my neck or spine.  They got an IV started and took my vitals.

At the hospital, they kept asking me the same things - move my fingers and toes, repeat my name and address.  Everyone was concerned that I could have serious damage to my C5 cervical spine and/or a possible concussion.  I was X-Rayed and ultimately given CT and MRI as well to ensure there was no bleeding inside my brain.  They took blood and gave me a tetanus shot as well.

After a long day (over an hour lying immobile just in the MRI), the net result was better than expected:  apart from a few stitches in my lip where my face hit the sand, just some minor abrasions and stiffness/soreness.  I am not dead (it happens).  I am not paralyzed (it also happens) or permanently injured.  I did not break my neck or my back, and did not even break my nose.  I did not get a concussion and did not chip any teeth. I have no internal injuries, broken bones or dislocations.  I do not have a long hospital stay or months of agonizing physical therapy ahead.  I have been incredibly lucky.

I believe that martial arts had a big hand in saving my life and health yesterday.
At first, I was able to keep myself concious and stay focused on getting out of the water and out of danger. My survival instinct is honed a bit better than the average person it seems.  Martial arts training has also made me acutely aware of my own body, and this helped me to understand my condition and be able to communicate exactly what I felt.  It also helped me stay calm and focused as I dealt with all the changing situation and the possible outcomes I might have been facing.  I used my training to remain still during over an hour in MRI so they could get good quality images to assess possible spinal/cervical swelling or brain damage.

I had several hours to think about my life and how lucky I am.  Lucky for my training.  Lucky for my family. Lucky for every breath I take and every step I travel.  Lucky to have come to such a beautiful place. Luckier still to have come so close to losing so much, and to be able to get up and walk away.

Accidents happen.  The best we can do is to try to be prepared and be willing to accept whatever comes our way.  I am well aware of the fact that I will die someday, but until this morning I hadn't really thought about the fact that it could have been yesterday - in the surf off Kamaole III public beach near Kihei, HI.

Much mahalo to everyone who helped me yesterday, from lifeguards to paramedics to ER staff to doctors and neuro specialists.  Thank you for making sure I am not broken.

I wish you all a joyful holiday season.  Keep your loved ones close.  Count your blessings.  Cherish each day.  See you soon.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Seeing

I saw the picture at left on Facebook, and it really got me thinking.
So much of what we encounter in our life is based on our perception - rather than the actual thing itself.  We think we see reality, but in fact we only see what we think is real at the time.  It is at best a "temporary reality", at worst having no resemblance whatsoever to reality.

This applies to objects, but also to events, people, situations...relationships.

Guro Fred taught me about the Law Of Attraction --- look it up.  Study it well.  It's true.

All the time, our attitude is what determines what we see, and how we see.  The more I think about the passage in the picture the more I come to understand that the true keys to happiness are never found anywhere but in ourselves.  We already have them.  We choose to be happy or sad because we decide how to see the world around us.  In many cases we deliberately put a negative filter on things, which causes us to see things in a negative way.  We could also choose to see things in a  positive way.

Regular meditation is the best way to reset our sense of perspective and come as close as we can to seeing things as they really are - limitless and boundless, neither good nor bad, connected at the deepest level --- and ONE WITH US.

To make your life better, the only choice is CHANGE.  Until we are willing to change, we can have no hope whatsoever of seeing the world differently.

Please think carefully about this.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

The Art of Unbalancing

This topic has been on my mind all week - from my private session to the Friday open class.  In fact, I guess I have been thinking about it more and more since my seminar in Singapore with Guro Maul Mornie of Silat Suffian Bela Diri.  He called it out specifically, and it ties back to older discussions with Sifu Frank on Wing Chun and Guro Fred on Kali and even my days in Yoshinkan Aikido with Sensei Mike.  From different perspectives, all of these masters were saying essentially the same thing.

Unbalancing is at the heart of all good martial arts technique.

We often think of unbalancing as a specific technique we use - sweeps or foot traps, or as a result of something else, for example our opponent falling down from our strong punch to the jaw.

The reality is very different.  Our goal should ALWAYS be to attack the structure; the balance of the opponent, rather than to cause specific injury. Aside from the valid moral philosophy that we martial artists should be wise enough to cherish all life and that "do no harm" should be a daily mantra for us, seeking to cause injury is inefficient technique.  Even if I can cause injury, I will always be close enough that my opponent can injure me at the same time (uchiai 打ち合い to all you kenjutsu practitioners out there).  Injuring my opponent may not always cause them to stop their aggression.  In fact, it may even increase their aggression.  Beyond the Buddhist principle of causing no harm, a healthy dose of self-preservation makes me want to not get hurt much more than my wanting to hurt someone else.

Thus, efficient technique always seeks to disrupt the structure and balance of the opponent from the first initial contact - turning their head/neck/spine or removing their base, which compromises the opponent's ability to generate strength and power and weakens their ability to resist.  Subconsciously, we always seek to recover our balance as a priority - spiritually/mentally as well, more on this topic another time - and this takes concentration away from counterattack.

This can be achieved by almost any technique, but several principles help understand what to do:
1) pulling - the simplest method, and the easiest to resist.  Pulling is much better when used a split-second before pushing
2) pushing - more effective than pulling, and stronger still when not done in a straight line.  Pushing into circles (rowing) can be extremely effective since it is harder for the opponent to find a line of resistance
3) absorbing - this can cause the opponent's momentum to carry them off balance and yield great opportunities
4) misdirecting - changing the line of the opponent's motion can lead to powerful unbalancing

In practice, we often apply our entries and techniques without remembering to unbalance our partner.  We think because we are training, there is no need or that it is rude/disrespectful/unfriendly to do so.  Sadly, this habit will prevent us from developing the correct muscle memory and instinctive reaction to take balance, which is precisely the skill we should value over all else.  Mastering this concept can help us to diffuse aggressive intent without having to injure an aggressor.  This is the pinnacle of martial arts achievement.

I suggest looking back through the various techniques you know and reconsidering how they work.
Reverse engineer them to understand where the contact points are, especially the entries, and consider carefully how to use them in the principles above to unbalance the opponent as quickly as possible.

In training, use your techniques to cause unbalance every time.  Note:  this does not mean slamming your partners to the mats.  Instead, it means using the techniques for their intended purpose - to understand human structure and how to influence it.  Subtle movements will show you when your partner's balance is being broken.  In training it is fine to allow your partner to recover.  In reality once the balance is taken away, never give it back until the situation is resolved.  It is up to you how much more than that you need for each specific encounter or set of circumstances.

