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July 2008

10. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part IV (Patience)

I was a brand new black belt (wow, that was a long time ago, my how time flies) and while walking thru’ the grocery store a woman hit a slick spot and fell. I sat there looking at her and clearly remember thinking to myself, “So, you fell down why? And, you’re not jumping up, why?”, until I realized that she didn’t know ukemi so I tried to help.

The lesson here for all of us is that beginners are (not in this order); confused, sometimes frustrated, impatient to be able to do what all the “big kids” (black belts) can do, occasionally angry at themselves for not learning faster, disappointed and any of a number of negative emotions all of which center around not being an Aikido “master” (not that any of us are masters of the art form anyway).

A beginner, just like that woman so many years ago, does not know how to fall correctly nor can they easily remember a sequence of waza. In a very real sense, they can barely tie their obi correctly.

It is all too easy to forget that at one time we knew very little about Aikido and now that we have our black belt, Aikido is beginning to become second nature and without realizing it we begin to project our newfound ability onto others who couldn’t do what an Aikido player can do even if their life depended on it. So when we work with beginners we attempt to explain the specifics of whatever waza we are having them do and without thinking fall into the pattern that I found myself in at the grocery store of, “Well, I can do it! Why is it taking you so long to figure it out?”

This is an improper way to teach beginners as all it does is serve to discourage them and lead them to believe that they are incompentent players, unable to learn to most basic fundamentals of the art form.

The fact of the matter is they are NOT incompetent in the least, they are simply as yet untrained and unskilled in the  specifics of the art form and need only your steady guidance (and patience) in showing them and allowing them to learn and progress.

If you are Shodan or Nidan for example, I could blow you out of your fundoichi by simply starting to teach you Koshiki-no-Kata, a warp-drive advanced kata from Kito Ryu Jujutsu that contains all of the essence of both Aikido and Kodokan Judo which is why Kano and Ueshiba and Tomiki all studied it in depth as they formulated their teaching pedagogies.

I wouldn’t do that to anyone but it serves as the example of an advanced player being impatient with a lower level player and trying to force feed information to them and them expressing displeasure either by direct word or by forceful motion with our hands or worse yet, by subtleties of body language that they clue into and them when they ask, “What? Am I doing it wrong?” we reply, “Oh no, it’s just perfect!”

They can pick up on that lie.

So the goal here is to have patience AND to be sincere in our efforts to give them positive support in the same fashion as someone gave us, way back when we were unskilled but desperate to learn.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008

9. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part III (Payback)

Giri is a Japanese term that can be translated into functionally correct English but that really has no equivalent in English if one refers to the emotion behind it.

Giri roughly means “obligation” but to the Japanese, it means “life-long commitment” as in repaying something that was done for you or to help you. This “life-long commitment” is not a one-timer’; that is, it’s not like the “markers” that Americans use to denote a favor you did for someone and now you’re calling in that marker and once they do a favor for you it’s done and now you’re even.

Nope. Being assigned or your accepting a “giri” means that you were given something so important, so life-changing, or so life-saving that you pay back forever because that obligation becomes critical to who you are. You must pay it back or you lose all honor and besmirch your character.

To Japanese, this failure can become a form of being socially ostracized; to an American who understands the concept, this failure becomes an internal albatross that you wear around your neck and that wears on your insides until you make good. Either way, you have to engage in payback. You have to give back what you were gifted.

In martial arts this “payback” is the “giri” or obligation to teach beginners and for that matter, anyone who is Kohai or lower in kyu or grade to you. Someone likely spent a lot of personal time that they could have used for their training but instead, they devoted time to teaching you. You in turn have now accepted the giri so you must teach others the way in which you were taught. To not pass on the knowledge and to refuse or hesitate to teach the beginners is a form of arrogance and egocentrism that has no place in Budo or any dojo that teaches do or “the way”.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008

8. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part II (Focus)

Once you get your black belt it’s easy to lose focus, to slack off and take a brief vacation from the intense training that you did to prepare for your demo. In a word, “Don’t”. In another word, “DON’T!”.

