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March 2017

146. Join the Samurai Navy and See the World (recruiting 101)

When I started this blog years ago I promised to write about interesting, or intriguing, or strange things in Budo; things that hopefully make the reader cant their head to one side like a Pug and say, Huh?”  Things that make you stop and think for a second is my intent so here is today’s momentary descent into, “The Budo-verse”.

Back in the gym after two or three years of broken promises to myself and just pure outright laziness.  Promised my Head Hatamoto that we’d “do stuff” at the ‘doj and throw each other around so must get back into fighting trim.  Not all that easy at age 65 but it’s still there.  Just have to reach for it and do the work.

Worked out, had a “healthy breakfast” at the whole food shop inside the gym.  Pretty convenient and they had plenty of black coffee to boot with a go-cup.  My health club isn’t quite as nice as the old-world “Gentlemen’s Clubs” in London; you know, the ones where you do your workout, and then go to the lockers as your man-servant hands you a gin and tonic to cut the edge off those 1,000 sit-ups, and then you perambulate to the steam room as you waddle naked across the locker room, and the shower attendant hands you your fresh, hot, monogrammed towel and the green bar of English pine soap, while you admire your pumped, buffed, and waxed nakedness in the mirror.

No.  Not quite that nice but maybe one day …………..

So on the way into the office, the skies turned black with this weather front coming through with massive rain and spectacular lightening shows. Satellite radio went into a “fem-ale” mode with song after song (by Toni Braxton, Anita Baker, Norah Jones, Tina Turner ……. Old School kind of tunes) so it was a smooth drive in with ‘tunes, nice weather, hot coffee, and good traffic for a change.  Stress-less, not stress-free but close so the mind drifted into thinking about conversations I had heard around me that morning at the gym about people always wanting something from you and pushy salesmen (apparently this is a week for carnival barkers) and I remembered several occasions at the dojo where someone, ostensibly looking at training, actually wanted something other than Budo.  They wanted things but used “visiting the dojo” as the wedge to get into the door and to try to put me at ease for the “close”.

I sometimes think that the world outside the Budo-bubble or the Bushi-verse looks at a dojo as a means of recruitment for whatever they are hawking, selling, thinking, doing, or hallucinating about.  And sometime they can be pushy so a Sensei, who has the best interests of his deshi at heart (and who is concerned about the viability of the dojo as being a “way place of learning” and not just another pit stop on the road to mediocrity) has to be direct, sometimes to the point of rudeness and everyone once in a great while, threatening to do some serious bodily harm if they can’t figure out that they are simply not wanted.

Bwahahaha.  I’ve been an insurance broker and agent for about 20 years now and got my start as a professional telemarketer after I left commercial banking.  Even when I was in banking before going into insurance full-time back in ’97, the big corporate banking centers I worked at actually put us through classes in how to sell and close, to how profile the prospect, and how to gauge, evaluate and control different personality types either as a loan officer, a risk management officer or as a problem loan & liquidation officer (I was all three at times). 

I’m the last person in the world you want to try to manipulate for a sale of anything and everyone once in a while, I’ll just screw with them, just because ………………. “Sure, I’m interested.  Tell me more.  Tell me more.  But what if …… tell me more ………. But would you want your mother to do that?” ….. but, who developed this and did they make any money?” ….. Have fun with it and interrupt their sales script, which throws them off.  Then you get to watch them try to recover so you hit them again.

So …………….. the occasions that popped into my mind during the drive in that were the most unusual and that had the best set-up as in the carnival barker coming in, talking martial arts and then slowly and gently trying to slip the ‘shiv in were …………..

Fellow sends an email asking if he can visit and the email says that he lives and trains in another martial art here in Houston; but that a good friend of his, an Aikido Sensei from Europe is in town and wants to visit several dojo to see what Aikido in the US and Texas is like.  So I say sure, come in Saturday.  They both come in, sit and visit, ask questions about Tomiki Aikido and I explain how Tomiki set it up, how the curriculum works and mention that Tomiki Ryu has strong self-defense focus and a heavy flavor of Kodokan Judo with how we work the off-balance on the attacker and enter for the technique.  This was all information that I already knew the European Sensei didn’t know as he had never seen Tomiki Ryu before.

