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October 2011

116. The 12 Volt Sensei

A growing trend in the martial arts world is that of "internal power". 

(key music, start intro-video da dum .... da dum .. dadumdadumdadumdumdum .... eeeeekk !!!!!.....

 

Back when I started training in the late 60's it was almost never mentioned; at least until everyone got past the judo phase and then the empty hand karate phase and then the PKA safe-kick/punch phase and then the Bruce Lee phase and then the kung fu/grasshopper phase and then we hit (almost simultaneously) the Aikido phase and the Ninja phase (which seemed to occur simultaneously with or shortly after the transcendental meditation phase) and then suddenly it was every where and Sensei had to fight off the young grasshopper wanna-bee's with his chop sticks every week.  Except that it wasn't called "internal power" but instead was "ki" or "chi". The phase I remember was "aiki" or just "ki" for short with no use of the phrase "ki power".

Then we got into the UFC/BJJ phase and all that came before, for the most part, went away in favor of more rationalistic thought esp. after the first UFC bout where all the "traditionalists" had their fundoichi's handed back to them. 

Suddenly many training regimens changed in response to that first UFC thrashing that we all saw on tv. 

  • Some changed back to where they had originally started from but had left due to desires to grow their dojo (back to more practical, more hard training, broader view of their own history instead of the new marketing ploy). 
  • Or, they changed for the worse ("Ok, kiddee's ... let's light our candles and hold hands .... hmmmm .. kumbaaaayaaaah my ...."). 
  • Or they just stayed where (and where they had always been) since they had never left or "evolved", weren't into trophies and had never lost their effectiveness to begin with, having ignored all the "Aiki-Bunnies" running around.

I can live with the terms ki and chi since they're oriental and not easily understood and kinda' "global" since they cover about as much territory as you want them too; so in my mind they're actually easier to work with.  You can do a lot with them such as defining them logically and then applying that to training ... "No Little Johnny, you cannot levitate nor can you will your zafu to float across the floor with you on it like you're attendees at a TM festival.  Just focus, breath deep, relax, concentrate, control your fear and just whack him with gusto and mutual respect." .....  or  ..... "So Sensei, is that what ki is?  Sure if it makes you feel any better now get to work and gimmee' another 100 kote-gaeshi's and some ippon seonage to finish up with and then we'll talk about some concepts of kuzushi."

See .... problem solved without any smoke and mirrors involved and now everyone is happy with what aiki is .... just hard work and a focused game plan that takes place and evolves over years in the dojo as you strengthen your body, focus your mind and learn the kihon and then the kata and then the bunkai.

But today the idea behind them (ki and aiki and chi) has been "Americanized" and "marketed" and has been more clearly defined and labeled  as ... "internal power". 

Hmmm .....  In-ter-nal pow-er ..... Now just what is that?  Gas?  A strong constitution (or strong case of constipation)?  Too many vaso-dialators downed at one time and now they have to stand you in the corner until you can relax a little?  bwahaha     ...  I know ... maybe it's .... more of an electrical phenomena ...........

Unclefesterlightsup

Naw ... that can't be it.  So what is it?

Humans are physical beings and subject to the laws of physics.  If you cannot control your body you fall down a lot.  The laws of mass, inertia, gravity, heat transfer, oxygen usage, proper eating and exercise, healthy life-style all impact us every moment of every day and failure to correctly observe the laws of nature and what our bodies are capable of will, and does, result in "fail" of whatever we're in the middle of at any moment.

Early martial arts were started by people who did not drive cars, eat "organic" food (it was ALL organic assuming you could get to it before the critters ate it, or ate you).  They worked hard every day because they had to and the old saying of "root hog or die" was observed daily.  So the MA started in small villages or on a farm somewhere and all the students entering the dojo already had strong bodies and focused minds (no work-no eat ..... no train hard-guy down the creek will kill me and steal my woman).  All-in-all pretty simple, pretty basic, primal in many regards and there was no mistaking how life went.

What do we have today?