The basic difference between Shodan and Nidan is minimal and the time in grade (assuming that you get to class and train) is also minimal. The longest periods between promotions can fool you because the break-points in learning are not where you think them to be.

The first longest period is from first-night beginner to Shodan. This is simply due to the necessity to take someone with conceivably no athletic or martial arts experience and have them internalize the fundamental operating principles of the art form. Moving off the line of attack, blending and flowing, learning attack and defense timing (Sen-no-Sen, Sen-Sen-no-Sen, Ato-no-Sen), kuzushi, ukemi, the basic waza of striking, throwing and joint locking, etc., etc., all mean a long road to internalize and make functional the base essence of the ryu.

Shodan to Nidan is, in a very real sense nothing more than setting into concrete your intuitive understanding and ability to use the fundamental principles and waza of your art form. Shodan means you “got it” and Nidan means you “really got it”.

(Keep in mind here that I never intend to denigrate the achievement, only to set that achievement into its proper context within the larger picture and by doing so give a better understanding of the global concept.)

Nidan to Sandan has another long period although not as long as beginner to Shodan. This is due to Sandan being a jump-point in understanding. In our ryu Sandan is where the deep understanding of flowing, merging and of taking control of the attacker the first instant when they cross ma-ai and begin the attack sequence (and then not letting them regain control until waza termination) begins to be acquired and internalized. Sandan marks a demarcation as-it-were; the next really big progressive step in making a high-level Aikido player. The timing from Sandan to Yondan therefore, much like Shodan to Nidan is also fairly brief as Yondan is more material to learn and internalize but that material is essentially the same as that learned for Sandan; except “more of the same” with added sophistication applied.

So the first gap is beginner to Shodan. Shodan to Nidan is fairly close then the next big gap is Nidan to Sandan. Sandan to Yondan is fairly close due to the similarity in the work required so the next big gap is Yondan to Godan with Godan to Rokudan being fairly close. Then the next big (I should say “BIG” gap is Rokudan to Nanadan.

I think you see the picture. The long and the short of it is to not lose focus, EVER!

The gaps between major progressions is really quite minimal so once you make Shodan just go for the Nidan and quit worrying about it. Once you make Nidan just go to Sandan because you know that once you get to Sandan then Yondan is just around the corner.

Pretty soon you quit worrying about “just around the corner” and you just “become” Aikido.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008

7. How to Wear Your Black Belt – Part I (Humility)

Yeesss! Today I made You-don-sha!

I am now an 85th Dan, a Masta’, a Stud-Muffin!

“Attention, attention, the Stud-Muffin has entered the room!”

Sorry. You ain’t none of those and neither am I; and I’m the Sensei with almost 40 years behind me with black belts in 3 different martial arts forms and senior teacher status in 2 of those.

Making Yudansha (graded dan) which starts at Shodan is, if isolated and taken strictly on its’ own, is a great, repeat, great accomplishment and puts the wearer of the coveted black belt in a rarified part of the atmosphere, but I’m a “Big Picture” kind-of-guy and in the greater scheme of things it is just another step on the way to a higher plane of existence.

I keep statistics and in the 10-odd years I’ve run my own dojo I have logged about 1,000 people who have either kept me on the phone for 30 minutes of discussion, come to visit the dojo, tried out a free class but never came back, actually signed up but never paid anything, signed up and paid money but didn’t last the first 60 days or who signed up, lasted long enough to get a promotion or two and then quit.

1,000 people out of which I have a total of less than 20 active black belts and a dozen or so who would live at the dojo, if I let them. So if one considers that the real education doesn’t start until Shodan (the term after all means 1st step) then the percentage of people who actually start the trip to Yoda-hood is about 2/10th’s of 1%. In case you slept through your high school algebra class, that’s not real high.