So during the conversation, the fellow that had sent the original email made mention (after I had to ask several times) finally ‘fessed up that he did another martial art that consisted of punching and kicking and some throws of various types and that he had students and was building a dojo here in Houston.  My thought was …. hmmm but I said nothing.  Then he asked if he could train.  I said no, that I don’t take visitors and that only active students could get on the mat, not visitors, not people who weren’t already Aikido Players, and esp. not visitors from other styles who would be there only that class period.  His response was, “Oh, a cynic”.  Strange I thought, but knew immediately that he wanted to try his art against Aikido; something I had no interest in.  Last time someone talked that game I told them that I’d ask one of the police officers in the class to come over and convince them of the error of their ways.  Then as a test, I turned to the Aikido Sensei from Europe and asked him a simple question; to wit, can you see the Daito Ryu, self-defense, Judo influences. He got a sorta’ funny look on his face and said, “YES. I can really see the Judo influence”. I couldn’t tell if he was surprised at the techniques or what.

So, while they were both pretty courteous and not rude and not outright challenging, I interpreted it as checking out the competition by using the European as the excuse.  Then, the very next day, I received an email from the visitor that he had emailed my senior Hatamoto to visit his dojo; an effort at recruitment as I interpreted it.  So the entire email, visit, conversation was, bottom line, an effort at recruitment as I had several people who had experience in what he was teaching and he must have thought that he could interest them in visiting/joining his school.  No biggie to me.  I only want deshi that are interested in our program anyway.

The strangest attempt at recruitment however was the night a stranger walked in unbidden with no advance notice.  He had a strange aura about him and seemed a little distant but curious.  We talked and he said that he did some martial arts informally (my first thought was “Oh Gawd. Another guy working out with his brother-in-law in the garage by reading books and watching You Tube”).  It turned out that he was claiming to be one of the few individuals in the country who knew “Viking Martial Arts”. 

Bwahaha.  Hokay then.  Thor’s Hammer Ryu.  This must be a joke.  Nope.  Not a joke.  So after prodding him as to what he was looking for he stated that he wanted to learn Aikido and grappling to improve his Thor Ryu.  Then I made the error of asking him what he did for a living.

And for the first time I about fell off my stool.  He ran a sex-club where everyone traded spouses and they had bondage rooms where the audience watched and had martini’s and bacon wrapped shrimp as someone was tied up and …… er …… ah ….. “abused substantially” as the cameras rolled.  So after sagely remaining silent for a minute or two, I just had to ask.  “So.  Thor.  How do you find clients? customers? mattress divers? WTH do you call them?”  He didn’t think that was very funny but interesting enough, his expression never really changed so that told me that he’d done this before.  His response was, “We have to be discreet.  We just offer that we do this and then allow people to approach us and join. We love to have visitors to the club to see what we offer”.

Didn’t take too long to figure out that I was being invited over and by extension, the entire dojo.  Well I thought, nothing like trying to join a martial arts dojo with 50 or 60 people who are physically active and in good shape so-as to have a fresh batch of recruits because he was overweight and didn’t look to me like much of catch for a discerning female with life choices available to her.

So he left and the next morning I went on line and looked up his sex club.  Sure enough.  There it was, less than a couple miles away from the dojo in the back of an unmarked strip center and Google Earth showed blacked out windows with no sign, only the suite number.  His photo was there on the website along with a bunch of other people and the site had photos of the “mattress room” (wall to wall), the bar (lots of interestingly clothed & unclothed bartenders in the photo, "Ah ... say there partner .... what are you stirring my drink with?"), the bondage room (no people in this one but the ladder, handcuffs and pole in the middle of the room with chains were included).  And, lo’ and behold, a group photo of people at the beach at Galveston, wearing Viking clothes and horned (horny?) helmets and carrying wooden shields and swords at what was noted as being a “Viking Wedding”.

So, if you run a dojo, then keep some things in mind. 

At some point, at some time, and one day, you very likely will find yourself dealing with these people.  Keep in mind that these are the extreme examples.  Door to door protein or internet ISP salesmen are a dime a dozen.  These were the ones that were good at what they do.  They are the ones that you have to watch for.  Don’t let them in no matter how badly you need new deshi.  Lying down with snakes never has a good result and if you feel guilty somehow about saying no, then remember the story about the frog and the scorpion.  Otherwise, you may lookup and find deshi quitting the dojo because they came to learn martial arts from you, not be recruited by Thor the Viking Sex ‘Perv. 

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017


145. Harry Hakama and the Gyre & Gimbling Geisha's

I made a mistake a while back.  When changing our dojo advertising with "The Big Guy" (no names but think Alex and bells) their rep' talked me into including a listing of ourselves as a store selling martial arts supplies (in addition to gym, self-defense, Aikido, etc).  They said it would produce more hits during a web search.  Well, it has (I think) but we don't sell to the public yet.  We may eventually but for now it's only to our deshi since we have little intention at this moment in time of going “Bricks – n – Sticks” with a store.

