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February 2010

81. Please 'Splain Me Sensei Part 4

Back at the dojo except in back in the hot tub ................

SPB:  So Grasshopper Deshi, how was your social event last evening?

GD:  Most wonderful Sensei.  The uni created an evening that was simply maaavalous!  Say Sensei ........... why is it that when you get in the hot tub you put a little hanky on your head?

SPB:  That's to keep it dry and wipe my face since the water is so hot I'm starting to feel like the frog in my lab class back in high school.

GD:  So ............... is this where I say ............ Stick a fork in you 'cause you're done?

SPB:  Ha, Ha,BwaBwa, Bwahahahahahahaha ............... only if you went to spend the rest of the day cleaning the makiwari with a tooth brush.

GD:  Sensei, we don't have a makiwari in the dojo.

SPB:  So I'll buy one.  So did you learn anything last night?

GD:  Hai Sensei!  I learned that you have to have a plan.

SPB:  Explain Grasshopper.

GD:  Life and the social scene with your best companion must be savored and not rushed but must also be focused such that the universal energies flow.  You must irimi and blend with the energy flow that is directed towards you while not attempting to exert control.

SPB:  Oh My Gosh!  You're starting to talk like me ............ hmmmmm ........... that's scary!  Go on and try to speak English this time.

GD:  Hai!  We had a relaxing lunch.  I went home an thought most vigorously about where to go on my date.  I planned it out, bought the tickets ahead of time on-line, made dinner reservations, went to the Food Net and looked up the best wine to go with the Cajun food I thought would be nice, double checked that I had enough money in the bank to pay and cash in pocket to tip, and ...............

SPB:  OK, I get the idea now.  To sum it up you made a plan and stuck to it start to finish.  Does that about sum it up?

GD:  Hai Sensei.

SPB:  Good!  Now translate that to the tatami.

GD:  If I want to progress and become Galactic Dan someday I must plan ahead.

SPB:  Yes Grasshopper.  Plan ahead, ask what you have to know for the next rank, find an uke when it's time and always keep your eye on the sea urchin .... er ........... ah ...........ball that is.  Too many times we are promoted and slack off only to someday look up and discover that we now hold the dojo record for greatest number of decades as Ikkyu.  You must always go to class and have enjoyment in the moment but you must temper your enjoyment with the plan to always work to advance and learn and progress.  In other words, get on the jo .... er .... ah .... stick.  Osu.

GD:  Osu Sensei?

SPB:  Yes Grasshopper ..... osu ....... we suffer together.

80. Please 'Splain Me Sensei Part 3

We're still in lurker mode outside the window at Aardvark Dojo .................

SPB:  So Grasshopper Deshi; how are those pants holding up?

GD:  I feel like I gave myself a wedgie ......... or is it a melvin ............ I forget.  The ki-concept is so difficult at times.

SPB:  Yes.  Squinting just right and having your obi correct is an important part of being a Galactic Dan.  After all, you have to look the part and looking the part and 'styling' is an important indicator of what is going on inside your head ..... plus it holds your pants up.

GD:  Huh!

SPB:  Look at life, the Aiki-Verse and All That Stuff like you would consider your neighbor.  You see inside his house and it's a disaster.  His car is so packed with junk you can't get into it and he dresses like a slob.  Now quick; what is your opinion of his life, job and relationships?

GD:  Uhmmm ..... ahhhh ....... less than organized?

SPB:  That's a nice and non-obtrusive way in which to phrase it.  Now, how organized do you think he is and do your believe that he ever sets goals in life, much less reaches them and more importantly do you think he knows the sutra's?

GD:  No.  I don't think so Sensei.  And if you mean a sutra being a thread or line that hold things together then maybe he should tighten his obi and melvin himself too ..... or is it a wedgie .... I still can't figure out the difference.

SPB:  Most excellent distillation of the person Grasshopper Deshi.  Much like the purest sake you have distilled his essence into a thimble of existence.  Some would say that he has bad karma and because he fails to plan ahead and organize his journey in a timely and coordinated fashion that he will never reach kensho, satori ......... or nirvana or valhalla either for that matter.

GD:  Sensei, I don't understand.

SPB:  Sorry there ............ it's close to lunch and I was considering hot tea or sake and confusing myself.  No matter.  I'll have a chocolate biscotti and some coffee for the moment.  Let's list where we are so far in our quest for the magic carpet of Aiki-Hood.

  • First, go to class on a regular basis.
  • Next, be positive in our attitude on the mat and when training with others.
  • Next, be supportive of the efforts of beginners as we were all beginners at some point in our journey to Aiki-Hood.
  • Next, keep your obi tight and your loins girded.
  • Lastly, be organized ..... organize your life and organize your Aikido practice and your mind will become simplified, organized and your place in the Aiki-verse will manifest itself in your demeanor and right-thought and actions.

