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April 2017

148. Samurai Highlander

I have a standing dumb joke with one of the senior’s in the dojo about wanting to get a prescription to the majic pill (no, not that one, not the blue one where if you take too much they have to stand you in the corner like a 12 gauge that’s past ready to fire ……. the OTHER one); the one that lets you live a lot longer than “Four Score and Ten”.  The one that big political figures like Kissinger and Rockefeller (well actually he died recently so maybe not him) and Bro’ Jimmy Carter apparently take that causes all those tv commercials on “telo-years”.  Man.  Those guys are old but they’re still going strong.  And how did they fly past all those health issues I saw in the news.

My goal you see is to make history by having the first 250 year old dojo but with me still in charge and with the same “geezers” around abusing the youngsters; youngsters being those less than a century or too on the mat.  Fantasy huh?  Or at least until the science is in but a nice one for a simple reason.

How do you get to be a Jedi (nods to Lucas)?  Decades on the mat.  How do you get to be that good, that high-level, and that incredibly powerful with your In-Yo-Ho?  How do you become a Tengu; the ones who taught all the mythical kenshi their craft and their art.

Easy (not).  Go to class a lot.  Get corrected a lot.  Get thrown a lot.  Throw other people a lot.  Get lots of correction from the really old guys in the corner (aka “Sensei dogs” who sit in the corner like an old blue tick hound dog and bark ….  a lot).

My, but that’s certainly a lot of “a lots”.  Why yes it is; but it’s important for a couple of reasons.

First, a good system is so large that it can contain hundreds if not thousands (some quote the figure of 1,500 more or less in the original, fully constructed Daito Ryu).  While numbers of total waza in the studies can be discussed (I personally have never done much research in that area of other ryu) the number can be large.  So this means that the deshi must go through the full ryu with all of its waza a sufficient number of times for EVERY SINGLE TECHNIQUE so that the internalization can take place.

I’ve always been taught by my seniors who understand the 250 year idea that to make a brief pass through the system but then only really focus on a relatively small handful of waza and kata (like the 8 Releases and the 17 Attack Movements/Ju Nana Hon in Tomiki Ryu) is a serious error.  While you may become really good at that small grouping, you are leaving out the complete development and full training of your subconscious in the broad and deep range of the ryu; a ryu that could have several hundred years and who knows how many combats and deaths involved in its’ development.  It’s not something a police combat instructor just pulled together in order to have something for a course for cadets.

We’ve trained in koryu jodo for several years now and have finally begun to understand that every movement, every kata, every kamae has a purpose, a reason, a cause celeb’ for existing, and to leave out even one, or to fail to completely internalize its structure and reflexes is a mistake.  Each kata teaches a specific lesson, instills a specific reflex, and teaches transitions from one kamae to another that is reflected in your body movement, posture, and structure.

Since koryu jo came directly out of life and death conflicts (one early kata set is taught as being actual moments of battle directly passed down, the survivor taught it to his deshi, the loser’s ideas were abandoned and buried with him) then the ryu as a whole is designed to change you to its’ requirements; not for you to “make it your own”, a trite, often misunderstood, and totally misquoted phrase popular in dojos that teach for the hobby crowd and not the combat aspect.

Second, only by much practice does your body and neural structures change to adapt to the stresses and requirements of the koryu and of the Aiki-Kiai-In-Yo-Ho.  Developing the ability to use the proprioceptors in your feet and hands (and entire body), developing brute physical strength, core strength, stretching, strengthening, and efficiently using the fascia in your body (internal power) are only fully understood and developed by more practice than what people think to be necessary. 

There are even some studies indicating that physical training when undertaken over a sufficient amount of time even changes your genetics; an interesting idea when the stuff of legends is considered.

The koryu changes everything as shown by examples.  One old training partner trained with me for years and took an uncountable number of ukemi.  He needed his gall bladder removed and after surgery the doctor called him the “sit-up king” and asked how many sit-ups he did every day.  His answer?  None, other than a few as a warm-up before class.  He had simply been thrown thousands of times over the years and had over time developed abdominal musculature normally only seen in professional weight lifters.  His body had hardened and toughened, and could therefore take more punishment than mere civilians.  He had a “combat body” in a very real sense.

The second deshi, also having taken thousands of ukemi had an MRI done and during the scan, the doctor noticed that all of his bones were denser than usual and had micro-fractures running through all of them; also a product of thousands of ukemi, throw and be thrown.

Other examples are legion but one of the most common is catching things out of the air without looking at them.  Putting coffee cups on the top shelf is one, where you put the cup up high and look away as you do.  The coffee cup falls and without turning back, you put out your hand and catch it mid-fall and put it back.  We’ve also observed people catch things thrown at them such as tennis balls (“Hey.  Let’s see if we can surprise him”) or use a sword to knock an arrow out of the air.  You can’t really look or focus on the arrow.  You have to use peripheral vision and just “sense” it; a skill developed only in martial arts with specific drills and not something easily developed (not learned mind you but developed) in normal day-to-day life.

