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September 2009

59. Now We're Cookin'

Past couple of posts I've been addressing the idea of total dedication to a Sensei and/or your primary core art form; this, in response to comments-blogs-email-etc. that in essence state that it's ok to "study-around".  Some of the comments speak with the writer stating that "their Sensei encouraged them to do other ryu/style".

I have little issue with Aikido players doing just that.  My issue is on what terms and when it becomes appropriate and whether or not it can constitute a betrayal of trust given you by your Sensei or simply indicates a lack of faith in your Sensei (I'm assuming here that your Sensei is fully competent and correctly trained and ranked to begin with and knows his stuff and is not an obvious what-ever).

Aikido is a very amorphous and shapeless martial art in the public eye.  Considered a "gentle" martial art with a "defensive only" base principle it has become a mystical idea which would seem to remove it from the martial arts/Budo realm and place it into a Zen/Yoga/spiritual place on the continuum .  That's OK if that's what you're looking for but it certainly begs the question of what is martial art.

Dedicating oneself to ONLY their Aikido ryu of choice and not "studying around" is not only correct Budo etiquette but is also a proper way to learn, internalize and fully integrate the principles before expanding into the study of other ideas.

I'm sitting at my desk wanting to boogie onward towards the casa where some cold nigori sake awaits my arrival but since this just came to me as another means by which to touch upon a "touchy" subject and further throw some ideas (read small amounts of lantern oil) on the topic, then consider this as another recommendation to stay with only your first ryu before moving on to the next; all in your effort to "merge all Aikido ideas into the original form".

Without having the charts in front of me, Tomiki Ryu Aikido has the following variations of kotegaeshi:

*Ichi Kata - 5
*Ni Kata - 2
*San Kata - 4
*Yon Kata - 3
*Go Kata - 3
*Roku Kata - 4
*Kodokan Goshin Jutsu - 3
*16 Double Releases - 1
*17 Attack Movements/Ju Nana Hon Kata - 2

This rough off the cuff count (please don't hold it against me if I left your favorite out as it's been a reeeaaalllly loooong Monday and I'm doing this from short-circuited memory) leads us to a total of 27 forms of kotegaeshi.  For the record I am counting shihonage as a form of kotegaeshi (ushiro) since one of the great discussions of the last 40 or 50 years is whether shihonage is a take-down/backwards throw starting with a wrist lock or is actually a throw off a wrist lock into a floating waza.  I in other words, does it go into the wrist lock section or should it go into the floating section.

Now let's complicate it so you can see what very senior Sensei (like 7 dan and up) look at when we wake up at 3 AM and lay there watching the fan go around in circles.

Each of the 27 forms of kotegaeshi pair off with an equal number of forms of kotehineri so the actual waza count is 54 and not only 27.  This by the way fails to take into account the resistance of uke to either kotegaeshi or kotehineri resulting in ....... voila......wakigatamae.  It also fails to take into account the possibility of using all the above to feed into kotemawashi.

Complicated huh?  Well it's not after you learn the entire ryu and all the kata sets.  In fact, it becomes pretty simple.  Plus, this sounds like a lifetime of rich and deep study all by itself doesn't it?

So........if Tomiki Ryu has this many possible ways to look at a simple kotegaeshi then why go to Pooky Ryu or Mesquite Ryu to learn some version of kotegaeshi you saw at a demo or in a book?  Why not learn every documented form of the waza that your ryu already contains and learn it WELL and learn it BEFORE moving onto someone's elses version(s).  Who knows?  Maybe the magic version you are curious about is already contained within your current ryu, making "studying around" not necessary.

So, after you've learned and have fully integrated all forms of that waza as presented by your Sensei ONLY THEN go look somewhere else for the magic mojo.  By that time, having learned all your ryu has to offer you just might decide not to waste your time since you know "your versions" and discover that "their versions" are actually something you picked up years ago.

I'm deliberately being circumspect here and not naming some other style because it's the idea of the study that counts and not some political issue of my ryu/your ryu.  I don't really give a flip ( .... ukemi .... bwahahaha .... small pun ... ) where you start or what style/Sensei you sign up with; just stay with it and don't jump around.  It's not only bad Budo manners but it's also possible it can retard your overall progress by trying to understand too many differing ideas at once.