Processed foods leading to obesity.  (So is that why all the Sensei I see look like they spend too much time at the buffet counter?  Come on man.  At least wear a girdle would ya' please? Jeeeezus!)

Little exercise leading to weak muscles and poor posture.  If folks spent more time at the gym and less time yelling at the plasma flat screen during Monday night football they'd be in better shape to do some ukemi.

People were mentally tougher since they most likely grew up having to fight for food at dinner or fight the kid down the path to get back something he stole from you.  Today if your kid touches someone he's in detention for days and lord help him if he actually (gasp..) gets into a fight and bloodies some little truant's nose for him.

Today's humans are as a rule (but not universally since some of us still grow up with some old-style discipline and hard work and the occasional fist up the side of our head)  ...... softer, less mentally tough, less able to work with physical stress, less able to deal with pain and much less able to fight thru pain and discomfort to keep moving forward and have lower frustration tolerance.

Comparing the two types of humans ..... the one's from rural times were physically tough and therefore able to generate physical power while today's people have to start from scratch and slowly build up physical power and fitness before they can even do the waza, much less worry about something like ki or chi.

So the "already fit" person goes to the dojo and is accepted for instruction.  He learns the waza and how to apply his already existing physical strength and only then goes to the temple where he's taught ki and chi and .... ok, ok, ok .... "internal power" so he's way down the road to mastery pretty quikly (on a relative basis) without Sensei having to work that dunlop disease off his belly, get him shape and then have to have instruction in how to use his body.

The "softee person" has no physical power, can't throw the uke and now assumes out of ignorance (or is told by an unethical instructor) it's because he has no ki and no chi charged up in his tanden and that he must "learn" and "accumulate" and go after that Mystical-Magical-Mystery-Tour that today is called "internal power".

The instructor is now faced with a choice.  Does he tell the little butterball the truth; that he needs to get into shape and stretch everything out and become stronger and then learn the ryu and understand how to use his body efficiently BEFORE he starts worrying about ki/chi/internal power? 

Or does the instructor take the route of least resistance .... that of teaching "internal power" to out of shape students who can't take decent ukemi, much less take hold of an opponent who is 6 inches taller and 50 to 100 pounds heavier and whack them with panache and proper principle?

Given our current "state of the culture" in which the easy way seems to be the only way, in which self-promotion is rampant, in which instant gratification is endemic, in which too many look for the "magic bullet", in which the deshi wants to be an instant simulacrum of Kwai Chang Cane/Obi-wan Kenobi/Seagal, and in which the Sensei has learned basic economics and understands how to market and bring home the bacon (not ot mention having a firm grasp of the principles of self-aggrandisement) then we end up in seminars, training clinics and dojos in which the hard work is simply pushed aside in favor of the fast way, the easy way, the mystical way.  The student, and eventually the Sensei all want to believe and this is what all too many times occurs .....

 

For a time when I was attending the university I finally graduated from (too much party down dude with my Frat-Rat brothers) I considered majoring in psychology.  One course (taught by a semi-madman who came to class stoned and who kept buming cookies from everyone, but was very skilled and knowledgeable in what he taught) explored the ideas, concepts and methodology behind hypnosis. 

There's not a blog big enough to lay out a comprehensive picture of this but suffice it to say that ever since the time of Mesmer and all the way back to the Egyptians these ideas have been used both on the individual level and on small groups.  What this video shows is a technique called "rapid induction" which was popularized by Milton Ericson (look these up in Wiki for more fascinating detail).  Having taken the college course work and having been to martial arts seminars and having seen this done   .... well ... you make up your own mind about the ideas (some but certainly not all) currently being floated around out there in the "No Touch Knockout Kingdom" and "Internal Power Land".

Here's something to consider.

Real "internal power" comes from refining, understanding and being able to use nature's principles of the natural body structure and composition (such as knowing the function of fascia for example).  If a student tries to take that giant leap forward into the higher level, more sophisticated waza and randori areas that are designed to enhance and polish the fundamental principles and kihon (without already having the body understanding and development in place) then he will quite simply fail. 