You could call these “Ninja Arts” or “Jedi Arts” or “Tengu Arts” but in truth, your body and nervous system has changed over years of training.  You have come closer to having the same kind of abilities that scientists observe in predators in the wild; abilities not dulled by a soft existence in civilization.  Abilities the ancient Samurai and Bushi had which is where the old stories all come from.

Finally, only by being on the mat a sufficient period of time can you acquire the “mat seasoning” necessary to finally begin to see what is and is not important, what the juniors are doing right and wrong, and what to correct (and how to correct it) so that they too can hit those high levels of performance. 

What subtle moment are they missing?  What reaction is not yet fully developed?  What posture are they carrying (does their body reflect the spirit of the ryu or is something subtly and subconsciously missing, something that can’t be “described” but rather “felt” or “sensed”).  Are they moving like a cougar, or more like an agile and well-trained (but “still-beached”) whale?

You become a better judge of the efficient vs. the non-efficient, the In-Yo-Ho vs. the fakery.  You begin to see the “magic” of waza; the application that is so advanced that the young warrior, lacking the time on the mat, the seasoning, the deep intuitive knowledge becomes frustrated literally to the point of tears as this old guy stands there with a drink in his hand and uses one finger to defeat him and make him harmless.  This is something that is simply beyond being a mere teacher or player.

My Sensei was one of the last of the true Bushi (professional warrior).  He was never a Samurai (royal servant) and in fact was at times a bit of an iconoclast.  He spent every day training 6 to 7 days a week 6 to 8 hours a day so that in comparison to someone only training once or twice a week, he was simply putting in massive hours changing his body structure, his neural pathways, his intuitive reflexes and responses, his ability to utilize all the principles (metsuke, musubi, in-yo-ho, for starters). 

He and I once calculated that it would take the average deshi (training only 3 times a week for 2 hours a time about 8 years to equal what he did in only one year.  So now imagine (for the sake of argument) a Sensei who could train for 250 years.  It would take the normal 3 classes a week student two millennia to equal that.  Consider the differences in ability.

Kind a silly argument but, if one thinks about the impact of just time on the mat …….

His body over time became shaped by the ryu and his walk and mat performance reflected it as did his carriage (and character as he stood back and judged lesser players from his more mature and seasoned position).  Unfortunately, he like we all, aged and time was a bit unkind (but that matters not to his story).  He, like all long-term Sensei, shows the possibilities of the effects of long-term training.  Ergo, my desire to somehow become the first 250 year old Sensei running the dojo and doing "stuff".  Time (or sheer hours on the mat) is what makes the difference.  Plus, that humidor of cigars I’m aging (along with that special bottle of scotch) should be ready to go at the 250 year mark.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX April 2017

147. Are You My Mummy?

Over Easter we spent some time with relatives and the dreaded “In-Laws”.  While it was overall fairly pleasant there was one moment where I threatened to leave and to go down to eat the fricasseed Easter Bunny with strangers down at Luby’s as I just wuzzn’t into much drama at that moment.  I was shooting wine coolers and had found the Copa-Coconut much to my liking and had finally mellowed (found my wa) with my entry into Colada City.  The Edge of Night, All My Children, and Dark Shadows were cancelled years ago and I had not the desire to have a “live” recreation at the dinner table as that would damage the wa and lead to much consumption of hard liquor and repetitive keiko of strangulation waza.

Luby’s is a pretty interesting place here in Texas.  When I was a bank examiner many moons ago (well before the Year of the Jack Rabbit and even before the Year of The Road Runner) and examining commercial banks in deep South Texas, I learned that Luby’s was a place of true peace, true Zen, real wa, and a little wabi-sabi thrown in.

During the winter time in South Texas all the northerners fleeing the weather (aka Snow Birds, why is it no one retires and moves north?) would winter over in South Texas where the two biggest businesses during winter were (of course) lunch at Luby’s (old people don't cook much) and the viewing down at “Dead Men Tell No Tales Mortuary” since so many of the Snow Birds were really old and just choose to depart this mortal coil as a temporary and honorary Texan (at least momentarily).

Wanting to stay on the good side of the kami, Texas is always accommodating to the recently departed and willingly grants them temporary Texas Citizenship.  Plus, good sources have it that St. Peter is quicker to open the gate for Texans.

Luby’s has no stress and, the clientele tends to be older and more mature so nothing much controversial ever happens there other than someone yelling “Nurse! I think we have a heart attack at table 37”, or someone needs a tea refill along with some more tartar sauce for the fried “I think it’s fish” patty.  Somehow I just don’t think that fish are quite that exactly square.