So think about it for a while and before you consider me close minded I never did say don't go have sake once in a while, I only said don't start "Sensei Jumping" because we do a martial arts with manners and consideration and Budo Reigei.  We don't do YMCA socials.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2009


58. Aikido Seasoning Redux Again?

Yes, again.  Another day at the office, another cup o'joe, and another brain poot useful for choking out the clock before lowering my head and getting after it.

Seitei and gumbo; how are they related?

Gumbo is one of those culinary dishes that are difficult to explain, much less cook correctly.  Most really, REALLY good cooks will tell you to learn the basics first, generally by following a cook book.  The cook book will tell you how to measure spices, how to proportion correctly, and how to look at the color and tell whether or not it's time to taste, stir or serve.  The cook book gives us the basic principles of "how to cook".....duh!  Then, only after learning the basics of how to cook by using a very standard format is the cook able to become flexible and creative by changing the roux, more oil or less, vary the timing for cooking the shrimp, how much garlic, etc., all of which changes the character of the gumbo and can result in gumbo that makes you want to "slap yo' momma".

As a cookbook used to start the learning process so to does seitei; sometimes translated as "basic forms". 

Iaido has its' seitei that is designed to teach the principles inherent in a study of the katana.  Yes, yes, yes ....... (for those who like to discuss things to death to prove how intellectual they are) the seitei in iaido is politically based with each waza coming from the "prefered ryu" of the Sensei on the committee who plugged it in to begin with.  That statement/discussion however begs the point that the seitei was designed as a means by which to learn the fundamental principles of iaido BEFORE moving on to the other parts of the study.  As an example of this we have a Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido study group and even though other ryu are part of the study, only Omori Ryu is required for all appointments up to and including Yondan.  Pretty amazing that the same 12 kata are the only formal requirement up to Yondan.  Other ryu are thoroughly studied and investigated but the fact that only the 12 Omori Ryu are required to that high of  dan shows the importance of the concept of seitei/standard forms.

This idea applies to Aikido also.  Tomiki Ryu for example as its' seitei has a standardized method teaching ukemi, a standardized method of practicing methods of coordinated walking, a standardized method of the practice of striking/elbow & shoulder locks/wrist locks/throws off of striking and joint locks (called the 17 attack movements or Ju Nana Hon Kata).  There is also 10 defensive movements and at the Aikibudokan we throw in some groupings of releasing from single and double grabs by uke (8 releases and 16 double releases).

So all-in-all; these IMHO comprise the seitei of Tomiki Ryu Aikido and without the same type of single-minded focused study of these groupings (same as in Muso Shinden Ryu Iaido and its' Omori Ryu section) you simply cannot learn the basics well enough to advance into a valid study of advanced/koryu kata since your fundamentals will essentially be loosey-goosey and you'll forever be trying to fix and upgrade what should have been internalized long before.  Any good Sensei can look at a player doing one of the advanced koryu kata sets and tell what part of the seitei portions of the ryu are not yet understood (based on the mistakes and technical errors seen with a sloppy kotegaeshi in Koryu Dai San Kata being directly attributable to not having internalized kotegaeshi from the 17 Attack Movements, for example).

So now we're back to "Ants-In-My-Pants" and the perceived need to always look for greener pastures and more "Sublime and Graceful and All Knowing Masters"  (pronounced...."Maasssss-tahhh").  I don't know about you but I've always hated term, much less the mere concept of "Master".  I don't even allow the term to be used in my dojo.  They always make some statement like describing the need to "unify the principles and become one with the universe and the original Aikido will manifest itself graciously through the spiritual blending of our grounded center with the center of our opponent of mutual love".

Bleh.   (insert smiley with eyes closed and tongue stuck out)

Aikido can get you there one day and I firmly believe that it can or I wouldn't have ever started the training to begin with.  But I also firmly believe that you can't complete or make any portion of that journey without three things; first, a complete and firm grounding in the ryu's fundamentals before moving onto other ideas/ryu's/training concepts that may by slightly or radically different (don't learn the australian crawl until you can float in the pool without a life jacket first and do the dog paddle). 