Martial arts kihon and kata are based in and are intended to be a way by which to learn, internalize and make intuitive all the patterns of stimulus/response to various combative conditions and situations that by their very structure are designed to push the present limits of the students' body and prepare them (that body) for the application of the ryu's principles.  Ergo .... no practice, no improved shape, no understanding of how to use the body to apply the basic kihon or kata, much less actual waza, bunkai and randori.

Proper practice, good conditioning, internalized intuitive responses, learned thru' repeated practice enables the student to apply the correct movement/step/use of muscle and limbs at the correct moment in time and space and do it all on a subconscious/intuitive level .... in essence the mind controlling body without conscious thought.  Until this point is reached in the students' development then all attempts to learn internal power is useless and without purpose since achieving this level of intuitive ability is, on its face, itself internal power of the highest sort.

"Internal power" is nothing more than a calm and focused mind, giving internalized and intuitive directions to a body that has been developed and can make the most efficient use possible of the mechanical design and advantages of being a bipedal/bilateral creature, alignment and posture, the natural elasticity of tissue, muscle, ligament, tendon and fascia, stretch and contraction reflexes and muscular strength to most correctly apply the principles of the martial art form to the opponent at the absolute correct moment of time and space in the most efficient manner possible.

Mind controls body with calm spirit; and at the highest levels of ability (achieved only after years and decades of steady training) all the potentials of the subconscious are brought into play and under control of the conscious mind.  Not in a magical sense but instead in the sense of looking at the opponent with such a calm state of mind and confidence in your ability that the opponent changes his mind about attacking but if he does, everything you do is made to look ridiculously easy.

That's all it is folks and I'm really sorry to have to be the one to tell you that it only takes a few thousand repetitions if not 10's of thousands to get there.

So I guess I'll see you on the mat.

 L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

October 2011


115. "Are We There Yet?" - The Paradox of Commitment

Every Aikido style/method/ryu has its core material; the material that must, must be internalized into automatic reflexes almost as far down as the limbic/lizard brain level.  Without this "core" embedded into the player's nervous system the remainder of the system cannot be easily learned, correctly assimilated or understood at any level.

Beyond that is what the rest of class consists of.  Here in Houston we have our core that we go over at about 90% of all of our beginner/intermediate classes and it consists of:

  • aiki-taiso - warm-ups to loosen, strengthen and condition the body many of which contain movement or physical requirements used in actual Aikido practice
  • ukemi - a set methodology for teaching proper ukemi and for making the ukemi response/reflex automatic in just about any configuration of a throw or take-down possible
  • walking - a solo drill designed to both utilize all Aikido tai-sabakai and combined hand blade movements while requiring the player to focus on their posture, breathing, body condition and coordination
  • 8 releases - a drill/kata set that allows the player to totally ignore the grabbing attacks of uke while building a subconscious response that dictates that upon violation of ma-ai (combative distance) and a grab by uke of any part of the clothing or body that tori (the defender) move off-line of the attack and  break the attackers posture & balance and then move to a strategically superior position
  • 17 attack movements - the most basic ways in which to use a strike, shoulder/elbow lock, wrist lock or throw off of any of those against the attacker in a very proactive fashion
  • the last 1/3rd of class is then spent in covering any of a very wide range of Aikido waza, ideas, concepts and philosophies.

In some dojo in some ryu/styles they do not cover nearly as much material as we (and other dojo) do in the normal course of training.  Ever been to a dojo where the Sensei leads aiki taiso and the spends the next hour having you do ONLY Shomen-uchi Ikkyo?  I have and I can tell you ... I was good at Shomen-uchi Ikkyo .... but bored beyond all belief and every time I hit the mat I thought "When do we do something else?

Keeping to the current thought of "How do I inspire my students to train as hard as I did?; consider this ....... how do I help them get "biten" by the "Aiki-Bug" such that they'll not only come to class once in a while but will finally jump in and want more and more, and eventually become really high-level players?"  Consider how much material you not just expose the students to but how often they see it and whether or not it makes them "curious".

