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July 2010

91. Memories, Sweet, Sweet Memories ......

Taking a fast break from exploring directions of off-balance and vectors of dynamic movement and looking backwards for a moment.

The internet has a definite down side to it; one that my old Sensei has never truly embraced.  When he had something to say to you he either called you on the phone and said it directly or sent out a letter to the entire organization in which he "called you out".  While this could at times be disconcerting and embarrassing it worked for the most part in the early years (of his organization) because he had to write it out, "proof-read" it, consider it, talk about it so by the time the letter actually was dropped the mail, it had been "tempered" somewhat by the delay.  The problem was addressed and life for the most part went on.

The internet however, is ubiquitous and worst of all, instantaneous.  I witnessed a good example of this over the past week in which what likely began as an innocent conversation rapidly evolved into a pretty negative situation.

Being Sensei has it's own set of issues, related to but not the same as the internet.  I also witnessed a good example of this over the past week in which I and two other people with the historical knowledge looked at the interchange and our first thought was "Oh Shit! .......... They're channeling so-and-so!"

Accepting that the internet has an immediacy to it and that anyone can roll out the mouse and keyboard out on anything they want to say at a moments' notice, lets take a look at the Sensei issue and the dangers inherent in being "one of those MA guys"; something I can speak very well too having left my old Sensei in '97 and opening a dojo right after that.

Problem #1 - You're the Boss - Period & End of Discussion:

A dojo just ain't a democracy in any way, shape, form or fashion due to the potential dangers of what is being taught.  You may not like that idea but that's just the way it is so if you want a democracy then go join a Sunday school class.  As a beginner you are not yet educated in the intricacies of the art form.  This is not a bad thing because eventually you will be but in the beginning at least, you need a personal guide which sometimes must include a firm but friendly hand.

The up-side here is that by being a benevolent dictator you can be an effective teacher and keep people SAFE which is a big, big deal in the MA (or it, safety, should be a big deal in the MA). 

The down side here is that at some point you can start to feel a little, say we say, "godlike" in that you ARE the Master, you ARE Yoda, you ARE the Tengu living in the forest, meeting the monjin at the gate and having judged them worthy/not worthy, teach them the magic that they are desperately seeking because you as Sensei are the only person around who actually owns the magic and there are no others so they come to you.

After a few years of this "god-hood" so-to-speak you can begin to believe that mantle that deshi sometimes can lay on your shoulders and in effect, you begin to drink your own bathwater.

Problem # 2 - You Don't Need A Real Job & Can Live Only In the Dojo:

Many Sensei fall into this trap because they don't have a REAL job.  They either are personally well-off or wealthy and do not HAVE to work to feed the family OR they do so well at teaching the MA they pull their personal income out of the dojo or kai that they run.  So because they don't NEED that job, they are only and ever exposed to their deshi and patrons who likely look at them as Yoda and attentively listen to and hang on every work they say whether good or bad and never contradict them; ergo, Sensei is always right (at least in his own head) because no one wants to risk "P.O.'ing" Sensei off and being expelled from the dojo.  Because Sensei is never short on money he throws out anyone who openly contradicts him since he doesn't need the monthly class fee from that person.

When I opened up the Aikibudokan over 10 years now I was told by many, many people that I should quit my day job and just become a professional MA teacher since I had years of senior experience on the mat, had done traveling for Sensei teaching at other dojo and had spent about 10 years doing filming projects.  I was insecure about doing that and had little confidence that I could actually build an organization that could generate what I was already making in the private sector.  As it turns out now, years later, that was good for me that I kept my day job and that I didn't jump into that "professional" slot.

Anytime I get out of hand my wife jumps my case (she once did Shoman-ate on me and threw me across the bedroom because we were having an intense discussion .......... remind me to never argue with a woman who has the same rank you have but it does keep you honest, it was not intentional and it was fun in a weird way). 

More importantly, my clients remind me on a daily basis of the concept of humility.  I am a commercial property and casualty agent and have more clients than I can adequately service.  When I walk into the dojo, having just had my rump chewed off by a client that is upset with my performance, I am reminded in a very direct way that communication is more important than being bossy or believing that I hold all the answers.  In short, because I actually have people in my day-to-day life that simply do not hesitate to get in my face and give me a piece of their mind (and I have to sit there and take it because I need the money to feed my family) it goes a long way towards reminding me that I an NOT "godlike".

