Sunday, January 31, 2016

Why I Love Aikido

(thanks for the inspiration Paul H.)

I love Aikido.  I mean I REALLY love it.

Many of you who know me well know that it is a big part of my martial arts background.  I studied Aikikai in 1987, Takeda-Ryu Aiki-Jujitsu from 1994-1997 and Yoshinkan from 2005-2010 in both Tokyo and Singapore.  This blog started in 2005 and the first few years of posts are dedicated exclusively to Aikido topics.

With my current focus being the learning and teaching of Southeast Asian martial arts, specifically Kali Majapahit, it would be easy to think I had "moved on" from Aikido.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I recently spoke for hours with a close friend who started his Aikido journey and have recommended Aikido training to many people before, including my son, and would still do so.  The other day someone asked me WHY?  Given that the Southeast Asian martial arts I do and Aikido are so very different, why would I still be interested in Aikido?

Body Mechanics
Aikido works because of body mechanics.  Good Aikidoka are very concerned with control of the opponents' structure, and the techniques of Aikido operate on the structure and balance from touch points located on the wrist, arm, shoulder and head.  Without the principles of Aikido, I must resort to percussion to disrupt the attacker.  Aikido allows me to move the other person without (necessarily) striking them.  It is important to consider the detailed body mechanics of every technique in order to uncover the learning objective for each one.  Every technique offers a different scenario, a different relationship between the participants, and highlights a different principle.  The concepts of Aikido remain at the heart of everything I do.

Aikido begins and ends with connection.  From the initial entry (called IRIMI) to the final control (OSAE), we establish and maintain a connection to the other person.  "Connectedness" is one of the most important principles in Aikido and one I try to use every single day of my life.  As the level of skill increases, the immediacy of the connection increases, until we reach a state of constant connectedness with those around us.  Done well, you do not do Aikido TO someone, you do Aikido WITH someone.  This idea is worth thinking about.

Footwork is essential in Aikido.  At the beginning, the steps are slow and clumsy.  later, after practice, we become able to move with grace and speed.  My current study of social dance is only possible due to my years of aikido training, and the movements of waltz, tango, etc. are far easier for me to absorb because of my Aikido training.

Hips, Elbows, Knees
The first half of power generation in Aikido comes from understanding the application of hips, elbows and knees to deliver body weight through the opponent.  My teacher would often refer to Aikido as "all your power, all your force, on a single point, at a single time."  Delivery of that power and force is done principally via the hips, elbows and knees.

Energy and Breathing
The other half of power generation in Aikido comes from energy and breathing.  Energy derives from proper posture and proper breathing, both of which are topics of study in good Aikido dojo.
I have often relied on the focus I get from good posture and breathing not just for martial arts techniques, but also for concentration, stress management and other situations.  For those who cannot sit Zazen, Aikido is a next-best option.

Ukemi, or breakfalls, are a part of nearly every Aikido class.  There is some controversy as to the effectiveness of slapping the mats (which Aikido people regularly do), but no doubt as to the usefulness of knowing how to fall without fear or injury.  Breakfalls should be taught to everyone, regardless of their martial arts preference, since these techniques can literally save your life.  I have used breakfalls when falling down on ice and even when tossed from a motorcycle.  In every case I have been able to protect my head and avoid serious injury.  This alone is worth studying Aikido.

Honestly, I do not consider Aikido as a fighting art.  This does not mean it can't be used in a fighting situation, or that it has no merit in self-defense.  Rather, I think the principles and concepts are some of the most valuable of any martial arts training.  I do suggest, however, that Aikido, especially as it is taught in modern times, is not mainly for fighting.

I like the fact that Aikido is a non-lethal art.  Many "tactical" fighting systems and MMA schools emphasize striking, kicking and choking, and this can often result in extreme injury or death to the victim.  This often results in excessive-force related legal problems for the martial artist.  The use of deadly force is no trivial matter in modern society, and it is often far better to err on the side of caution.  Most confrontations are not life-threatening, and can be diffused with a simple Aikido technique that disrupts the attackers' aggressive intent without causing permanent damage.  This is always the preferable outcome.

It is also the reason that I like Aikido for children.  No parent wants a call from school saying that their child has smashed another kid's face, broken their neck, or stabbed them in the eye socket with a pencil (thanks for the image, Frank!).  I spent several years reverse-engineering Aikido techniques to make them a bit more street-capable (which is how they look in my Kali flow), but it is still a very safe art for children to learn.

If I could live my life all over again, I would still be a martial artist.  I would still have studied Aikido, perhaps started earlier and trained longer.  To me, it is an essential body of knowledge for anyone that wants a well-rounded martial arts perspective.  I encourage everyone to study it. Please let me know if you need help finding a good school.

I am forever grateful to Sensei Rosen, Sensei Roland, Sensei Mike, Sensei Saori, Sensei Ramlan, Sensei Mark, Shihan Joe and all the others that have made the Aikido Way such a fantastic journey for me.  A large part of my martial way is thanks to your patient, careful instruction. Thank you for your inspiration.