So why can’t you consider yourself a stud-muffin (or studlette-muffin in the case of the ladies) if you are part of that <1% who has enough self-discipline and desire to commit to and stay with a long term study like Aikido?

Humility is why, plain and simple. Remember that Budo is all about self-improvement, about taking our natural potential and maximizing our personal potential (with the expenditure of enough effort, blood, sweat and tears), improving mind-body-spirit and by unifying them, our becoming a whole that is greater than the sum of the original parts.

Take a look at one word, “Spirit”. It has little to do with the mind (that’s all about intellect) and it has little to do with body (that’s all about the physical). The spirit and its’ improvement in making us a better person, is all about really old fashion things; ethics, humility, self-discipline, morality, honesty, not doing things in excess, the golden rule (do unto others…..), and all the complicated topics Aristotle writes on in Nicomachean Ethics which states in simplest terms that in order to in order to become "good", one should not simply study what virtue is; one must actually be virtuous in one’s daily activities at all times, whether those activities are comprised of issues of reputation (how one acts in public) or character (how one acts when you think that nobody’s looking).

Notice that nowhere in there are any terms like arrogance, abuse of others, taking advantage of others, demanding worship, ordering a junior student to give your feet a tongue bath, or emotional cannibalism.

This is especially true of the halo effect that sometimes happens when we make black belt; we get a halo, or the lower level student body we just came from puts a halo on our head whether we want it there or not. In other words we become overly impressed with ourselves (we believe our own press clippings) or the Kohai begin to look up to us like a child looking at their father, or a teeny-bopper looking up to the latest rock-star hero.

Humility, humility, humility is the only thing that keeps the new black belt from going ballistically egomanical (or as the pundit said, “drinking our own bath water”).

Making “First Step” to someone like me who has 40 years on the mat is nothing other than a sign that now I can really start to teach you some neat stuff. It doesn’t mean that you are anything more than a beginner or that you are more than one small step removed from the kyu/colored belt that you used to be.

So, in order to keep that ego in check and enlarge your usable quotients of humility (and humanity) remember some things;

First, Shodan translates as “first step” so in reality, you are still a beginner with much to learn and you are a very long way from understanding all there is about Aikido and martial arts in general,

Second, since you are just a beginner, a newly minted black belt, then you don’t know what you don’t know. In and of itself that should be enough to keep that ego in check and approach every class with an empty tea cup.

Lastly, the black belt means that someone helped you climb the ladder to get you there so you have to return the favor in the same positive fashion as the people who helped you. Failure to do so means that few black belts above you in grade will want to waste any more personal time on a walking ego-trip.

Humility will get you much in life and make you many friends.  It's one of the more important qualities of character that we all look for in friends, spouses, ukes and Sensei'.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008

6. Missed Opportunity

Come To Class (CTC).

I end almost every communication to my students with those three simple letters; CTC.

Why do I do that? Why do I bother? Isn’t the motivation to come to class and train supposed to come from within? Isn’t it the Aikido players’ job to get him or herself to class and isn’t it not Sensei’ responsibility to remind them?

Well, yes and no, definitely maybe, and it depends. Don’t you just love Zen-style answers?

Yes, we should all be self-motivating. No, most of the time most of us fail at self-motivation even when we try to be good about it. Definitely maybe; sometimes we fail to self-motivate so others need to give us a little encouragement once in a while. It depends; on what you expect from your martial arts study and conversely what Sensei wants you to achieve.

Notice that I said, “What Sensei wants you to achieve”, not what he expects from you.

Any good Sensei, note …… ANY GOOD SENSEI (and I’m not talking about some schmuck teacher out for a dollar or two) puts everything they have on the line and throws out everything in their head for you to take advantage of and learn because every time they look at a class of white belts, they don’t see white belts, they see an entire flock of hakama wearing, uke throwing, ukemi taking 7th and 8th dans; not a bunch of beginners.