GD:  My loins?

SPB:  Sorry, too much Chaucer in college.  Should have paid more attention to Confucius.

GD:  What else to I need to do to reach Aiki-Hood, Sensei?

SPB:  To reach enlightenment one must set a goal and a scroll and then a sushi roll ........ Opps!  Sorry, still thinking about lunch.  But, as we move into enlightenment we must set a goal and a means to reach that goal.  If the immediate goal is to make Shodan or Nidan then we must find someone to light the path for us.

GD:  Light the path?

SPB:  Yes, take breakfalls for as we prepare for our demo.

GD:  Ahhh ... I am beginning to reach enlightenment!  I must not only be positive in attitude and helpful in action I must set the path, plan for the journey and find a companion.

SPB:  Most most excellent Grasshopper Deshi.  End of today's lesson.  Let us depart for lunch at Charlie Tuna's Salmon and Handroll Emporium and look at today's sake special.  Oh .... and by the way ..... a wedgie is when they get you going and a melvin is when they get you coming.

GD:  Wow Sensei ...... I'm so confused.  Do you think they'll have any fresh uni?  I have a hot date tonight.

79. Please 'Splain Me Sensei Part 2

tippy-toe tippy-toe tippy-toe as we sneak back up to the window of Aardvark Dojo ......

Shhhhh ........ lets listen in and see what the Sensei teaches today .......

SPB:  "Ok Grasshopper Deshi, now that we've practiced "Little Pinky Waza" do you have any questions about supporting and encouraging new players and help them to reach the sames heights of Ki-Excellence that you are striving for?"

GD:  "What is the meaning of life O'Poo-Bah Sensei?"

SPB:  "Heck if I know!  My daddy used to say pay your bills on time and  ......... OH WAIT ........... Why my son, the meaning of life is found the the smallest flower, the ugliest insect eaten in flight by the peacock and the barking dog chasing the rat.  These matters of eternal existence though are of little importance though to someone such as you, questing through life for the mystical 85th Dan like Alice sitting down for tea and reaching for the rice patty."

GD:  "How do I achieve the much sought after 85th Galactic Dan Sensei and impress the girls in my hakama?"

SPB:  "Well first off the chicks really dig the black pants but other than that my son, come to class."

GD:  "Huh?"

SPB:  "Come to class."

GD:  "HUH?"

SPB:  "COME ...... TO ...... CLASS!  Are you deaf?  Did you think that enlightenment and sartorial excellence and the ability to whack people could be reached by swallowing a magic mushroom or by sitting at my feet while I tell bad jokes and spill coffee on myself and pluck a banjo?  Do you think that you can achieve enlightenment, universal knowledge of mystical things and find a clean fundoichi to wear if you don't come to class and actually train, I mean actually train and throw people and take ukemi and not just sit on your tushie and engage in kuchi-waza?"

GD:  "Oh ........... I guess I haven't been very good about that lately have?"

SPB:  "Well, how would you consider someone who comes once a week maybe, and walks off the mat every 15 minutes to check their pager or call their spouse and who arrives exactly at bow-on and leave 15 seconds after we bow-off and doesn't do any extra work ..... committed to the process??????"

GD:  "Er, ah, ummm ........... sigh .... nooo .... I guess not"

SPB:  "Then don't be surprised when it takes you 10 years to make Shodan and more importantly, don't come complaining to me when people who started after you did, make black belt before you do!  I don't enjoy being questioned about the painfully obvious when I'm cutting tuna and sipping sake.  It doesn't take a katana maker to understand that if you don't go to class and actually do something that it will take forever to accomplish anything."

GD:  "But Master ....... !"

SPB:  "Oh, and once you make Shodan don't slack off either because if you do you'll never make Nidan and Sandan or anything else either."

GD: "But Master .......!"

SPB:  "Come and Train, Come and Train, Come and Train ....... that is the only true secret."

GD:  "But Master .......!"

SPB:  "Don't call me masta' ...... I'm not your masta', I'm a teacher and my job is to teach you how to learn ......... not learn waza per se but more importantly, learn how to be a student of life and Aikido and how to learn to teach others who follow in your footsteps!"

GD:  "Hai Sensei .... Gomen Nasai, Sensei.  How do I learn then?"

SPB:  "You have to actually be in the game.  You have to set goals, work with beginners, be a good student for the sempai and in turn be a good sempai for those new-bies who are kohai to you.  Encourage them.  Counsel them.  Support them and in doing so you not only spend valuable time on the mat learning to teach, you also begin to understand how much you do not know and how far you have yet to journey,

GD:  "Hai Sensei ..... I guess that I've been too involved with myself and issues outside the dojo to see the larger picture and how I can benefit."