Study this well.    

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

47

wow.  I am 47 years old today.   (note: in case you didn't get it, the picture is brought to you by the number 47 - kthxbye)

Every year, I like to make a special blog post for my birthday, so here it is.

The question I have been thinking about today is:

"How do I feel?"

GRATEFUL.  I think that best describes it.  I have had (and still have) an awesome life.  I have my fair share of challenges, which is as I would like it, but I am (reasonably) healthy of body and mind, surrounded by loving friends and family, and doing work I feel passionate about.

Furthermore, this year I realized a dream I have had for more than 5 years - I was the first person (so far) in Japan to test and pass our Kali Majapahit black belt test and qualify as an instructor.  My students were there, my wife was there, my teachers were there, many friends were there --- it was a magic moment celebrating my commitment to Kali Majapahit, and my achievement so far. My martial arts journey has gone on for more than 30 years, and I am so proud it has led me to this point.  I am profoundly GRATEFUL to my teachers, students, brothers and sisters in the martial arts.  You complete me.

I remain (thankfully) married to the most amazing and wonderful woman in the world, my wife Sanae.  Her wisdom and strength has helped me through so many challenges, and her support has always kept me going, even in my darkest hours.  I would have avoided many of the troubles I faced if I had followed her advice more and been less stubborn/more patient.  She alone knows all the ghosts that haunt me, and finds a way to love me anyway, even when I hate myself - which I find amazing.  I have learned so much from her, and hope I will continue to do so.  Of all the many wrong decisions I have made in my life, marrying her means I got the most important decision 100% right.  Sanae, I love you so much and I am so GRATEFUL for your love in return.
Thank you for never giving up on me.  I promise to keep trying to be the partner you deserve.

Likewise, I am GRATEFUL for my handsome and wonderful boys (who thankfully look a lot like their mother).  I have learned so much from you, and you never fail to challenge me to do and be more than I ever thought I could.  You fill my life with boundless (noisy?) energy, but I would never wish for anything else.  You have both grown so fast, absorbed so much, and you are truly the best things to have ever happened to me.  I am so lucky to be your father.  I know you will continue to make me proud.

I am GRATEFUL to have my job.  I went through nearly 2 years looking for the next opportunity after I "retired"from investment banking.  I wasn't sure this job was it, but my boss and my co-workers gave me such a warm welcome and have really made me feel valued and respected.  The past year has been hard, harder than I ever could have imagined, but having all of you by my side has made me want to hang in and do my best every day.  Thank you all for being with me on those late-night calls.  Thank you for believing in me.

It has been my life in martial arts that has allowed me to achieve the many goals I have set for myself.  Despite my frequent setbacks, the training has helped me become the person I want to be.  I have developed my confidence, learned to control my fear and uncertainty, been able to trust myself, and been willing to stay the course even when it has been inconvenient.
Martial arts has given me an unending feeling of GRATITUDE for my life.
I am especially grateful to be sharing it with you.

Thank you all for your constant support.  


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Fun is Fun and Done is Done

"As soon as man is born he begins to die"

This quote on the hat of a prepubescent girl on the subway train, who most likely hadn't the slightest idea what it says, let alone what it meant.
I have been thinking about this a lot since then.

At first, I was shocked at the blunt reality of it.
Then, I felt depressed.  I mean, it's true. We are dying from the moment we are born, and our life's journey has only one possible inevitable destination - death.  It awaits us all: rich or poor, black or white.  There is no avoidance of this.

The more I thought about it, however, the more I changed from feeling depressed to feeling motivated.  All life is precious, and like all precious things, it has value because it is finite.

The fact that we are dying immediately from the moment we are born should help us to remain focused, and not to waste our time on things which are not worth our time - negative emotions, negative people, negative habits.  Mae West famously quoted, "we only live once, but if we live right once is enough".  So what is "living right"?

For everyone, this answer must be slightly different.  In my case, I am grateful for having fulfilled my basic needs for food, shelter, clothing, health for myself and my family, I can consider increasing the quality of my life as a key objective in achieving and maintaining my happiness.

I want to spend as much time as possible doing the things I love: I love Kali (and teaching Kali), I love helping people, I love solving problems, I love to talk and discuss with people.  I am a communicator.  I love reading and righting.  I love learning new things.  I love cooking.  I love my dogs.  I love the beach. I love to travel.  I love learning languages.  I love music.  I love to help people feel better and more motivated.  I love to laugh and I love a good joke.  I love to be a catalyst in helping people decide to change and improve their lives.

I want to pack as much of those things into my life as I can.

At the same time, I would not be happy unless I had challenges to help me grow.  I need to have challenges which force me out of my comfort zone.  Challenges which I can not only be accountable to solve, but also have responsibility to solve, by using my creativity and insight.
I need to have adventures which help me find out new things about myself.

Awareness of our own mortality should motivate us strongly to want to be productive and efficient, to set goals and go after them passionately.  It should help us focus on positive actions and empowerment rather than be consumed and distracted by anger, hatred, jealousy, or revenge.

In a few weeks I will be 47 years old.  Maybe I am halfway through my life already, maybe more. Hopefully less.  regardless, I know someday I will die, and I resolve to make the most I can out of this human experience this time.  I hope you will, too.

What do you think about that hat and the quote?  How does it make you feel?

Let me know.




Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The Ladder

(Thanks for the inspiration Kerri)

I am so very grateful for the life I have had.  In many, ways it has exceeded my expectations, often bringing me happiness and success far beyond anything I could ever have imagined.

When I set out on my life's big adventure across the world, leaving Chicago and everything I had ever known behind, I could not even dream of what I would find here in Japan.  This is not to say that there have not been many challenges over the past 22 years since I left, but to say that the good things I experienced and the knowledge I gained have been precious, and that back home in the sleepy suburb of Villa Park, the type of life I found was almost completely beyond my understanding.

I have always been lucky to have great teachers.  These amazing people seem to show up just when I need them, and to offer me guidance and wisdom so that I can continue to make the choices that yield such extraordinary results.  This is part of why I feel so truly blessed.

Life is about the experience, and leaving everything behind and moving to Osaka in 1991 was such a fantastic experience for me.  Just making it here took 10 years of effort and three failed attempts (an interesting story of its own), but completing this quest taught me that with hard work and commitment I could really achieve any goal I ever set for myself, and that continues to be the case.  It gave me unshakable confidence in my ability to find a way forward, even through situations I could never have anticipated.  One way or another, I have always got to where I wanted to be, usually far beyond my own expectations.  The ripples of the stone in the water go far beyond what we can predict before we toss the stone in.