Sensei knows the potential that a 20 or 30 year study of Aikido can accomplish in reshaping your life in a dynamically positive and productive fashion and wants to create an environment in which you can take advantage of the opportunity. Having been through it, he also knows that you cannot see the kind of person you will be after 20 years on the mat. It is truly esoteric and cannot be explained. It can only be experienced after your having passed through it and after your having arrived at Hanshi (exemplar) level. Only then will you understand viscerally. Until then everything Sensei says about the long-term benefits is only ephemeral smoke with a few mirrors thrown in for you to comb your hair in and do a little martial preening in.

So Sensei, a good Sensei, will encourage you to attend class every time he sees you, and it’s for your benefit and not his health. He wants you to be exposed to the material and to be in the dye vat so-to-speak so that it (the knowledge) will rub off on you.

Most, I said MOST of the really high-level knowledge you gain after years on the mat does not come from class per-se because normal beginner/mid-level classes almost by definition must be taught at a level that best imparts basic fundamental operating principles of the art from. Therefore, it cannot be a high-level seminar and true Yudansha level information that is learned and internalized therefore is best done during extra training either before or after class or during spontaneous training sessions like 10 PM on a Friday night.

Advanced understanding is strange. It is osmotic. It seeps into you because you walked by the dripping faucet, metaphorically speaking. It occurs because you got to the dojo early one night and just from sitting on the side watching other players fool around before class bows-in, you overhear them discussing that one technique that has dealt you fits for the last 6 months. You know the one, the one that has you thinking that you need to quit because you’ll never understand it, never get it. It frustrates you. It gives you nightmares and you wake up at 3 AM and watch the fan go around in circles while the technique roams around inside your head like Ueshiba's cat looking for a sake cup of milk that he can’t find.

Well, they’re having trouble also with the same technique but suddenly, during their discussion they make that one comment or do that one really good looking throw that sticks in your mind and suddenly the lights go off in your head, “My gawd! They make it sound so simple! Why didn’t I see that before?”

Now here’s the rub …………. If you hadn’t just happened to be at the dojo that night and hadn’t just happened to overhear the conversation you would never have found the answer to your question. It was serendipity, in a martial-artisty kind of way.

And that’s the point that Sensei knows and tries to communicate to all his players and why he keeps saying to just come to class. If you simply come to train and hang at the dojo and just do a little work, then how much information and knowledge will you get from that spontaneous conversation? How many questions will be answered by you being thrown that one extra time and by your getting a feel for that off-balance that had escaped you until that one moment? How much knowledge will you gain by working randori with someone and you throw them and they jump up from the tatami and ask, “What the hell was that? I tried to resist and it felt like all I did was throw myself into the floor for you. What did you do? That was wonderful! Throw me again ….. PLEASE!”

And you’re standing there like a fool, confused because you know they went over but it was soooooo easy that you can’t believe that it was you that did the throw; so you act cool and not confused and of course take credit and smile and go home that night standing a little bit straighter and feeling a little bit more like O’Sensei must have felt his first time.

And now you wake up at 3 AM watching the fan go around in circles and all you say is, “Wow!” …… and of course your spouse rolls over and asks “What?” and you just tell them , “Nothing dear. Go back to sleep.” They of course can’t see the big grin on your face.

If you had stayed home that night; if you had gone to happy hour and addlepated your brain with liquid hallucinogens decorated with slices of pineapple and little umbrellas, if you had gone to sleep on the couch in front of that new plasma, then you would have missed that one moment that had the potential to make all the difference to your martial arts career.

The real problem here is that you don’t know when “That Moment” will occur, when Sensei will give that one lesson or make that one comment or that one correction that makes the difference. So if you make a habit of always missing classes and sporadically training or of always arriving exactly at class time and never staying for extra work, “Gotta go home now, bye!”, how many “Moments” will you miss?

Remember, the potential is there for at least one “Moment” per class, and the more black belts on the mat at one time, the larger the dynamic database is and the larger the number of interactions between players and the greater the number of possible “Moments” becomes.