So on a pretty regular basis now, I get a call from someone looking for that perfect birthday gift, that conversation piece to put on the mantle, that perfect tool to carry in the trunk for road rage, that thing to keep by the door to threaten the neighbor who has that dog that keeps pooping in your yard, and that special tool for stumbling zombies.

“Do you sell numb-chucks?”  No and it’s Nunchaku’s, not Numb Chucks.  WTH.  Did Chuck go “numb” all of sudden?  I mean, is he ok or does need an aspirin and some Ben Gay?

“Do you carry gym clothes?”  WTH again.  We’re a dojo, not 24 Fitness and I’m really not interested in gym-rats or spandex.

“I need some advice on what to buy my husband for Christmas.”  Lady.  Please.  Go on-line and do a web search for “Most Popular Christmas Gifts for overweight Pretend Budo-Guys”.  Maybe you can find him a nice potted plant.

“Do you carry combat ready swords?”  Bubba.  If it can cut paper and if you can cut the cheese then you are both ready for combat.

Gawd.  Pleeezzze stop.  Make it go awaaaaaay.

So yesterday I get this call.  Nice guy.  Pleasant voice.  Sincere attitude.  Doesn’t know his butt from a hot rock about martial arts but he caught me in a good mood so lets try to earn some Budo-verse brownie points and help him out.

Him:  “I’m looking for a hakama.”

Ok.  That’s a good start.  I don’t sell them but I know who does.

Me:  “Go on-line, look up this web address in Japan.  They will custom fit it, great price, perfectly sized and fit for you, take about 30 days.  The last one I bought from them lasted about 10 years so they give quality hakama.”

Him:  “Well that’s too long.  I need it next week for the demonstration.”

Me:  “Ok.  What demonstration.”

Him:  “It’s a karate demonstration with swords and she has to wear a hakama.”

Me:  "Ummmmmmm ….. annnnnnd how old is she?"

Him:  “She’s eight.”

It was about at this moment I almost spit out my coffee as I realized that the Budo-verse had suckered me into a conversation with someone who didn’t know the difference and couldn’t be educated.  Must be a kami or two out there somewhere I’d upset a little.  Will definitely have to do some extra ukemi this week for penance.

I was already into it though and didn’t want to be rude so I finally gave him a couple of web addresses that might be able to do an ICBM overnight launch with drone delivery direct to the front porch so his child could “style” in front of the judges.

First off, karate guys do not wear hakama for obvious “how do I keep from getting tangled up in the legs” kind of reasons.  And for the record, I loathe those guys who wear their obi over the hakama.  WTF.  That’s not only declassee but downright gauche; but you see it all the time in these tournament parties with all the “flashing steel” and jumping through flaming hoops.

Karate guys don’t use katana real or otherwise unless they branch out into a totally different art form (which is ok) but karate per se just doesn’t have katana work in it.  Karate = “empty hand” not “sword fighter”.

Children have no business swinging a blade around, dull or otherwise.  It’s fake.  It has no relationship to reality.  Every single move is fake.  Injury is entirely possible and hitting something with that $9.99 wall-hanger and having it break with pieces flying around can, has and does happen.

But Daddy wanted his little girl to look good.

I’ve lost count of the number of phone calls of people wanting me to teach their child, as young as five in some cases self-defense or prep them for tournaments.  No, not a mistype.  “Please – Teach – My - Five - Year – Old – Self – Defense”.

OMG & Jeeesus.  Talk about helicopter parents hovering their Huey Gun Ship overhead, picking off trigger events while playing Flight of the Valkyries on the iPhone.

NO has become my instant response and then I raise their ire by telling them that at that age they are a child who has barely been house-broken out of diapers and their total exposure to martial arts of any kind should be limited to watching Samurai Jack on Toonami on Cartoon Network.  It shouldn’t be swinging around metal and screaming while thinking that they are doing something real.

The disappointing thing about the entire conversation was my remembering how, over the years, I’ve had to deal with adults (not necessarily millennial's although they’re in the news a lot these days) whose view of martial arts and Budo is barely a gnat’s eyelash above that of the proud father with the eight year old.  He didn’t know but had obviously been taken in by Sensei Carnival Barker, on the midway hawking snake oil as having value.