I truly believe that success is found when we are in tune with the Voice of our soul. Helena Bhavatsky's excellent (and heavy) occult tomes (The Secret Doctrines) shed some light on it, and in retrospect my many long discussions with Guro Fred Evrard, who is an insightful spiritual guide, helped me gain a better understanding of this particular interpretation.

Many of us believe we are put here for a purpose, and according to this theory, our soul (the immortal essence of us) has a mission to achieve in order to proceed on the path toward enlightenment.  Our soul will seek to heal itself (as will our body), and seeks not only to fulfill spiritual destiny, but also to restore our karmic balance and make progress toward the ultimate goal of Satori.  We are most successful when we act in accordance "in tune" with what the soul wants.  These moments "in tune" are not times of delirious, babbling joy.  Rather, they are experienced as feelings of peacefulness, contentment and satisfaction; the subconscious awareness of PURPOSE.

According to Bhavatsky, we are born carrying not only physical characteristics from our parents, but spiritual ones as well.  Our souls have imprinting not only from our past lives, but also from the circumstances under which we have taken this human form this time.  The emotional baggage of our parents becomes ours, as well as the mission we were given this time - to balance, to heal, and to continue our progress toward enlightenment.  One explanation for our "natural abilities" is that they are leftovers from achievements in our past lives that the soul has kept into this life, despite the fact that generally speaking, the specific memories are all wiped clean each time. When the body dies, the soul sleeps, and waits for another chance to improve itself and continue the sacred journey.

It becomes then critically important to listen to the voice of the soul, which should give us direction into how to achieve the tasks that will restore our spiritual balance and lead us toward our ultimate enlightenment.  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin elegantly said that "we are not human beings having a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings having a human experience".  So...how do we do that?

Our earliest and easiest experience of our soul's voice comes when we are dreaming.  This is a chance not only to expunge the subconscious, but also to be close enough to our resting state to experience this voice.  Sadly, many people do not remember their dreams and so cannot remember what their soul told them.

The very best way is through prolonged meditation.  The mind at rest can truly LISTEN, and can be trained to hear this voice.  I say "prolonged not in the sense of being sat for endless hours of Zazen, although this is an admirable thing.  Rather I mean that for most people, it takes years of practice to be able to filter the noise and truly hear the voice.  We must meditate in order to:

  • hear the Voice --- become aware that the soul is trying to reach our current consciousness
  • listen to the Voice --- begin to hear the words our soul is saying
  • understand the Voice --- begin to understand the meaning of the words
  • believe the Voice --- recognize the benefit of following the guidance of the soul
  • remember the Voice --- keep the words after meditation so we can implement them

These steps take time to master.  To be perfectly clear, the Voice is our soul telling us what we need to do in this human life to fulfill our spiritual destiny.  As we are inherently GOOD beings, this Voice will never tell us to kill our neighbor, blow up a building, or some other negative thing.  The guidance is always to help us return to righteousness so we can achieve spiritual balance, heal ourselves, and progress toward enlightenment.  EVIL never yields anything but more evil.  That can be the voice of many things (organized religion? prejudice?) but it will NOT be the voice of your soul.  In fact, when we harm others, we cause delays in our growth as the soul must find balance again and heal itself, which takes time.  Although this is an infinite journey, our soul gives us a sense or urgency as it seeks to reach enlightenment.  Since our soul bears the scars of negative traumas inflicted on us, and the negative traumas of what we have inflicted on others when we do not listen to the Voice, achieving balance and healing usually involves the positive acts of helping others, displaying compassion, and contributing to growth in order to erase these "karmic debts".

In my case, my original teacher taught me meditation and I began to hear the voice when I was in my early teens.  I knew somehow that I belonged in Japan, and driving my life toward that goal become my sole preoccupation (together with martial arts training, which facilitated it).  I did not know what would happen when I got here, but I knew this was where my life would happen.  The 10-year struggle to get here was part of restoring my balance, establishing my faith in myself, and cementing my confidence to progress.  It brought me to the many teachers I have had since, and has given me a life of rich experience far beyond my teenage dreams in suburban Chicago.

It also showed me another important lesson --- You do not need to know your DESTINATION in order to know your DIRECTION.  I did not know what I would find here, but I knew I would find what I was looking for.  Not knowing the right answers should never stop us from asking the right questions.

This is a long post, with some heavy-duty stuff in it.  However, I promise if you follow your daily practice of meditation with the explicit goal of hearing/listening/understanding/believing/remembering you will find your insight and your True Path.

Your soul will thank you for it.    

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Throwing Down

Last week when I was in Singapore, I stopped by KM HQ to join some classes and see my brothers and sisters there.

Unexpectedly I got asked to run some beginner and intermediate/advanced classes with the other instructors. Always a pleasure, we found some cool things to show.

MG Guillaume specifically asked me if I would focus on locking and throwing, given these are a large part of my martial arts history prior to starting KM.

We worked on several variations of a common theme around Koshi Nage/Koshi Gurumua/Oguruma and Seioinage.  As a follow up, I summarize the integral parts of throwing below.  I will use japanese vocabulary, but leave out the Kanji, feel free to contact me if you want to know them.

1) Distraction (Atemi)
Often overlooked, all throws really start with striking the opponent.  Atemi can be done with actual hand strikes (slaps, palm heels, punches, elbows), as well as any other weapons including headbutts, knees, low-kicks and even using the biceps, shoulders, or torso (Tai Atari).  This step is important, since we need to divert the opponent's attention from the rest of the movement.

For some styles of judo/aikido, the atemi is de-emphasized, minimized, or removed and this then loses combat effectiveness in my opinion.  The atemi need not end the fight (although this is OK, too), but it must disrupt the opponent's focus and start the process of destroying the balance/structure that will ultimately take the opponent through the rest of the technique. Atemi are generally aimed at the head/neck, but can work against the body/legs provided they disrupt the attacker's balance as explained above.

2) Contact (Sekkin)
For any throwing technique to be effective, we need to get (and maintain) contact with the opponent.  This means closing distance, and generally involves being body-to-body in some orientation (back to front or front to front) Very often, this contact begins with a touchpoint on the arms.  In sport judo, we see the competitors locked up in grabs on the dogi, similar to pummeling in wrestling.  This contact point facilitates the subsequent steps and a typical defense/reversal against throwing is to deny the opponent sekkin by pushing their hips or body away.