Second, an understanding of your "ryu of origin" so-to-speak and how it relates principly to other ryu/styles of Aikido esp. as regards it's overall pedagogy.

Third; one heck of a lot of work for a very long time under a Sensei who has "been-there-done-that" and has some patience with you and some understanding of what you need, what you want and how to communicate it to you.  Running from Sensei to Sensei just won't cut it.

Anything less and you're just wandering around without a benchmark to occassionally touch for establishing your relative position with everything/everyone else.  Might as well just quit Aikido and take cooking classes and learn how make a good gumbo instead.  Just don't burn the roux.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2009


57. Aikido Seasoning Redux

I'm finally complete for the day (that's a big fib since I'm still behind but I've decided to work a full 15 hour day to catch up so I'm taking a mental break by thinking about something NOT related to problematic workers comp issues and product liability for cosmetics companies...man, sometimes I really miss riding horses on the ranch about 4 lifetimes ago).

Back to my critique'er.........one comment he made, and side-splitting-ly funny enough, was that of a Sensei requiring loyalty to a specific dojo, ryu and Sensei and of not training somewhere else.  I remember when I was a Shodan I wanted to go learn kendo and jujutsu at Sensei' "X"s dojo since I was looking for a lot of self-defense which I couldn't yet see in Aikido and some classic Jedi Knight material (Star Wars IV had just come out in the theaters and made quite an impression......hummm..thrummmm....saber glowing..waive it in the air..thrummmm).

So guess what I was told?  Nope, total loyalty to the dojo and ryu or find somewhere else to go.  I had moved to Houston to train with Sensei and, based upon everything I had been told and so far had seen, had decided that he was it but that someday..........

The comment the x-student made as I try to sum it up and make this second post of the day shorter, was that Aikido is Aikido is Aikido and that if we could all just get along then our Aikido would be reunited and "better"; whatever the heck that means.  I gather that he's speaking to the idea of knowing all waza from all styles and that by doing so we can all be friends and the original Aikido will re-emerge from the shadows.

It wasn't until many years had passed that I finally understood the old koryu dictat of total loyalty that in the old days was validated by a keppan or blood oath, something I've considered for some time but have yet to do much more than that due to it being about 300 years, 5,000 miles and about 4 cultures difference between classical Japan and today's Texas.

Discounting all the old stories about competing Samurai and secret killing techniques and fighting Daimyo and like, forbidding that dual training served a purpose.  The ryu contains not only differences in the appearance of waza but also in the fundamental operational principles of how the waza are conceived, visualized and applied.

I was always taught classically.  My teachers were direct students of Kano/Mifune/Ueshiba/Miyake/Daigo/Iikuda/Inoue/Shimizu/Kaminoda and the like so my upbringing included a lot of old material and attitudes that is apparently missing in todays Aikido dojo (of any ryu or style).

Part of that "old" material is the concept of the Japanese not seeing the difference between offense and defense for any given waza.  The moment or "sen" in which the waza is taken becomes a matter of timing and control of ma-ai (combative distance); a defensive Shoman-ate being different in intent but same in structure than an offensive Shoman-ate.  Before any young budding Tomiki-Ryu players out there start to bristle up consider; when uke attacks with a hand to the face, he is the first to cross ma-ai isn't he?  Oh my, doesn't that mean that when practicing the 17 attack movements that uke is the aggressor and is doing "offensive" Shoman-ate and that if tore fails to move and take kuzushi that uke will bust him???

Another critical difference is that Tomiki Ryu for the most part utilizes the same operational idea as does the original Daito Ryu Aiki Jujutsu does; that of immediately taking control of the attacker's kuzushi.  Aikikai and Shin-Shin Toitsu focus more on blending and redirecting.

Yes, Tomiki Ryu contains blending techniques but that is more commonly found in the advanced koryu kata; material for the most part NOT extensively covered by anyone under about a 4th dan.