Sunday, January 24, 2016


Last Friday we were drilling multiple armed attackers (knives) versus one receiver.  This is one of the toughest scenarios to train, since the odds are heavily against you from the start.  It's sobering how fast things can go wrong in these situations, which is why so many violent attacks involve armed groups on a single, unarmed individual.

Some themes emerged during the training:

1) Don't Get Caught in the Middle
Stuck in between several opponents is the absolute worst place to be.  Like quicksand, once you are stuck in it is incrementally harder to get back out.  Time is NOT on your side and flailing won't make it any better.

Standing still is not neutral, it's NEGATIVE - often dangerously so.  Once we are aware of any threat, it is imperative to start moving and keep moving.  The direction almost doesn't matter, it can always be corrected later.  What is critical is to get going and keep going until you are out of danger.

3) K.I.S.S.
Keep it short and simple.  Too much complexity takes too much time.  You won't ever have as much time as you want or need, so better to plan quick and move quicker.  Complex techniques will fail under stress due to adrenaline, so it is far better to use simple, effective movements.

4) Have a Game Plan but Be Ready to Change it
Based on available info, make a plan.  As info changes, make sure the plan changes.  It is far better to have a fluid, adaptable mindset that to remain committed to a failing plan.

5) Concentrated, Short-Term Focus is better than Multi-Tasking
It is far better to harness full focus on a single task for a short term than to try to do everything at once (and fail them all).  Focus on the most immediate goal, complete it the best you can within the time you have and then move on.  It is actually more effective to hit each single objective 80% and keep going than hit 5 at 20% each and be overwhelmed.  "aim big miss big, aim small miss small" is a mantra used by elite snipers which means to focus on a small detail (aim at the shirt button) rather than a big target (aim at the man).  Precision is efficient and efficiency makes a big difference when time and the odds are against you.

6) Take What You Need From Those Around You
In a fight, your weapon will become my weapon as soon as I can make it so.  I am always out to even the odds, and then skew them in my favor, and one of the best ways I can do this is to take whatever my opponents' have and use it to my benefit.

7) Leverage Your Environment
In a fight, everything is fair game, especially the environment.  Walls, stairs, furniture, railings, anything in the environment can and should be used to help even the odds, and then skew them in your favor.

8) Be Decisive
Second place in a serous fight usually equals being severely injured or dead.  Every hit must count, and there is almost no margin for error.  To walk away, you must be committed to survival more than the others are committed to hurt or kill you.

9) The Mental Aspect Matters
In every situation, it is your confidence, willpower and commitment that have the biggest influence on the outcome. That means cultivating a mindset to do whatever is needed to survive an encounter and walk away.  Willpower is a very important ingredient for success.

10) Believe in Yourself
Survivors have a "survivor mindset".  Rather than arrogance, it is a quiet confidence in themselves and their abilities.  Survivors know what they can do, and know that what they can do when they have to is usually far beyond what they can do when they choose to.  Believe in yourself is also believing in your own ability to keep going no matter what.  Perseverance is a common characteristic of the most successful people.

and the most important of all:


There is a big temptation to be passive and wait for things to come to you before dealing with them.  In a fighting situation, this is usually the worst possible choice.  Attackers, especially groups of attackers, will continue to worsen your situation if allowed enough time to execute their strategy, and waiting becomes like a noose tightening around your neck.

Guerrilla warfare is generally the best approach, using the environment, aggressiveness and surprise to paralyze the enemy until they can be defeated.  In small-scale this means that you must immediately explode into action - directly into an attacker, and continue to aggressively seek and destroy the others before they can recover and combine to bring you down.  Fights need to happen on YOUR TERMS rather than theirs.

Tactically, we always seek the border of the space since we want to avoid being in the middle (see above) or exposing our backs, but the principles of environment, aggressiveness and surprise are still essential.  Waiting almost always makes the situation worse.

I have stated many times that the dojo is our laboratory for life.  What we can learn to do in class, we can learn to do outside class.

So, what does it all mean?

This training drill is not just to practice knife defense versus multiple attackers.
If you consider the above lessons, they apply almost universally to success in work and family, as well.  "Take The Initiative" is good advice for any endeavor of our lives.

All too often, we remain passive, waiting for someone to do it for us, or for things to happen to us.  This rarely has the outcome we want.  Instead, it is far better to actively engage our lives and those around us - take the initiative - and create the life we want to have.  This is true for individuals as well as companies.

The guidelines above offer advice for a wide variety of situations.  I hope you will consider them.
Moreover, I hope you will accept the responsibility to take the initiative in your own life, rather than waiting for it to happen to you.  Make it Happen rather than letting it happen.  Be the cause rather than the effect.

Come to class with energy and confidence, and be determined not just to complete the drills, but to OWN the training, OWN the workout, OWN the outcome.  Seize the Opportunity.
BE AWESOME.  Make a revolution in your life.

The Revolution Will Be Owned --- BY YOU.