3. Entry (Irimi)
The entry is achieved when we have made body to body contact.  This is generally done in a very ballistic manner, with the express intent of displacing the opponent's hips with our own, in effect "punching with the hips" (see "Kuzushi", below).  In some situations, the first three steps (atemi, sekkin, irimi) are done as a single motion, but they should be understood as distinct components with separate objectives.  When entering, we generally seek to establish contact with our center of gravity (Tan dien) lower than our opponent's.  To succed, it is important to have the opponent's hips completely displaced, which means driving our hips fully across theirs.  Partial displacement usually results in the opponent sliding off to one side or otherwise failing to have the balance broken or be loaded.

4. Breaking the Balance (Kuzushi)
In order to throw the opponent, it is necessary to break the balance, which is done by destroying the structure.  This can be done by moving/twisting the head/neck/spine, but also can be achieved by sweeping the legs or reaping the legs (ashi barai/ashigari).  In some cases, a clothesline is done with the arms, while in others the opponent is made to trip over the extended leg.  Failure to achieve proper Kuzushi is probably the single most common reason why throws fail (the other is probably the failure to use Atemi).

5. Loading (Mochiage)
Loading is the process by which, having displaced the opponent's hips with our own, we put the opponent's center of gravity (hips) onto ours.  This is done with the legs bent, so that the actual lift is achieved by straightening the legs, NOT by pulling/lifting with the arms.  Judo is like rock climbing in that the arms are used for balance/contact and the legs are used for drive/lift. Loading can be hard to see when it is done as part of a reaping throw (Osotogari, for example), but if you watch carefully, you should be able to see where the hips are loaded.

6. Execution (Nage)
Now that the opponent's body is loaded and under control, we DRIVE.  A properly done throw should combine our body weight with our opponent's and drive them ballistically through the ground, not merely "toss/release".  When we extend our legs and bend forward, we also want to establish a new connection (usually through the shoulder or hip) that will anchor our bodyweight to the opponent and allow us to drive our weight through them into the ground.

Aikido tends to use controls/locks and projections, the difference being that when we project, we release the opponent, who then contacts the ground on their own - without our bodyweight added.  When throwing, at no point should we release the opponent, and we strongly intend to add our body weight, sandwiching the opponent between us and the ground when we land.

7. Control (Shime/Osae/Newaza)
While projections are generally designed to toss/release the opponent, throws intend the opponent to contact the ground in close proximity, preferably with our bodyweight on top.  This facilitates a variety of mounts such as top mount, side mount, and scarf hold, which lead us into controls/submissions/finishes including breaks, dislocations, chokes, and strangles.  Done properly, the throw is a strong shock and jolt to the opponent which may already render them unconscious or winded, but which in any case causes a moment of pause on impact which can be exploited to move directly into a control or finish..  In some cases, the throw alone can cause concussion or serious injury, particularly when combined with a lock applied before throwing.

Throws can be a very important part of a good fighter's arsenal, and change the CQB dynamic considerably.  However, like any good technique, the proper principles need to be followed to get the right result.

These are my views on the important components to good throwing.  I encourage you to research on your own.

See you on the mats.





Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Rule of 10,000

Many of us have heard about the "Rule of 10,000".  It refers to the fact that studies have shown 10,000 hours of study is needed to "master" a skill.  However, let me tell you about another such "Rule of 10,000".
I call this one "The Rule of 10,000 Steps."

Two weeks ago, my acupuncture doctor, Edward Obaidey Sensei, who is fantastic by the way, suggested getting a pedometer and walking at least 10,000 steps every day.  He said that this low impact exercise could contribute to my overall health goals, and do so without risking damage to my knees or other "runner injuries", which he sees plenty of at his clinic.  I went out and bought a counter right away to give it a try.

I have found that carrying the counter in my pocket raises my awareness of how much I walk.  I walk a bit more than before in order to be sure to hit my 10k mark every day and have a much better sense of distance than I used to.  In the first few days I averaged between 5k and 8k, but now I hit at least 10k daily, and often more than 12k on a busy day. 10,000 steps usually equates to just over 7 km of walking distance, and seems to consume about 650 KCal of energy.  While this is surely not the equivalent of an hour at Crossfit, it is a habit that has been pretty easy to set and maintain, and I feel better for it.

I am a very big believer in setting in motion small, simple positive habits that can have a lasting effect on the quality of life.  I truly think this "rule of 10,000 steps" is a great place to start.  I will update more as I continue to count my way to a healthier life - one step at a time.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

300

300 posts.  wow.

So I have now reached 300 posts on my blog.  I started this blog back in 2005 with the intention of discussing the finer points of aikido training that we did not have time for in class.  Over time, it has evolved into a place where I could document my focus changing from Yoshinkan to Kali Majapahit, and the various similarities and differences between them.

My blog has spanned the range between technical posts, informative/cultural/historical posts, and philosophy/spirituality.  I have also posted on personal growth and development, as I think this is a principal goal of martial arts training.  A large portion of my posts were inspired by people around me and I thank you for always sharing your thoughts and asking questions that make me think.  

I am very proud to say that my blog now has over 17,500 page views and I have received a lot of supportive comments from my readership.  Although I can say that the blog was for my own benefit, it still feels good to have reached so many people and to believe that my entries have had a positive effect on them.

I don't have any specific plan for this blog other than to continue to document my thoughts as I grow and change in my martial arts life.

I am happy to try to tackle any topics that come up, so I encourage you readers to table anything you would like me to discuss.

In closing, thank you everyone for your kind support and attention over these past 8 years.

With much gratitude,

John

Monday, August 19, 2013

I'm Afraid Not

Yesterday my 11 year old son, George, asked me "What are you afraid of?"  Interesting question.  He told me he was afraid of snakes, spiders, ghosts, bears and some others things that 11 year olds typically think about.  Me?  Well, as a martial artist, I am taught not to be afraid of, well, ANYTHING, right?

Our training helps us experience and cope with stress, unexpectedness, pain, fatigue, and other contributors to fear.  We develop confidence, which can alleviate fear of meeting new people, fear of not being accepted and having self-doubt.  We also learn goal-setting and achievement, which helps us in managing some of the intangible fears such as a fear of failure or fear of the future.  As teachers, we learn how to deliver good classes, which overcomes our fear of speaking in public and of leading others.  We deal with fear all the time and using the dojo as our laboratory we can constantly polish our responses.

Study of human conflict reveals that most of it come from fear on the part of aggressors which leads to violence.  Surprisingly, it is most often the attacker who is the MOST AFRAID.  Inability to cope with fear and stress triggers an uncontrollable emotional response that often results in violence toward others or toward oneself.  The kind of training we get in the dojo helps us manage our stress and fear and overcome the desire to react in violent ways in our daily lives.  