The most recent was before last Christmas when a guy in his apparent mid-20’s starting discussing “techniques” he had seen in what I finally figured out was a video game.  I threw him out quick and I’ll be darned if he didn’t come back and actually whine to be accepted.

I was in shock.  When was the last time someone rejected for reason (an adult no less) start to whine?

I long ago promised that I would preserve the arts as I was taught and not go for the nearest Yen that someone dropped on the floor like a 2-bit prostitute diving to the floor for that quarter someone dropped.  Keeping to reality and the more traditional ways of viewing martial arts and life in general (they’re the same aren’t they, or they should be) changed my life entirely.  Saved me actually, and saved many others I know from a life of following the same insane dead-end path of immature behavior that I was on as a teen-ager and as a worthless scotch-drinking frat-rat in college. They enabled me to do what a recent but now deceased rock and roll singer was quoted as saying before his death.  Growing old is a privilege because it allows us to become who we were meant to be.

I would add my own spin to that. “Ningen Keisi, Bun Bu Ryo Dou” (a tatoo I wear on my back). Becoming a complete human being by living a life in balance allows us to grow in a mature fashion and become the person that we were meant to be all along.  We just had to find him.

We can’t do that if we become overly sensitive and discard the Old School Ways that have been proven and tested.

Do we have to become like Mushashi?  No.  Admittedly, times do change so in general, some things must also have small changes here and there in order to remain relevant.  What disturbs me though is fake martial arts taught to children who don’t know.  They could have been a great Bushi, but that fake start could and very likely will turn them so far from the path that they’ll never find it. 

That becomes my job and the job of any good Sensei out there.  You have to pass my screening in which I look for maturity, sincerity and an empty cup but once you do and we (and other Sensei out there) accept you as a deshi (no longer a monjin) you too can become the person you were meant to be.

After I had the conversation with the dad on the phone I went home that night after keiko and poured some sake to think.  Then I dug around and found my copy of the most recent translation of Hagakure.  By some stoke of serendipity, the movie Ghost Dog was playing that night so I sipped, read, looked up the passages Ghost Dog quoted, and watched and felt a little sorrow for the loss of Old School ways, slowly being replaced by fakery.

Sometimes I miss my Sensei. He was beyond difficult (who am I kidding, he was an ass) but he knew what he was doing and was always sincere about producing real Bushi.  I hope that someday my deshi miss me the same way.  I can only hope that I can rise to the expectations and be a little old-fashioned on occasion.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017


144. Drive, Cook, Wipe, Fart

Ever been to class and you were working with someone, teaching, guiding, encouraging, showing ………… and their response was, “I’m just not that coordinated” or “I’ve never been any good at anything athletic?

If you run a dojo and have done any teaching of deshi in any martial art and you tell me no ……. well then ….. I understand that hell has a special place for Fibber McGee’s.

Ever been doing kata with someone and you’re working on a kata that you know with all certainty that they’ve seen and done maybe 100 times, and they still get it wrong and they inflect a little pain on you; that’s how bad it was.  And then you correct them and they say something on the order of, “My brain just isn’t wired to be able to easily learn this”?

Ever made the same correction once, thrice, fifty, seventy, eighty times and you start to wonder WTH are they doing, or not doing, or not getting?

Yeah.  Me too.

So I’ve designed a test to counter excuses and hopefully direct the deshi to satori, or maybe nirvana ... or kensho ... or the public library.  Not sure which will work better or where they'll end up after the class bows-off.

I’ve used similar tests in the past but this one, I think, will be more demanding and will require more consideration on the part of the testee as to how they need to answer.  Over the years I have actually asked things similar to this in order to "shock" the deshi into looking at a different learning paradigm.

So the test questions are (and you can apply these to yourself as need be) are ………………

Can you drive a car and not kill yourself, your family, and the stranger next to you in the station wagon or the guy on the corner wearing the clown suit, claiming to be an unemployed Hobbit while he shakes his coin cup? 

(Yes ... really.  I never let the truth stand in the way of a good story but this one is totally true.  I live on the far west side of Houston in an upscale area known as Cinco Ranch and I pass him on the corner of I-10 and Fry at least once a week.  He’s a dwarf and just I love his costume.  I’m waiting for him to one day dress up like Gimli complete with the axe and only then will I give him money and ask to take his picture.)

If the answer to the driving a car question is “Yes” then we now know something about you and may conclude an understanding of several things.