SPB:  "Hai, the Sempai teaches and the Kohai learns.  Becoming part of the dojo family not only gives support to new players but also gives support to you by your becoming part of the solution.  Thus, we all move forward together instead of wandering like a herd of kittens in search of milk; mewing but not much else."

SPB:  "OK Grasshopper Deshi, time to explore how to squint in a Zen-Like Fashion while tightening your obi in the dressing room."

GD:  "Gosh Sensei, will that make me a better Aikido-Master?"

SPB:  "No but it will help keep your pants up.  We'll cover more of the mystics tomorrow."

78. Please 'Splain Me Sensei

Many times events happen on the mat that raise questions and the need for explanations to younger players.  One of these questions that may arise has to do with learning and eventually being promoted as regards the when, the how and the why.  In order to "make light" of a "dark subject" lets sneak up to the window at Dojo Aardvark and listen to Sensei Poo-Bah ("SPB") of Moo-Cow Ryu answer questions from his young acolyte Grasshopper Deshi ("GD").

GD:  "Sensei Poo-Bah, What are the rough ideas (the secrets) behind being promoted to 85th Galactic Dan?"

SPB:  "Well young Grasshopper Deshi, first we have to actually go to class and perform the 17 Long Horns and the Big 10 Saddle-Up's."

GD:  "OK, but I go to class now!"

SPB:  "Yes or so it seems but do you have an open mind or are you just on auto-pilot and engaged in walking zen while the calf lays bound before the running iron?"

GD:  "What do you mean, Sensei Poo-Bah?"

SPB:  "Are you doing anything or just posing and looking good and walking around licking your eye-brows?"

GD:  "But I comb my hair and I put on my gi and I fall down and I get back up ........ !!"

SPB:  "OK, but have you ever been to a class where everyone is dressed up and going through the same motions as the last 100 times they put on their gi as if nothing has value?"

GD:  "What do you mean Sensei Poo-Bah?"

SPB:  "AARGH ..... Have you ever walked onto the mat and had the attitude or thought of, "Oh my, the ukemi ONE-MORE-TIME ...... Oh My ...... the Walking and the 8 Releases ONE-MORE-TIME  ....  Oh MY ..... Groan ...... I'm like  .. so bored ....... like grooaaaaan ...... like ...  when do I get to jump thru' flaming hoops and like ... cut flying watermelons in half with my katana like I saw at the karate show last weekend?""

Grasshopper Deshi (aka "Ee-yore") looks very intently at lint under big toe-nail on right foot and mumbles something like ....

GD:  "Weeelllll, now that you mention it ......"

SPB:  "OK then; to actually progress we must go to class, review what has come before and then look towards learning something new and wonderful."

GD:  "Ahhhhhhh ...... so you mean that each class provides us with the opportunity to see new material or, the chance to learn something new and different about what we already know, polish my mirror in other words!"

SPB:  "Yes Grasshopper Deshi, most excellent! ........ keeping an empty tea cup and a clean looking-glass allows us to view each class as a new and different experience."

SPB:  "Be honest with me now ............... Do you know everything there is to know the 8 Releases and how to do them against any attacker, male or female,big or little, human or Martian, 2 arm or 4 armed?    Huh?"

Grasshopper Deshi now intently examines lint under big toe on left foot and thinks he sees a hang-nail ......

GD:  "Well, what can I say Sensei Poo-Bah?"

SPB:  "To start with Grasshopper Deshi, you can admit to yourself that you know less than you think and have much to learn ..................And, after you internalize this new wisdom you can make the pledge to not be a bossy know-it-all as if you know more than someone with 10 or 20 or 30 years on the mat who themselves would be the first to tell you that they also have much to learn ........AND .......... you can help the beginners who know nothing to learn and not cause them to think that you are wonderful when what you might be doing is making them feel unworthy."

Grasshopper Deshi leans waay over and starts to look very intensely at cracks in the floor, wishing he could teleport himself to the Plains of Mars ............. and mumbles .........

GD:  "You never made me feel like I couldn't learn when I started did you?"

"SPB:  No Grassshopper Deshi, I'm sure there were nights when I had come off a long day at the office and was tired but no matter how bad I felt or how tired I might have been, I always tried to encourage you and tell you over and over that you CAN learn and you CAN become an 85th Galactic Dan if you only try."

SPB:  "Tell you what Grasshopper Deshi, lets call it a conversation and do some releases, there's a little tiny piece on the end of the first one that you should possibly consider that involves slightly stressing the little finger and bringing it in tune with the universal elements ......"

GD:  "Can we talk some more Sensei Poo-Bah after we stick our little finger out?"

SPB:  "Yes, later............ you have much to learn about the Way of Humility, the Universe and Other Aiki- Stuff, but for now, hold out your hand and think about snow-roses in Tibet gently waiving in the breeze .... and tomorrow go get a pedicure."