I became a martial artist partly because I needed to explore my fear of death, the fact of which led me away from Christianity to seek something personally more useful.  The zen teachings of early sword masters promised tranquility and the ability to transcend these fears (I firstly read "Hagakure" by Yamamoto Tsunetomo as a starting source material).

Overall, our martial arts experience is not designed to help us live a life without fear, but rather to live a life without ever being held hostage by fear.  We recognize fear/stress exist and always will, and apply our training to help us cope with it and do what we need to do regardless of the presence of fear.  This is expressed in zen as "manifesting right action in the right moment."

Sometimes people ask me if I have ever used my martial arts training.  I always answer "I use it EVERY SINGLE DAY".  Then they usually say, "no, but I mean REALLY  use it?" With all seriousness, what other real use could martial arts have except overcoming fear and freeing us to live the life we want to live??

Because of my training, I have been able to have the life I wanted to have.  I have beaten the odds against me every step of the way and continue to do so.  I have not been afraid to challenge my limits and exceed them.  I have not been afraid to engage people and learn from them.  I have not been afraid to explore new territory outside my comfort zones and develop the new skills and knowledge required to adapt my career as needed.  I have not been afraid to commit myself to having the kinds of loving relationships that would sustain me throughout my life.  I have not been afraid to forgive those who wronged me so I can let go and move on without emotional baggage.  I have not been afraid to accept the reality of WHAT IS, nor to embrace the possibility of WHAT CAN BE.

At the end of it all, I am afraid of something bad happening to my family, close friends, or my dogs - that they would get sick or be injured.  I don't particularly have any fear of dying myself and I think I have had a good life already.  I don't wish for death, but instead I feel well satisfied in my accomplishments so far.  If I died today, there would not be much left unsaid or undone in my life.  If I don't, there will be plenty to do to keep me busy.  I vow not to be so afraid of dying that I become afraid of living.  The ultimate goal of martial arts is to have as full and rich a life experience as is humanly possible.  This requires overcoming fear.

I'm afraid not?  No, I 'M NOT AFRAID.

    

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Once I thought I was wrong, but I was Mistaken

"There are no mistakes. There are only happy accidents" - Bob Ross

It's tough to be alive in this modern day and age.  The pressure is enormous.
From the time we are barely able to stand, we are measured.  We are taught that there is only ever a single right answer, and that we can never make mistakes.  Everything we do has a number or a grade or percentile associated with it.  In school everything is graded; at work everything is measured with "key performance indicators".  Any little mistake involves reams of paperwork, re-training, lectures, complaining and on and on and on.  Fear of making a mistake is a major cause of workplace anxiety.

I submit that the very best lessons I have learned in my life have not been from my successes but from my mistakes.  It can be argued that the severity of the repercussions for even little things I did wrong has led to a "punishment-avoidance" mentality that yielded performance improvements.  However, I think I have learned a lot even from mistakes nobody knew about except me.

The only way to achieve success in life is to take some controlled amounts of risk.  That always involves a chance of mistakes.  In fact, they are highly likely.  Fear of mistakes will mean fear of exploring the boundaries of our capabilities and limit us to the most boring kind of existence we can have - doomed to complacency and apathy.

This is another reason why I love martial arts.  Proper training with proper teachers allows us to push the boundaries with very little actual risk to ourselves (mentally/emotionally or physically).  We learn to cope with stress, we learn to be goal setters and goal achievers, and we learn and build our confidence in ourselves.

Guro Fred regularly puts us in situations where our first choice of techniques doesn't work - we have to be confident enough to keep moving/adapt/overcome -> FLOW and this is the essence of Kali Majapahit.  In a real fight things almost never go as expected.  These could be called "mistakes" or "accidents" or "fog of war" or a variety of other names.  Whether or not these are "happy accidents" or not depends on your training and your frame of mind.

I encourage you all to train hard and regularly, and to find your FLOW not just on the mats, but in every other aspect of your daily lives.  Accept yourself for who you really are, mistakes and all, and keep walking on the path to self-improvement, even an inch at a time.  be confident in your ability to be resilient and to rebound from every setback.  Be proud of never giving up on yourself.  celebrate your life and the adventures that make it worth living.  Let go of the numbers and be ready to live in the moment for just and only what it is - without measurement or judgement.  Laugh about the "happy accidents" and keep on FLOWING.

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - Michael Jordan

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Reflections on my black belt test

so this is it.  I passed my kadua guro 1st dan black belt instructor test in Kali Majapahit today.

It was a six hour test covering single/double sticks, knife vs empty hand and knife vs knife, kadena de mano (empty hands), single/double karambit, boxing and panantukan (Filipino kickboxing).  It ended with working techniques on 20 people in sequence using either empty hands or foam stick.  I'm exhausted.

There is much work to do from now, but I am comfortable with my result.  I have to improve on many, many things, but the test was an accurate reflection of where my skills are at this moment.

As a kalista, I am a product of two sources: my teachers and my students.  I am where I am, reaching this great achievement, thanks to you.

To my teachers, thank you for your patience and for believing in me.  We never know who will walk through our door on any given day, or what lies behind the next door we will walk through.  When I walked through that door on Yan Kit Road in Singapore, I knew my life was going to change forever; to take off in a new and exciting direction.  I knew I had found a driving force that would lead me to become better at everything in my life.  A million light bulbs turning on all at once.

Guro Fred, you reminded me how rich my life could be as a martial artist, and how the positive  energy could be such a source of power in every aspect of my life.  You have continued to inspire me with your drive and vision, and your remarkable way to get people to see the Truth of things.
Thank you for allowing me to set up and run our group as a kasama - thank you for never letting go.

Guro Lila, you have a smile that is pure sunshine, but your heart is a Mighty Dragon. Your own journey has taught me so much about how to live my journey, and your unwavering and relentless pursuit of perfection is the model I aspire to.  I am grateful for your kindness and for all you have shared with me.

Guro Ben, I am so glad you could be my partner for the test.  You are an amazing martial artist and athlete, as well as a savvy and creative businessman.  I hope I can raise my game the way you have raised yours.  Thank you for investing so much in me.

My other teachers, Guro Guillaume, Guro Robin, Guro Frederic, Guro David, Guro Seb, Guro Claes --- you have all taught me more than you know.  Each of you express our art uniquely and each of you have given me deeper perspective on how I need to be in order to be worthy enough to count myself among you.  I look forward to a very long journey together.

