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June 2011

111. Hey ... I Think Sensei Is In His Cups ...

I recently taught a lesson and got some blank stares back.  I think I confused everyone and having thought about it, I likely began to sound like the stories I've heard about O'Sensei talking so far over everyone's heads that they thought that he was either crazy or on too much sake.

When I was a kid (which century was that now?) I was a block head.  Details are unimportant but for the most part I was the normal? teenager/young adult who, into themselves and their university major (lunch, beer after class and messing around ... I had a triple major you see) failed to see many things that mature adults see; such as how relationships at work impact the family, relationships with friends impact how strangers view us .... etc.  I think you hopefully see what I'm alluding to here.  Everything is connected to everything else whether we realize it or understand it ... or not.

Then I found ... Aikido and the martial arts and a whole bunch of new people to hang out with who were into more interesting things than I can shake an obi at.  I found myself training with ex-street fighters, DEA agents and CIA spooks, police, preachers, ministers and men of the cloth, Zennists, Buddhists (and Zen Buddhists too even tho' the two do not necessarily go together most of the time).  I met ranchers, cooks, truck drivers, shrinks, sports coaches, professional football players, members of ballet companies, vegetarians and rabid raw meat eaters and aficionados and collectors of both oil paintings and porn.  The players around me read Sartre, Dante, Descarte and the darma along with the Karma Sutra, the writings of the Dalai Lama, texts on anti-social grooming behavior and comic books.  People had backgrounds in karate, tae kwon do, judo, jujitsu, kendo, boxing, tai chi.  And I discovered all of this just on Monday.  I won't get into what I discovered on Tuesday or the rest of the week.

I mean to tell ya' ... this group was broad and extremely diverse in its scope of interests and activities and the one thing that they had in common (more than one actually) was Aikido/Judo/Jodo and MA in general combined with a fierce desire to find personal improvement in body, mind and spirit.  As an example; until I was into Aikido and martial arts I had ... never had Chinese food, never had sushi, had never had sake.

The most valuable thing I learned in all of this burgoo of things and people so different and so interesting (when compared to where and whence I had come) was that everything was/is related to everything else.  One philosophy, while very different in application, was also similar to others in its intent and end goal.  Karate principles can be so different from Aikido but so similar.  The education in so many differing ideas was deep and broad and what I didn't learn from the other players, I learned on my own after developing an interest in what others spoke of or did.

So my point here is that being raised to be fairly dogmatic and pedantic in my views of life, the universe and all that, and then being dipped in Aikido batter and thrown in the hot grease was both a shock and an amazing eye-opener and a view into the concept of how everything relates to everything (else).

The lesson here is;

  • every fundamental principle has a clear relationship to every other fundamental principle,
  • every fundamental principle has a clear relationship to every waza,
  • every waza has a clear relationship to every other waza,
  • ever waza has a clear relationship to every kata and thematic study,
  • every kata and thematic study (of ryote-mochi for ex.) has a clear relationship to randori,
  • randori has a clear relationship to the uke,
  • the uke has a relationship to the tori and how each views the relationship (trust in each other to be an ethical player),
  • the relationship between tori and uke on the mat has a clear relationship to how the player views his relationship to others outside the dojo

 If we train with our uke then the trust developed in that tori/uke relationship will, over time, better enable us to understand the character and personality of someone we trust enough to give our elbows (and general health) to on a nightly basis.  As we train with that person and understand the dynamics of the relationship we learn to translate the lesson(s) on the mat (with our uke) to the world outside the dojo.  Thus, learning to work on the mat teaches us to work in the outside world.

Not to sound too very much like Mushashi; the most fundamental principle underlying Aikido is intimately related to our relationships with people outside the dojo including family, friends, co-workers and strangers.  You must explore and understand this.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho, Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

June 2011

110. You Must Assume ......................

A quick note for a too-hot day.  Summer is finally here and it's in the high 90's outside ... so I'm inside "chillaxing" and blogging after a good work-out, a quick trip home and a cold shower followed by pizza while watching an old re-run of "The Last Samurai" we stumbled across.

We've been covering the 8 releases this entire week in some depth and using the perspective of uke grabbing and stimulating tore.  The gist of it is that uke simply grabs tore and tore must respond to whatever direction uke exerts force via a push or a pull; that force being violently strong one instant and very gentle the next.  Which ever it is and in whatever direction it may be; tore must flow with it and redirect it to his advantage (with kuzushi).

The idea is that tore must respond much like a big-wave surfer in Hawaii at the Pipeline.  The wave comes up and begins to break and the surfer must use his board to ride the energy of the wave.  Any failure to do so means that the wave energy will smash him on the ocean floor; end of day and likely an unpleasant trip home nursing injuries of one extent or the other.  The successful big wave surfer uses his intuition to understand the energy carried in the wave and directs his board to the most advantageous spot for a successful ride.