By the time our people make Shodan they have learned well:

  • body conditioning
  • break falling
  • a "walking" method of self-awareness and kinesthetic intelligence
  • 8 releases of auto-responsiveness along with 2 to 4 actuall techniques for each of those (8 x 4 is 32 waza)
  • 17 assertive "attack" methods/waza, each of which tie-in to the other 16 and also having 3 differing methods of taking kuzushi (17 x 3 = 51 waza)

and they will have extensive exposure to,

  • knife randori
  • hand randori
  • multiple attack randori
  • grappling
  • standing and on-the-mat strangulations
  • several Kodokan Judo body throws & foot/leg sweeps

etc. etc.

I could list this material all morning long but the point here is this ....... do you as Sensei provide a broad enough spectrum of material to keep everyone interested and excited or do you tend to fall back on the time-honored dictum of "Studying Ikkyo and Niyko for the first 3 years is enough and if it was good enough for me then it should be good enough for them."  Do you help them see the larger picture of Aikido and MA and Budo        ............ or do you restrict the curriculum to what you were taught at their level (30 years ago)?

I think that if you want students to commit then you need to show them a path that has no clear target, goal or ending; one that contains and extolls the idea of "Wonder what's around the next curve up ahead?  I think I'll go see."

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

October 2011

 


114. As Clear as Mud - The Paradox of Commitment

Here recently there's been some web-talk about why today's Aikido player doesn't seem as serious as they used to be.  One blogger in fact, a pretty high ranking guy who's been around for some time, lamented that even the ones who seem serious really aren't and that they just won't do the work necessary to become an outstanding player.

This is such a broad topic with so many cultural, personal, emotional, historical, etc. etc. ideas that are part and parcel of the overall issue that there's no way that I, or anyone, can sit down for a few minutes and adequately discuss it.  But I will lay out one idea today and then maybe throw out others in a series.

When I first walked into an Aikido dojo many years ago it was after having competed in grade school football and track and field for years (4th grade to high school senior).  It was also after having trained in Tae Kwon Do and done some in-house and tournament kumite and promotional ordeals (kata for a solid hour and then kumite for a another solid hour against guy after guy after....) that during one promotional test resulted in my acquiring some cracked ribs and a broken hand.  So I wasn't walking in like a virgin at the high school prom ... I was walking in with a fairly pragmatic and competitive attitude and was in search of a better martial art than what I had been doing.  In short; I wanted something with some meat on its bones.

My Sensei' (plural as I started with a husband/wife team and then found the man who became my primary) always talked about Aikido principles in terms of logical and rational expressions such as:

  • When he attacks move off the line, get behind his arm, bust his balance and then look for the direction he is least likely to resist and then throw him.
  • Don't oppose his force with your strength but instead try to re-direct it.
  • Remember to not use force vs. force because he could be twice your strength and will pop you.
  • Use this angle of attack and not that one.  It has the best geometry and will produce the best results.

Very direct .... very logical ... very rooted in rational thought with demonstrable examples behind it that Sensei could teach and the student could replicate.

So with that as the norm 40 years ago what do we have to say to today's Aikido player who is looking for some physical culture and self-defense?

Here is an actual example I took from a video off the internet.  I will not post the link nor name the dojo, teacher, ryu or kai (for obvious reasons).  I had to stop/start the video several times in order to write this down exactly the way the person (also not saying male or female here) said it.

"I go to the edge of his limit and he feels good about that.  So he works with me in a cooperative way so that we as a couple working together recognize the moment of atari and the new musubi and we produce a blending of synergistic energies that result in a non-violent cooperation coming out of that connection."

wtf? ??????????????????????????????????????????????????? WTF?

So now here is the issue as I see it.

You have a student who is not into mysticism.  He wants self-defense.  His life outside the dojo is stressful and he is looking for a direct connection to the truth of the matter (from a competent teacher who speaks "real talk") because that is the way he has to live his life at the office.  He has no time nor patience for anything that sounds like BS and is looking for straight talk from an ethical person who will not BS him, lead him on or lie to him.