Everyone gets along unlike today’s Millennials and the tragic-comic life lived by the public teachers who have to manage them during class, and at lunch in the cafeteria at the local state institute for the criminally insane (er … ah …. public school).

Listening to the tales from the in-laws who teach in public schools of how things have changed from when all of us went was both horrifying and made one wish that the mortuary could be more involved in some cases; although age 4 and up is perhaps a little young for the “Snow Bird Effect”.  Now the parents on the other hand ...................

For starters, they no longer teach cursive hand-writing.  I was blown off my stool by this one.  Cursive, much like good Aikido and Judo, activates, coordinates, teaches, and cross-wires both sides of the brain.  After a lot of OMG and WTF are they doing I suddenly realized that if kids as young as 4 or 5 don’t receive some form of activity that activates and cross-wires both right and left brain halves, will they one day be martially “un-trainable” since they will have never been required to build that level of brain development that good high-level martial artists need?  Will we have to do re-education of new deshi to start that cross-development pathway and end up with way too many years to make dan rank (if ever)?

Worse yet, they are not being taught any raw physical skills as most or all competitive sports have been banned or replaced by advanced social justice discussions (GMLM - green martian lives matter) or saving the whales (ambergris is bad).  No dodge ball.  How does a kid learn to avoid traffic (or that punch thrown at his head) if there’s no dodge ball?  So will you cry if I do an arm bar on you, or will you refuse to take ukemi because you were never allowed to do somersaults on the playground and are psychologically frightened of being upside down?

Everyone gets a trophy, or a ribbon, or a t-shirt; but they don’t actually learn squat, or how to do squat either, and they are mentally and emotionally weak, having never been required to cope with the idea of loss (or that of dealing gracefully and humbly with winning).  Everyone gets a trophy and no one loses or feels bad about being picked last for the soft ball pick up game (no soft ball either, Little Johnny might get hurt and Mummy might have to go yell at the principal again).

These were just the small examples that first got me to thinking about future Bushido deshi.

Then came the big one (or one of the big ones in a long and energetically depressing discussion over wine coolers and melted Easter eggs) but I can’t write a 5,000 page blog today and you likely wouldn’t read it if I did).  In the classes (keep in mind this is one of the top 5 rated school districts in Texas, not some inner city slum) there is a minimal level of measured expectation (the least allowed before criticism or disciplinary action ... bwhaha .. what disciplinary action).  There is also a normal level of expectation (making good grades and good behavior as is expected as a normal course of business).  There is also exceeding expectations for grades and behavior and if the student exceeds all expectations then they get a gift reward card that allows them run over to the cafeteria and receive an extra spoon full of mashed potatoes and green beans, or some such gourmet fare (cookies being bad ... kale is good)

So one child in K(indergarten) did as expected but not exceptional.  No Magic Card right?  Better luck next grading period Little Johnny, please study harder and stop sexually molesting Little Mary by popping her bra strap or I'll have to send you to rendition for re-programming.

You are wrong, baby food breath.

The teacher (my in-law) had to talk to the “shattered child” and explain why he did not get the “Magic Card”.  So far so good, huh.  Normal day with the diaper brigade in kindergarten.  But NOOO. 

Now an email shows up from “Mummy”.  “So you barbarian child abuser who fails to recognize my exceptionally brilliant child's’ lack of performance.  Where is his Magic Card”?  

And this goes back and forth, back and forth with the child all the while asking, "But where's my caaaaaarrrrddddd?"

Long sob story short; after several emails with the Mummy, and a conversation with the assistant principal who bluntly told the teacher to stop complaining and that the coddling of the kindergartner would only get worse next year, the teacher in-law very reluctantly re-signed the contract to teach again next year.  IMO, IF he lasts the full year, it will very likely be his last.  A red vest at Walmart awaits him.  Or, he can do what I did after corporate America turning on my and many other professionals I knew ........ become self-employed.  You don't make as much money but if the mood strikes, you can tell off that bitchy client who's been a thorn in your side (if you so choose).  Less Yen.  More control over your life.

A few blogs ago I described a grown adult (in his 20’s I guess) who I threw out and then who came back and started whining about it. 

Now I know where that came from.  A Millennial who is a product of that type school system.  "Whaaaaa!  The Sensei didn't make me a ... a ... sob ... Samurai and he told me ..... whimper .... that I'm not mature enough.  Wheeeerrreeee's my black belt?"

Now every Sensei who runs a dojo has just more thing to watch for courtesy of the school system and helicopter parenting.  I for one don’t plan on managing their issues as I do not run remediation classes.  I plan on screening them out and not starting them to begin with.  I view the role of Sensei as being more important than babysitting and would rather not take on students who have to be taught be an adult (after the fact).  Protect your mat. 

There is after all one advantage to running your own dojo.  You can fire the student without 'Mummy" whining about Little Johnny.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX April 2017