First, you understand responsibility for your actions as you drive a 3,000 pound killing machine made of steel and plastic and rolling on four tires at breakneck speed.  Plus, you are able to multi-channel process as you push the gas, tap the brake, adjust the rear-view mirrors (sides and the one inside the cab), change the channel, talk on the cell phone, yell at the kids, pacify the spouse who is backseat driving, curse at your GPS, and pay attention to a hundred other drivers doing the same things in their car ….. AND ….. being aware of the potentialities of the “Random Event” such as a dog running in front, a board in the road, a meteor strike, the woman in the car next to you driving with her knee while applying eye shadow (this is a tradition of Houston drivers) or someone throwing a beer can out the window at Warp 7 as you look for the turn-off to Granny’s house.

The answer to this question proves that you really can do multiple things at the same time while being aware of everything happening around you and are fully responsible for your actions.

So Grasshopper ….. what’s your problem when you’re on the mat and acting like you have no idea where you are or what you’re doing?  Why are you throwing your uke into other people, why can’t you see where the edge of the mat is, and why can’t you wield the jo or the bokken like the danger that it is instead of seeming ignorant of something you’ve done in class a hundred times?

Next question, can you cook a meal for six family members including the timing of the turkey, dressing, gravy and rolls so that it all comes out at the proper time AND do so while you finish that 3rd martini (and begin speaking in tongues) and then start on the wine while blending that banana daiquiri for your ungrateful brother-in-law who voted for "that other guy" and stick your fingers in that plate of antipasta?

This “Norman Rockwell Moment” better be an unequivocal yes as all of us have suffered since childhood in this moment of eternal family frustration (er … ah … bliss). This answer demonstrates that you can control and time multiple ideas and subjects simultaneously while communicating with other participants, and that you can handle cutting, stirring, mashing, blending, seasoning, plating, and serving, drooling, licking of finger, and visiting all at the same time with no thought or mental blockage involved.  In short, all the cooking activities are on auto-pilot as you’ve done them long enough to internalize them and make them full functional on an intuitive level.

So Grasshopper ….. why did I just show you a simple waza and your response was something about your belief that your brain is not wired such that you can’t do more than one thing at a time and that something as basic as putting the correct foot forward is so complex that you actually have to look at your foot?  Internalization of responses is easy since we know you can cook.

Next question …… can your wipe a dirty baby bottom on a 3-month old and not hurt them or “smear the shared joy” all over everything?

If you answer yes, then why is it that numerous attempts to get you to stop using force and running power or hitting me with the jo or bokken or tanto is so difficult?  If you can handle a baby and not damage them, and not make a worse mess with their “gift” to you, then why did you just try to dislocate my shoulder?  Why can’t you ease up, work a little slower, and use a lot less power.  I know you understand how to be gentle and use a little less power, so do it.

Last question ….. can you fart and chew gum at the same time?

WTF?  Is Sensei serious?  WTH?

Yes I’m serious.  Did you sleep through history class while attending Wasamatta U?

Did you forget the famous comment attributed to LBJ when he was in a meeting in the Oval Office and someone asked him what he thought about Gerald Ford, and LBJ made the infamous statement of, “That guy is so uncoordinated that he can’t fart and chew gum at the same time”; a statement made after Ford keep hitting people with golf balls and banging his head on the exit door to Air Force One.

So if your answer to this serious, but seemingly ridiculous question is yes, then you, yes you Grasshopper, not the deshi behind you but YOU ….. are fully qualified to learn martial arts, in a reasonable time span, given quality instruction, competent and patient teachers, in a good learning environment.

No more excuses please.  No more, “I can’t learn because …………..”, or “My brain doesn’t work that way”, or “I learn differently”.

There is no such thing as a “visual learner” because if you are eidetic, then just copy what you see.

There is no such thing as an “audio learner” because if you are, then just listen and pay attention.

There is no such thing as a smell or taste learner, unless of course all that sweat and aroma of a gym locker room excites you.  What’s that old saying, “Judo is eating your uke’s sweat”.

And there is no such thing as a “physical learner” because WTH do you think MA is?  We learn by touching and manipulating and being attached to others so you get all the “touch” you need.  Martial Arts ARE touch.

In short, what I’m writing here is that the ONLY thing holding you back from learning is the little creature inside your head, not my head,  YOUR head, that keeps telling you that you can’t do it and keeps feeding you excuses to repeat to everyone on the mat.

Just stop that.  Tell yourself that you can do it just as well as you learned how to intjuitively drive, cook, wipe and fart.

No … More … Excuses.

Pleeeease.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

March 2017