As an example, one of my high-level players who is currently focused on an intense study of randori and kata came up to me two weeks after I was working with him and another Renshi level player. He said that my teaching about “pegging” the attacker’s weight on one foot momentarily will affect his balance and postural control such that it opens him up for a terminal waza, had opened his eyes and that it was a great lesson that he now needed to work on.


It was serendipity. I made the comment not because I had planned it as part of some larger lesson plan, because it fit the circumstances at that point in time. I may not teach that lesson in that specific way for another 6 months or possibly 2 or 3 years because it just popped out of me, being stimulated by their questions and that specific circumstance in the time-space continuum.

And, if they hadn’t been in class that night they would not have heard and could have quit over not hearing and having that technical issue haunt them until the frustration became so bad that they simply couldn’t stand it anymore; and they quit.

So grasshopper …… how many lessons have you missed lately?

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008

5. Vision

In order to succeed in the martial arts one must have a long term vision or goal; a vision that keeps the mind focused and maintains training momentum.

Without a vision of where you are going, there will be no way to get there.

However, and this is a really big however, the vision does not have to be specific. Instead, it should be generalized and broad.

For example; a vision/goal that is too specific would be one such as, "I want to be a black belt".  The possible result of this specificity is that once you make black belt, any black belt, that you'll subconsciously "quit" AND that without being aware of it your mind will tell you, "OK. I made black belt.  I made that specific goal.  It's time to do something else now".

Or,  you’ll tell yourself that you made the goal and now you can kick-back and go lazy with the eventual result that you’ll become frustrated at no longer progressing or become bored with the routine of “just going” to class, and you'll quit.

This is a way (one of many) of how the human mind works.  Because you set only a small, relatively short term goal, once its' accomplished, once it's done, you move on.  Unless one is very, very self-disciplined it is extremely difficult to get ramped back up, to get re-motivated and then set another relatively short term goal and to go back into training.

Many motivational experts who are Western trained will recommend setting a series of short term goals as a means of reaching a large one at the end.  The problem with this however, IMHO, is that you are still setting short termers so now you have to discipline yourself to go thru' a whole series of short termers' to get to the big one.  I don't see the difference here because all you've really done is to set a whole series of opportunities to quit.  I prefer the Japanese method of setting a goal so far out you can never finish it with the result being you get further down the road to that impossible-to-reach goal than the folks who set all the short term goals ever could.

By setting a broad, generalized goal such as "I want to learn everything about Aikido that I possibly can", you will never be finished.  Every time you make another promotion, every time you learn a new kata, you have advanced but since you know there is more to learn and more to achieve, you are still hungry for the knowledge and you stay with it. 

Every time you go to the dojo and train, you advance, achieve and progress forward and, you feel good about it because you know there are always other hills to climb and other achievements to accomplish.

Over time you realize that training in Aikido, indeed in any true martial art, is a process of gradual, steady learning without end and with no goal other than to learn everything about Aikido that you can.

Aikido is a process; not a goal in and of itself.

Aikido is a process of improving your life. It's not an end to anything.

It's only a means to self-improvement without an end (unless of course you are so smug and arrogant that you think that you are just perfect like you are and that there is no need for you to learn anything new or to work to become a better person).

Try having and raising kids and you'll understand this better.  Having children make will make an honest woman or man out of you. How could you ever tell your kids that they should just stop where they are and not learn, improve, progress?  Answer is; you can't unless you engage in massive self-deception or are egocentric.  So, if you can't tell your kids (to quit learning) then you shouldn't tell yourself that you should either.

This is how I became Hanshi and now run one of the largest dojo in Houston, TX.

I went to class on a steady weekly basis and never thought about any promotion. Other than Shodan every one after that came as a surprise because I was so focused on training that I became myopic about grading.

I only thought about wanting to learn everything that I could and only considered becoming more skillful. I just followed the steady process of training, of keeping a positive attitude and of not worrying about where I was going; other than to learn everything about Aikido that I could.