Do you think that you might lose his attention in class with all that mystical conversation that even I, an 8th Dan with 40 years on the mat couldn't understand when the schlock-meister on the video said it?  If I hadn't actually seen what he was doing and could only hear it I would have had NO idea of what he was about.

This potential student that you just frustrated could have become your greatest player but you the Sensei are reduced to sounding like a bad remake of a Swami Mommy TM seminar from 1970.

So what kind of person likes the kind of "mystical" descriptions I heard on the video?  Do you think that they may be a little "out-there" in Gaia-land and not really interested all that much in real Budo and are actually looking for the next method of "self-realization"?

So do think that you attract the kind of student you're looking for?

If you talk mysticism then expect refugee hippies from the commune down the street but if you want serious students who come from various backgrounds and who understand that they are learning Budo and who will commit to it long-term (because they have already experienced how to  commit to years of high school sports or karate or military, etc.) then you the Sensei have to keep it simple, keep it direct and be clear in how you teach and not sound like an Eastern religious fanatic.

I have never viewed Aikido with the childlike wonder that others do.  It is indeed magical in many ways but not mystical.  I simply view it as an open-ended martial-based way of life that gives me physical culture and self-defense all mixed up with personal and spiritual development plus some philosophy thrown in to give me a varying viewpoint from what I learned from my family.

Confusing your students with strangeness will only get you strange & un-committed students.  And then you ask why none of your players will do the work ......

Just a quick thought on the topic for now.  More later as I cogitate.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

October 2011

 


113. Expected to Know

Been off-line for a busy summer and the start of a new fall season and just now getting back to it.  Lots of things have happened lately so I feel the need to make some brief comments for pondering while sitting on the patio under the pergola.

Visitor came by the dojo having found the web site and wanted to sign-up for Aikido.  During the course of the conversation I found out that he has taken a job teaching English in Japan and plans to leave sometime next year, and that his desire to learn Aikido was actually nothing more than an attempt to gain some "acclimatization" and exposure to Japanese culture and MA/Budo.

In my mind; that is NOT a good reason to become involved in Budo.  Budo is one of those things that either "you ARE" or "you AIN'T"  .....  involved, that is, in the Way of Life and total commitment that it entails. 

There is simply no middle ground and to enter the gate with the attitude of "gettin' some atmosphere and feelin' the vibes" doesn't reflect well upon the prospective monjin (student of martial arts & budo) but instead classifies them as nothing more than a seito (university student) ... a tourist cruising around the campus mall and gawking at the lovers under the tree by the fountain like some foolish virgin who can't begin to understand the visceral's they are experiencing.  Any fool can be a college student.  All that takes is filling out some paperwork and borrowing mommy and daddy's credit card.

So on went the conversation from one topic to the next which told me that he had approached this entire dojo venture not with his heart, but with his head.  He'd done his research on Aikido and Japanese MA but had read some fantasy material (or so it seemed) and kept making statements that told me that he was too much a book worm and was unable to put disparate facts into an appropriate context   ..... (a fact validated by his physical build  ... chess player maybe or drama club but athletics of any kind at all?   Nope ... not likely). 

Not that he couldn't have learned mind you with some personal commitment and focus (because some of my very best players started with us having zero MA background and very minimal sports activities) but in his case it was just him being very comfortable in his role as book worm and not wanting to explore a different paradigm.

Then he dropped the bombshell that got my hackles up.  He asked "THAT QUESTION".  You know, the one that all the strange-ones come up with     ...    the ones who had bit-parts as walk-on actors on the old tv show "Millenium".

To wit; "I notice that you do a traditional formal reishiki to open and close class.  Does everyone have to do that and can I maybe do just a really shallow "nod" instead.  You see, I'm Christian."

Hmmmmmm, thought I ..... one of "Those" .....  (now which episode of Millenium did I see him in??)

I've been approached over the years by various folks and my answer to them when they ask this "Question" is always the same. "Yeh you do Bubba and if you refuse  then don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out."