An understanding of this and of other related ideas that no longer fit in the "Aiki-Bunnie" realm mean bottom line that if you train at an old style Aikido dojo where this philosophy permeates all to one degree or another (esp. at high dan ranks and advance koryu kata which is where this begins to manifest) and then train at another dojo with the softer material that one begins to develop a form of cognitive dissonance and soon one ryu/idea causes confusion when mixed with the other.  Now the student comes to me and says, "I'm so confused" and then when at the other dojo goes up to that Sensei and says, "I'm so confused".

Now, does this mean that I personally see no value in a study of other styles?  No, of course not.  I've done Shin-Shin Toitsu and Aikikai both and also hold rank in an old form that was based on Aikido/Judo/Jujutsu combined that was taught to police officers (I don't think it's around anymore and was a passing thought to some).

But what I am saying and now we're right back to Aikido Seasoning, you don't need the potential confusion and cognitive dissonance by studying two differing base philosophies at the same time.  You have to fully ingrain, embed, internalize and make intuitive ONE set principles BEFORE looking at another.  Once you have one set fully in your head only then can you look at other ideas and break them down, understand them and see whether or not they will improve your Aikido.

So how long does this take; this idea of fully ingraining one set of philosophies/principles/ideas/teaching & learning pedagogy before going to train in an Aikido that could be taught from a very different standpoint?

Sorry but.....You need to be about a 6th to 7th dan as an absolute minimum.  My Sensei who was one of the first gaijin to make Yondan at the Kodokan (unheard of back in the 1950's and still impressive today and who was a personal student of Tomiki/Kogure/Miyake/Inoue/Kaminoda/Daigo/etc.) told me once and I'll state about the same way he told me, "You do not have the right nor the understanding nor the ability to begin to change they system or pretend to understand enough to viably and rationally compare one Aikido system to another until you know and have internalized ALL the material in Tomiki Ryu first."

Needless to say that's paraphrased but the "feel" is pretty much there.  He was blunt and direct and I've lived by that ever since.

Remember; Tomiki did not begin the process of learning Ueshiba's Aikibudo until he already had an 8th dan in Judo and, he did not begin the process of building his method of teaching Aikido until he was 8th dan in Aikibudo first.  He did it the old fashioned way; he became menkyo kaiden in one before even thinking about starting to modify the other.

More as this topic continues to develop.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2009


56. Aikido Seasoning

Hmmm....a little salt, some garlic, maybe some gumbo file.....oops you caught me in the middle of thinking about the Cajun Holy Trinity (of cajun cooking and gumbo..a little onion, a little celery,. a little.....).

Aikido seasoning is a topic that I'll consider trying to expand over a post or two since it's a little easier on me (and you) to NOT have a single post that takes 4 days to read.

For the record it should be obvious that I'm not talking about seasoning food but rather, the seasoning or maturity or depth of true understanding that we derive from just simply being on the mat for years and making a ton of mistakes and doing good and bad, right and wrong, precise and imprecise in all facets of Aikido practice.  This includes what we say and do, how we train, how we treat our ukes and juniors and seniors. 

Seasoning in Aikido is the same as seasoning in life and with enough of the right kind we end up old and gray and people consider us to be old and wise, instead of old and dumb (or silly).

As a kid, I was always in a hurry to grow up.  I wanted to get out of knickers and into long pants.  I wanted to cross the street and go to the store by myself without mommy holding my hand.  I wanted to drink alcohol and drive a car NOW and not years from now.  I was really impatient and as a result I'm now 58 years old and many, many, many times regret (severely and sincerely regret) that I was so impatient that I missed many of the lessons the old geezers around me tried to teach me but that I missed because of my "ants-in-my-pants" impatience.

Today I was sitting at my desk and was just surfing the web since today is one of those days when I have so much to do and I'm so far behind that instead of feeling energy about the job and the opportunity to make more money I just feel the weight of the grind (I need to win the lotto since I bet I'd be really good at being retired.....  ;-) .......).

I'm surfing so much I start to reach for my can of Dr. Zog's Sex Wax for my board and I stumble across a blog with my name as one of the topics.  This of course catches my attention since not all of the comments were complementary (not really bad either for that matter so I'm not complaining, I just found the discussion interesting since it's not often you get to see what others think).  Interspersed throughout the blog were various comments on my method of teaching and of running the dojo.  So being the curious guy that I am, I tracked down all the threads and found out who it was and once I made the discovery, I had a flashback like a 1968 hippie on LSD who's been hanging out at Barton Springs too long and had a big "Like WOW MAN.......far out....like deja vue!"