I'm still here after 40 years and every time I step on the mat, every time I watch a class, every time I teach a lesson, I learn something new and hopefully become a better person.

Aikido ……….. a process of learning without an ending.

 L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008 (orig. pub. April 2007)

4. The Beginning of Ethical Understanding

I once had a friend and training partner many years ago who always thought that Aikido players should read everything possible pertaining to religion and philosophy; this, even though he was a professed atheist.  Interestingly enough, it was the exact same advice my grandfather (who was not a professed atheist and who never trained in martial arts) gave me, so having heard it all before and it making sense from an educational view, I followed it.

I always thought however, that the training partner was actually quite spiritual even thought I to this day cannot state with any certainty that he was, or was not an atheist. He always kept that part of his personal life private, as well he should.

All Sensei, and indeed all Aikido players, should keep some things in their lives private for two primary reasons; first, it is after all a personal issue and second, Sensei and senior Yudansha can without meaning to, unduly influence their deshi in ways that they should not.

I was raised in South Texas (old cowboy style ala’ John Wayne) to believe that religion is a personal matter and you shouldn’t burden others with your beliefs, because that’s what it becomes; a burden requiring them to help you to carry your “church water” which no one has a right to ask of anyone else.

This is one of many reasons why I never discuss religion at the dojo (or even away from the dojo if with other players at a social event). It is also why I don't have a Shinto Shrine up front on the Shinza as many dojos do.  Our front wall display is quite secular by design and I intend that it shall remain so regardless of the inclination of some Sensei to create that subtle ambiance (of religiosity) by claiming that one can only or best understand how the Samurai trained by understanding how they followed Shinto or, how Shinto or Buddhism has affected martial arts and Aikido in particular.

Hmmm …… or should I say, HA! You don’t say!

Understanding spirituality, or religion for that matter, has nothing, NOTHING to do with becoming a great Aikido player, or with deeply understanding the technical and philosophical principles of Aikido.

I require everyone in my dojo to follow the old fashion (but common sense) social rules of never discussing sex, religion or politics as it is neigh-on impossible to not step on someone’s toes when any comment or joke in these areas comes up.

Religion and the proclamation of same, however, is certainly not the point of today's thought process. The point that the influences on my past were trying to make to me (and others) at that time (that I now am passing on to each of you based upon my life experiences in this area) is the need for;

---ethics and morality;

---the need to study them in depth during your life so that you can both understand the concepts (many do not even tho’ they think they do; self-deception is a terrible address to live your life at);

---using your understanding to distinguish between right and wrong in both the philosophical and the practical day-to-day sense, and;

---building your own ‘rudder’ as it were so that you can consistently navigate your ship (of life) through the universe both on, and off, the tatami as a “civilian” and as an Aikido player.

The way I tend to view it is that classically the idea, or concept, of morality has to do with behavior, while ethics has to do with how to analyze and understand the difference between right and wrong.

For example; morality generalizes things into rules such as; thou shall not bear false witness (don’t lie), thou shall not covet thy neighbor's belongings (don’t steal), thou shalt not covet thou neighbors wife (don’t cheat on your spouse with anyone else’s spouse), etc.

Ethics on the other hand may be considered the study of the principles of truth and non-truth, good vs. evil, (what is the true good and what is the true evil, and why) and how to apply that understanding in all situations.

As an example; if you have no money and your neighbor has lots of money and you are hungry and your neighbor is well fed with more than he needs, is it acceptable to take only a little bit to feed yourself today if you promise yourself to never do it again and to pay him back tomorrow?

People who live in the world of “situational ethics" would say yes, take the food and don't worry about it because he'll never miss it and you need it now. The “situation” allows you to steal.

Strictly applied "universal ethics" (those that apply consistently throughout life and in all circumstances) however, would say no. It's wrong in all cases to steal (and it’s wrong to steal for clearly understandable and socially required reasons that should have been internalized when you were a child).