I treat everyone the same and for someone to come in and want the "goodie" of Aikido without accepting the mutual respect and humility behind the reishiki is simply not acceptable in the least.  Go buy yourself some latex panties and find yourself a health spa to go to instead.

Because I am consistent in this (everyone including me MUST follow the reishiki) then I've had as successful players Christians, Muslims, Orthodox Hassidic Jews and the occassional "arrogant as sh__" atheist/agnostic.  All it took was my explaining the idea and once they went to their rabbit, minister, whomever to check with, they came back in and said ok ... I'm ready to go.

And yes ........ I've found that some of the most arrogant are the athiests   ......  always on the defensive, justifying their belief system (or actually the lack thereof) and refusing to rei and describing it as "some form of spirit/ancestor/nature worship and as an athiest I've just more mature and wise and beyond all that".

Hmmmmmm .... and all this time I thought that rei and the reshiki were just part of showing mutual respect, humility and an understanding of what the term "Sempai" (senior to me as my mentor/teacher/exemplar) and "Sensei" (lit. "one who was born before") means. 

Wow!  Guess I didn't know that my entire existential being was wrapped up in a refusal to acknowledge people who may be older, smarter, wiser, more mature and just better Aikido players than me; wrapped around a refusal to acknowledge the "dead guys" who devoted their lives to this craziness and who built the ryu's that we all study and train in   ...... guess I need to go back and become "enlightened"   ... pffbbbttttt  .. I think not young Samurai learner ....

So we kept talking and lo' and behold he let slip that when he actually makes it to Japan and settles in he wants to consider taking Aikido over there ..... Bwhahahahhahhaahahahah  .... ROFALMFAO .... I want to be there when he walks into Hombu and refuses to observe the reigei and won't return a rei directed to him by another player.   Bwahhhahhahahahaha  ... wheeze .... gasp ... I need air I'm laughing so hard.  Please ... someone film it and send me the video as they grab him by the kesa and teach him to break dance on his head   ....

He'd really give up an opportunity to really immerse himself into another culture and learn everything new, different and wonderful that they could teach him???   .... gawd ....what - a - waste of a wonderful opportunity  .....

The Japanese have a concept called "haragei" or "belly art".  Without getting really in-depth here what it basically means is they use culturally centered body signals to communicate; along with a goodly portion of visual cues, body reading, and facial micro-gestures to communicate "that which is not spoken".  The reishiki is a small part of that much larger picture.

What this guy didn't know (he does now after I talked to him like a red-headed step-child) is that when he goes to a dojo or goes to Japan he is expected to already know at least a minimal level of the basics of mutual respect and consideration and if he doesn't know, then he is expected to show a serious and honest attempt to learn such that he will be accepted .... by the dojo or by the Japanese people.

To me that's just good manners mixed with a whole bunch of common sense.

To walk in flaunting your "religiosity" and in a very real sense your "cultural superiority" and flatly refusing to adhere to the societal norms of the national culture or the dojo culture means that they will never accept you and will always consider you to be a pariah who shows them total disrespect. 

Best of all .... they'll never tell you.  I tried to educate the boy as best I could but then I'm an old cowboy and can be pretty direct when I think it necessary .. unlike the Japanese who will just smile and walk away muttering something about "ignorant animal-skin wearing gaijin savages".

So teacher ... that's one thing that happened on my summer vacation.  I have a couple more I may get to over the next day or so (or maybe later today since Wed. for me when I teach Yudansha class are generally pretty long and I look for non-business activities to clear my mind off and on during the work day).

Hopefully the poor boy got the message but somehow I don't think that it will stick since his "religiosity" will likely overpower his common sense.  The ability to tell the difference between being forced to prostrate ones self before another human or simply to bow and show mutual respect and humility is a critical bit of "life knowledge".

Part of Budo in my estimation is the ability to understand that difference and to accept the "differences" and educate myself over the long haul.  Budoka have to be open minded where necessary and that "open-ness" is what enables us to hopefully realize some of what Ueshiba visualized as the "Aiki-verse".

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston TX

October 2011