77. Henka - Not Just Another Pretty Face

Mates (not the Australian Drinking Buddy Type but an actual spousal unit) are much like martial arts.  They can be pretty on the outside while the inside is hollowed out and non-supportive of our life goals.  Without some substance inside the person (or the henka) you can look good with the trophy on your arm and yet have nothing to fall back on when the feces flows merrily thru' the oscillator.

Kihon waza and henka (variations) are like that spousal unit; looking good but not real functional.

Kihon is not kihon waza, and henka most certainly is not.  If you do not have good, solid, intuitive and fundamentally sound kihon then any kihon waza (an evolved expression of the kihon) will simply result in essentially a pretty face and not much else; and you can just forget about good henka as a bad kihon waza will by definition result in an even worse variation (of that kihon waza).  In short, it won't impress anyone but the guy in the mirror looking back at you and the uneducated neophyte on the side of the mat.

This becomes even more important once we realize that henka is not simply a "variation" of a base form but can also be considered a dynamically altered, created and self-evolving kihon waza done on-the-fly as the relationship with the opponent continually evolves; or a dynamic physical koan if you like. 

This is why focusing on "variations" in kihon waza and kata practice can become so dangerous.  When henka are created dynamically they become a unique, one time only in the universe event that can that only be effective through a use of kihon.  Training in kihon waza or kata by doing multiple variations of any given or specific waza will eventually lead to an ingraining of that exploration/variation and the possible internalizing of something that works well in practice with a cooperative uke but utterly fails against a skilled opponent in a dynamic environment.  The human mind tends to lock onto anything that "feels good" so by spending to much time living in "clouds" of waza, we may tend to unconsciously repeat fewer and fewer variations based upon our being successful with that few and because they feel good and provide some level of positive feedback.

Once you cut it down to the bare essentials; kihon in any martial art is not technique.  Yes, yes ..... I know there are lots of books out there that says that they are one in the same but they just are not.

There are critically distinct differences between the two.  If you have bad kihon then you will in turn have bad kihon waza since kihon waza is nothing more than a physical "koan-ic" expression of all three of the base kihon (fundamental principles).

These are and in no specific order; timing, distance and positioning or Sen, Ma-ai and Happo no Kuzushi.  Or if you like and just to be a bit expressive; sen-ma-ha (sen, ma-ai, happo) or SMH.  Please notice that these are specific to a measurement of time and space relative to the opponent and are NOT waza per se.

There simply is not a technique in existence that can be executed without tori establishing control of all 3 of these simultaneously.  A failure to acquire positive control of one will eventually lead to a failure of the other two in toto'.  This failure may be partially compensated for by excessive use of power, speed and trickery but those have limited utility against  a seasoned player and will eventually depart us as we age.

Regardless of whether tori is in defensive, offensive, provocative or reactive mode, anything he does or will do sucessfully is dependent upon an understanding of how to control, manipulate or respond in a dynamic fashion to changes in timing, distance and angles of attack/position/off balance.

Too many martial artists, failing to realize the importance of these rush through the monotonous, daily and methodical practice of kihon and the most basic of kihon waza (which in and of themselves allow us to further internalize the kihon) and get right into a study of henka and variations by the score.  This results in bad habits, bad reactions and ineffective waza when attempted against a skilled player with good fundamentals.

Or, since I began this by talking about mates then a rush to get a date with the head cheerleader without understanding the personality and depth of character behind the face can result in great tragedy, not to mention not having a date for New Year's Eve.

We read stories about master martial artists saying that they use "technique of no-technique" or somewhere in the past our Sensei tells us that he uses no specific technique, only fundamentals and we ponder upon that, not really understanding.

Consider this; if you use perfect control of SMH then true, you may not use an actual kihon waza or henka but by having and maintaining primary control of where you and your opponent are in time and space (since you at that juncture have a symbiotic relationship) you may find that you do not need an actual waza as uke may be so far out-of-round that they throw themselves down, thus saving you the effort.  You in effect create an environment in which you are at home while they are lost in the woods; chasing the rabbit down the wrong trail like Alice but never catching up until they fall down the hole.

The difference in acquiring this understanding and use of SMH is in the mindset existent as we approach training.  SMH must be acquired by drill training and not technique-only or even randori based training. 

Uchikome in Judo or training in basics in Aikido are not real "techniques" or "variations" so-to-speak but they are drills that are practiced to understand the SMH of a throw or joint lock/take-down.  It is only after the drill has been done a sufficient number of times that the waza that may be joined onto the end (if desired) can be understood.

By drilling SMH until it becomes us and we become it, you enter an encounter and find that you are always in a position of safety and strategic effectiveness while the opponent/uke is not positioned to do much about it.  This is where the need or choice to actually do waza becomes an option for you to consider and can be a function of whether or not the opponent/uke continues their actions against you or chooses to call it a day.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

February 2010