For those Sensei who do not have a real job but who are in the financially fortunate position to be able to "live" only in the dojo with faithful and sometimes worshiping students, they don't have a that blunt reality check on their ego and may begin to look in the mirror and "see" the halo floating over their head.

Problem #3 - Putting Your Personal Opinions Out There:

When you're Sensei it is all too easy to put your opinions, whether religious or political out for viewing by the students.  It's great!  You have a captive audience and they can't object because they are afraid that you may throw them out for disagreeing.  Even if you the Sensei would not mind some objections, they won't do it due to the fear so you begin to believe that you hold the only valid and intelligent opinions and if you are an outspoken person politically or a proselytizer religiously then you feel right at home so now you have the potential to have a little self-righteousness working its' magic.

It's important to understand that the student's fear of being summarily ejected may be completely false and out of place (you the Sensei being pretty easy going about that sort of thing) but it's real to the student anyway and some students may react accordingly and never speak out.

So the question arises; at what point do they begin to feel browbeaten?  At what point do they vehemently disagree with your political/religious views but will not speak out?  And if they do speak out, do you use logic arguments to imply that they are ignorant and uneducated and that you have the superior knowledge?  Do you speak condescendingly to them ("Well, any educated person knows that your statement simply isn't true and doesn't advance social justice.")???  Huh???

Problem #4 - Outside Activities Exacerbate the Halo:

Take all the above (being the boss, living only in the dojo, liking to impose personal opinions) and now let's add a little spice to it.  The MA have this mythology of the "Zen Master"; the wise person who can guide you spiritually down the path to wisdom, much like the relationship between Musashi and Takuan.  This myth of the "The Master" can all too easily take on pseudo/semi-religious aspects.  Maybe Takuan, as a student of zen for who knows how many years, has zero ego having conquered all the dragons and solved all the koans and ridden all the oxen but to the students (who have NOT gone thru' the learning process) the "Master" can and many times does take on the visage of a demi-god like personage.  And, if the Sensei doesn't have a firm grip on the humility issue then the halo become larger and more prominent because of the described problems in #1, 2 & 3.

What would be a good example(s) of this? 

How about being a zen priest?  How much more martially-artsy than that could you get being BOTH a Big Sensei AND a Zen Priest?  I have known more than one person fitting this so I have seen first hand how difficult it can be to escape stepping in the ox dung.  (Small Zen reference there).

What about an actual minister or reverend at a Christian church, ministering to the flock spiritual needs?  A good friend of mine who was a long time Judo/Aikido player and a professional psychologist who took my "soon-to-be-wife and I thru' pre-marriage counseling before our wedding once described a study done by the a university here in Houston on the attitudes of religious leaders; both lay and ordained.  Very scary.  Very, VERY scary.  Over half thought that when they talked God listened and was in the room with them.  A surprisingly large percentage thought that they could actually hear God talking back and giving advice.  A very small percentage thought they WERE God's direct messenger on Earth.

Such is the seductive power of spiritual leadership and the desire of those wanting to advance under your tutelage.

Like I said, VERY scary but now tell me grasshopper ........... how easy would you think it would be to fall into this trap ..... a Sensei running a dojo and a large organization, all the money he needs and no need for a real job outside the MA, likes to express himself and push his opinion, and a semi-religious position to boot, ministering to both his MA flock and his flock outside the dojo.

Traps.  All traps of the ego.  Traps that any Sensei can fall into over the long term without realizing it one iota until it is entirely too late.

I once knew a great Sensei who had most of the issues/problems that I've listed above.  A truly great man with many friends and loyal students that everyone looked up to and listened too.  A great man who lost everything, with dojo after dojo resigning and leaving, his ex-students finally tired of biting their tongue and listening to someone with religious and political views far out of the mainstream.  He just never knew how far out of the mainstream that he was since he only ever looked in the mirror.

And, I think that when someone actually does a public post in which their comment to you the Sensei consists of "I think you're being paranoid ....... grow up", it may be time to look in the mirror.

Using him as my example I have pledged to never channel his behavior under any circumstances and for any reason.

He once had advisers that counseled him when the behavior was out of round.  I was once one of those once upon a time ................. if only he'd listened ................