For my students, I am so proud of each and every one of you for your commitment to me and your commitment to Kali Majapahit.  In my darkest hours, our class was the only thing I had to look forward to.  You continue to challenge me to give my very best in every class - everything I know, so that you can do and be more.  You are great people and I could not wish for a better Kali Family.  My Fridays are always my best days thanks to you.

A black belt is not an end - it is the beginning of something new.  I am thrilled and excited to set forth on my next stage, and looking forward to sharing this path with you all. Thank you again for your constant support.

The passion of compassion

Everything in martial arts begins with compassion.  It is the compassion of our parents that brings us into this world; the compassion of our friends that nurtures us; the compassion of our partner that sustains us; the compassion of our family that comforts us.  In martial arts it is the compassion of our teachers that train us; the compassion of our brothers and sisters to polish us.  It is our manifest destiny to exhibit this compassion to others, thus creating a positive spiral that makes our world a better place.

People who think of martial arts as simply "punching and kicking" are those shallow people who think of Christianity as simply "wafers and wine".  The essence of what we do; what we must do - must always start with compassion.

Proper martial arts training yields a few keys of understanding:  First of all, we must come to understand the inherent frailty and weakness of the human body.  Every technique we learn and train is designed to illustrate the weakness of our opponent(s).  We attack not just their vital points, but also their structure, taking away their balance and position - and ultimately their strength and their ability to resist.  This practice should make it very clear that we are frail creatures and easily broken. Our further studies in health, wellness, fitness/conditioning educate us in how important it is to control the body in order to prevent disease and injury, which can occur in us all too easily.  Because we decay, maintenance of our physical selves is a full-time occupation.  The result is a higher awareness of humans as precious and delicate, and that all living beings are worthy of our protection and needful of our vigilance.

However, our training also reveals the unlimited power of our minds and the indomitable spirit of our will. We humans are endowed with a miraculous ability to transcend our physical limitations and overcome the dimensions of our existence to become more.  Unlike other creatures, we can go beyond habit and instinct to do more than just "be" (sadly sometimes, to also do less than just "be") .  We alone have the capability to achieve spiritual awareness and keep the connection to our immortal souls.  We alone have the ability to be spiritually connected to our surroundings and through meditation to achieve an enhanced awareness of our place in the universe and to experience "oneness".

Martial arts training is about goal setting and goal achievement.  It is about taking responsibility for our life choices and controlling our own future.  It is about being able to become a better human being not through luck, but through leveraging our experiences and our training to deliberately be more than we were.  It is about finding, establishing and maintaining our connection to each other and to the "oneness" that is central to our being.  Thus, it is natural that we should continue to marvel in the wonder of what it is to be human and to experience compassion as the starting point of our journey.

"We are not a drop in the ocean, we are the entire ocean in a drop".

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Keep On Moving

You may be high
You may be low
You may be rich, child
You may be poor
But when the lord gets ready
You gotta move --- Rolling Stones


I am just back from a three-day intensive workshop at Kali Majapahit HQ in Singapore, the inaugural Level 1 Instructor Training Academy.  This had more than 40 martial artists from all over the world gathered to understand the unique blend of FMA, health/wellness, and personal development/philosophy that is Kali Majapahit.  It was unforgettable.

One thing that Guro Fred explained --- we are meant to move.
Genetically, our closest relatives are chimpanzees and gorillas.  If we observe their diet and habits, we can have remarkable insight into our own health and wellness.  Chimpanzees and gorillas do not suffer from any of the "diseases of excess" that plague the West including heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.  They also do not seem to have depression or commit suicide.

These creatures are basically vegan, meaning that with the exception of small, concentrated amounts of high quality protein (insects), chimpanzees and gorillas subsist on a natural, plant-based diet.  The eat a lot (20-30 bananas per day) and drink plenty of fresh water.  They also MOVE.  Constantly.  This would suggest that the same habits of tending toward natural, organic, whole plant-based foods is healthy for us, and that we are born to M-O-V-E.

In addition to their healthier diet, another reason our recent ancestors outlived us was due to their very active lifestyles.  Sitting behind a desk staring at a computer (and then  going home to watch TV) has really only been part of a mainstream career for the past 30 years or so.  Prior to that most of the population continued to have active lifestyles involving movement and sports.  Farming and most other career choices involved at least some degree of physical labor, and this helped to keep us active throughout our lives.

I think Guro Fred is right in that our bodies are meant to be used well and often.  We were designed to run barefoot, designed to climb and jump and be very active.  In fact, the current trends in health and fitness including Crossfit and Parkour, for example, emphasize practical, functional movement as the goal and core component of their training regimen.

We were not made to wake up to TV, watch our smartphone as we sit on the train during our commute, stare at a monitor all day while we sit at our desk and eat our packaged lunch, only to return home the same way we got here, ending up sprawled on the couch in front of the TV before finally going to bed.  Our bodies were designed to hunt and forage for food constantly.  We are not nearly as well suited to hunting animals as nature's REAL hunters (try eating a rabbit or a chicken whole and uncooked sometime).  Design would suggest that we did this only out of necessity in winter when fruits and vegetables were not easily available.

These are hard realities for us to have to face.  With modern medicine to help us when we get injured, it is possible for a person with the right diet and exercise habits to live past 100 years of age.  Soon it may be possible to live well beyond that.

The evidence is compelling.  What do you think?
We should ensure that we MOVE as much as possible every single day.

See you soon.


  



Saturday, June 15, 2013

Thoughts on the Cycle Test

Friday night we tested on the cycle material.  This is an event that occurs about every 3 months or so, and it's a great opportunity to show me what you know, and checking where you are at.

We had 9 people testing, which is one of the biggest groups ever, ranging from students who were doing their very first test, to several who have been with me for two years since I started the group.

Overall, I was pleased with the test performance, and everyone gave a good snapshot of their skills at this moment in time.