I suddenly channeled my old Sensei and had a brief moment of fully and completely understanding his viewpoint and for that momentary flash of satori no longer thought that he was some insane samurai plopped down in Texas 200 years out of time and 5,000 miles out of place.

He once said, "It's too bad that so-and-so left the dojo because he'll likely never understand.  He left before it was time to leave.  He's too impatient and the cakes not baked."  So I course had to ask why and after about 3 hours of conversation on a work night and sitting in the dojo until after 12 midnight I was starting to ask myself why I had to ask why; until I remembered that I had to be patient and not have those teenage ants-in-my-pants any more.  I had to sit through the lesson in order to learn the lesson, as-it-were.

So Sensei talked about learning and how difficult it is to fully understand the larger picture with only limited information and how common it is in the martial arts and in Aikido for a student to think that Sensei is withholding data or not teaching correctly or that Sensei just doesn't know the information and then leaves for "greener pastures" with a better Sensei.  In order to get this into the blog so that it makes some direct sense I'll do some "paraphrase-ing" and "example-ing" for this and the following posts.

In this blog I ran across, the writer complained that one of my senior teachers had tried to teach him tenchi-nage but had left out the part about the breath.  The undertones of his comments was that my senior student (and by extension me) didn't know about kokyu.  His blog was about kokyu-nage and the application of breath during the throw and he had a long list of the waza in our ryu of what throws did and did not utilize kokyu even though he understands the waza he listed little since he had essentially just learned them and had not gone through the forging process so many Aikido Sensei talk about.

He now trains at a different dojo and was commenting that "they" showed him what we couldn't.  Well, at first I was thinking what in the world is this guy talking about and then the deja vue struck me wtih its' import.

He left our dojo as a brand new Shodan who, after being promoted, promptly proceeded to go on hiatus like many new promotees are wont to do; i.e, he got lazy and quit training or even showing up at the dojo  So here's the rub and here is what Sensei meant when he gave me the lesson so many years ago.

How can I teach you to correctly apply breath to throw tenchi-nage (or any waza for that matter) if you still are unable to get your feet in the proper position for the waza to begin with (or your arms or your hands or your overall posture, etc., etc.,)????

How can I, or anyone for that matter, teach you the subtleties of a waza if you can't tie your pants correctly?  In other words, how in the world can any Sensei teach you the advanced and more intricate parts of a waza if you have only just learned and blocked out the basic form and are still working on that?

So this was what Sensei was referring to and what he taught me that night.  You simply have to be on the mat a sufficient number of hours AND you have to have actually THROWN that waza a sufficient number of times (1,000's) in order to understand the base level before you are ready to understand the middle level, before you can understand the advanced level, before you can understand the super advanced level, before you............................well, you get the idea.

He actually was a good a Shodan with much potential but having only just seen tenchi-nage, he simply was not ready for the advanced concepts or a discussion of the idea of using the breath for throwing and, even if the senior player who was teaching him tenchi-nage talked about focused breathing (kokyu) whether that kokyu was physical or mental or spiritual (yes grasshopper, kokyu encompasses all three and is not ONLY air and blowing up balloons) would he have understood or even heard the words, his mind being focused only on the position of body, use of kuzushi, direction of happo-no-kuzushi, body drop/body rise, etc.?

So as a brand new Shodan, does he really have the ability (the seasoning) to ask the question, "Say, where's the kokyu?"  like the old tv commercials where the old lady walks into the burger shop and asks, "Where's the beef"?  If he had asked that question as a Sandan or Godan then sure, it's time to talk but as a newly minted Shodan?

I have only recently (recently being the last 2 or 3 years) acquired a number of advanced dan ranks that are capable of understanding the use of kokyu and they have been pleasantly surprised.  I am now taking them through all the advanced kata and showing them where to apply the breath since, unknown to all but the most advanced players, kokyu is actually a facet of ALL aikido waza and not just the ones with the phrase "kokyu-nage" tagged onto their name.