So my advice to all Sensei out there is to pay attention and don't let your position go to your head by accident.

You've been given a great gift and you must earn that gift every single day of your life.

It is NOT granted to you once only with you never having to earn it again.  You must re-earn it every .... single ...... day ..... and ...... every .... single .... time ... you .... step ..... on .... the .... mat.

I miss the man I trained under and held as a mentor for all those many years but he simply lost his perspective.

And, I have people I consider friends that I don't want to lose because they followed his path and lost their perspective also.

Don't you lose yours.

.......Next post this weekend on "retreating or down the line" kuzushi.

90. Which Way Do I Go?

When we consider how to deal with the attack by uke we have some choices which we've named in the post prior to this one.  These consist of:

  • Cross the Line
  • Down the Line
  • Blending

So let us consider the first; Cross the Line.

Below is a diagram (please to forgive the crudeness) that I have drawn and inserted.

Here we have two opposing players at ma-ai or two arms length.  They both have the right hand up.  The center line of dashes represents the line of attack is the shortest distance between two points which means that is the fastest way for uke to attack tori (moving the centers together).  Tori's first and most important response is to get off the line of attack before doing anything else.  Tori can pick up a parry/grip on the attacker's wrist (the first part of uke to cross that two arms length distance) but tori must move.

In moving, tori must make several assumptions, all of which taken together clarify the need to NOT remain on the line of attack:

  • we must assume that the attack will come unexpectedly
  • we must assume that uke is larger and carries more body mass than we do
  • we must assume that uke will not stop, that is, uke will continue forward until we stop him with some form of strike, joint lock/take-down or throw
  • we must assume that uke is physically stronger than we are
  • if we choose to remain on the line of attack and do not successfully get off that line, our response will very quickly become that of directly opposing the force and momentum and unless we are more powerful, we will eventually become overwhelmed.

If we take Cross the LIne Off Balance the end result is shown below.  (Again, please to forgive the crudeness but then I never claimed to be artsy-craftsy.


By tori stepping to his right or Cross the Line (of attack) tori parries the attack hand and attaches (grips) the wrist. As tori steps and the arms become the connection between uke and tori a vector is created that simultaneously moves tori off the line of attack and takes off balance on uke.  If tori misses entirely then uke's momentum will continue uke along that initial line of attack as tori moves off to the right.  This will necessitate uke completing the attack and then turning to find tori, thus giving tori time to move and re-set.

If tori successfully picks up the parry and "pushes" ukes arm in the direction of his step, tori not only ends up with being off the line of attack AND uke's off balance, tori also has accomplished some strategic positioning.

First, tori is behind uke's right arm which means that tori has his left hand free to strike uke, grab his collar, attack uke's elbow or any of a variety of possible waza.  Since tori is behind uke's right arm, uke's left arm is now too far away from tori to be of any use.  If uke attempts some kind of backward spin then tori can very easily move and maintain the position (behind uke's right arm).

Second, tori's position makes any counter attack by uke (such as a sukui waze/scoop) very difficult to achieve because the bodies (of tori and uke) are too far away from each other.

This type of off balance is proactive.  As uke begins the attack and crosses ma-ai, tori does not wait for the attack to progress before responding.  Tori parries and actively takes a step off line, forward and to the right with the centers of tori and uke closing.  The more energy uke puts into the attack, the more off balance tori is able to achieve and the greater the vector will become.  Tori in effect "rides" the energy of the attack and steps as far as uke's speed/energy/momentum dictates in that tori is only pushing behind uke's attack arm and does not stop until uke's attack is fully spent.


Yeh, yeh, I know ............ your mother said don't use all caps 'cause that's like screaming but this distinction is critical in understanding these methods of getting off line and taking kuzushi.

This Cross the Line Off Balance is very similar to some methods of taking kuzushi on uke in Judo.  Uke doesn't have to step big or fast or hard for tori to be able to take kuzushi; tori in effect forcing the issue of off-balance to his advantage.  But, the faster uke does attack the more massive the off-balance can become which in turns forces ukes to do some super-athletic effort to recover posture thus giving tori a wonderful set-up for a waza.

After the 4th of July we'll take a look at the next one, and then the next and then we'll recap and discuss the warts that each method has.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan

Houston, TX July 2010