Some thoughts:

Stickwork
Some keys to improving your stickwork include:
relaxing the shoulders - without this, it is hard to get the sticks to move quickly
pushing from the balls of the feet - important that stance be solid, and that the feet drive the stick
chambering - this helps power and coordination and is especially important for beginners
timing - when one stick is out, the other stick (or hand) should be back.  NEVEr have both hands or both sticks out away from the body
extension - use the length of the weapon, extend your arms fully
targeting - always remember what you are aiming at, and put the stick there, rather than just out in empty space
less is more - keep your stickwork compact, never let your arms wave around away from your body


Kadena De Mano
Some keys to improving your kadena de mano include:
relaxing the shoulders - very important here, too
use your legs - lifting/moving the opponent is done with the legs, not the arms.  Use your arms to hit, grab, control, pull.  Use your legs to lift/move.
the entry is KEY - if you are in the right place at the entry, the rest goes much smoother.
footwork - to be in the right place at the right time, your footwork must be a constant part of your practice
precision is more important than power - good technique is always our objective
chambering - as in stickwork and boxing, if one hand is out, the other should be back to pick up any surprises

Boxing
Some keys to improving your boxing include:
relaxing the shoulders - yep, here too
rotation - rotation of the shoulder axis and hip axis are critical to hit with power
extension - using the full range of motion of the arms is critical to hit with power
chambering - if one glove is out the other is always back on your cheek.  Always.
retraction - if the punch goes out at 50, it should come back at 100.  Retract FAST!
compact - keep guard, elbow covers, body covers against the body with no space between
bend your knees - very important for giving and receiving hits well
balls of the feet - I shouldn't have to say this anymore, should I?

What do you think?  How did you do?  Feel free to PM me your thoughts.
This was a good milestone, and everyone should be pleased with their performance.
We have much to do in the next cycle.  I CAN'T WAIT!





Saturday, June 08, 2013

The Gratitude Attitude

I came across this on the web the other day.  For you non-francophiles, it offers a cup of coffee for 2 euros, or "a cup of coffee, please" for 1.80 euros.  I love it.

I love it not for the fact that it maligns French people's lack of manners toward waiters (although apparently there is that), I like it because it shows an effort to encourage civility between people.  Because the savings is small, it shows that with only a little effort we can start to change how people treat one another.  Small actions can have big consequences.

Martial Arts is about RESPECT.  Respect not only for your training partners, for your teachers, for the dojo, but also, and perhaps most importantly - respect for yourself.

This modern world has many challenges and pitfalls.  Among them are the pervasiveness of connectivity, which can dehumanize us and cause us to lose our human interaction and social skills. Overcrowded cities and trains can make us impersonal and cold toward one another and make us forget our inherent human compassion.  Going to the dojo reawakens us to the importance of human contact in our daily lives.

In a good school you are valued as a student or a teacher.  Your are valued for your commitment to train hard when you are in class, and for your commitment to be an ethical human being when you are outside of class.  Your are valued and respected for the unique role you play in the relationship fabric of the school community, and for your commitment to self-improvement (but not at the expense of others, of course).

This is most especially important for women, since girls in many cultures around the world are raised without a strong sense of identity and self-worth.  Martial arts training is a powerful key to self discovery, through which these girls become capable adults, ready to challenge themselves to do their best in whatever life path they choose.  I have met many women in martial arts, and those who persevere share this common trait of self-respect and dignity.  Even more importantly, I have seen martial arts "magically" transform women from scared little girls into vibrant, passionate people who radiate positive beauty.  In our schools, many of the men and women of our "inner circle" even become vegetarians/vegans as part of their compassionate world view and respect for their own physical/mental/spiritual health.

My mama used to tell me "manners don't cost extra".  In fact, sometimes they can even save you money. :-)

Monday, April 01, 2013

Sandan Test - RYA Style

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the spring testing of Roppongi Yoshinkan and watching the 3rd degree black belt testing of my dear friend Saori Watanabe.

As you would expect, it was an extremely challenging test, which requires technical mastery not only of all the prerequisite basic movements, but also selected techniques chosen without prior notice from more than 100 attack/response variations of the common controls and projections in Yoshinkan, 3 rounds of free-flow (jiyuwaza), 3 versus  1 free-flow (one attacker has empty hands, one has sword and one has dagger).  It also includes a demonstration of teaching skill and has an essay component as well.  It requires an very high level of prolonged concentration and focus just to finish, let alone to succeed.  An applicant must be in excellent physical condition, have determination and focus, and really be able to use the principles of aikido to their fullest.

The Sandan test is a milestone test.  At the shodan level (my current rank in Yoshinkan), a successful test shows good familiarity with the basic movements, as well as some limited technical proficiency.  A shodan should be able to perform the techniques properly without major errors.  Shodan represents enough commitment and perseverance that the student is ready to really learn what makes Yoshinkan tick - to begin to get below the surface and explore the real magic in the art.  A shodan has the basic vocabulary of Yoshinkan, but is hardly a fluent speaker yet.

By Sandan, some years later, an aikidoka should show that the technical side is becoming automatic - the body and energy are strong, and expressing the techniques as they have been taught is part of the muscle memory.  More than this,  the jiyuwaza and sanningake (3 versus 1 free flow) are there to show that the aikidoka has continuously balanced natural movement and can adapt to situations beyond the choreographed sequences we use to learn the principles and techniques of Yoshinkan.  There is  teaching component to validate that the aikidoka has depth of understanding and can explain the most important points for teaching a technique to the lower ranks, being aware not only of the key success criteria, but also of the most common pitfalls to executing the basic movements.

I was very impressed by Saori's test.  Her movements were confident and sure, she had good decisiveness and awareness (kime and zanshin).  Especially, I could see how polished her basics were (tainohenko, hiriki no yosei, shumatsu dosa) which is a testament to her constant mat time (she usually logs more classes than any other member of the school).  She has grown from a person whose hobby is Yoshinkan Aikido to someone who has Yoshinkan as a permanent part of her being, someone who lives and breathes it.
It was a joy to watch her work and to see how far she has come.

It must have also been an extra proud moment to have our teacher serve as her uke for the test.
We all want to be tested and judged by the people we respect, and Sensei Mike was there from day one, helping her over the last 9 years of her daily training sessions.  Of course it is nice when people from other dojos compliment us on our aikido, but nothing matters more than recognition from our own teachers who have seen us grow and mature in the art.  Of course, being graded by someone as demanding as Sensei Roland makes the result even more rewarding.  As the head of Roppongi Yoshinkan, he is legendary for his attention to detail and focus on the warrior spirit and discipline of Yoshinkan.  Satisfying his strict testing requirements is not easy.

In every test, there will be things we wish we did better, for both uke and shite, but aikido is always lived in the moment where we can only do our best and afterward accept whatever result that brings.  Testing is no end to the training, just a snapshot of a moment in time, and a proud milestone which recognizes all the commitment and sacrifice it takes to reach that point in the lifelong journey.

Saori, my Yoshinkan sister, I AM SO PROUD OF YOU FOR NEVER GIVING UP.
I am proud of you for your willpower and determination to make Yoshinkan your own way of life.
Whatever happens, I will always be watching you with a smile as your Aikido continues to blossom.