To look at a quote from a book by one of the well-knowns, Gozo Shioda, "....In Aikido we use terms like "kokyu power" or "focused power" to refer to the power that we develop........Kokyu power is produced when we push ourselves to the limit making the most efficient use of the capabilities that lie within our own bodies.  Consequently, anybody, no matter what kind of person, can use kokyu power.  The only problem is whether or not you practice in such a way as to develop it.  Another important point is that kokyu power is not limited to Aikido alone....."

Hmmm, looks to me that kokyu power is a part and parcel of everything that is Aikido, that it is not limited only to specific waza labeled "kokyo dosa" or "kokyu waza" and that once understood (repeat, understood AND internalized) it can applied to just about anything.........."kokyu-dish washing" or "kokyu-sushi cutting"........and don't think I'm joking here folks because "KOKYU POWER' can be considered as the most appropriate way in which to apply power and focus and internal juices to ANYTHING YOU DO!

As Sensei said, he left too soon and in my mind he has ants-in-his-pants because if he had hung around long enough we could have assisting him in understanding this.  Sometimes information can only be understood by hanging around and picking it up by osmosis since the concept can't readily be transmitted like a joke at a comedy club.  Sometimes the Budo concept of "direct transmission" means letting it rub off on you over a very long period of time.  Afterall, this ain't (sic) Star Wars and we're not having an attack of the midi-chlorians and satori doesn't come by the 6 pack; it takes a lot or really hard work over a very long time.  Anything worthwhile always does which is what the word "patience" means.

So the first part of this lesson on ants is don't begin to claim that you are not being taught the recipe for the "super-secret-sauce" until you have been around long enough to understand the lessons being offered you (or know the difference between a cup, a tea glass, a handful and a pinch when seasoning your gumbo).

And to be fair and honest about it, you as a student need to stay with your
Sensei until you learn the parable of "ants-in-your-pants" and it matters little whether you're my student or his student, or an Aikido player or a Judo player, or a french horn player or a MMA guy.  Stay with it long enough to fully, FULLY understand and only then start making value judgments about whether or not you're in the right dojo.

We'll spend the next few posts on this general topic since I think it's important for all Aikido students to understand.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2009


55. Self-Imposed Limitations

So far this year I've been writing on the idea of a "pedestrian" being a lower life form than a "human".  Sounds a bit weird doesn't it and now you wonder how this applies to a dojo and to teaching Aikido as a high level Sensei.

So alright grasshopper...........think about this.

You're running a dojo and you are solely responsible for not only the safety and learning progression of 40 or 50 Aikido players but you also have a substantial and very personal financial stake in the dojo's success. 

50 people literally trust you with their safety and if anything goes haywire it's your fault, and here come the lawyers. 

You're into a 5 year commercial lease for $120,000.  Liability and property insurance for those 5 years at a cost of $12,500.  Utilities for an approx. $12,000 and advertising for approx. $6,000. 

So, in order to run your shop for 5 years you are looking at a personal & business obligation of $150,000.  That would make a nice nest egg for your retirement if you had it in an IRA.

So now you're running classes one night and in walks a guy literally with hair coiled into braided dreadlocks that hang down past his waist.  Into the hair is woven beads and brass bells and he "tinkles" when he walks.  You can't initially figure out whether he took a wrong turn at Pasaic, NY and is still looking for Woodstock or is a practicing Tibetan Buddhist, a Hindu or a Rastafarian who misses Haile.  Plus, he's got enough "tats" to start a coffee table photo book and to beat that, he's wearing a skirt that goes to his ankles.

Your first thought is something on the order of, "Hmm!  Shoman-ate or just foot sweep him and then see how many times I can choke him out before he cries 'Dalai Lama'."  Your second thought is, "How many waza out of San Kata can I do by grabbing only his hair?"

But surprise............he turns out to be a reasonably nice guy with a good attitude who might have the desire to learn since he's just an old hippie at heart who still likes the Haight Ashbury life style; laid back and really mellow-like, "Ya, bra....... where' the waves dude......man, like I scored some really good Dr. Zog's Sex Wax for my board...".