If you are that desperate then walk up and ask him if you could do work for him, doing jobs in exchange for food. In this way you maintain your pride and self-respect by earning what you get and by not stealing or taking charity; or, as my granddaddy said, "An honest days' wages for an honest days' work, and don’t offer me charity because you’ll insult me, thank you very kindly." You set a good example for your spouse and kids, and for your students.

So if morality is a set of rules that you follow and ethics is how to understand the underlying principles behind those rules and how to apply them, then how does this apply to Aikido?

Traditionally in almost all cultures, morality and ethics are passed down embodied within the teachings of whatever religion may be predominant at the time, while the study of ethics is generally presented as part of secondary or graduate level philosophy classes in a more abstract fashion (read obtuse and difficult to pass the mid-term and if you don’t believe me then go give an honest read to Plato, Socrates and Seneca some time and see how many passes thru’ the material you have to make).

So I eventually came to understand that what they (my atheist training partner and my grandfather) were trying to get across was the need to begin some level of study of ethics and morality by studying the foundations and teachings of religious belief systems regardless of whether they were Shinto, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Catholic, Hindu, etc., and then branching out into the secular with a study of Plato, Socrates, Ayn Rand and whomever. 

“The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance.”

Greek philosopher in Athens

(469 BC - 399 BC)

It didn’t matter if we became religious, became atheist, became Catholic, converted to Wicca; whatevvveeerrrr!. It was the knowledge that was important and the self-discovery that knowledge would eventually bring as it began to impact our lives and our behaviors.

A teacher who lives the “long view” of a continual life study wants all students to become aware of the ramifications of becoming great Aikido players who will eventually develop the ability to physically dominate other people that are most likely less well trained, less self confident, insecure, physically weak, less focused, less knowledgeable about self-defense and martial arts, and just downright fearful and easy to intimidate.

Good martial arts, and the senior players who set the example that beginners key into, become the role models, the exemplars of high level "stuff" (Hanshi in Japanese means exemplar and I need to go look up the translation of “stuff” as it’s a great all-round generic term).

There is a great deal of ethics involved in how you as a senior player comport yourself around others, such as; how you relate to civilians who do not train in martial arts and who will never have your ability, how you relate to everyone else on the mat whether they are above or below your current grade, how you relate to Sensei when you are in front of him or how you talk about him behind his back, and how you talk about (support or denigrate) other senior players behind their backs.

Are you trying to create a clique and put your self above others, or are you always trying to help junior players who are confused and who are desperately seeking guidance.

Do you try to become a better person and reach your potential by helping everyone around you grow their potential (watering the flowers as-it-were) or do you make yourself feel successful by cutting down everyone around you to pull them down to your level (the crab pot theorem of no-one escapes the boiling water, “you just try to improve yourself mister and we’ll pull you back into the muck”).

Martial arts is not just about good technique; it's also about living a life worth living and an intense life-long study of morality and ethics will help you see this; or as a philosopher once said;

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

 Socrates, in Plato, Dialogues, Apology
Greek philosopher in Athens

(469 BC - 399 BC)

Is your life-glass half empty and getting lower, or half full with the water rising?

Have you examined your life to even know what the state of your water glass is, or do you just roll (ukemi) around in a state of Aiki-bliss, completely unaware and essentially numb to the effects life has on you, and oblivious to the effects you have on your kohai?

The areas of life impacted by ethics just go on and on. One of the ways in which I, and all of my senior players became exemplars was by living an ethical life. We didn’t get there by cannibalizing those around us.

The term "Morality" has always had a little tinge of religion attached to the word so I personally prefer the use of the word "ethics" or "ethical behavior".

I always strive to improve my life and the lives of everyone around me by having a positive outlook and trying to help everyone grow (instead of spending my time negatively).

Be positive, grow, become all you can be and enjoy watching others do the same and someday your juniors will respect you for the example you set; and not the color of your belt, the number of patches you glue on, or how tough and intimidating you pretend to be.

Try this book out. It may give you some ideas.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

July 2008