We must look at uke as being like that wave.  Uke (the attacker) grabs tore's wrist in the exercise and either pulls or pushes.  If tore responds too slowly; end of day (as uke jerks him out of his socks or shoves him backwards into a wall or over a coffee table).  If tore responds too loosely (moving with uke's push/pull like a rag doll) he cannot ride that energy wave and redirect it sufficiently to utilize it; end of day.  If tore responds not at all but instead plants himself, posts and resists; end of day again.

We must always assume that uke (the attacker) is and will always be;

  • taller
  • stronger
  • faster
  • meaner
  • more experienced
  • more agressive

..... and act accordingly.

About 20 years ago I had a training partner at the dojo I received my primary training at.  He and I trained extensively together in Aikido kata and were part of a long-term filming project but at some point we begin training at a weight gym to build up strength and size.  Every day for years I woke up at 4:30 to 5 AM and jumped in the car to meet him at the gym to do our 4-day split routine.  The man who ran the gym at that hour had been a professional body builder and power lifter and he put the terminator to shame.  Mike (the gym manager) became our training coach and he wrote lifting routines for us and gave suggestions for supplementing and eating properly.

After about 3 years of this and having gone thru' multiple routines and set-ups and using exercises I'd never seen before (most of which were using free weights and cable, no Nautilus or Hammer or Techno for him) I had grown in size and my chest went from 38 to 48 while my waist went from 28 to about 35.  My girlfriend (later my wife) called me her "fire plug" and that was about how I was built.  My training partner was fond of saying that his girlfriend was mad at me because she couldn't rest her head on his chest anymore when they laid in bed because his chest was too big (and trying to do so would put a kink in her neck).  I had to special order my business suits since my chest was 12 inches larger than my waist (10 inches is about the max for "off the shelf").

Weights; my bench was a working weight of 165 (up to 185 on good days) and my max was about 250 (one rep with an experienced spotter).  My normal squat working weight was about 450 to 465 and my max (one rep with 3 spotters, one for each end of the bar and one behind) was right at 600.

I was 40 years old and I was in good shape.  But .......... believe it or not, neither Craig nor I were the real iron monsters of the gym.  The "before sunrise" crowd consisted of some other normal guys like us (businessmen getting into shape or training in MA, one or two female body builders ramping up before competitions (women on 'roids are a strange sight), 5 or 6 members of the Houston Police Department SWAT team (now those guys were in shape for BOTH lifting and long range running) and a fairly large group of body builders including one guy who was about 4 inches taller than me and whose thighs were literally bigger around than my body.

We thought we were doing good until we saw what some of these guys could lift   ..... the guy whose bench press was over 300 pounds (without a spotter) and that was his working weight.  We saw him do 3 sets of 8 one morning pushing up that 300 like it was easy.  Then there was the morning we watched two guys doing cable-rowing; one guy rowing and one spotting.  After the guy lifting had the entire weight stack pinned his spotter stood on the weights meaning that not only was he cable-rowing a 250 pound stack of steel plates but also his spotter's full weight of about the same.  Then there was the morning the guy holding the world record for free bar squats was in town for a competition.  I had never seen anyone free bar squat over 900 pounds until then.

I mean to tell ya'  ..... I was blown away.  I had always heard about people this strong but even after being in resistance training since playing junior high football I had never seen this level of performance.  They likely didn't finish well in the marathon but as far as standing there and lifting volkswagons; that they could do.

So I relate this only to show that indeed, there are those folks out there that you just cannot resist.  They are so large and so strong that to quote an old tv show; "resistance is futile ... you will be mangled, er, ah ... assimilated".  It was also a good example of everything that Sensei had ever told me about moving and of following Kano's dictum of, "when pushed, pull and when pulled, push".  Or as one of Tomiki senior players with whom I was privileged to have trained with once commented, "off balance, off balance, off balance .. always start with him in a bad place and you in a good place."

One of the most important things any Aikido player can ever learn and do is to erase and reprogram any old instincts (of resisting or fighting against the power or going toe-to-toe) with the Aikido reaction of moving with the force and redirecting the power thrown at you.  Using the opponent's power against them by understanding blending, redirecting and happo-no-kuzushi is critical simply because there are those out there who are just immovable objects.

All of our training must always be directed towards erasing old reactions (that will put us into a "bad place") and by repetitively and principally correct training, instill and make automatic and intuitive those Aikido reactions and movements that will best enable us to begin and to remain in, a "good place".

When resistance is futile then understanding the flow and riding the big wave is the only way to surf.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

June 2011