OSU!!!

Monday, March 25, 2013


It’s the Sugar, Folks

Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman on food and all things related.
Sugar is indeed toxic. It may not be the only problem with the Standard American Diet, but it’s fast becoming clear that it’s the major one.
A study published in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal PLoS One links increased consumption of sugar with increased rates of diabetes by examining the data on sugar availability and the rate of diabetes in 175 countries over the past decade. And after accounting for many other factors, the researchers found that increased sugar in a population’s food supply was linked to higher diabetes rates independent of rates of obesity.
In other words, according to this study, it’s not just obesity that can cause diabetes: sugar can cause it, too, irrespective of obesity. And obesity does not always lead to diabetes.
The study demonstrates this with the same level of confidence that linked cigarettes and lung cancer in the 1960s. As Rob Lustig, one of the study’s authors and a pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said to me, “You could not enact a real-world study that would be more conclusive than this one.”
The study controlled for poverty, urbanization, aging, obesity and physical activity. It controlled for other foods and total calories. In short, it controlled for everything controllable, and it satisfied the longstanding “Bradford Hill” criteria for what’s called medical inference of causation by linking dose (the more sugar that’s available, the more occurrences of diabetes); duration (if sugar is available longer, the prevalence of diabetes increases); directionality (not only does diabetes increase with more sugar, it decreases with less sugar); and precedence (diabetics don’t start consuming more sugar; people who consume more sugar are more likely to become diabetics).
The key point in the article is this: “Each 150 kilocalories/person/day increase in total calorie availability related to a 0.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence (not significant), whereas a 150 kilocalories/person/day rise in sugar availability (one 12-ounce can of soft drink) was associated with a 1.1 percent rise in diabetes prevalence.” Thus: for every 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverage introduced per person per day into a country’s food system, the rate of diabetes goes up 1 percent. (The study found no significant difference in results between those countries that rely more heavily on high-fructose corn syrup and those that rely primarily on cane sugar.)
This is as good (or bad) as it gets, the closest thing to causation and a smoking gun that we will see. (To prove “scientific” causality you’d have to completely control the diets of thousands of people for decades. It’s as technically impossible as “proving” climate change or football-related head injuries or, for that matter, tobacco-caused cancers.) And just as tobacco companies fought, ignored, lied and obfuscated in the ’60s (and, indeed, through the ’90s), the pushers of sugar will do the same now.
But as Lustig says, “This study is proof enough that sugar is toxic. Now it’s time to do something about it.”
The next steps are obvious, logical, clear and up to the Food and Drug Administration. To fulfill its mission, the agency must respond to this information by re-evaluating the toxicity of sugar, arriving at a daily value — how much added sugar is safe? — and ideally removing fructose (the “sweet” molecule in sugar that causes the damage) from the “generally recognized as safe” list, because that’s what gives the industry license to contaminate our food supply.
On another front, two weeks ago a coalition of scientists and health advocates led by the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the F.D.A. to both set safe limits for sugar consumption and acknowledge that added sugars, rather than lingering on the “safe” list, should be declared unsafe at the levels at which they’re typically consumed. (The F.D.A. has not yet responded to the petition.)
Allow me to summarize a couple of things that the PLoS One study clarifies. Perhaps most important, as a number of scientists have been insisting in recent years, all calories are not created equal. By definition, all calories give off the same amount of energy when burned, but your body treats sugar calories differently, and that difference is damaging.
And as Lustig lucidly wrote in “Fat Chance,” his compelling 2012 book that looked at the causes of our diet-induced health crisis, it’s become clear that obesity itself is not the cause of our dramatic upswing in chronic disease. Rather, it’s metabolic syndrome, which can strike those of “normal” weight as well as those who are obese. Metabolic syndrome is a result of insulin resistance, which appears to be a direct result of consumption of added sugars. This explains why there’s little argument from scientific quarters about the “obesity won’t kill you” studies; technically, they’re correct, because obesity is a marker for metabolic syndrome, not a cause.
The take-away: it isn’t simply overeating that can make you sick; it’s overeating sugar. We finally have the proof we need for a verdict: sugar is toxic.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Practical Application

The master stonecutter patiently struck the stone again and again.  One hundred times. Two hundred times. Day after day.  On the thousandth strike, the stone broke in half, revealing the beauty of the quartz within.  The stonecutter smiled to himself, knowing it was not that blow that made the stone split, but the thousands that had gone before.

It's been a tough five months.  Since early November last year I have been deeply involved in a big project at work.  It started around September of last year, but by November it was clear this was consuming me, overshadowing everything else in my job and, ultimately, everything else in my life - period.  I began to work more and more; with late night calls growing from once a week to two, then three nights.  Finally I was on late night calls every single night (either internal or external).  I was here at work from 9AM to midnight every day.  On Fridays I would go to teach class (my unbreakable promise to the students and to myself), but then come back to work at 9PM and do more calls. More and more I began to miss the last train home.  I never saw my family except on the weekends, when I was still mentally and physically exhausted from work.  Frequent business trips to London and New York made jet lag another layer on top of it all.  I slept maybe 5 hours a night, usually less.  The stress would give me chest pain and make my hands shake.  There was no time to go to the gym, and my failing health/lack of sleep made me worried that a workout would only cause me to collapse on the spot.  Sometimes I had to stay in a business hotel near the office, since I was so busy I could not even take the time to commute back home.  Still, inch by agonizing inch, I have moved this project forward.  Now, the light of day is visible, maybe a month or so away.  What will I do when I get my life back??  What will it feel like when I finally shrug off these chains??

We often think of martial arts training as being learning to fight.
Still, I have continued to tell students that the battle in martial arts training is always the battle with THE SELF, as many zen sword masters have clearly explained.  It is a constant battle to overcome our weak mind, weak body, and weak habits and exercise our willpower to force the self into the moment, where we can be fully free and fully connected.  Good training gives us the strength to endure the unendurable; the discipline to stay the course when we think we cannot hold on; the conviction to press on until the objective is reached.

Many nights as I traveled home I wondered why I keep doing this.  Why I don't just give up. If it would all be worth it in the end.  I really don't know.  I DO know that I must finish what I start, whatever the cost.
I am now past any limits I thought I had to my ability to focus and concentrate - far past any capacity I thought I had to work hard.

Martial Arts is my religion, and my religion gives me the strength to carry on beyond any limitations I thought I had.  People ask me if I have ever had to use my training.  I always tell them I use martial arts EVERY SINGLE DAY.  Now maybe they will better understand what I mean.

See you on the other side.