To make this story short(er) after some discussion we came to two conclusions; first, he wasn't cutting his hair and second, I wasn't letting him on the mat with it still there.  Why you ask?  His hair had metal and beads in it and could easily, even if up in a ponytail flip into someone's eyes and cause some seriously bad mojo; not to mention the possible cuts on someones hands or face, or the beads falling out and someone cutting their feet and bleeding all over my canvas mat.

Additionally and most disconcerting is the possibility that during a throw his hair could get caught or wrapped around something and his body weight could literally break his neck as he rolled/fell down (but his hair didn't).  For you history buffs, this was how the hangman in the cowboy movies did in the bad guy at his execution.  The hangman's noose did not choke the prisoner to death (unless the hangman was really perverse and wanted to make the prisoner suffer a long and painful death doing the "rope dance").  The rope was placed around the neck in such a fashion as to twist the head as the body fell through the trap door and the falling body weight snapped the spine, thus causing instant and relatively painless death.  His long dreadlocks could possibly do the same and that would be REALLY bad mojo.

So the whole gist of this year-long series of brain-poots that I generally do when I get to the office and am cringing at that thought of getting on the phone to clients while I am drinking my coffee is this............do you limit yourself and if so, how?  And, are you observant enough to look at others and tell whether they are, or are not, also limiting their life choices?  And, is there something you can recommend to them (in a reasonable and non-obtrusive manner) that would enable them to move ahead and not stay behind; so-to-speak?

Are you running a dojo, a true "place of the way" or just another social club at the YMCA where everyone is afraid to speak for fear of "offending" someone? 

What is a Sensei; really?  One who is "born before" or someone sitting in that chair in the corner and barking?

Decide.......because............

Here was a guy with a pretty good attitude and personality who expressed interest in learning Aikido but who couldn't bring himself to cut his hair short enough to get onto the mat and train.

How self-limiting is it, to sacrifice a possibly life-changing activity that could be really fun to boot, because you have decided that you like being in people's faces while you fly your "Freak-Flag" (which is what we children of the 1960's used to call really, really long hair.....the phrase being used in a Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young song titled of all things. "Almost Cut My Hair".................    :-O     ........).

Shrinks postulate and theorize that by wearing a bunch of "tat's" or tatoos on your body (more than one or two tasteful ones but just a whole passel or a big bunch of them) and hair that is literally about 40 or 50 years out of date with the rest of society (or that would be more appropriate on a Yogi in Calcutta) the person is trying to establish an identity for themselves, almost as if they know not who they are...........it's an attempt to set themselves apart from the crowd and prove that they are different (how ironic to prove that you a different person and an individual by becoming just one more part of a sub-culture in which everyone is different, but the same....   :-(    ....).

I told the guy that I also was a child of the hippie generation and that I too, once had hair down to my shoulders and that when I went to work I tucked it up under my cowboy hat.  (I wasn't the only kid on the ranch who did that and boy did the cow-boss hate it when he saw it!  One kid had his father sit on his chest and shave his head; he was so embarrassed at what his boy was doing!)

I also told him that I literally didn't care how he wore his head or dread'ed his hair or wore his dress outside the dojo, but that we had a lot to offer the prospective Aikido player IF he agreed to come into a new paradigmatic view of the world that I guess you could refer to as "Budo-Land" where the rules of engagement are specific and are there for very rational reasons.

Such a waste.

So next time you make a decision about your future are you acting like a pedestrian, making short-view choices that limit your potential 20 years from now or, are you a full-bore human, making small sacrifices today for great benefit tommorrow?

Once you look at yourself in this light, take a look at the prospective Aikido players that come into your dojo to be interviewed for acceptance and see if you can see the limiting behavior.  Remember; you're got a lease to pay and 40 or 50 Aikido players that trust you to teach them more than their money's worth and that one of them may someday be your replacement at the dojo and may even become your child's Sensei some day when you're gone.

See why the long-view is so critical and why a forward-looking progressive attitude (acting human) is so preferable to taking the short, selfish choices (acting pedestrian)?

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho]
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2009